May 9, 2017

Republicans scold Tom Price for "potentially illegal" HHS memo

Evan Vucci) / AP

Two top congressional Republicans are warning Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that a memo to HHS employees restricting their communications with Congress is "potentially illegal and unconstitutional" and could have a chilling effect on whistleblowers.

Why they spoke up: In a letter to Price, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz noted that "federal employees have a constitutional right to communicate directly with Congress."

What the memo said: The memo from HHS chief of staff Lance Leggitt said agency employees shouldn't communicate with members of Congress or their staff without consulting the Assistant Secretary for Legislation. Grassley and Chaffetz said it should have noted that there are federal whistleblower protections.

Why it matters: Don't underestimate the significance of two Republican committee chairmen issuing such a strong warning to a Republican administration. An HHS spokesperson said there's "nothing new" about this kind of memo, which was meant to remind employees how policy responses are coordinated, and doesn't ban direct communications with Congress in all cases.

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Protesters gather north of Lafayette Square near the White House during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been rallying in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events on Saturday.

Why it matters: Twelve days of nationwide protest in the U.S. has built pressure for states to make changes on what kind of force law enforcement can use on civilians and prompted officials to review police conduct. A memorial service was held for Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to honor him until sunset.

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  3. Public health: Why the pandemic is hitting minorities harder — Coronavirus curve rises in FloridaHow racism threatens the response to the pandemic Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight the virus.
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Despite a ban on large gatherings implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic, protesters rally against racism in front of the American Embassy in Paris on June 6. Photo: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people have continued to rally in cities across the world against racism and show their support this week for U.S. demonstrators protesting the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Why it matters: The tense situation in the U.S. has brought the discussion of racism and discrimination onto the global stage at a time when most of the world is consumed by the novel coronavirus.