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Brooks urges COVID-19 antibody tests

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks joined a bipartisan letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as the Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority urging that HHS rapidly deploy COVID-19 antibody testing.

“Americans must work for the good of their families, our economy, and our country,” Brooks said. “At the same time, America must minimize or eliminate COVID-19 health risks. Many Americans have beat COVID-19 with minimal or no adverse health effects. They did so with their own COVID-19 antibodies. COVID-19 antibody testing, followed by harvesting of COVID-19 antibodies and injection of them into sick patients, is a very promising, potential COVID-19 treatment and cure. As such, I encourage Secretary Azar and Director Bright to deploy these antibody tests rapidly and widely to help America’s medical profession acquire another weapon in the fight against COVID-19.”

Brooks joined Congressman Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Congressman Ami Bera, D-California, in leading the bipartisan letter in support of their efforts to encourage innovation in COVID-19 testing, and urging them to rapidly deploy COVID-19 antibody tests that have met accuracy and safety standards as rapidly and widely as possible.

Simple antibody tests have been developed by U.S. companies and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These serological tests detect the immune system’s response to viral infections, including COVID-19.

These tests can identify people who have already acquired immunity to COVID-19, and who can safely re-enter the workforce, travel and return to normal life.

“It is imperative that the United States does not continue to be behind the curve on COVID-19 testing, including on the antibody testing that will be vital as we eventually restart the economy and which will take place only after a large fraction of the population is confident that they are immune to infection so that it is safe to work, travel, and return to normal life,” Foster said. “It will be an unnecessary economic tragedy if our citizens remain cowering at home because we failed to provide them with the simple, inexpensive means of proving their immunity – the tests should be deployed as rapidly and widely as possible. This must be followed by the ability for individuals to reliably certify that they are immune to COVID-19 so that they can return to normal life – especially for workers in critical industries like healthcare and food.”

“The reality of COVID-19 is that many Americans, especially the younger population, will have gotten the virus without them knowing because either their symptoms were too mild or because tests were not available at the time they got sick,” said Congressman Bera, M.D. “Serological testing is an easy and quick method to check if Americans have acquired COVID-19 immunity. As a doctor and Member of Congress, I strongly urge the Administration to deploy these tests as rapidly and widely as possibly. Serological testing would allow for many Americans to safely re-enter the workforce, providing a boost to our economy.”

The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 113 Members of Congress.

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“Restarting the economy after the coronavirus pandemic will take place only after a large fraction of the population is confident that they are immune to infection so that it is safe to work, travel, and return to normal life,” the letter read. “This will happen when a proven vaccine is widely deployed, but this is likely more than a year away. In the meantime, much of our population, especially the young and minimally symptomatic, will have already acquired immunity to COVID-19, not through vaccination, but by getting infected and recovering. Most of those who recover will not be certain they had COVID-19, either because the symptoms were too mild, or because tests for the virus were unavailable at the time they were infected.”

“Fortunately, a so-called serological test that detect the immune system’s response to a viral infection, including to COVID-19, could provide such a reasonable assurance,” the letter continued. “The simplest serological tests involve a finger-prick to deliver drops of blood to a disposable cartridge which can deliver an answer within minutes. No special equipment is needed, and tests like this could be readily obtained at doctor’s offices or drive-thru test centers. It is imperative that serological tests be rapidly deployed to all Americans, so that the people who have acquired COVID-19 immunity can re-enter the work force and restart the economy.”

“We applaud the FDA for acting rapidly in granting provisional approval of the first of these tests, and BARDA for providing a funding opportunity for ramping up manufacture,” the Congressmen went on. “It is now vital that the U.S. does not drop the ball on coronavirus antibody testing since it tells us who can safely return to work. It will be an unnecessary economic tragedy if our citizens remain cowering at home because we failed to provide them with the simple, inexpensive means of proving their immunity. Each one of these inexpensive test kits can add many thousands of dollars to GDP by allowing someone who has recovered from COVID-19 to return to the productive economy.”

As of press time, 9,620 Americans have died from COVID-19. 336,851 Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, which is caused by a strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Only 17,977 of these have fully recovered. Of those suffering, 8,206 are in serious or critical condition. In Alabama, 1,841 have contracted the illness and 45 have died; while another 231 are hospitalized. 20 Alabamians have recovered from the illness.

Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.

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Congress

Brooks, Palmer join lawsuit against House’s proxy voting rule change

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, and Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, have joined constituents and members of the House Republican Conference as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a recently passed resolution that allows representatives to cast votes for themselves and others on the House floor, known as proxy voting.

The rule change was supported largely by Democrats along party lines who said it was needed during the pandemic to protect the health and safety of members of Congress.

“This rule change is not a mere procedure change, but a direct assault on the Constitution and over 200 years of precedent,” Palmer said. “The Constitution requires that Congress assembles. There is no emergency so great that Congress cannot meet to do its job of representing the people.”

Brooks said the proxy voting scheme is not only “unprecedented and antithetical” to the job of a House member, but it is also “blatantly unconstitutional.”

“Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution requires that a ‘a Majority of each (House of Congress) shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and (each House) may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members,'” Brooks said. “The Constitution requires that the House assemble a majority of its Members to conduct business, and there is no more serious House business than voting.”

Palmer said members of Congress should rise to the challenge of the pandemic and meet in person.

“Our history is littered with wars, pandemics, and attacks on American soil, but none of that has ever prevented Congress from meeting to do the people’s business,” Palmer said. “The current public health crisis should not change that precedent. Precautions can be taken, but Congress must show up to work like everyone else.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is the leader of the proxy vote lawsuit. Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, is already one of the plaintiffs.

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Byrne sues Speaker Pelosi to stop House rule changes

“The Constitution is clear that a majority must be present for the House to conduct business,” Byrne said. “Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to allow Democrats to cast multiple ‘proxy’ votes for their colleagues is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Under rules adopted last week, as few as 22 Democrats could claim a quorum and win a vote against all 197 Republicans. This scheme gives Pelosi and her lieutenants complete and dangerous unconstitutional powers. If Democrats won’t show up to vote, they should turn the speaker’s gavel over to Leader McCarthy and the Republicans who are actually willing to show up and work for the people they represent.”

“This week, House Democrats will break over 230 years of precedent and allow Members of Congress to vote by proxy on the House floor,” Leader McCarthy said. “This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis. Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed. That is why, along with other members of the House and our constituents, I have filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn Speaker Pelosi’s unconstitutional power grab.”

The Republican plaintiffs point out that in the last 231 years, the House of Representatives has never permitted a member to vote by proxy from the floor of the chamber. This includes during the Yellow Fever of 1793, the Civil War, the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812, the Spanish Flu of 1918 and 9/11.

The GOP plaintiffs claim that voting by proxy is flatly prohibited by the Constitution.

Article I, Section 4, Clause 2 states: “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall . . . .” o Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 states: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections . . . and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members.” o Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 states: “The Senators and Representatives . . . shall . . . be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses” • The constitution clearly contemplates the physical gathering together of representatives as a deliberative body. As the Supreme Court has held, to constitute a “quorum” necessary to “do business,” the Constitution requires “the presence of a majority, and when that majority are present the power of the house arises.” United States v. Ballin, 144 U.S. 1, 6 (1892)

The plaintiffs have filed a constitutional challenge in the D.C federal district court seeking to enjoin the use of proxy voting in the United States House of Representatives.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District. Alabama Democrats were unable to find candidates willing to challenge either of the two popular incumbents. Brooks did defeat a Republican challenger in March.

 

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Byrne sues Speaker Pelosi to stop House rule changes

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, announcing that he is filing a lawsuit against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, alleging that the Speaker’s new coronavirus emergency rules allowing members of Congress to proxy vote violates the United States Constitution.

“The Constitution is clear that a majority must be present for the House to conduct business,” Rep. Byrne said. “Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to allow Democrats to cast multiple ‘proxy’ votes for their colleagues is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Under rules adopted last week, as few as 22 Democrats could claim a quorum and win a vote against all 197 Republicans. This scheme gives Pelosi and her lieutenants complete and dangerous unconstitutional powers. If Democrats won’t show up to vote, they should turn the speaker’s gavel over to Leader McCarthy and the Republicans who are actually willing to show up and work for the people they represent.”

Byrne is joined in this lawsuit by 20 other Republican members of Congress led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California). The suit has been filed in D.C. Federal District Court challenging the constitutionality of H. RES 965, the House Democrats plan to vote by proxy.

“This week, House Democrats will break over 230 years of precedent and allow Members of Congress to vote by proxy on the House floor,” leader McCarthy said in a statement. “This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis. Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed. That is why, along with other members of the House and our constituents, I have filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn Speaker Pelosi’s unconstitutional power grab.”

“Already, nearly 60 Democrats have written to the House Clerk to give their vote to another member, and there is one member who presently represents 5 congressional districts under this proxy scheme,” McCarthy continued. “Those numbers can and will grow, while the number of members who cast votes in person shrinks. Ultimately, as few as 20 members could control the vote of over 220 members under this rule for the foreseeable future. That is not only irresponsible leadership, it is patently unconstitutional, as 230 years of Congressional history and Supreme Court precedent make abundantly clear.”

“Worse, by changing the rules in a way that violates the Constitution itself, Democrats are creating a precedent for further injustice,” Rep. McCarthy said. “If their changes are acceptable, what stops the majority from creating a “House Rule” that stipulates the minority party’s votes only count for half of the majority party’s? This is not the representative democracy our Founders envisioned or what our Constitution allows. It is tyranny of the majority. The Speaker’s reckless and partisan decision to adopt proxy voting was done despite unified opposition from the minority and even members of her own party. This is a serious matter that will damage the integrity of the House’s actions now and in the future. While the Constitution allows Congress to write its own rules, those rules cannot violate the Constitution itself — namely, the requirement of actual assembly. Rapid and robust legal relief is necessary. The alternative — a small number of members dictating the businesses of the whole House while the people’s voice is diluted — is unacceptable and would only make it more difficult for Congress to respond in the national interest. We must assemble.”

Representing the plaintiffs is Chuck Cooper and Joel Alicea (lead counsel), and Elliott Berke (outside counsel). The plaintiffs are asking the Court to enjoin the use of proxy voting.

The complaint alleges that proxy voting was never before authorized by the House, is unconstitutional, violating the Quorum and Yeas and Nays Clauses contained in Article I, Section 5, among other provisions.

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The proxy voting was authorized due to a number of Democratic members not wishing to travel to Washington during the coronavirus pandemic claiming that they were fearful to attend due to health concerns. There was no proxy voting by members of Congress during the 1969 flu pandemic, the 1919 flu global pandemic which killed millions, or even during the Civil War when Confederate military forces threatened the Capitol. Being a member of Congress posed significant health risks in the earliest decades of this country due to problems with disease due to poor drainage at the site.

774 Americans died Tuesday from COVID-19, including 16 Alabamians, raising the American dead toll from the coronavirus to 100,579. 1,725,275 Americans have been diagnosed as infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District. Byrne is not running for re-election.

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Jones calls for investigation of potential price fixing by meatpackers

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has joined other U.S. senators in calling for an investigation into potential price-fixing by the nation’s four largest meatpackers.

Many farmers and ranchers claim what they get paid to produce beef has no relation to what consumers are getting charged in the stores and that the big four beef packers are pocketing the profits, while farmers suffer and consumers struggle to pay for the meat on the table.

“I am once again calling on the DOJ to investigate potential price-fixing in the meat-packing industry,” Jones said on social media. “In this time of uncertainty, we need to protect our nation’s food producers and make sure we can maintain our food supply.”

In April, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate asked Jones and Sen. Richard Shelby to ask for an investigation.

Ag commissioner concerned about collapsing beef prices

Jones and the other Senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“We have heard growing concerns from cattle producers and feeders in our states about troubling practices in the cattle industry that the COVID-19 national emergency has intensified, including allegations of market manipulation and coordinated behavior harmful to competition,” the Senators wrote.

“These serious claims have been relayed in a request for further inquiry by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) from eleven state attorneys general this past week, in addition to a number of letters from Senators on the matter,” the letter states. “We support these calls to action and request that the DOJ investigate suspected price manipulation and anticompetitive behavior in the highly concentrated cattle industry, in order to identify more clearly the factors contributing to a dire situation for producers.”

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Four meatpackers — Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, JBS Swift, and National Beef — process over half of the cattle that are butchered in this country and there are a number of regulatory barriers that make entering the industry both expensive and time-consuming.

“The lack of competition in the meatpacking industry has resulted in a vulnerable beef supply chain, which the current national emergency has destabilized further,” the senators wrote. “Recent pricing discrepancies between fed cattle and boxed beef are pushing cattle producers and feeders to the brink, adding to the longstanding concerns stemming from the state of competition among beef packers. Since February, we have seen live cattle prices slump by more than 18 percent, while wholesale beef prices have increased by as much as 115 percent during the same period.”

With warm weather and more people spending much more time at home rather than at restaurants, the demand for beef and other meat should be at all-time highs.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 outbreaks at slaughter plants have meant that fewer cattle and hogs have been butchered. This has led to a decrease in the prices that farmers and ranchers receive for their animals while the price of boxed beef that the packers sell to the grocery stores has increased substantially.

Most Alabama cattlemen own acreage of grassland and a herd of mature cows. The cows and the bull do what they do naturally and most years each cow has one calf.

The cow cares for the calf to weaning at 180 to 290 days (205 is average) and the rancher sells the calves, usually at an Alabama livestock auction.

Buyers from the plains states come to purchase the 450- to 650-pound calves, which are called “feeder calves.” They go west to be stockered and finished, usually at a feedlot. Finished, also called fat, cattle are then processed — more than 80 percent of the time by one of the big four packers.

Sunday afternoon, the Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Callahan Parrish, a fourth-generation Cattle Farmer. Callahan also owns the Cullman Stockyard and is emerging as an industry advocate.

“The pandemic has unmasked many fundamental problems associated with the current beef production model,” Parrish said. “Industry infrastructure, competitive market access for our producers and food security issues top this list.”

In 2009, the average retail price of boneless sirloin steak was $5.68 per pound. In 2010, it climbed to $6.07 per pound. By 2015, it was $8.29. In 2019, it was $8.48.

The cattle market is much more volatile from week to week, but in 2009 the average liveweight price for a feeder calf was approximately $.94 a pound. It has risen to only $1.43 by 2019.

In the last 12 months the feeder calf price has traded at a high of $1.49 on October 28 all the way down to a low of $1.08 on March 31 at the height of the COVID-19 panic, the lowest the feeder calf price has been on the exchange since October 2010.

Feeder cattle have rebounded somewhat in May and they closed on Tuesday at $1.33. There was a brief two year period from late 2013 to late 2015 where feeder calf prices soared.

When prices crashed in the winter of 2015 — and never came back — the retail price of beef stayed high even though ranchers have gotten less than $1.61 per pound in these last five and a half years.

Those are the Chicago Mercantile Exchange prices. Most Alabama cattlemen do not get those prices. The big packers are located out west in Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska as are most of the feedlots so they tend to buy southern cattle at a discount.

Using last week’s USDA feeder calf market report, last week in Alabama steers, medium and large frame thick steers, weighting 550 to 600 pounds, were trading at between $1.20 per pound and $1.37 per pound, depending on what day and what stockyard.

At the same time in Oklahoma the same weight and classification of OK steer calves were trading at $1.4764. Advantage Oklahoma rancher $110.63 per calf.

The same week medium and large frame average heifers weighing 550 to 600 pounds were selling for $1.01 to $1.18 per pound in Alabama. In Oklahoma they were trading at $1.248. Advantage Oklahoma rancher.

The spread might not be this great every week, but in this example a rancher who sold 100 calves, 50 of them heifers and 50 of them steers, would have made $9,953 more if he were the typical Oklahoma rancher versus the typical Alabama rancher.

According to the same USDA report, there were some loads of 600 to 700 pound Alabama heifers trading at below $.90 a pound and we are off of the bottoms that farmers and ranchers experienced in March and April, where prices were disastrously low in many instances.

“We are seeing a lot of our local producers hurting right now due to extreme and unprecedented market volatility,” Parrish said.

This is because our cattle are not processed or fed out in Alabama, but instead are bought by order buyers and shipped out west at a profit. Some ranchers speculate that the Big Four packers are cooperating to set the spot or cash market price for cattle as low as they can, while selling beef at an artificially high price to American consumers.

Some cattlemen have asked for the DOJ to investigate. Last year, the producer group R-CALF filed suit against the Big Four packers alleging unfair trade practices. Southern cattle face continued price discrimination versus plains, Midwest, Texas, and western cattle.

The Big Four packers process all the cattle out west, mix it with Mexican and Canadian calves, another move some cattlemen suggest is to drive down the spot price, and then ship all of that processed beef back to Alabama and the rest of the country. Some cattlemen have suggested that Alabama needs its own packing plants and feedlots to keep the beef closer to consumers.

“Lack of state infrastructure and increasing import issues are adding insult to this injury,” Parrish said. “Alabama Cattle Farmers, retailers and consumers are feeling the heat. As the temperature continues to rise . . . the conversations are getting louder. Not only are the conversations getting louder . . . they are getting exciting.”

We have spent a lot of time talking about agriculture & the importance of protecting our food supply, but the reality is that the farming industry is being left behind & they stand a lot to lose during this pandemic. We must prioritize our farmers & protect our food supply chain.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents own and operate an Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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Roby: Applications for farmers to sign up for food assistance program open today

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) sent an email to constituents with a link on how farmers and ranchers can sign up for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program which opens today.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week released details on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for farmers, ranchers, and producers affected by COVID-19,” Rep. Roby wrote. “Applications open on May 26 and will be accepted at USDA Farm Service Agency offices through August 28.”

You can learn more about CFAP here.

According to USDA, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP, provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and face additional significant market costs.

Eligible commodities include: malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat, hard red spring wheat, wool, cattle, hogs, and sheep (lambs and yearlings only), dairy, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, watermelons, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, dry onions, green onions, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, taro, almonds, pecans, walnuts, beans, and mushrooms.

Alabama farmers hard hit by low commodity prices and market disruption caused by COVID-19 may apply beginning today.

Alabama Farmers Federation National Affairs Director Mitt Walker said farmers have eagerly anticipated the details of the CFAP since President Donald Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the $16 billion program a month ago.

“Farmers in Alabama appreciate President Trump, USDA Secretary Perdue and Congress for recognizing the detrimental impact COVD-19 has had on the industry,” Walker said. “Securing our nation’s food supply is critical, and unfortunately, the virus has dealt our farmers another blow when many were already having a tough time making ends meet.”

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Walker said the Alabama Farmers Federation staff have already begun looking over the final rules and will work closely with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to assist farmers in applying for these funds.

CFAP will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pres. Trump and Secretary Perdue unveiled the program during a press briefing at the White House, accompanied by farmers including American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall.

“I want to begin by expressing our profound gratitude to everyone here today and the farmers and producers across the country who have kept our nation fed and nourished as we have battled the invisible enemy,” the President said. “Now, we are standing strong with our farmers and ranchers once again. In normal times, roughly about 40% of fresh vegetables and about 40% of beef grown and raised in the United States is distributed to restaurants and other commercial food establishments. But as you know, the virus has forced many of our nation’s restaurants to temporarily close, and this has taken a major toll on our farmers and growers. For this reason, my administration is launching a sweeping new initiative, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.”

You can read more about program specifics at the Alabama Farmers Federation site.

Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She is serving in her fifth term and will retire at the end of this year.

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