Members of congress want answers on $3 million contract for possibly substandard masks for Navajo Nation

Members of Congress from New Mexico and Arizona sought answers about a $3 million contract given to a former White House staffer to supply masks to the Navajo Nation. The masks may be substandard, as the Navajo Nation deals with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country. “The IHS facilities serving the Tribe are in dire need of PPE to combat the virus and ensure medical personnel are protected from potential exposure,” the lawmakers wrote. “Accordingly, we’re also concerned by reports that the federal contract to supply PPE to the Navajo IHS Service Area was awarded to a company established by a former senior official in the White House with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience.”

Update: Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

The letter, led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, requests a number of answers from Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, the Director of the Indian Health Service. 

The Navajo Nation spreads across parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. As of Tuesday, Navajo Nation health officials had confirmed 4,842 COVID-19 cases and 158 deaths related to the disease.

Udall, Heinrich introduce long-awaited legislation to protect portions of the Gila River

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced legislation Tuesday that would designate portions of the Gila River as Wild and Scenic, after a “years-long” effort to protect what’s known as one of the country’s last wild rivers. 

The M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act would designate 446 miles of the Gila River and other waters in the Gila and San Francisco water basin as either wild or scenic, protecting those portions of river from future development. 

RELATED: A win for the state’s last wild river

Udall said they drafted the legislation with input from community members, private landowners, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, local fishers, farmers and ranchers. Udall said he and Heinrich  also worked with landowners and state agencies to identify where the designation boundaries should be. “We opened up that draft for additional feedback, to make sure New Mexicans have a seat at the table in helping determine the future of the Gila,” Udall said. “We have now introduced a strong piece of legislation that will protect the Gila, while ensuring that existing uses and planned projects, including grazing, recreation, restoration, and access can continue.”

Heinrich said the legislation is timely in a period of economic uncertainty caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The outdoor recreation industry was fueling some of our fastest job growth, particularly in our rural communities, just before the pandemic hit,” Heinrich said. “Roosevelt said conservation means development as much as it means protection, and he’s absolutely right.

Senators ask for more flexibility for states, tribal and local governments on COVID-19 relief funds

U.S. Senators want the Trump administration to remove what they call needless, bureaucratic restrictions on how states can use funding from coronavirus relief efforts. The Senators, including New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, argued that state, local and tribal governments should be able to use funds from the CARES Act to repay lost revenue and help them balance budgets. The two joined 44 other U.S. Senators who signed onto a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which said that the administration added red tape that was not included in the law passed by Congress. “To avoid distracting states, Tribes, and localities from meeting the crisis at hand, the Treasury Department should publicly confirm that states, Tribes and localities may use these funds to maintain their essential services as the CARES Act clearly permits,” the letter states. States have seen their revenue plummet as many have issued stay-at-home orders and economic activity has declined.

Udall, other Senators want investigations over Trump administration’s COVID-19 response

The letter said that states around the country, including New Mexico, face shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and says that a cohesive, national strategy is needed to allocate the equipment where it is needed.

The federal government had a stockpile of PPE and other medical equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The Trump administration moved oversight of the stockpile from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Health and Human Services Department, under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, in 2018. FEMA is in charge of distribution during a national emergency.

Republicans in Congress target Planned Parenthood with stimulus bill, with potentially larger impacts

The federal stimulus bill passed by Congress could lead to negative impacts on women’s health in New Mexico and other states. The unprecedented $2 trillion in federal relief, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump late last month is expected to provide aid to many who have been impacted by the economic fallout caused by the lack of infrastructure to contend with the respiratory virus. But buried deep within the nearly 1,000 page bill is language designed to take a swipe at Planned Parenthood. Businesses and nonprofits seeking relief money will have to go through the Trump Administration’s Small Business Association—and the agency has the ability to refuse the nonprofit organization, according to Vice. Anti-abortion lawmakers claimed it as a “win” against abortion rights.

Udall: NM set to get financial relief, another bill likely on its way

Thanks to a $2 trillion congressional relief package, New Mexico will start seeing financial support from the federal government for businesses impacted by COVID-19. And U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a member of the state’s delegation, said he will make sure the money goes where it’s needed. 

Udall, who flew from Washington D.C. to New Mexico last week, spoke with NM Political Report during his self-quarantine at his home in Santa Fe. The quarantine, Udall said, was in accordance with an order from the New Mexico Department of Health that all travelers coming into the state self-quarantine for two weeks. 

Udall said the latest support bill, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump, will help New Mexico businesses, hospitals and tribal groups. But, he said, the state and the country will probably need more. 

“This bill shouldn’t be the end of our work,” Udall said. “We will know soon what other holes we need to fill, but I think we will need more help for state and local governments whose budgets are being hit and with the price of oil today at $20, New Mexico’s state budget is going to be hit badly by that.

Navajo mom feels the magnitude of the coronavirus

As COVID-19 causes crisis and panic across the nation, one Diné (Navajo) mom reflects on how the virus adds stress to an already impoverished people. Jana Pfeiffer, who lives in Albuquerque with her family, has been able to stock up on extra food during this time of crisis. Because she’s a state employee, she can also work from home while her two kids are out of school for the next three weeks. But back on the Navajo Nation, Pfeiffer’s extended family are in a much more tenuous situation. “I think I just feel the magnitude of this problem.

U.S. Senate votes to acquit Trump

The U.S. Senate voted to acquit President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment Wednesday. On Article I, abuse of power, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney voted along with all Democrats, making the vote 52-48. Article II, obstruction of Congress, came on party-lines, 53-47. 

The allegations came in light of Trump asking Ukraine to announce an investigation of the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate for president who Trump may face in November’s general election, and the trouble Congress had getting information from the White House, which stonewalled the investigation. It would have taken two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict Trump and remove him from office. Both New Mexico U.S. Senators voted to convict Trump and criticized the Senate Majority for not calling any witnesses for the trial, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

White House task force on murdered and missing Indigenous crisis meets with local criticism

The Department of Justice held its first task force meeting on murdered and missing American Indians and Alaska Natives with much fanfare Wednesday in Washington, D.C., but local leaders question whether the federal government’s efforts will be enough. President Donald Trump issued an executive order late last year establishing what he called “Operation Lady Justice,” an interagency group led by the U.S. Department of Justice, that would “aggressively” address the crisis of murdered and missing women and girls in Indigenous communities. Although no one knows for sure how many Indigenous women and children are murdered or go missing, the federal government estimates that 1.5 million Indigenous women and children experience violence, including sexual violence, in their lifetime. Just prior to Trump’s announcement, Secretary of the Interior William Barr told a group at the Flathead Reservation in Montana last year that the Department of Justice would commit $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators to help improve law enforcement response to the problem. But Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland,an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, has previously said that the DOJ’s plan “falls short,” issued a critical statement to NM Political Report Thursday.

Poll: Guv, Senators’ approval ratings dip

A new poll showed New Mexico’s governor and both U.S. Senators’ approval ratings took a slight hit in the past three months. The poll, conducted by Morning Consult, found that 44 percent of New Mexico voters support the job Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing, while 39 percent disapprove. In the last poll, Lujan Grisham’s approval rating stood at 47 percent, compared to 37 percent disapproval. That poll was conducted in the previous three months. Lujan Grisham is a first-term Democrat, who was elected in 2018 and took office at the beginning of 2019.