The Jolt: Kelly Loeffler keeps a tight screen on COVID-19 info

Covid-19 contagion has become a top-secret issue in Washington.

Two staffers for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler recently tested positive for the coronavirus, she announced Saturday — after many of our inquiries had gone unanswered.

Loeffler’s team would not provide the names of the staffers, the date of their positive tests or say whether they are displaying symptoms of illness. Her office also did not initially say if these staffers had any direct interaction with the senator or if Loeffler planned to take any additional precautions.

After much prodding, Loeffler let us know that her own COVID-19 test had come back negative on Friday, but not much else. Several emails were needed before Loeffler’s team told us this morning the senator had had no close contact with either employee who tested positive. We still don’t know if Loeffler participated in any Senate floor votes or campaign activities after learning her staffers were sick — but before confirming the results of her own test.

This wasn’t the first COVID-19 scare for the senator. Earlier this month, Loeffler got tested after Trump and a handful of Senate colleagues contracted the virus. Loeffler had spoken face-to-face with the president during the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event at which Trump formally nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Loeffler sat maskless behind Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who soon after announced he had been infected.

The revelation about Loeffler’s infected staffers came as news broke that Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and four other aides had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Pence said he will not alter his campaign schedule, and that he and his wife tested negative Saturday and Sunday.

On the Sunday news shows, Mark Meadows, chief of staff to President Donald Trump, raised eyebrows with an assertion that allowed headline writers to theorize that the Trump administration had declared itself defeated by the virus. From the New York Times:

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, essentially offering a verbal shrug in response to any effort to prevent an outbreak in the top echelon of the nation’s leaders. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations, because it is a contagious virus — just like the flu.”

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But we were more interested in the following, as noted by the Washington Post:

Meadows tried to keep details about the infections within Pence’s orbit under wraps and opposed the vice president’s office releasing such information, according to two officials. It was not until Saturday evening that Short and Obst’s infections were first reported by the media.

Meadows acknowledged that he had sought to suppress information about the outbreak in his CNN interview.

“Sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually do — unless it’s the vice president or the president or someone that’s very close to them where there’s people in harm’s way,” Meadows told anchor Jake Tapper.

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There are at least two reasons for the secrecy that Loeffler has invoked, and the stalling that Pence was encouraged to engage in. This evening, Amy Coney Barrett will be formally confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court. The margin of approval will be slim, but Republicans will carry the day — as long as all GOP members show up.

Loeffler is planning to be present today. In fact, she presided over the chamber on Sunday — a prized opportunity we could see in last-minute campaign ads. There is also a chance that Pence will show up on the Senate floor to preside over today’s confirmation vote.

But Loeffler, like Pence and other Republicans, also have much riding on President Trump’s assertion that we’re “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus pandemic — even as daily records are now being broken in the number of diagnosed cases nationally.

In Georgia, COVID-19 has killed more than 7,800 Georgians.

A Journal-Constitution poll released this morning has Loeffler neck-and-neck with chief GOP rival, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, in the Nov. 3 special election for her seat. In that same poll, likely Georgia voters were asked who is better equipped to confront the pandemic — Trump or Democrat Joe Biden.

By a 51-45% margin, voters picked Biden. Clearly, Loeffler doesn’t want to aggravate that gap.

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More about that poll: The race for president in Georgia is deadlocked in the final week of the campaign, with President Donald Trump and Joe Biden in a statistical tie in a state that hasn’t voted Democratic for president since 1992:

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely voters released Monday showed Biden at 47% and Trump at 46%, within the survey’s margin of error of 4 percentage points. Libertarian Jo Jorgensen registered about 3% in the poll, while an additional 4% were undecided.

One of the main factors for Trump’s struggles in Georgia is Biden’s gains among white voters, the backbone of the GOP coalition in Georgia. The poll shows Biden with support from 28% of white voters — far above the 21% of white Georgians that exit polls showed Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

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A key point: U.S. Sen. David Perdue isn’t polling ahead of Trump, and is locked in a statistical tie with Democrat Jon Ossoff. That’s significant, given his effort to present a softer image to women voters.

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Over the weekend, Keren Landman at Atlanta magazine had a very significant piece indicating that Georgia’s Department of Public Health wasn’t in charge of data presented to the public during the first days of the pandemic:

Atlanta was able to obtain emails illuminating the inner workings of the state’s Covid-19 dashboard not from the state’s Department of Public Health but from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. Why would the office that handles Kemp’s and the state’s budgetary affairs have been the custodian of emails about what ostensibly belongs in the state health department’s domain? Because that office had outsourced the dashboard to a private company—and had assumed what public-health experts describe as an unusually expansive role in overseeing the project.

A series of open records requests Atlanta filed to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget yielded thousands of emails concerning the state’s new Covid-19 dashboard, sent between employees of that office and those of the health department—as well as those of the third-party vendor tasked by that office with creating the dashboard. An examination of those emails revealed the health department had limited input into and no real oversight over the dashboard during its creation and in the months after its launch.

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Jill Biden will be in the state today, first at a Georgia Women for Biden event in Macon before driving over to Savannah for an early vote mobilization drive-in rally. Her husband, the Democratic presidential nominee, will be in Warm Springs on Tuesday, and will also make an appearance in metro Atlanta.

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U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, is out with a friendly re-election ad on Facebook. We had to watch it twice to make sure we were right: The 11th District congressman never mentions the word “Republican.”

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An interesting tidbit from a Politico.com piece on the electoral situation in Georgia, which we’ve underlined:

Johns Creek, an affluent suburb just north of Atlanta and one-time Republican stronghold, which is now nearly a quarter Asian, voted blue in 2018. Gun control activist Lucy McBath, a Democrat and the mother of murdered Black teen Jordan Davis, defeated the Republican incumbent for the 6th Congressional District seat, which includes Johns Creek and other Atlanta suburbs.

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Mary Trump, the president’s niece whose scathing tell-all book about Donald Trump became a bestseller, is stumping this week for the Democratic nominee in Georgia’s Ninth District congressional race. The requested contribution to attend Friday’s virtual fundraiser is $100 a person, and it will benefit the campaign of Devin Pandy, a longshot against Republican Andrew Clyde in the conservative northeast Georgia district.

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U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has removed images from campaign advertisements that appeared to violate rules prohibiting candidates from using photos and videos of themselves in military uniform.

The complaints were first lodged by the founder of an advocacy group called Military Religious Freedom Foundation, according to Newsweek. Mikey Weinstein sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mike Esper asking for Collins, a U.S. Air Force Reserves chaplain, to be cited for using a photo of himself in fatigues in advertisement. The Democratic Party of Georgia then caught wind of the accusations and piled on.

While Collins, who is running in the U.S. Senate special election, has a long and acrimonious history with Weinstein, his team backed down from this fight.

“We have reviewed the ads in question and a handful on social media did not display a properly formatted disclaimer because of a vendor error,” his spokesman Dan McLagan said. “Those have been removed.”

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A new review of complaints filed by immigrants held at a south Georgia detention center appears to back up what a whistleblower first reported: that a gynecologist was performing procedures on women and pressuring them to undergo additional surgeries without their full consent.

The new analysis, first reported by the L.A. Times, again mentions Dr. Mahendra Amin, who until recently was treating women held at the Irwin County Detention Center. It again raises concerns about consent and whether some of the women sustained long-term injuries.

Amin is under investigation, encouraged by congressional Democrats who say the complaints raise issues about the treatment of immigrants in federal facilities.

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The national Republican party has formally embraced Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Daily Beast notes, pointing to a congressional campaign committee donation of $5,000 to her now-uncontested congressional race in Georgia’s 14th District.

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