REPUBLICAN CALLS TO REOPEN IGNORE THE DEATH TOLL IN GEORGIA: Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who’s running for governor against Cooper this year, also called on Cooper earlier this week to explain why North Carolina isn’t reopening as quickly as some neighboring states. Georgia, which has a Republican governor, was one of the last states to issue a stay-at-home order. It was also one of the first to start reopening. NPR reported on Tuesday that the federal government has identified that as a worry, since intensive care units in Georgia are already nearly 80% full and reopening could create a new spike in cases. Despite both states having roughly the same population, Georgia has reported 1,523 coronavirus deaths as of Thursday — more than double the 615 deaths in North Carolina.
BURR STEPS DOWN AS CHAIRMAN, BUT WILL REMAIN ON INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is stepping down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee as a federal probe of his financial activities in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic heats up. The Justice Department searched the North Carolina Republican's Washington, D.C., home on Wednesday and seized his cellphone. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that Burr "contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of the investigation." Burr unloaded up to $1.7 million in publicly traded stocks – most of his portfolio – in 33 sales on Feb. 13, weeks before the stock market crashed because of the global pandemic. The sales contrasted with some of Burr's public comments on the outbreak, including a Feb. 7 op-ed he co-authored for Fox News, detailing the federal government's preparedness.
"RETURN AMERICA" PASTOR FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST COOPER, BUT NOT ALL CHURCHES SUPPORT IT: Conservative Christian leaders sued Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday, asking a court to throw out his restrictions on indoor religious services in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. They argued the limits, initiated by Cooper with health in mind, violate their rights to worship freely. Two Baptist churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed the federal lawsuit seeking to immediately block enforcement of rules covering religious services within the Democratic governor's executive orders. Many congregations have been holding online services or virtual Bible studies to comply with Cooper's rules and believe it's important to continue this way longer. “Right now, we love our neighbors best by keeping our distance from them," said Jennifer Copeland with the North Carolina Council of Churches, whose membership includes mainline Protestant denominations. “The ability of people of faith to praise God and nurture their faith is not limited to sitting together in a sanctuary.”
WHISTLEBLOWER TESTIFIES BEFORE CONGRESS ON TRUMP ADMIN'S POOR PLANNING: Despite White House claims, the U.S. still lacks a comprehensive battle plan against the coronavirus in critical areas including masks, testing, treatments and vaccines, whistleblower Rick Bright warned Thursday in testimony before a House committee. “Our window of opportunity is closing,” he declared. The nation could face “the darkest winter in modern history” if the virus rebounds, the government vaccine scientist told lawmakers. Bright’s appearance came after his ouster last month as head of a Health and Human Services biodefense agency, an action he alleges was retaliation by the Trump administration. “We need still a comprehensive plan, and everyone across the government and everyone in America needs to know what that plan is, and what role they play,” he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “There are critical steps that we need to do to prepare ... we do not still have enough personal protective equipment to manage our health care workers ... we still do not have the supply chains ramped up for the drugs and vaccines, and we still don’t have plans in place for how we distribute those drugs and vaccines. We still do not have a comprehensive testing strategy.” At the White House, President Donald Trump said Bright looked like an “angry, disgruntled employee,” and Bright’s boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, said, “Everything he is complaining about was achieved.”
HOUSE DEMS SET TO PASS MORE RELIEF FUNDING, TRUMP THREATENS TO VETO: The Democratic-led House is poised to push through a pair of measures Friday that would direct an additional $3 trillion toward coronavirus relief and authorize historic rule changes in the chamber in response to the pandemic. A bill, which the White House has threatened to veto, includes additional aid for state and local governments and health systems, a second round of stimulus checks to millions of Americans, more funding for the Postal Service and a range of other initiatives. Senate Republicans have balked at the legislation, advocating a pause in further federal action until the impact of previous legislative response can be measured. In a veto message, the White House said the new House bill is “more concerned with delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wishlists than with enhancing the ability of our Nation to deal with the public health and economic challenges we face.” President Trump, however, has left the door open to additional measures in the future to spur the economy, including direct aid to Americans. The House is already expected to adopt rule changes opposed by Republicans that would authorize proxy voting in the chamber and allow for official committee proceedings to be conducted remotely during the ongoing public health crisis.