The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: Sitting in Lincoln’s shadow, Trump casts himself as a victim amid coronavirus crisis

with Mariana Alfaro

President Trump gave a two-hour interview to Fox News on Sunday night in the Lincoln Memorial. His mix of self-pity and self-congratulation was startling, especially given the backdrop, as more than 67,000 Americans have been killed by an invisible enemy that has yet to be contained and the country plunges deeper into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

“They always said … nobody got treated worse than [Abraham] Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse,” said Trump, pointing toward the statue of a president who was assassinated days after winning the Civil War. “You know, I believe we've done more than any president in the history of our country in the first three years, three-and-a-half years. I really believe that.”

The visual was incredible, but the larger-than-life statue of the man who saved the union made the incumbent president look small in comparison. Etched in marble on the walls inside the monument where Trump fielded questions from Fox viewers are the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s second inaugural address. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 on the steps of the memorial, words that are now immortalized at a nearby monument.

Trump's legacy will hinge to a large degree on his perceived response to this novel coronavirus. The self-comparison to Lincoln generates other questions, such as: Which quotes from Trump, if any, will future generations of Americans deem worthy of being carved in stone?

Trump’s claim that no president has been treated worse than he came in response to a question from a supporter named Carolyn Perkins, a retired nurse and elementary school guidance counselor.

“The question I have is about your manner of presentation,” Perkins said. “Why do you use descriptive words that could be classified as bullying? And why do you not directly answer the questions asked by the press but instead speak of past successes and generally ramble? The U.S.A. needs you. Please let go of those behaviors that are turning people away from you. Please hold on to your wonderful attributes that make you our great leader and let go of other characteristics that do not serve you.”

“Look, I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen,” Trump responded. Motioning toward the statue of the 16th president, the 45th president said: “The closest would be that gentleman right up there.”

Fox anchor Bret Baier read Trump the quote from Lincoln’s second inaugural about feeling “malice toward none” and “charity for all” as he said the time had come to "bind up the nation’s wounds.” The host noted that some critics complained that the Lincoln Memorial was not the right venue for this kind of an event. Trump dismissed the criticism: “I think it’s great for the American people to see. This is a great work of art, aside from the fact that that was a great man. … And it’s one of the greatest sculptures, one of the greatest statues, to me, anywhere in the world.”

“As far as bringing America together,” Baier responded, “do you think you’re doing that?”

Trump replied with a riff on winning. “I think we were winning very big, and then we had a horrible thing happen,” he said. “We were winning bigger than we’ve ever won before, Bret, and I think that winning ultimately is going to bring this country together.”

Then Trump decried what he called “the impeachment hoax.”

“It was a total hoax over a phone call that was a perfect call,” the president said, noting that every Republican in the House voted against impeaching him. (All but one Republican in the Senate voted not to convict him.) “With all of that unity we have, in one sense, we have great unity, in another sense, I think they’re going to come along.”

Trump’s boast about “winning” came as he once again seesawed over his estimate of the number of Americans who will die from the contagion. “Look, we're going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people,” he said, arguing that more than 2 million might have died if he hadn’t acted to slow the spread. “I really believe we could have saved a million-and-a-half lives.”

The president has increased the number of probable deaths multiple times after initially insisting that Americans had nothing to worry about.

As Trump made the case that it is safe for governors to begin reopening their states, he noted that three of his friends have died from covid-19. The president also said that his supporters are “longing” for him to start holding rallies again as soon as possible. “I mean, everybody wants the rallies,” he said. “I get it all the time. But … I don't think we can have a rally with an empty stadium, with nobody in there. ... So, hopefully, we will be able to do rallies in the last couple of months. I would hope that, within maybe the last couple of months, we will be able to do rallies in various states.”

One challenge facing the president in the six months between now and Election Day is showing that he feels the pain of the millions of Americans who are suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic. A question during the virtual town hall encapsulated his difficulty at showing empathy. 

Shaina Cruz of Cullman, Ala., a single mother, said she was already living paycheck to paycheck when she lost her job in March. “I haven't received a stimulus payment or anything from unemployment,” she told the president. “I’m behind on every bill, about to evicted and have had to rely on donations in order to feed my children. I feel frustrated and I feel scared, not knowing where to turn or what to do. What advice do you have for me and others in my situation? Is there more help coming?”

Trump promised that help is coming. “You're going to get another job or you're going to get a better job. You'll get a job where you make more money, frankly, and I think that's going to happen,” he told Cruz.

The president predicted that the economy will be “incredible” next year and start to transition back to a good place in the third quarter. “I really believe that,” he said. “I have a good feel for this stuff.”

Many worry that the economy will reopen too soon, which could prompt a spike of infections and lead to another round of devastating closures. Economists are increasingly warning of the risk of a W-shaped recovery. In the immediate future, the housing market faces its next crisis as May rent and mortgages come due for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs. Already, at least 3.8 million homeowners have sought mortgage relief. Nearly 10 percent of tenants did not pay their rent in April, and that's expected to grow this month. J. Crew this morning became the first major retailer to declare bankruptcy during the pandemic. The New York-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and said it has reached an agreement with its creditors to restructure approximately $1.7 billion in debt, which will allow it to remain in business.

More on the federal response

As more states reopen their economies stalled by the coronavirus, governors discuss the latest in the response on May 3. (Video: The Washington Post)
Some experts worry about the tradeoffs being made in the rush for a vaccine.

“With at least 115 vaccine projects at companies and research labs, the science is hurtling forward so fast and bending so many rules about how the process usually works that even veteran vaccine developers do not know what to expect,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “Scientific steps that typically take place sequentially over years — animal testing, toxicology studies, laboratory experiments, massive human trials, plans to ramp up production — are now moving in fast-forward and in parallel. … U.S. regulators are firm in promising they will not sacrifice safety for speed, but some ethicists raise concerns … 

“Designing a promising vaccine is, in some ways, the easy part. Showing that it is safe and effective and then scaling up production can take years or even decades. Researchers are now trying to compress that timeline in ways they never have before, against a type of virus they have never successfully quelled. In some cases, they are also harnessing technologies that have never been used in approved vaccines. In contrast, scientists develop a new flu vaccine each year, an effort that is more of a ‘plug and play’ situation, where a time-tested basic platform can be redirected to fight new flu strains.”

The White House and congressional Democrats are at odds over liability protections. 

The Senate is reconvening today, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is insisting employers be shielded from liability if their workers contract the coronavirus. "He appears to have the backing of top White House officials. Democratic leaders have declared they will oppose such blanket protections,” Erica Werner and Tom Hamburger report. “Key GOP senators are circulating drafts of legislation to set up legal protections they say would give businesses the confidence to reopen without worrying about lawsuits. … The Democratic-run House remains largely shuttered for at least another week, with leaders citing the health risks. And Democratic leaders want to focus their next legislative effort at pumping more money into the economy, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointing to $1 trillion in needs for cities and states. …  The National Association of Manufacturers, for example, is asking Congress to limit lawsuits to instances where a manufacturer had actual knowledge that workers could be exposed to the coronavirus and consciously disregarded that information or acted with reckless indifference … The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is seeking some similar measures, including a ‘safe harbor’ against customer lawsuits for businesses that have followed public health guidelines.”

  • Ashford Group, a publicly traded hotel group, will return federal coronavirus loans following public scrutiny. The company received $76 million, making it one of the largest known recipients. AutoNation, a national network of auto sellers that received $77 million despite being valued in the billions, is also returning the funds, which were intended for small businesses. (Jeanne Whalen)
  • A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that strip clubs are entitled to emergency aid from the government, allowing them to start applying for loans today. (Antonia Farzan)
  • The virus is battering the oil and gas industry, but it’s also drying up capital and disrupting supply chains for businesses trying to move the country toward renewable energy sources. (Steven Mufson and Dino Grandoni)
As Trump dallied, governors stepped up.

“This display of state power is very much as the Founders intended when they established the nation,” writes Dan Balz. “Over time, the federal government has regularly usurped the broad authority given to the states, often to wipe away problems or correct historical injustices. This spring, the balance of power has been flipped, with states forced to compensate for failings at the national level. Those federal deficiencies reflect an absence of readiness and sometimes a lack of interest and competence on the part of the Trump administration. The deficiencies have been compounded by a president given to issuing conflicting advice, attacking individual governors, and making wildly misleading and outright false statements, as when he suggested that scientists should explore injecting bleach into people to combat the virus. ‘What I can say is we’ve had very little leadership with regard to the coronavirus crisis from the federal government,’ said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D).”

Deborah Birx spoke out against protesters for whom Trump has expressed sympathy.

On “Fox News Sunday," the coordinator of the White House task force lamented the protesters who stormed the state capitol in Michigan. “It’s devastatingly worrisome to me, personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very — or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” she said. “So we need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.” (Aaron Blake)

Before covid-19, Stephen Miller tried to use public health as a pretext to advance his nativist agenda. 

“From the early days of the Trump administration, Miller, the president’s chief adviser on immigration, has repeatedly tried to use an obscure law designed to protect the nation from diseases overseas as a way to tighten the borders,” the Times reports. “The question was, which disease? Mr. Miller pushed for invoking the president’s broad public health powers in 2019, when an outbreak of mumps spread through immigration detention facilities in six states. He tried again that year when Border Patrol stations were hit with the flu. When vast caravans of migrants surged toward the border in 2018, Mr. Miller looked for evidence that they carried illnesses. He asked for updates on American communities that received migrants to see if new disease was spreading there. … On some occasions, Mr. Miller and the president, who also embraced these ideas, were talked down by cabinet secretaries and lawyers who argued that the public health situation at the time did not provide sufficient legal basis for such a proclamation. That changed with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Quote of the day

“I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic,” Vice President Pence said Sunday on Fox News, a rare admission that he made a mistake.

Dispatches from the front lines

A social distancing enforcement action led to the arrest of three people in Manhattan’s Lower East Side May 2, police said, as video of the incident went viral. (Video: Owens/@PAULY466 via Storyful)
A cop has been suspended after a video went viral.

A New York City police officer was caught on camera punching a bystander while enforcing social distancing restrictions, resulting in an internal probe. The officer, Francis Garcia, appears to be pointing a stun gun at a crowd of bystanders before punching and slapping someone to the ground. The man, one of three people arrested during the East Village encounter, was charged with assaulting a police officer. But he does not appear to hit Garcia in the video. The officer has been stripped of his gun and badge. (NYT)

  • Michigan police are investigating reports that a Flint dollar store’s security guard was fatally shot after an argument with a customer who refused to wear a mask inside the store. (Detroit News)
  • New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware will band together to purchase and allocate massive amounts of personal protective and medical equipment. (NYT)
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) warned of a “false comfort” as the outbreak recedes. The state recorded 280 new deaths on Sunday, down slightly from 299 the day before. (Bloomberg News)
A small Oklahoma city backed off a mask mandate. 

“Some officials are backing off requirements that people wear masks inside businesses, as cities, counties and states — left to devise their own guidelines — run into limits on their ability to maintain public health precautions with stay-at-home orders easing … The issue pushed a small Oklahoma city into the national spotlight this weekend, after leaders quickly withdrew a mandate to don masks inside reopened stores and restaurants, citing threats of violence and physical abuse directed at employees. The mayor of Stillwater apologized to businesses for putting them in a dangerous position, as some people responded virulently to the new rules,” Hannah Knowles and Marisa Iati report. “‘We don’t have the kind of police force that can go out and try to deal with every single one of the people who may not be willing to wear the masks,’ Mayor Will Joyce said Sunday on MSNBC. ‘And so it’s been a struggle [to] make people understand that wearing that face covering is an easy and an effective way to help slow the spread of this virus.’”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) also backed away from an order requiring masks. “It became clear to me that that was just a bridge too far. People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” He added that he still highly recommends people wear masks. Ohio's manufacturing and construction businesses will reopen today, joined by consumer and retail stores next week. DeWine said employees still must wear masks.

Whole Foods will give free disposable face masks starting this week to customers at all its stores. The supermarket chain was already providing masks to employees. Costco, which announced it will require shoppers to wear masks in its stores starting today, drew blowback on social media from some annoyed customers. Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, whose chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. (Teo Armus

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is resisting pressure to reopen.

“Hogan pointed to the crowds of people gathered at the Mall and in other public spaces to enjoy the weekend's temperate spring weather as cause for concern — an example of why he is reluctant to immediately lift measures designed to contain the deadly coronavirus,” Ann Marimow, Rebecca Tan and Erin Cox report. “Maryland, Virginia and the District reported 85 additional covid-19 deaths, along with 2,148 new coronavirus infections. As of Sunday, the region had recorded a total of 2,192 deaths and 49,149 confirmed cases of the virus. … On a positive note, for the third consecutive day the number of covid-19 patients hospitalized statewide in Maryland decreased. As of Sunday, there were 1,635 patients in the hospital, the lowest number in five days. … 

“Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also is hearing from residents and businesses who want restrictions eased. Northam’s order closing most nonessential businesses is set to expire Friday, and the governor said last week that he will have guidance Monday on whether he intends to extend the ban. As of Friday, Northam had lifted a ban on non-emergency procedures for doctors, dentists and veterinarians. Hogan, Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) have said any reopening of the region would be a coordinated effort. Hogan has said he won’t consider lifting stay-at-home measures until the state sees either a consistent plateau or downward trend in new hospitalizations and new intensive care unit patients."

  • Northam and the Justice Department are sparring over whether the governor’s stay-at-home orders unfairly discriminate against churches and other religious institutions. DOJ lawyers endorsed a Chincoteague church’s lawsuit filed after its pastor received a criminal citation for holding a religious service last month with 16 people, which exceeded Northam’s 10-person limit. (Politico)
Restaurants, state parks and stores are set to open in most of Florida today.

“Businesses once deemed ‘nonessential’ will welcome back workers. Hospitals will perform surgeries put on hold since March,” the Miami Herald reports. “South Florida has to wait a while longer because the COVID-19 hot spots of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are not included in the changes that go into effect Monday. Gov. Ron DeSantis [R] asserts his plan can get business flowing while keeping people safe." 

  • Florida’s St. Johns County kept beaches open, drawing record crowds, through most of March, despite mounting alarms being sounded privately by the county's medical examiner. “Close the beaches. Please,” Deanna Oleske pleaded to officials in emails obtained by Meryl Kornfield.
  • Leaders in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region are calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) to shut down the upcoming fishing season, which attracts about 12,000 workers from across the country. An outbreak could quickly devastate the area – its sole hospital has just two ventilators and 12 beds suitable for covid-19 patients. (Nathaniel Herz)
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said the protesters that stormed her state's capitol last week “depicted some of the worst racism” in her state. Whitmer also defended her state of emergency declaration, which the GOP-controlled legislature voted not to extend. (Michigan Live)
  • Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day in Wisconsin were counted, an unexpected outcome that’s been credited to a last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons and Robert Barnes)
  • Texas health workers are dipping into their own pockets to provide care in rural areas. “Low reimbursement rates and high numbers of uninsured patients have forced 128 hospitals that served 6 million people across the nation to close in the last decade. Twenty-one hospitals were in Texas, more than any other state. That's left one out of five rural Texas counties without a doctor,” CBS News reports.
  • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said the nearly 400 new cases reported in his state on Friday was a “one-day blip," driven by more testing. He said his “safer at home” order, which started last week, will remain in place until May 11. (Beaumont Enterprise)

The foreign fallout

Italy’s eight-week lockdown – the world’s longest – is coming to an end.

Beginning today, Italians will once again be able to visit relatives, go for a run in the park, and get takeout from restaurants. Roughly 4 million who work in manufacturing and construction will return to their jobs. Many restrictions, however, remain in place. Stores that are deemed nonessential remain closed, along with hairdressers, gyms, bars and movie theaters. The number of new cases and fatalities – 1,389 and 174, respectively – reported on Sunday was the lowest since March 10. (Antonia Farzan)   

  • Iceland is emerging from its six-week lockdown today with only 10 recorded coronavirus deaths. Iceland’s success has been attributed to its small size — it’s home to roughly 364,000 people — and its aggressive early response. After a handful of people became infected with the virus in late February and March, detectives hurried to track down everyone they had been in contact with and placed them in quarantine. (Farzan)
  • New Zealand reported zero new cases of the virus, which the country’s top health official said was a “cause for celebration” while imploring residents not to ease up on social distancing. The country is now under a slightly less restrictive stay-at-home order, with businesses allowed to reopen as long as they can operate without coming into contact with customers. (Anna Fifield)
A third Russian health-care professional has fallen from a hospital window under mysterious circumstances. 

Alexander Shupelov, who is in critical condition, recently released a video complaining that the chief doctor of his hospital had forced him to work even after he tested positive for the virus. Last week, Natalia Lebedeva, the chief EMS officer at a cosmonaut training center outside Moscow, plunged to her death from the window of a hospital room where she was placed with covid-19 symptoms. Days earlier, 47-year-old Yelena Nepomnyashchaya, head of a Siberian hospital repurposed for coronavirus patients, fell from the fifth-floor window of the facility. Local media cited a source saying that Nepomnyashchaya was opposed to repurposing another of the hospital’s buildings for coronavirus patients because of a shortage of protective gear and a lack of proper training among staff. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

Israeli students are going back to school. 

“Israel’s lurch back toward scholastic routine after weeks of online learning has been scattered and controversial. Education officials have been caught between health experts warning of a second outbreak and business advocates seeking to free parents up to return to work,” Steve Hendrix reports. “Several large cities, including Tel Aviv, said they would stay closed for now. Teachers groups, too, pushed back, wanting clarity on safety measures and how they will be paid for weeks of online teaching. Several associations of preschool and day-care workers said their members would not return to work on May 10, when the government hopes to reopen those facilities. … Matti and Anna Michel had gone over the new rules with the twins several times: No taking books from the library, no borrowing pencils from other students, no games that require touching (‘Which is pretty much every kid game there is,’ Matti, 36, said ruefully).”   

  • Random testing of 500 people in Afghanistan’s capital found that one-third of them had the virus, suggesting a widespread outbreak. (AP)
  • Pope Francis called for more international cooperation to discover a vaccine, saying on Sunday any successful treatment should be made available for everyone in the world. (Reuters)
A DHS report accuses China of concealing the pandemic’s severity to stock up on supplies.

“Chinese leaders ‘intentionally concealed the severity’ of the pandemic from the world in early January, according to a four-page Department of Homeland Security intelligence report dated May 1," the Associated Press reports. "Not classified but marked ‘for official use only,’ the DHS analysis states that, while downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies. It attempted to cover up doing so by ‘denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data,’ the analysis states. The report also says China held off informing the World Health Organization that the coronavirus ‘was a contagion’ for much of January so it could order medical supplies from abroad — and that its imports of face masks and surgical gowns and gloves increased sharply.” 

Mike Pompeo claimed there’s “enormous evidence” the coronavirus originated from a Wuhan lab. The secretary of state said on “ABC's This Week" that he cannot say whether or not the virus was intentionally released because China is not cooperating, but added that he had no reason to doubt the intelligence community's consensus the virus was not manmade or genetically modified.

Britain’s defense secretary said China needs to be be more forthcoming. Ben Wallace complained that the lack of information-sharing is a “massive problem.” (Jennifer Hassan)

South Korea says its troops were fired upon in the DMZ.

“North and South Korea exchanged gunfire near one of the South's guard posts inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, the South Korean military said Sunday,” Min Joo Kim and Karen DeYoung report. “The incident began when North Korean soldiers fired at the guard post several times, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The Joint Chiefs said their soldiers fired back twice. They did not report casualties or damage. A South Korean Defense Ministry official … said the guard post was not hit.”

Social media speed read

Trump criticized George W. Bush for not speaking out against impeachment after the former GOP president shared a heartfelt video calling for unity amid the pandemic:

Trump's message on Press Freedom Day was quite different from those of other leaders worldwide:

Boris Johnson and his fiancée named their newborn son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson, partly after the doctors who cared for the British prime minister while he was in the hospital fighting the virus. The two doctors, Nick Hart and Nick Price, said they were “honored and humbled”:

A procession of dozens of emergency vehicles honored Colorado paramedic Paul Cary, who succumbed to the virus while volunteering in New York:

Videos of the day

John Oliver explained why we need more coronavirus testing: 

And Trevor Noah once again found some good news amid the chaos: