with Mariana Alfaro

The White House revealed on Monday that members of its coronavirus task force – and their deputies – are barred from testifying before Congress unless they get special permission from chief of staff Mark Meadows. The reason being given for blocking public health officials is that they’re busy trying to get control of a contagion that has now killed at least 68,172 and infected 1,175,000 Americans. 

But this is just the latest in a growing list of power plays by President Trump to thwart congressional oversight and independent watchdogs from scrutinizing his administration’s response to the novel coronavirus and the way trillions of dollars are being distributed by the government.

A memo to congressional staff directors said this restriction on testimony also applies to the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State. It decrees that committees are limited to no more than four virus-related hearings this month. “Given these competing demands in these unprecedented times, it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused on implementing of COVID-19 response, including declining to participate in multiple hearings on the same or overlapping topics,” the memo states.

Last week, the White House blocked Tony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases official, from testifying before a House committee, which is controlled by Democrats. But Fauci received permission from Meadows to testify next week before the Senate’s health committee, which is controlled by Republicans.

Trump hinted at a more partisan motivation than the memo let on as he boarded Marine One on Tuesday morning, telling reporters that Fauci is not being allowed to testify before the House because its members are “Trump haters.” During his Fox News interview on Sunday night, the president grumbled that House Democrats are trying to embarrass him. “When you see all these committees, seven or eight committees, we haven’t even started, and they have all these committees looking for trouble, just looking for trouble,” Trump said at the Lincoln Memorial. “Every enemy I have is put on a Democrat committee.” 

Democrats are outraged. “President Trump should learn that by muzzling science and the truth, it will only prolong this health and economic crisis,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The president’s failure to accept the truth, and then his desire to hide it, is one of the chief reasons we are lagging behind so many other countries in beating this scourge.”

The Post examines what President Trump predicted compared with what is now known about the death toll. (The Washington Post)

The Monday memo signaled that this will be the administration's modus operandi. With GOP-controlled Senate committees, Trump allies on Capitol Hill acknowledge that administration witnesses can bank on friendlier questions and exert more influence over ground rules for hearings. Then the White House might feel freer to say that an official has already appeared on the Hill and therefore will not return any time soon.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi mocked the White House for saying that officials on the coronavirus task force are too busy to visit the Capitol when they’ve stood by Trump’s side for hours at a time as he’s held court on matters that had little to do with the contagion during news conferences. “The fact is that we need to allocate resources,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last night on CNN. “In order to do that, any appropriations bill must begin in the House and we have to have information to act upon. So the fact that they said, ‘We're too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol’ is, well, business as usual for them. But it is not business that will be helpful to addressing this.” 

Trump has also systematically sought to sideline inspectors general. Outside groups that advocate for transparency in government say Trump’s moves make a mockery of the watchdog system created after Richard Nixon’s resignation to prevent future presidents from Watergate-style abuses of power.

After 8 p.m. on Friday, Trump moved to replace the top watchdog at HHS. She released a report last month on shortages in testing and personal protective gear at hospitals that undercut his public insistence that there were no such shortages. Now he’s nominated a permanent inspector general to take the job away from Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who has run the office in an acting capacity since January. She’s worked there in a nonpolitical capacity as a career investigator and auditor since the 1990s, uncovering waste, fraud and abuse. A White House spokesman declined to comment about the move, citing personnel decisions. But Trump lashed out at Grimm on Twitter and during a news conference after she published her findings.

Late on another Friday night, April 3, Trump fired the intelligence community’s inspector general who complied with a legal obligation to notify Congress that an urgent and credible whistleblower complaint had been filed with his office. That complaint, which drew public attention to the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, led to Trump’s impeachment.

On April 7, Trump blocked the Defense Department’s then-acting inspector general from overseeing a panel of watchdogs created to oversee $2 trillion in spending related to the coronavirus response. He did this by replacing Glenn Fine, the acting Pentagon inspector general who had been selected by the other watchdogs to lead the group, with Sean O’Donnell, the inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency. O’Donnell is now serving in both the EPA and Pentagon watchdog roles, which makes Fine ineligible to lead the pandemic response panel.

The president has also nominated one of his own lawyers at the White House, who was involved in defending Trump during the impeachment proceedings, to serve in the new role of Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. That lawyer, Brian Miller, will appear before the Senate Banking Committee this afternoon for his confirmation hearing. In a draft of his opening statement, Miller promises to be fair and impartial. Democrats plan to press him on this. This will be the first in-person hearing related to the coronavirus response since the House and Senate mostly left town in March.

“The new Special IG for Pandemic Recovery is only one piece in a complicated and overlaying set of oversight mechanisms Congress has put in place to monitor the coronavirus response,” Erica Werner reports. “Yet the trouble that has emerged in the federal spending in response to the coronavirus — such as big businesses tapping into a small business loan program — has been uncovered by the media, not any of the oversight groups. That’s because they have mostly not yet begun to function. A congressional oversight commission created in the Cares Act, and like the new inspector general tasked with overseeing the $500 billion Treasury fund, cannot begin to function until its chairperson is appointed jointly by [Pelosi] and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The two have spoken, but it’s unclear when they will make their appointment. A separate select committee of lawmakers that Pelosi created over GOP objections also is in limbo because Republicans have not yet announced their appointments to the panel or even said whether they will participate.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was noncommittal when asked on Monday whether he will name Republicans to the oversight panel.

After Trump signed the Cares Act on Friday, March 27, the White House issued a “signing statement” that night that said the president does not plan to comply with a key oversight plank of the bill that Democrats had negotiated to include. The law requires that the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery directly notify Congress “without delay” if executive agencies refuse to comply with reasonable requests. Trump said he will not allow this because, in his view, it usurps his power under Article II. In the past, he’s falsely claimed that Article II allows him to do whatever he wants.

Trump has been disdainful of Congress’s status as a co-equal branch throughout his tenure in office. He declared a national emergency to divert money that had been appropriated for the military toward his border wall project when the legislative branch refused to provide money for it. One of the two articles of impeachment that the House passed against Trump was for obstruction of Congress, stemming from his refusal to comply with subpoenas seeking documents and testimony from his aides. The Senate voted not to convict Trump. Breaking with a custom begun by President Barack Obama, Trump’s White House has never released visitor logs. Trump is also the first president since Lyndon Johnson not to release his tax returns. 

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a potential running mate, published an op-ed together complaining that there is insufficient oversight of coronavirus relief money. “Inspectors general should be shielded from removal except for what’s codified as ‘good cause,’” they wrote for McClatchy newspapers over the weekend. “The Biden administration will appoint an inspector general to review every coronavirus relief transaction currently evading serious scrutiny. Wasteful, corrupt deals and giveaways will be rooted out and undone. Suspicious transactions will be referred to the Justice Department for investigation and prosecution. Every Trump administration official and business executive contemplating such deals should hear us loud and clear. Trump may wink and nod at this corruption. We will not.”

More on the federal response

A draft government report projected covid-19 cases will surge to about 200,000 per day by June 1, according to a copy shared with The Washington Post. (Reuters)
A draft government report projects cases will surge to 200,000 a day by June 1, with more than 3,000 daily deaths. 

The document predicts a sharp increase in both cases and deaths beginning about May 14, according to a copy shared with The Post. The forecast stops at June 1, but shows both daily cases and deaths on an upward trajectory at that point,” William Wan, Lenny Bernstein, Laurie McGinley and Josh Dawsey report. “The White House and the CDC disavowed the report, although the slides carry the CDC’s logo. The creator of the model said the numbers are unfinished projections shown to the CDC as a work in progress. The work contained a wide range of possibilities and modeling was not complete, according to Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who created the model. … [Lessler] said 100,000 cases per day by the end of the month is within the realm of possibility. Much depends on political decisions being made today. ‘There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly,’ Lessler said. One federal official said the data was presented at a recent briefing for the National Response Coordination Center, a part of FEMA … 

“The estimates showing an increase to 200,000 cases and 3,000 deaths daily are high compared to other epidemiological models. … On Monday, however, the IHME model — widely used by states and heavily relied upon in the past by the White House — also revised its deaths significantly upward to reflect the reopenings in several states. The IHME model — created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — is now estimating that the United States will reach nearly 135,000 deaths by August 1. That number is significantly higher than its mid-April estimate of 60,308 deaths.”

Trump is cheering on governors ignoring White House guidelines for safely reopening. 

“A slew of states — such as Texas, Indiana, Colorado and Florida — have pushed forward with relaxing social distancing guidelines even as the number of people testing positive in many states has increased in recent weeks and testing continues to lag behind. White House recommendations released last month encouraged states to wait to see a decline in cases over a two-week period, as well as having robust testing in place for front-line workers before entering ‘Phase One’ of a gradual comeback,” Toluse Olorunnipa, Griff Witte and Lenny Bernstein report. “But Trump and some of his aides have backed away from their own guidelines, opting instead to hail the broad economic reopening that health experts say has started too quickly … ‘There’s not too many states that I know of that are going up. Almost everybody is headed in the right direction,’ Trump said during a Fox News town hall on Sunday, in which he presented a misleading and rosy assessment of the crisis. … In reality, new coronavirus cases are increasing in about a third of states, compared with just a few where there has been a sustained decline. A plurality of states are hovering around the same level, with neither a significant uptick nor decrease in daily cases. That mirrors the national trend, as the rate of new cases has leveled off in recent weeks but not declined.”

Federal rules prohibit events inside the Lincoln Memorial, which is supposed to be hallowed ground. But Interior Secretary David Bernhardt personally signed a directive making an exception to the rules so Trump could hold his virtual town hall there with Fox News on Sunday night, which was characterized by a startling mix of self-pity and self-congratulation. Bernhardt cited the “extraordinary crisis” of the coronavirus to justify bending the rules, the New York Times reports. Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. and Republican National Committee co-chair Tommy Hicks have been looking to buy a station for Trump TV, Vanity Fair reports, in an attempt to build a Fox News competitor. Trump is heading to Phoenix today to tour a Honeywell aerospace facility that is making respirator masks for health-care workers.

Americans still widely oppose the reopening of most businesses.

While a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that 56 percent of Americans say they feel comfortable shopping at grocery stores, 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store while 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant, Dan Balz and Emily Guskin report. The most significant opposition is to reopening movie theaters, with 82 percent of Americans saying they should not be allowed to open up in their state. People in states with looser restrictions report similar levels of discomfort as those in states with stricter rules. The same poll found that Trump’s ratings for his response to the crisis are 44 percent positive and 56 percent negative. Partisan differences remain sizable, with nearly 8 in 10 Republicans and just about 2 in 10 Democrats rating him positively. In contrast, governors and federal public health scientists received overwhelming approval. Fauci’s positive rating stands at 74 percent.

The pandemic is pushing the U.S. into a mental health crisis.

“Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. Just as the initial coronavirus outbreak caught hospitals unprepared, the country’s mental health system … is even less prepared to handle this coming surge,” William Wan reports. “A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. … And yet, out of the trillions of dollars Congress passed in emergency coronavirus funding, only a tiny portion is allocated for mental health." 

The FDA stepped up scrutiny of more than 100 commercial antibody tests. 

“Officials said ‘unscrupulous actors’ have been ‘marketing fraudulent test kits and using the pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of Americans’ anxiety,’” Laurie McGinley reports. “The tougher requirements will make it harder to buy questionable tests, but officials say there should still be enough reliable options for hospitals, doctors and consumers.”

  • The FDA’s new oversight process resulted in its first approved antibody test. A test made by Euroimmun U.S., a medical diagnostics company based in New Jersey, was given authorization after the company spent 10 days proving it works. (Teo Armus)
  • Pfizer began testing multiple versions of an experimental vaccine in healthy young people in the U.S. this week, a first step toward establishing the safety, dosage and most promising candidate to take into larger trials that will test effectiveness. (Carolyn Johnson)
Follow the money.

Robert Kadlec, Trump's national stockpile chief, put a focus on biodefense before the pandemic, benefiting an old client. His office made a deal to buy up to $2.8 billion of the smallpox vaccine from a company that once paid Kadlec as a consultant, a connection he did not disclose on a Senate questionnaire when he was nominated, Jon Swaine, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Aaron Davis report. Under the agreement with Emergent BioSolutions, Kadlec’s Health and Human Services office is paying more than double the price per dose it had previously paid for the drug. 

The Treasury plans on borrowing $3 trillion from April through June as virus costs pile up. 

“Last year, Treasury borrowed $1.28 trillion over 12 months. Its plan to borrow $3 trillion would be done over just three months,” Rachel Siegel reports. “Because revenue is falling, Treasury is planning to issue large amounts of debt to cover these costs. Treasury said it planned to borrow an additional $677 billion from July through September. … These figures only take into account legislation that has been passed so far this year, senior Treasury officials said Monday. An expansion in government relief, or the passage of additional legislation, could spur Treasury to increase borrowing later in the year.”

Small businesses are grappling with whether to accept stimulus money. 

“Shipping businesses, cleaning companies, defense contractors and law firms have pursued loans even though they’re doing well, according to business owners, bankers and consultants who have worked on applications,” Jonathan O’Connell reports. “With limited guidance from the government, decisions about whether companies have been sufficiently harmed have largely fallen to the applicants themselves and their banks.” 

  • Tyson Foods said national pork production is down 50 percent despite Trump’s order to keep meat plants open. (Laura Reiley)
  • Carnival plans to restart cruises days after the CDC’s no-sail order is set to lift. The cruise line plans to use a fraction of its fleet this summer, launching cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean starting on Aug. 1. (Hannah Sampson)
  • United Airlines told employees they should “seriously consider” leaving the airline because the carrier will need to “right size” its workforce. (CNN)
The Senate has returned to forge a new normal, warily. 

“The adaptations made by what is perhaps Washington’s most hidebound institution were unmistakable, if uneven. Most staff members kept masks on as they worked on the Senate dais and ringed the ornate chamber. Meanwhile, senators did not always follow health experts’ guidance to reduce the risk of spreading the deadly disease,” Mike DeBonis reports. "McConnell quickly set the tone for the Republican majority, announcing on the floor that, after weeks of telework, ‘the time has come for us to continue conducting our nation’s business in ways that are only possible with senators here, in the Capitol.’ He pointed to the need to process national-security-related nominations and reauthorize key foreign surveillance authorities. … But Democrats expressed clear discomfort with being summoned back to the Capitol — for what they said were reasons that had more to do with politics than with addressing the mounting health-care crisis in the country.” 

  • The technology-averse Supreme Court held its first teleconference hearings ever. The arguments were widely broadcast by media outlets, including C-SPAN, the first time the public could listen in live as advocates made their cases. (Robert Barnes)
  • The Senate rejected Joe Biden’s request to release any potential records related to a complaint allegedly filed by Tara Reade, the former aide who accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1993. (Sean Sullivan and Matt Viser)
Trump often talks about his famed uncle’s science genius. A friend says he’d be “horrified.”

“Trump has sought repeatedly to present himself as a man of scientific knowledge largely because his uncle [an MIT professor] was so renowned," Michael Kranish reports. “[John Trump] had a career celebrated for his achievements in saving the lives of cancer patients, cleaning the environment, helping the U.S. military win World War II through radar technology and receiving the National Medal of Science. … A family friend who knew John Trump personally said the scientist would have recoiled at Donald Trump’s claim of scientific knowledge when promoting unproven drugs and other treatments.”

Dispatches from the front lines

A man wore a KKK hood at a grocery store after San Diego County started requiring face masks.

“Tiam Tellez — one of several shoppers who captured photos of the hooded man at a Vons supermarket in Santee, Calif., and posted them on social media — wrote on Facebook that several store employees repeatedly told the man to take off the hood or leave,” Michael Brice-Saddler reports. “The incident comes as people of color in the United States grapple with the potential consequences of wearing face coverings like bandannas, especially black men, who fear being racially profiled as criminals or gang members. … The Los Angeles Times notes that the city has a history of racially motivated attacks and is known by the nicknames ‘Klantee’ and ‘Santucky.’ On Monday, the president of NAACP San Diego branch, Francine Maxwell, lamented what she called a recent pattern of racial discrimination by local authorities while enforcing social distancing orders and requested an internal review of procedures.”  

Three people were charged in the killing of a Family Dollar security guard over a mask policy.

“A Family Dollar store security guard was fatally shot in Flint, Mich., on Friday after telling a customer her child had to wear a face mask to enter the store, the prosecutor’s office said. The argument began when the security guard, Calvin Munerlyn, 43, told Sharmel Lashe Teague, 45, that customers needed to wear face masks in the store, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said … She yelled at him, spit on him and drove off, Leyton said. About 20 minutes later, her car returned to the store, and her husband and her son, Larry Edward Teague, 44, and Ramonyea Travon Bishop, 23, stepped out and confronted Munerlyn, according to investigators who spoke to witnesses in the store and reviewed surveillance video. Bishop pulled out a gun and shot Munerlyn, Leyton said,” Meryl Kornfield reports. “Leyton said Munerlyn was doing his job, protecting others and enforcing a statewide executive order. In Michigan, people are required to wear face coverings in grocery stores. Stores can refuse service to anyone who isn’t wearing a mask. … All three are charged with first-degree premeditated murder and gun charges.” 

  • In a different altercation at a Michigan Dollar Tree, a customer who balked at the idea of wearing a face mask wiped his face on an employee’s sleeve. (Detroit Free Press)
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) called out protesters who have been harassing the state’s health chief at her home. “The buck stops with me,” DeWine said. “So come after me.” (Meagan Flynn)
Atlanta is seeing a rise of infections as Georgia reopens. 

“In Georgia, the CDC said, metro Atlanta and other populous regions of the state are among the areas ‘whose burden continues to grow,’ or that, at best, have seen new diagnoses level off at a high plateau. Several counties, many of them rural and scantly populated, showed significant declines in infection rates,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. “The CDC’s maps showed the rate of infections still rising in Georgia’s hardest-hit region, the counties surrounding Albany, about 200 miles southwest of Atlanta … With the lockdown ended, several metro Atlanta shopping malls reopened Monday. But many stores remained dark, and few shoppers ventured into the new normal of retailing. … [GOP Gov. Brian Kemp] defended his decision to relax social restrictions during an online conference call." 

With an outdoor dining ban lifted, South Carolinians flocked to restaurants. 

“Exactly four weeks after Gov. Henry McMaster issued a stay-at-home order for South Carolinians, some Charleston-area diners were so anxious to feel less cooped-up that they willingly waited up to 40 minutes in their cars for an available restaurant table on the first day that legal on-premise dining returned statewide,” the Post and Courier reports. On the same day, South Carolina reported 135 new cases of coronavirus and eight deaths, bringing the state total to 6,757 cases and 283 deaths. 

  • Dinner reservations sold out at a number of Houston restaurants within minutes of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 27 announcement Texas would begin reopening last week. (Houston Chronicle)
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the state will move into stage two of his reopening plan by the end of the week, including the return of retail, manufacturing and other “low risk” businesses. Businesses can start reopening Friday if new safety measures are implemented. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he’ll probably ease some restrictions on May 15. 

“Northam (D) said conditions are in place to allow the state to consider reopening dine-in restaurants and some other establishments under social distancing requirements. Hospitals are reporting excess bed capacity and adequate levels of personal protective gear, he said, and there appears to be slower growth in the rate of new infections,” Gregory Schneider, Laura Vozzella and Fenit Nirappil report. “Neither Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) nor D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has said they are close to rolling back restrictions, a departure from the coordinated approach the three leaders have taken during the pandemic so far. But Northam’s chief of staff said Monday that Northam, Hogan and Bowser discussed a possible May 15 start to the process during a conference call last week and will speak again Tuesday. Chief of staff Clark Mercer said that Northam has also discussed reopening plans with leaders in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Delaware. Maryland, the District and Virginia added 67 new coronavirus deaths on Monday as case numbers exceeded 50,000 for the first time. Per capita deaths are far higher in the District and Maryland — 38 and 22 per 100,000 residents, respectively, compared with 8.1 per 100,000 in Virginia.” 

  • Maryland’s lone Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, called for reopening businesses: “Will [Larry Hogan] save some lives? Yes, he will, but he’s not going to save thousands.” (Jenna Portnoy)
  • More people in D.C. are dying outside of hospitals during the pandemic, raising concerns they're not seeking medical attention for a wide range of other ailments. (Peter Hermann)
The virus is infecting battleground states in ways that could affect the 2020 race. 

Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution has been tracking the spread of the coronavirus by county and found that, since March 29, some 1,103 counties across the country have newly achieved what he calls “high-covid status,” and 813 of them voted for Trump in 2016, while 290 voted for Hillary Clinton. “In Frey’s analysis, a high-covid-status county is one in which 100 or more cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed per 100,000 residents," Greg Sargent blogs. “Since March 29, Michigan gained an additional 31 high-covid counties overall; Florida gained an additional 28; Pennsylvania gained 31; North Carolina gained 40; Wisconsin gained eight; and Arizona gained five … Frey noted that many of these new swing-state, high covid counties are red-leaning ones.”

The foreign fallout

Crowds of joggers, cyclists and people emerged for fresh air across Spain on May 2, as the government allowed citizens to go outdoors for exercise. (Reuters)
Want to exercise outside in Spain? Then wait for your shift. 

People are being allowed to exercise outside but only during specific times designated by age group in order to keep crowds relatively thin and protect seniors. Masked police officers stand watch to ensure compliance, while people are ordered not to drive to a chosen exercise spot in order to leave the streets clear for socially distanced cyclists, runners and walkers. (Pamela Rolfe

  • Across Rome on Monday, runners laced up their shoes and headed outdoors as restaurants lifted their shutters, even if just for takeout service, as Italy began loosening Europe’s longest lockdown. The country, with a mix of anxiety and excitement, crept back to life. (Chico Harlan, Loveday Morris and Stefano Pitrelli)
  • Hong Kong bars, fitness centers, nail salons and other businesses will reopen next week – with some restrictions on their operations, such as mandatory temperature-taking and caps on the number of people who can be inside venues like cinemas. (Shibani Mahtani)
World leaders came together for a virtual vaccine summit. The U.S. refused to participate. 

“World leaders came together in a virtual summit Monday to pledge billions of dollars to quickly develop vaccines and drugs to fight the coronavirus. Missing from the roster was the Trump administration,” William Booth, Carolyn Johnson and Carol Morello report. “The online conference, led by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and a half-dozen countries, was set to raise $8.2 billion from governments, philanthropies and the private sector to fund research and mass-produce drugs, vaccines and testing kits to combat the virus … With the money came soaring rhetoric about international solidarity and a good bit of boasting about each country’s efforts and achievements, live and prerecorded, by Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Boris Johnson, Japan’s Shinzo Abe — alongside Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. … A senior Trump administration official said Monday the United States ‘welcomes’ the efforts of the conference participants. He did not explain why the United States did not join them.”

Australian intelligence agencies questioned U.S. evidence supposedly linking the coronavirus to a Wuhan lab. 

“Senior members of the Australian intelligence community [said] a research document shared in political circles under the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement was mostly based on news reports and contained no material from intelligence gathering," the Sydney Morning Herald reports. "A 15-page ‘dossier’ has been widely quoted by local and international media about China's alleged cover-up of the virus. Australian intelligence officials have since identified a research report which was based entirely on open source material. The officials said it was likely the reports were the same.”

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the virus probably originated in a wildlife market in China, but he couldn’t discount the possibility that it escaped from a virology lab. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Fauci told National Geographic that the best evidence shows that the virus was not made in a lab in China.
  • An internal Chinese report warned that Beijing faces Tiananmen-like global backlash over the virus. (Reuters)
Iraq’s economy is collapsing under the double blow of sinking oil prices and the coronavirus lockdown.

Just months ago, approximately 90 percent of the country’s provisional 2020 budget was expected to come from oil exports. Iraq’s sales have remained steady, but as economies ground to a halt, oil revenue fell to its lowest level in a decade. (Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim

  • Venezuela strongman Nicolás Maduro said his government captured two American “mercenaries” Monday in a murky operation allegedly intended to infiltrate Venezuela, incite rebellion and apprehend its leaders. Maduro claims their plan was to kill him. (Ana Vanessa Herrero, Anthony Faiola and Alex Horton)
  • Guatemala will resume receiving deportation flights after the U.S. agreed to test all passengers for the virus. The announcement marks a reversal for that country, which two weeks ago said it would no longer accept these flights after dozens of migrants deported in April turned out to be carrying the infection. (Teo Armus)

Social media speed read

In 1847, the Choctaw tribe in Oklahoma sent money to the Irish during the depths of the potato famine. The Choctaw had recently been removed from their tribal lands in what we now remember as the Trail of Tears. Still, the natives managed to scrape together $170 – more than $5,000 in today’s money – and sent it to help the Irish. Everyday Irishmen are paying it forward by donating to another Native American tribe that has been hard hit by the pandemic – the Navajo Nation. A GoFundMe page created for the Navajo has raised more than $1.6 million, with dozens of recent donations coming from folks in Ireland:

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) wore a pink wig on the Senate floor:

Quote of the day

“A lot of our folks didn’t vote. It was almost like a slap in the face,” Michelle Obama says in a new documentary, explaining how painful it was when African Americans failed to show up at the polls to protect her husband's House majority in 2010, Senate majority in 2014 and legacy in 2016. “I understand the people who voted for Trump. The people who didn’t vote at all, the young people, the women, that’s when you think, man, people think this is a game. It wasn’t just in this election. Every midterm. Every time Barack didn’t get the Congress he needed, that was because our folks didn’t show up. After all that work, they just couldn’t be bothered to vote at all. That’s my trauma.” (Daily Beast)

Videos of the day

The staff of The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for its series on the impacts of climate change:

The staff of The Washington Post won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for its series on climate change, 2°C: Beyond the Limit. (The Washington Post)

Stephen Colbert thinks Trump is playing a dangerous game by urging a return to work:

Seth Meyers was not impressed but slightly shocked by Trump’s Lincoln Monument town hall: