with Mariana Alfaro

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), struggling to fend off a strong primary challenge, claimed this week that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) gave his “word” that he would push to restore the committee assignments that were taken away last year after King openly questioned whether the term “white supremacist” was offensive.

This has roiled House Republicans. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), a member of the powerful steering committee that controls committee assignments, said Wednesday that such an effort would meet overwhelming resistance. “I will fight with every fiber of my being to make sure he does not get back on committees,” Stivers said in an interview.

A spokesman for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the chair of the House GOP Conference, said she will oppose any effort to let King back onto the Agriculture, Judiciary and Small Business committees.

McCarthy’s team suggested that he only agreed to allow King to make his case to the steering committee. “Congressman King’s past comments cannot be exonerated,” a McCarthy spokesman said in a two-sentence statement. “Committee assignments are determined by the steering committee, and he will have the opportunity to make his case.”

With the June 2 primary looming, King claimed during a Monday night forum with his GOP rivals in Spencer, Iowa, that he and McCarthy “reached an agreement” on April 20 “that he would advocate to the steering committee to put all of my committees back with all my seniority.”

The nine-term congressman likened his plight to that of President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump appointees at the Justice Department moved last week to dismiss Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI, although a federal judge has put the DOJ’s bid on hold and is examining whether Flynn committed perjury.

“You saw General Flynn … being exonerated now, and when Congress comes back into session, when the steering committee can be brought together, I have Kevin McCarthy’s word that then that will be my time for exoneration,” King said.

King’s main challenger, state Sen. Randy Feenstra, regularly cites King’s lack of committee assignments as evidence that he’s not an effective representative, especially for farmers. “I will use all my powers to help the ethanol industry,” Feenstra said during Monday’s forum. “We need somebody on the Ag committee – somebody that has a voice. … This is a bipartisan committee. This is an area where we can get things done.”

Many mainstream Republicans have long cringed at what they view as King’s odious views and rhetoric, but they took on increasing urgency during the Trump administration as Democrats and other critics have sought to brand many of the president's comments as racist.

The House GOP steering committee voted unanimously to remove King from his posts in January 2019 after the New York Times published a story highlighting the congressman’s influence in shaping Trump’s immigration agenda, specifically his border wall proposal. In an interview for the profile, King told Trip Gabriel: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

This joined a thick file of inflammatory comments King has made about race and ethnicity. Coming on the heels of the party’s losses in the 2018 midterms, and King’s narrow victory in that election despite representing a solidly red district, GOP leaders felt compelled to act. The congressman has denied that he supports any “racist ideology” and claimed his comments were taken out of context.

During the 2018 cycle, when he was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Stivers stopped the party’s campaign arm from spending to help King. “We cut him off because of his behavior and his proven record of bigotry and white nationalism and racism and hate,” Stivers said on Wednesday. “As long as I am a member of the steering committee, I am not going to allow somebody with that kind of a record to represent the Republican Party on committees and influence legislation. This is not about one article in the New York Times.”

Stivers said he feels so strongly that he cut a check to Feenstra, and he emphasized that he thinks most members on the steering committee agree with him. 

King’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Feenstra, is spending $200,000 to air a commercial that highlights King’s lack of committee assignments. The spot is running on heavy rotation around northwest Iowa on Fox News and local broadcast stations.

It is very rare for the Chamber to run ads against incumbent Republicans, especially in a primary. The last time they did so was in 2016 as part of a successful effort to defeat Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who had opposed many of their priorities, including reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. A member of the hardline Freedom Caucus, he had been removed from the Agriculture Committee by then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2012. Just as in the King attack, the Chamber highlighted this in its ads against Huelskamp. At the time, also just like King is doing now, Huelskamp expressed confidence to voters that he would get back on the committees – noting that Boehner had been replaced by then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But Huelskamp lost to Roger Marshall, who has been a reliable ally of the Chamber. 

Scott Reed, the senior political strategist at the Chamber, praised Feenstra’s work in the Iowa state legislature to enact tax cuts and his emphasis on governing. “He’s one of us,” said Reed.

He and other national Republicans fear that King, if he prevails in the primary, would lose in the general election to Democratic candidate J.D. Scholten, who came within 3 percentage points in 2018 and has been a fundraising powerhouse as he pursues a rematch.

Keeping the Senate in Republican hands is the Chamber’s top political priority in the 2020 elections, and Reed also said he’s worried that King being on the ticket could jeopardize GOP Sen. Joni Ernst’s bid for a second term. “We’re concerned about Ernst’s reelection. She needs to run up big numbers in rural Iowa. We think King would be an albatross,” Reed said. 

Ernst has not endorsed either candidate in the primary.

Feenstra received endorsements last week from the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee, which cited his efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in the state legislature. Former Iowa governor Terry Branstad (R), who is now U.S. ambassador to China, has also backed Feenstra over King and cut him a check. 

The Feenstra campaign says its internal polling shows King leading 39 percent to 36 percent, which is within the margin of error. The Chamber’s private polling, which helped shape its messaging, found Feenstra trailing overall but within striking distance – and tied among voters who said they had knowledge of both candidates.

King argued during the forum on Monday that the party establishment is trying to purge him because he’s fought for his principles. “I’ve been under pressure because I have taken the swamp on,” he said. “If you want to look at Donald Trump and see what he’s facing, I’m facing the same thing on a bit smaller scale. … I have run toward the sound of the guns every time. I’ve not only walked towards the fire. I’ve walked through the fire. And I’m deeply tempered by that experience.”

Some great news for the House GOP.

Democrats have conceded the California special election to replace Katie Hill, the Democratic congresswoman who resigned last year in a sex scandal. Republican Mike Garcia, a businessman and former Navy pilot, holds a 12-point lead over Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith. This is the first time Republicans picked up a House seat in California in 22 years. This is the kind of suburban district where the GOP suffered in 2018. It’s always dangerous to over-read the implications of any special election, and the two candidates will face off again in November, but Republicans argue that this shows there’s some path to retaking the majority.

National Democrats say they’ll do better in the fall when voters who loathe Trump show up to vote against him.  But some Democratic strategists are privately nervous that this defeat could be a foreboding harbinger of looming voter backlash over stay-at-home orders. They also worry that the GOP’s victory in the swing district will boost their fundraising for down-ballot races.

The federal coronavirus response

The FBI seized a cellphone belonging to Sen. Richard Burr (R).

“Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, turned over his phone to agents after they served a search warrant on the lawmaker at his residence in the Washington area,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The seizure represents a significant escalation in the investigation into whether Burr violated a law preventing members of Congress from trading on insider information they have gleaned from their official work. To obtain a search warrant, federal agents and prosecutors must persuade a judge they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. … [T]he Justice Department is examining Burr’s communications with his broker.”

Ousted vaccine official Rick Bright will testify that America faces its “darkest winter” if the administration fails to shape up. 

“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright says in prepared testimony submitted to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities. While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the COVID19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system. Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”

Bright plans to say that the Trump administration still lacks a national testing strategy and needs to ramp up production of essential equipment and supplies. Bright was removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority on April 20 after serving in the position for nearly four years and transferred to a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health. He alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he was pressured by Trump appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services leadership to make “potentially harmful drugs widely available,” including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest funding allocated to BARDA by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” Bright says in his prepared statement. “It is painfully clear that we were not as prepared as we should have been,” he adds. “We missed early warning signals, and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook.”

Fed Chair Jerome Powell warned of a long, painful downturn without more stimulus. 

“‘Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery,’ Powell said in a videoconference with the Peterson Institute for International Economics,” Heather Long and Erica Werner report. “Powell’s statement was a sharp departure from the economic optimism Trump and some senior administration officials have touted in recent days, as they have suggested a dramatic economic rebound will occur later this year and pick up even more momentum in 2021. Powell’s outlook was far more grim, and it helped send the Dow Jones industrial average down 517 points, or 2.2 percent. Asked about the need for more economic stimulus, Trump told reporters on Wednesday, ‘I don’t know, it depends.’ But Powell sounded a much more urgent tone, describing the United States as in the midst of the ‘biggest shock our economy has felt in modern times’ … He said low-income Americans are facing the brunt of this economic crisis, and they have the least ability to handle it. Almost 40 percent of U.S. households making less than $40,000 a year lost a job in March, citing results from a Fed survey coming out later this week."

  • About 3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department, adding to the 36.5 million from the preceding eight weeks. (Tony Romm)
The first meeting of the coronavirus oversight panel reflected Congress’s struggle to define its role.

“The proceeding did not feature any current administration officials as Trump has balked at cooperating, calling the House a ‘bunch of Trump haters.’ It took place nearly six weeks after the panel was first announced, it covered the familiar ground of testing and treatments with former federal health officials, and it at times devolved into partisan attacks — particularly from Republicans who compared the oversight effort to the impeachment of Trump and slammed Democrats for not highlighting the virus’s origins in China,” Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. “The special House panel, chaired by Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), has been billed as a measure to prevent waste, fraud and abuse in the distribution of the trillions of dollars in relief funds. … House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he expected oversight activity to ratchet up as soon as next week, after the House adopts rules changes Friday allowing for remote work by committees." 

  • Trump's nominee for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, former chemical industry executive Nancy Beck, was involved in the shelving of the CDC’s virus guidelines, according to emails reviewed by the AP. Beck is scheduled to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee later this month.
  • Democrats proposed $100 billion for a national rental assistance program in their new $3 trillion relief bill, but some tenant advocacy groups say even that may not be enough because many communities were already facing a housing affordability crisis before the pandemic started. (Renae Merle)
  • The Aspen Institute received $8 million from the Paycheck Protection Program. The think tank accepted the federal funds despite having a $115 million endowment and a board of trustees populated by billionaires. The refusal to return the money has created a division among the organization’s many fellows. (Jonathan O’Connell)
Trump is pressing for schools to reopen, disregarding Fauci's warnings. 

“Trump called on governors across the nation Wednesday to work to reopen schools that were closed because of the coronavirus, pointedly taking issue with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s caution against moving too quickly in sending students back to class,” the AP reports. “The president accused Fauci of wanting ‘to play all sides of the equation.' … He said the coronavirus has ‘had very little impact on young people,’ although there is growing concern over cases of a mysterious inflammatory syndrome in young people that is thought to be related to the virus.” 

  • The Trump administration’s emergency coronavirus restrictions have shut the U.S. immigration system so much that just two people seeking humanitarian protection at the southern border have been allowed to stay since March 21. (Nick Miroff)
The Abbott Laboratories rapid test used at the White House may miss up to half of positive cases. 

“The speedy Abbott test, which is supposed to determine in five to 13 minutes whether a person has the virus, missed a third of the positive samples found by the diagnostic company Cepheid when both tests used nasopharyngeal swabs, said the study done by a group from New York University. It missed more than 48 percent when both firms’ tests used dry nasal swabs,” Carolyn Johnson and Steven Mufson report. “The study, while preliminary and not yet peer-reviewed, raised questions about a test that has been praised by Trump … Abbott denied Wednesday that there were major flaws in its test. … Even before the NYU study, there were concerns that the Abbott test might miss more cases than traditional laboratory tests. Before a Senate committee last week, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins testified that the rapid Abbott test had a 15 percent false negative rate, an apparent reference to unpublished data from the Cleveland Clinic. … The Abbott rapid test missed about 25 percent of positives compared with a slower Abbott test, according to a study published April 23 in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.”

  • Britain approved the use of a new antibody test from Roche. (Jennifer Hassan)
  • Japan has started using the experimental drug remdesivir to treat patients severely ill with the virus. (Antonia Farzan)

Quote of the day

“I haven’t seen Mike Pence, and I miss him,” Trump told reporters as he met with the governors of Colorado and North Dakota. “He's in good shape. But I guess we said for a little while we'll stay apart because you don't know what happens with this very crazy and horrible disease.”

Dispatches from the front lines

The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the governor’s extension of a stay-at-home order. 

The conservative majority sided with GOP legislators to invalidate the state of emergency declared by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. “The 4-3 decision limits Evers’s ability to make statewide rules during emergencies such as a global pandemic, instead requiring him to work with the state legislature on how the state should handle the outbreak,” Colby Itkowitz reports. "The justices wrote that the court was not challenging the governor’s power to declare emergencies, ‘but in the case of a pandemic, which lasts month after month, the Governor cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely.’ Evers condemned the court’s decision, saying in a statement that Wisconsin ‘was in a pretty good place’ but now ‘Republican legislators have convinced four justices to throw our state into chaos.’ … 

"Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in her dissent, ‘This decision will undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history. And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price.’ Coronavirus cases and deaths in Wisconsin continue to rise, with nearly 11,000 confirmed infections and 421 deaths related to the virus. Local officials in the city of Madison, as well as Dane and Milwaukee counties, announced they would be issuing their own stay-at-home orders through the end of the month. The American Civil Liberties Union was among the advocacy groups that slammed the high court’s decision, noting the disproportionate impact the virus has had in minority communities.

Voters also turned out in surprising numbers for Tuesday's special congressional election in the state. “Honestly, I just wanted to get out,” said Betty Thompson, 70. “I wanted to feel normal, and this is what I do: I get out and vote.” More than half the ballots were cast absentee. But there was still a steady stream of voters at polling stations. Some wore masks. Others, like Thompson, did not. (Holly Bailey)

At least 83,000 people have died in the U.S. from the virus. Here are a few faces of the fallen from around the globe:
  • Lawrence Nokes, a Maryland nursing assistant, was put on a ventilator after testing positive for the virus. He woke up from a coma a week later to find that the virus had taken his wife of 24 years, Minnette Nokes, 71. He died eight days after her, after asking medical staff to let him sign a “do not resuscitate” order. He was 69. (Rebecca Tan)
  • Leroy Tonic Sr., a 96-year-old World War II veteran, and his 64-year-old son, Leroy Tonic Jr., died from the virus just days apart in separate nursing homes. (Justin Wm. Moyer)
  • Belly Mujinga, a British rail worker, died after being spat on by a man who said he had the virus. The 47-year-old leaves behind an 11-year-old daughter. Authorities are looking into the attack. (Hassan)
  • Joyce Lin, an American missionary pilot, died in a plane crash while trying to deliver coronavirus testing kits to a remote Indonesian village. The Maryland native was 40. (Farzan)
Without funerals, obituary pages have become public spaces of mourning. 

“Bryan Marquard has spent years confronting death through writing about lives. As the obituaries editor at the Boston Globe, he has conducted thousands of interviews over the past 14 years — but never have the conversations been as affecting as now. Never has he received such reader feedback or so many requests for stories,” Elahe Izadi reports. “On May 3, the Boston Globe ran 23 pages of [death notices], compared with seven pages during the comparable date a year ago. … At the Chicago Sun-Times, though, the striking change hasn’t been more submissions of death notices but ones that are longer on average, with more details from the lives of the deceased. … Some almost feel like substitutes for eulogies yet to be delivered … One Chicago death notice listed the name of every cat the deceased had ever owned.”

Griffin Hospital in Connecticut faces not just an onslaught of cases, but also financial ruin. 

“Across the industry, as the coronavirus has caused elevated expenses and suppressed revenue, a new report estimates U.S. hospitals will have lost a total of $50.7 billion a month from March through June. Some are better buffered to absorb a financial shock than the 115-bed community hospital on its own in working-class Derby, Connecticut’s smallest-size city,” Amy Goldstein reports. “To care for people of the valley who would get infected, Griffin invested in expensive preparations as the virus approached. … The hospital made these investments as the usual patients were vanishing. … The bottom line: Griffin is missing $6 million of its usual $15 million in monthly income. … Whether such losses will continue to eat away at Griffin’s financial foundations is impossible to know. The trajectory hinges on how many of the billions of dollars that Congress devoted to shoring up the nation’s coronavirus-damaged hospitals arrive in Derby. On whether the state government pitches in. On how long the virus lingers in Connecticut, now burdened with the country’s fifth-highest case rate.”

A Colorado restaurant reopened not out of defiance of regulations, but out of desperation.

“Kelley Chagolla, co-owner of the Charro Mexican Restaurant here in the conservative enclave of Weld County, decided to open her restaurant to diners this week, going directly against the governor's order to limit service to delivery and curbside,” Robert Klemko and Anne Gearan report from Greeley, Colo. “‘It wasn’t a political statement,’ Chagolla said Tuesday night, standing on the patio of the Charro. ‘It was more of a necessity.’ Chagolla’s choice came down to the difference between life in a wheelchair and life on her feet. Chagolla, 57, has severe rheumatoid arthritis, and she pays $1,650 in health insurance each month to afford medicine that keeps her walking. ‘If I don’t have that, within eight weeks, I would be wheelchair-bound,’ she said. … Chagolla said she contacted the county and asked for permission to open up the small restaurant to diners, and did so with the promise that the county health department would not shut it down. The restaurant is operating at about 25 percent capacity, she said. ‘Our county said we could open,’ Chagolla said. ‘I realize the governor does not like that. But he’s not sending me $1,700 a month to pay my insurance.’”

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk restarted production at his Fremont, Calif., plant in defiance of local orders. The county now says the electric-car company can legally start up again next week with safety precautions in place. (Rachel Lerman)
  • Michigan suspended the license of a small barbershop after it reopened, in defiance of the state's order, with the help of an armed militia. (Detroit News)
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) allowed some businesses to reopen on May 1. Ever since, Texas has only been below 1,000 new cases per day twice. (The Hill)
  • After four employees died of the coronavirus, catering workers who prepare meals for United Airlines want to shut down their New Jersey facility. More than 40 workers from there have tested positive, according to the union. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Ohio wants to strip benefits from people who didn’t report to work during the pandemic. A hacker came up with a code to overwhelm the state’s reporting website with false claims. (Farzan)
  • With colleges shuttered, students are considering gap years. But those may be disrupted, too. About one in five current students is unsure of plans to re-enroll or has decided not to go to college this fall, according to a national survey commissioned by the American Council on Education and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. (Susan Svrluga)
Smartphone data is not making it easier to predict when and how to relax stay-at-home measures. 

“Where people travel and how long they stay away from home can be measured with smartphone location data. But the increasingly popular movement maps derived from this data don’t reveal how well people maintained social distancing once they reached their destinations — something that is key to understanding the transmission of the coronavirus," Craig Timberg reports.

D.C.’s mayor extended her stay-at-home order through June 8.

“Both Maryland and Virginia will ease restrictions in the coming days to allow some institutions to reopen, with strict social distancing measures in place,” Fenit Nirappil, Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins report. “Hard-hit Northern Virginia is exempted from the first phase of reopening, and both states are allowing local leaders to opt out. [Maryland Gov. Larry] Hogan’s move from a stay-home order to a ‘safer-at-home’ advisory followed a two-week statewide plateau in hospitalizations … Beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, barbershops and hair salons can reopen by appointment only, and manufacturers may resume operations with social distancing measures in place. Nonessential stores and houses of worship will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity and with distancing restrictions — unless their local governments deem it unsafe. Leaders of Prince George’s and Montgomery County say they plan to stay closed for now. … 

“In the District, [Muriel] Bowser (D) said that the city has not seen the sustained decline … that would have been needed to lift restrictions that were set to expire Saturday. … The mayor said she might lift restrictions before June 8 if the spread of the virus slows more quickly than expected — but also could extend them again if needed. … Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) earlier this week extended Northern Virginia’s shutdown until at least May 28.” 

  • Northam didn’t include beaches in his first phase of reopening, and Virginia Beach vendors are fretting over beach closures as Memorial Day approaches. (Greg Schneider)
  • Georgetown University announced budget cuts as it prepares to enter the next academic year with a $50 million shortfall, including suspending contributions to employee retirement plans, introducing a voluntary furlough plan and halting some construction. (Lauren Lumpkin)
Doctors are finding glimmers of hope through trial and error. 

“To be clear, these are not therapies proved to kill or stop the virus. They range from protocols to diagnose and treat dangerous, but sometimes invisible, breathing problems that can be an early warning of covid-19 in some people, to efforts to reduce the illness’s severity or length. At this stage, they are still experimental approaches by doctors desperate to find ways to help gravely ill people and throwing everything they can think of at the problem,” Ariana Eunjung Cha reports. “The menu of treatment options, tried singly and increasingly in combination, includes the blood plasma of covid-19 survivors, a rich source of antibodies that may help neutralize the virus; drugs to suppress the body’s own immune response, which some believe goes into hyperdrive as it tries to fight an invader; anticoagulants, which decrease the risk of deadly clots, and finally, antivirals, such as remdesivir, the Gilead Sciences drug that recently won approval for emergency use from the Food and Drug Administration. Randomized clinical trials are necessary to confirm early anecdotal data, with the results probably months away. But doctors say they believe they are seeing some positive results from these and other things they have learned through trial and error these past 10 weeks.”

Researchers are finding the virus in every part of the body. 

“Two separate reports suggest the virus goes far beyond the lungs and can attack various organs -- findings that can help explain the wide range of symptoms,” CNN reports. “For one study, Jie Zhou and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong wanted to see how well the virus can flourish in the intestines. They grew intestinal organoids -- lab dish versions of the organs -- from both bats and people. They showed the virus not only lived in these organoids, but replicated. … Separately, a team at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany performed autopsies on 27 patients who died from Covid-19. They found the virus in a variety of organs. ‘SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in multiple organs, including the lungs, pharynx, heart, liver, brain, and kidneys,’ they wrote in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine.”

A bamboo shortage is forcing the Calgary Zoo to repatriate two pandas.

The Canadians are shipping the giant pandas back to China because disruptions in the global supply chain have made it increasingly difficult to obtain fresh bamboo to feed them. (Farzan)

  • Russia’s health system is overwhelmed. At least 169 medical staff have died in the country, according to a memorial list created by local doctors in the absence of any official count. (Robyn Dixon)
  • Mexico will start lifting its quarantine for hundreds of counties starting Monday and will gradually reopen the rest of the nation on June 1. The government had logged nearly 4,000 confirmed deaths. Authorities say the actual number is certainly higher. (Mary Beth Sheridan)
  • Australia announced that nearly 600,000 jobs were shed in April, its biggest monthly jobs decline ever, as New Zealand announced a vast government spending plan to curb its own unemployment levels. (Teo Armus)
An elderly American tourist who caught the virus was saved in part because of Bhutan’s king. 

“Bert Hewitt, a retiree from Maryland with a passion for hiking, would become the first confirmed coronavirus case in Bhutan,” Joanna Slater reports. “Hewitt’s prognosis was not good. He had high blood pressure, and he was a cancer survivor whose spleen had been removed, compromising his immune system. His condition deteriorated rapidly. … [But] his case received personal attention from Bhutan’s beloved king. He was evacuated back to the United States in a Gulfstream jet outfitted with a biocontainment unit. The 8,000-mile journey was so complex that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later singled it out for praise — especially because the patient was ‘frankly expected to die.’”

A family in Afghanistan buried a mother and her unborn child. 

“Hajar Sarwari was in labor with her second child at a west Kabul maternity ward on Tuesday morning when gunmen shot her twice in the abdomen, killing her and her unborn child,” Sharif Hassan and Susannah George report. “‘There’s no humanity left in this country,’ said Sarwari’s husband, Mohammad Hussain Yaqoobi, his speech slow and halting. He stood near his wife’s grave, marked by a simple black headstone and a small mound of upturned earth. ‘The attackers had no conscience. How can they justify shooting dead innocent newborns and their mothers?’ The burial was one of many across Kabul on Wednesday morning. Hospital officials said the mothers of 10 newborns were among Tuesday’s dead, alongside two infants, pregnant women, nurses and a security guard. Sixteen were wounded.”

The Trump presidency

A retired federal judge has been enlisted to contest the Trump administration's move to drop Michael Flynn’s case.

“U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s appointment of retired New York federal judge John Gleeson comes one day after Sullivan put on hold the Justice Department’s bid to drop charges against Flynn, saying he expects independent groups and legal experts to argue against the move,” Spencer Hsu, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report. “The unusual move by the court plunges the Flynn case even deeper into uncharted legal waters, in which the Justice Department has taken a posture more common to defense lawyers by saying that the former three-star general should never have been interviewed in an investigation and therefore his lies were immaterial. The case also presents novel legal twists as the judge has appointed a former judge to determine whether other crimes occurred and the president’s supporters demand the immediate dismissal of the entire case. … Sullivan’s order threatens to unearth even more, potentially unflattering details of how the department’s political leaders came to decide they should walk away from a case involving Trump’s ally.”  

A former top FBI official cast doubt on the DOJ’s rationale for letting Flynn off, but this has been kept from the judge. 

“Department officials reviewing the Flynn case interviewed Bill Priestap, the former head of F.B.I. counterintelligence, two days before making their extraordinary request to drop the case,” the New York Times reports. “They did not tell Judge Sullivan about Mr. Priestap’s interview. A Justice Department official said that they were in the process of writing up a report on the interview and that it would soon be filed with the court. The department’s motion referred to notes that Mr. Priestap wrote around the bureau’s 2017 questioning of Mr. Flynn, who later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators during that interview. His lawyers said Mr. Priestap’s notes — recently uncovered during a review of the case — suggested that the F.B.I. was trying to entrap Mr. Flynn, and Attorney General William P. Barr said investigators were trying to ‘lay a perjury trap.’ That interpretation was wrong, Mr. Priestap told the prosecutors reviewing the case. He said that F.B.I. officials were trying to do the right thing in questioning Mr. Flynn and that he knew of no effort to set him up.” 

Republican senators published a list of Obama administration officials, including Joe Biden, who “unmasked” Flynn. 

“The list includes the names of more than three dozen former Obama administration officials. Among them are Biden, former White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, former FBI director James B. Comey, former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper,” Matt Zapotosky, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris report. “The list was declassified recently by President Trump’s top intelligence adviser, Richard Grenell, and given to the Justice Department. Grenell subsequently provided the list to [three Republican senators], who made it public. A cover letter indicates that those on the list submitted unmasking requests to the National Security Agency between Nov. 8, 2016, and Jan. 31, 2017. The requests would ultimately reveal Flynn’s identity, though a note on the list itself suggests that it was unknown whether all the officials actually ‘saw the unmasked information.’ It was not immediately clear what documents or information the officials were examining when they made the requests. 

Unmasking is a routine practice used to identify U.S. individuals who are referred to anonymously in an intelligence document, and it is meant to help government officials better understand what they are reading. But conservatives have long seized on Flynn’s unmasking to imply that he was treated unfairly … The list released Wednesday shows a flurry of unmasking requests in mid-December, weeks before the Flynn-Kislyak calls. Most of the U.S. requesters are not household names, but rather, Treasury, NATO and intelligence officials. What they were looking at, and why they were seeking to unmask someone, was not clear. National security lawyer Mark Zaid suggested something might have happened around that time period to raise questions among government officials about Flynn. ‘If you want to be transparent and fair, show us the document that led all these senior authorized government officials to request this information, that freaked them out all at the same time,’ Zaid said.”

One of the president’s business partners exhumed graves in Indonesia to build a resort that will include a Trump-branded hotel. 

“Village leader Djaja Mulyana had catalogued many grievances about the construction site that hemmed in his community. He’d filled binders documenting what he considered the deception, broken promises and lost livelihoods from the builders threatening to displace residents. But nothing like this: In January 2019, gravediggers came to unearth corpses where his Muslim ancestors had rested since the 19th century, said Mulyana and two others who witnessed the excavations. The remains were being moved to make room for a mega-resort that will include a Trump-branded hotel and golf course,” Joshua Partlow and Krithika Varagur report. “At least one person had agreed to the exhumations, but other families had not given consent. … The village and its cemetery is located on land slated to become the resort’s theme park. Trump’s business has sought to distance itself from the faraway feud.”

A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit seeking to block Trump’s D.C. hotel from accepting government payments.

“In a divided decision, the court refused to dismiss the novel lawsuit that accuses the president of illegally profiting from foreign and state government patrons at his D.C. hotel. The case, brought by the top lawyers for Maryland and the District of Columbia, is one of a set of lawsuits alleging the president’s private business transactions violate the Constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments ban,” Ann Marimow and Jonathan O’Connell report. “The ruling from the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is at odds with a decision in March in a separate, similar case that barred individual members of Congress from suing the president over his private business. The split rulings suggest the Supreme Court will have the final word.”

Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are getting a close look as Biden’s veep search ramps up. 

“Behind the scenes, two prospects with national experience who are significantly younger than Biden are emerging as the early leaders in the eyes of top Biden allies, according to interviews with a half-dozen people in frequent contact with the campaign,” Sean Sullivan, Annie Linskey and Michael Scherer report. “Although Biden’s search is just getting underway in earnest and there are no strong internal front-runners, … many Biden friends, donors and other associates have privately and publicly expressed a preference for the two senators. And they said much of the talk around the campaign focuses on them. … Still, Harris and Klobuchar have vulnerabilities. Biden’s team was bruised by Harris’s sharp attacks on him over forced school busing in a debate last year, according to three people familiar with the dynamic … As recently as March, Jill Biden noted the attacks during a public discussion of potential running mates. At the same time, Klobuchar’s inability to win many African American supporters in the primaries has drawn notice from Biden’s team. And news reports about her poor treatment of staff members have circulated widely … Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who has received praise from former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), is not to be overlooked, Democrats with an eye on the process said."

Social media speed read

Virologist Joseph Fair is recovering from the virus:

A photojournalist detailed her return to Hong Kong, and the new safety protocols she had to follow once she got there: 

The vice president donned a face mask in his motorcade:

Time magazine chastises America’s approach to reopening:

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert celebrated a quarantine birthday, joking that he “turned… more at risk”:  

Samantha Bee talked about the ways the pandemic has increased food insecurity in America:

And Seth Meyers took a look at Trump's strategy of turning attention from the virus to what the president has tried to label “Obamagate”: