with Mariana Alfaro
A new study showing that global greenhouse gas emissions plunged 17 percent in early April was widely welcomed on Tuesday as a silver lining of a pandemic that has killed at least 322,000 people, forced tens of millions to go hungry and put billions out of work. But, experts say, the findings actually underscore just how challenging it would be for the world to avert climate catastrophe without structural changes.
Even as the economy came to a screeching halt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the world still generated more than 80 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions that it did last year during the same period. Indeed, the unplanned plunge in emissions returned carbon pollution to levels previously seen in 2006. And the declines were temporary. They have already begun to dissipate as countries move cautiously toward reopening and demand for energy increases.
The team of 13 scientists behind the peer-reviewed research, affiliated with the Global Carbon Project and published in the journal Nature Climate Change, forecasts that total emissions for 2020 will probably decline between 4 and 7 percent compared to last year.
That’s striking because a landmark United Nations report released last fall said that emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year, starting this year, to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
In other words, even with the economic shock of this contagion, the world will still not reach that target.
Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study and a professor at the University of East Anglia, said she expected to find even larger reductions in the power and industrial sectors during the pandemic. “Instead, she said, many sources of carbon dioxide and other pollutants have continued steadily, almost on autopilot, even as much of the world has ground to a halt,” Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report. “Appliances still run, office buildings must be maintained, and some factories continue to hum. … Although some aspects of life may change in the wake of the pandemic — more people working remotely, fewer people commuting and taking frequent plane trips — individual changes are unlikely to make much of a long-term mark on emissions, said Zeke Hausfather, a scientist and director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute.”
“We can see now that behavior change alone is not going to do it,” said Le Quéré. “There’s a lot of inertia in the infrastructure, in the built environment. … Where they put this stimulus is really critical. It’s 2020, and there’s not much time to tackle climate change.”
In Europe, leaders are insisting that climate change remain front and center.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament last week that his agenda to slash emissions is “undiminished” because of the virus or the recession it caused, and he said his government will make sure that airlines reduce their carbon emissions when normal flight schedules resume. “We need to entrench those gains,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to see us going back to an era of the same type of emissions as we’ve had in the past. Aviation, like every other sector, must keep its carbon lower.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said green energy should be part of any stimulus package. “It will be all the more important that if we set up economic stimulus programs, we must always keep a close eye on climate protection,” she said in a speech last month.
French President Emmanuel Macron conditioned bailout money for Air France on an agreement that the carrier would cut carbon emissions, and his government has offered incentives to get more people biking and keep car emissions low when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
But Macron lost his majority in the National Assembly on Tuesday when seven members of his party quit to create a splinter faction focused on “social and ecological transformation.” The new group calls itself Ecology, Democracy, Solidarity. “Nothing should be the same after covid-19,” the defectors said in a joint statement. “Faced with the immense challenges of climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, mass unemployment, we must change our lifestyles.”
“As president, Macron has sought to promote himself as an environmentalist and a champion of the Paris climate accord,” James McAuley reports from Paris. “But Macron’s earlier effort to increase France’s fuel tax was shot down by ‘yellow vest’ protesters, who argued that working-class people outside the main cities were being asked to make all the sacrifices to meet climate change goals. Macron has been criticized from the left before. Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot abruptly quit in 2018, accusing the government of having a lax approach to tackling climate change that favored grandiose declarations instead of concrete actions.”
In the United States, the Trump administration is aggressively moving in the opposite direction.
President Trump’s move to withdraw the country from the Paris climate accord and other global efforts to combat the effects of climate change will be a central part of his legacy, whether he serves one or two terms. Administration officials have raced over the past few months to roll back environmental protections, with little public attention because of the pandemic, in case the president loses reelection this fall.
“In its rush to roll back the most significant climate policy enacted by President Barack Obama — mileage standards designed to reduce pollution from cars — the Trump administration ignored warnings that its new rule has serious flaws,” Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report in today’s paper, based on documents they obtained. “Even as the coronavirus outbreak has hampered many government operations, the administration is pressing ahead with the rollback of a bedrock environmental law governing federal permits and working to open more public lands to oil and gas drilling. In recent weeks, the EPA has opted not to set stricter national air quality standards, and it is poised to defy a court order requiring that it limit a chemical found in drinking water that has been linked to neurological damage in babies. The agency soon plans to finalize a change to the Clean Water Act that would restrict the ability of states, tribes and the public to block federal approval for pipelines and some other energy-related projects. …
“Details about objections from EPA staff could create legal problems for the administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, which requires U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs to improve average fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent each year between model years 2021 and 2026. It replaces Obama-era standards that would have improved the auto fleet’s average mileage by 5 percent a year over the same period. … For months, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler have insisted that their staffs collaborated closely to weaken national greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks that were finalized just days before Obama left office. … The documents, however, reveal that EPA staff were sidelined as they warned that the revised standards had several defects. …
“Public records show that Wheeler made significant changes to the rule after he signed it, before it was published in the Federal Register, which is unusual. The rule Wheeler signed on March 30 has multiple errors, including one table on new mileage standards that says ‘passenger cars’ when it should have said ‘light trucks’ and an assertion that cars would become nearly 5 percent less carbon-intensive between model years 2020 and 2021. … Jeff Alson, a former senior engineer at the EPA’s vehicles lab who retired in 2018 after four decades, said the factual errors show how rushed the process was.”
Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia announced plans this week to sue the EPA for failing to enforce a court-ordered agreement to dramatically lower pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary. The attorneys general of those three places claimed in their intent to sue that Wheeler stood by as New York and Pennsylvania allowed levels of pollution that violated the plan into rivers that feed into the Chesapeake. “Under an agreement signed by six states in the bay watershed — also including West Virginia and Delaware — the federal agency is tasked with policing the cleanup,” Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis report.
The administration is propping up politically connected energy producers who would otherwise go bankrupt. “Emergency payroll loans totaling $221 million have gone to at least 21 publicly traded energy companies,” Will Englund reports. “Several of the firms were in serious financial straits; for them, the loans were at least a temporary lifeline but not a solution to their problems. They came against the head winds of sharp stock declines, millions of dollars in losses over the past year, and large global surpluses of oil, coal and gas. Lenders wouldn’t normally do business with companies that may be on the road to bankruptcy. But the emergency loan effort — called the Paycheck Protection Program — is different. … A PPP loan, according to the sponsors of the Cares Act, which created the program, is essentially supposed to be a grant, extended with the expectation that it will be forgiven.
“One recipient — a coal mining company called Rhino Resource Partners, of Lexington, Ky. — informed the Securities and Exchange Commission in its annual report for 2019 that it might not be able to survive to the end of 2020. Its share price had cratered, and its losses mounted. On April 29, it received a maximum $10 million emergency loan thanks to the PPP effort. … It has been hammered by the low price of competing natural gas and sharp falloff in demand for coal. … Until 2014 it was run by David Zatezalo, now the assistant secretary of labor in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. … The company reported losing $100 million last year on $181 million in revenue. … The company was assessed fines of $411,000 last year for safety violations. Most — 191 — were for ‘alleged violations of health or safety standards that could significantly and substantially contribute to a serious injury if left unabated.’ …
“Another coal company, Indiana-based Hallador, saw its stock price drop 79 percent before the pandemic hit. The company hired former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt as a lobbyist last year. It, too, received a maximum $10 million PPP loan. … Capstone Turbine of Van Nuys, Calif., has never made an annual profit since its founding in 1988, running up a deficit of $879 million over the years. It got a $2.6 million loan. … ENGlobal, an engineering services firm that warned at the end of 2019 that it has no access to credit [before the pandemic], received $4.9 million."
If this isn’t government picking winners and losers, what is?
Meanwhile, we see daily reminders of the consequences of climate change.
“A new study provides observational evidence that the odds of major hurricanes around the world — Category 3, 4 and 5 storms — are increasing because of human-caused global warming,” Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report. “The study, by a group of researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, builds on previous research that found a trend, though not a statistically robust one, toward stronger tropical cyclones. Tropical cyclones are a category of storms including hurricanes and typhoons worldwide. The findings are consistent with what scientists expect to happen as the world warms, given that hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean waters and water vapor in the air, among other factors. … In addition to seeing stronger, wetter storms, there is also a trend toward hurricanes that suddenly make leaps in their intensity, much as Cyclone Amphan has done this week in the Bay of Bengal.”
“A vast region of the western United States, extending from California, Arizona and New Mexico north to Oregon and Idaho, is in the grips of the first climate change-induced megadrought observed in the past 1,200 years,” Andrew and Darryl reported last month. “Warming temperatures and increasing evaporation, along with earlier spring snowmelt, have pushed the Southwest into its second-worst drought in more than a millennium of observations.”
“For the first decade of the century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years, even more parched than during the disastrous Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” Darryl reported last week. “The drop in water level at the mouth of the Missouri — the country’s longest river — was due to rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota, scientists found. The basin has continued to experience droughts this decade — in 2012, 2013 and 2017 — but their severity in comparison with historic drought is unknown. The ‘Turn-Of-The-Century Drought’ study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused only on the 10 years after 2000.”
The federal response to the coronavirus
Trump opposes extending unemployment benefits.
The president told Senate Republicans during a private lunch he is opposed to extending a weekly $600 boost in unemployment insurance for workers laid off during the pandemic. “The boost expires this summer, and House Democrats have proposed extending the aid through January 2021. But congressional Republicans have said they are concerned that some workers are making more money on unemployment insurance than if they were on a payroll and therefore have less incentive to return to work or find a new job,” Seung Min Kim reports. “While Trump did not explicitly say he would not sign another bill if it contained a benefit boost, [Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)] said ‘he agrees that that is hurting the economic recovery.’ Many economists fear cutting off the benefit extension could hamper the economic recovery.” During the lunch, Trump also encouraged Republicans to take their time on the next phase of coronavirus-related legislation.
The Treasury secretary defended the push to reopen the economy.
“Trump’s drive to swiftly reopen the economy came under fire Tuesday from Democratic senators who pointedly questioned the administration’s strategy, forcing [Steven] Mnuchin to insist the White House would not sacrifice workers’ lives for economic gain,” Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and Jeff Stein report. “As Trump has largely shut down negotiations for more emergency assistance, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell warned Tuesday that much more may be needed. ‘We may need to do more, and Congress may, as well,’ Powell told lawmakers Tuesday. … The comments by Powell and Mnuchin came during a Senate hearing during which they were asked to describe the impact of the nearly $3 trillion Congress has devoted to fighting the pandemic so far. … Mnuchin said Tuesday he is still working to erect programs that were authorized two months ago. He also said the economy would continue to weaken, at least in the short term. ‘I think the jobs numbers will be worse before they get better,’ Mnuchin said.”
- The Trump campaign is trying to recruit “extremely pro-Trump” doctors willing to go on television to push for a more rapid reopening. Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told the Associated Press it's not concerned about contradicting public health experts in the administration.
- Vice President Pence said he’s not taking hydroxychloroquine, like the president, but he “would never begrudge any American” who does so in consultation with their physician. (Politico)
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) prohibited “nonessential” plant tours, but Trump plans to visit a Ford plant there today. Whitmer’s office signaled she won't stand in the way of the visit, but Ford said it will require the president to wear a mask, something he hasn’t done on previous plant tours, per Crain's Detroit. Meanwhile, a Ford assembly plant in Chicago sent thousands of workers home because an employee tested positive for the virus, Lateshia Beachum reports.
The CDC released more reopening guidelines.
The detailed – and delayed – 60-page guidance for reopening schools, child-care facilities, restaurants and mass transit also includes a warning that some institutions should stay closed for now and that reopening should be guided by transmission rates. The document advises that various recommendations only be followed in communities with “low levels” of infection. Schools are encouraged to place desks six feet apart, serve lunch in classrooms, and screen temperatures daily. Buses should leave every other row empty and add sneeze guards. Child-care centers should avoid the use of items not easily sanitized. Restaurants should avoid using shared menus and condiments.
- The Trump administration asked the U.N. to remove any references to reproductive health, including abortion, from a humanitarian pandemic response plan. John Barsa, the acting administrator of USAID, said the inclusion of “sexual and reproductive health services” in the guiding framework would “add unnecessary discord.” (Teo Armus)
- The IRS, following years of crippling budget cuts and resistance to telework, is struggling to ensure the safety of its employees as it tries to chip away at a crushing backlog. (Lisa Rein)
Updates from the front lines
Asian American health-care workers are battling the virus – and racism.
“Across the country, Asian American health-care workers have reported a rise in bigoted incidents,” Tracy Jan reports. “The racial hostility has left Asian Americans, who represent 6 percent of the U.S. population but 18 percent of the country’s physicians and 10 percent of its nurse practitioners, in a painful position on the front lines … Some covid-19 patients refuse to be treated by them. And when doctors and nurses leave the hospital, they face increasing harassment in their daily lives, too. … Gem Manalo, a Mass General anesthesiology resident who is of Chinese and Filipino descent, was riding the ‘T’ … in early March when she said a man starting yelling: ‘F--- China! F--- the Chinese!’ … ‘He kept saying things like: ‘You people eat bats!’ … Manalo said. ‘Here I am in the hospital, working in all these makeshift ICUs,’ Manalo said. ‘We’re all at a loss, too, trying to come up with new protocols to keep everybody safe, and this guy is telling me that I am terrible.’”
- A former employee at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center said she was fired for raising red flags on social media about a lack of safety precautions against the virus's spread. (Kyle Swenson)
- Elderly covid-19 patients on ventilators mostly don’t survive. A new study of two New York hospitals, published in the Lancet, found more than 80 percent of people over 80 who went on a ventilator died. (Joel Achenbach and Ariana Eunjung Cha)
- Covid-19 patients who test positive after recovery aren’t infectious and could have the antibodies that prevent them from falling sick again, scientists from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. (Bloomberg News)
- Germany introduced new measures to prevent American takeovers of German medical companies. (Rick Noack)
The coronavirus has killed at least 90,000 people in the United States.
A 24-hour online vigil will be held starting this evening to mourn the loss of the fallen. The names of victims will be read aloud by loved ones and those who live in heavily impacted areas. Here are a few of those who have succumbed:
- Annie Glenn, a leading advocate for people with communication disorders after overcoming a severe stuttering problem of her own, died from the virus in St. Paul, Minn. The widow of astronaut and senator John Glenn was 100. (Matt Schudel)
- Judy Wilson-Griffin advocated for patients who had higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. She was finalizing a maternal triage acuity index for pregnant women when she contracted the virus and died at 63 in St. Louis. (Lateshia Beachum)
- James “Charlie” Mahoney, a New York doctor who was planning to retire, died from the virus after taking on shifts in two different hospitals. His family, his boss and other doctors insisted he follow through on retirement, but the 62-year-old “gave his life for that hospital,” his brother said. (Meagan Flynn)
- Daryana Dyson, a 15-year-old girl from Baltimore, may be Maryland’s youngest coronavirus victim. Though an autopsy is pending, her family said she died from the virus one month shy of her 16th birthday. She had no preexisting conditions, an aunt said. (CBS Baltimore)
- Bob Carlos, who played a pirate at Disney World for a decade after falling in love with the park during a family trip, died of the disease at 75 — just weeks after his wife also passed from it. (NPR)
As of today, all 50 states have begun loosening some lockdown restrictions.
“Amid these concerns about the risk of increased activity, every governor in the country has issued new guidelines removing bans on businesses and public gatherings to various degrees. One governor in particular, Alaska’s Mike Dunleavy, said he would reopen his state entirely before Memorial Day weekend,” Teo Armus reports. “Just four other states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and Wyoming — appear to have similarly lenient orders in place, according to an analysis by The Post, though all will remain in their reopening process through Memorial Day.”
- A Michigan coronavirus patient was stopped at the airport while trying to board a plane. Health authorities said the individual had tested positive but instead of staying in the state, they insisted on flying home to a different state. Officials issued a cease-and-desist order and warned Lansing’s airport to be on the lookout. (Antonia Farzan)
- Lake Geneva, a tranquil Wisconsin tourist town, has a new draw: Its restaurants are open. So people are driving in from Illinois. (Holly Bailey)
- Fifty-four percent of U.S. counties still do not have a single testing site, according to a report by health software company Castlight. (Axios)
- The Justice Department warned Californians that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) pandemic measures and his plans to unwind them may discriminate against religious groups and violate their constitutional rights. (Los Angeles Times)
Maryland reported its largest spike yet in cases – four days after starting to reopen.
“The District, Maryland and Virginia announced 93 new covid-19 fatalities, the highest in five days. Maryland reported 58 covid-19 fatalities and 1,784 new cases — the highest single-day increase in infections. The spike coincides with more than 7,100 new test results received, one of the highest in one day since the governor set a goal of testing 10,000 people daily,” Justin Jouvenal and Dana Hedpgeth report.
- D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said she spoke with Trump and made the case for the District receiving the same covid-19 relief funding as the 50 states. As part of the $2 trillion stimulus bill, all states received at least $1.25 billion – but the District was treated as a territory and instead received less than $500 million.
- Virginia health officials reported the state’s first case of a child ill with the inflammatory syndrome associated with covid-19. The child has been discharged and is recovering at home.
- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced those exposed to the coronavirus but not showing symptoms will be able to get tested at state-run sites.
- The Virginia Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a gym owner seeking to reopen several Gold’s Gyms. Meanwhile, Vida Fitness urged its 15,000 members to lobby Bowser to reopen gyms in the District's first phase of reopening.
A federal appellate court ordered New York to hold its Democratic primary next month.
A three-judge panel upheld the ruling of a district judge who determined that the cancellation of the vote violated the constitutional rights of Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders, whose names will appear on the ballot. (Shayna Jacobs and John Wagner)
- Georgia Republicans canceled an election to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court that many expected them to lose, meaning that Gov. Brian Kemp (R) now gets to appoint a Republican replacement. (Vox has more on the chicanery).
- A federal judge said all Texas voters can apply to vote by mail during the pandemic. The state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton (R), immediately vowed to appeal. (Texas Tribune)
- Missouri carried out America's first execution amid the pandemic. The Supreme Court rejected a request to stop the lethal injection. (Mark Berman)
- Singapore sentenced a man to death over a Zoom call last week. Earlier this month, Nigeria ordered a man hanged in a video conference after finding him guilty of murder. These dystopian episodes underscores how the virus has shaped even the most fatal decisions in justice systems. (Teo Armus)
In Pakistan, the world’s fifth-most-populous country, distance learning comes in the form of a single TV channel.
“Programmed with content for kindergarten through high school, it provides each grade one hour of curriculum per day, so students have to watch in shifts. Now, for millions of Pakistani schoolchildren, that single channel is their only access to education. And even that channel isn’t available to everyone,” Susannah George reports. “Pakistan already struggles to keep millions of children in school, and as partial shutdowns continue, educators warn that enrollments could drop further."
- In South Korea, some 450,000 high school seniors went back to school. The Education Ministry will continue reopening schools in stages. (Min Joo Kim)
- Cambridge University will hold all lectures online until summer 2021. (Antonia Farzan)
- The virus could bring down the curtain on Shakespeare’s Globe theater. The theater – one of the world’s best-known venues for staging the Bard’s work – said it won’t survive the year without at least a $7 million injection of cash. (William Booth)
- Captain Tom Moore, the 100-year-old U.K. World War II veteran who inspired the world by fundraising 33 million pounds for the National Health Service by walking laps in his garden, will be knighted. (BBC)
The World Bank said as many as 60 million people could fall into extreme poverty.
The virus could erase much of the recent progress made in battling poverty, said World Bank Group President David Malpass. The organization has established emergency response operations in 100 countries, home to 70 percent of the world’s population. Thirty-nine of the countries targeted by the $160 billion program are in sub-Saharan Africa, while nearly one-third of the total countries are in conflict-affected situations, such as Afghanistan, Haiti and Niger.
- Somalia has seen a massive rise in female genital mutilation during the lockdown, as circumcisers go door-to-door to cut girls stuck at home. (Reuters)
- Tanzania refuses to impose stricter social distancing measures, citing economic concerns, despite warnings that this could lead to mass casualties. (Teo Armus)
Sales soared at Walmart and Home Depot, propped up by panic buying.
“Walmart said online sales surged 74 percent, lifting overall sales by nearly 9 percent from February to April. Meanwhile, Home Depot said its revenue rose 7 percent,” Abha Bhattarai reports. “Consumer spending has dropped precipitously in the weeks since the pandemic took hold. U.S. retail sales fell a record 8.3 percent in March, then plunged 16.4 percent in April … Pier 1, which had filed for bankruptcy weeks before the shutdowns, announced Tuesday it would cease operations altogether. … But spending on groceries has continued to climb. Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, said profits rose 4 percent, to $3.99 billion, during the first quarter. Demand has been so brisk that Walmart has hired more than 235,000 workers since mid-March.”
- Some of the biggest U.S. retailers, including Amazon, Kroger and Rite Aid, are phasing out hazard pay for essential workers as coronavirus-related costs pile up. Workers and unions are fighting back, saying they still face extra risks. Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. (WSJ)
The contagion is crippling media companies.
“The layoffs came swiftly last week. At Vice Media, 155 people lost their jobs. Quartz laid off 80. Condé Nast, publisher of glossy magazines such as Vogue, cut 100 people. And as BuzzFeed furloughed staffers at its overseas divisions, its U.S.-based staffers braced for similar cuts,” Elahe Izadi reports. “People are consuming news like never before, but spikes in readership are coming alongside huge drops in the advertising revenue. A New York Times count estimated 36,000 media workers have experienced furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs.”
Masks are changing the way we look at each other – and ourselves.
“The shutdowns are ending in some states, and social distancing may not last forever. But masks, it seems, will be with us indefinitely: fogging our glasses, smudging our lipstick, changing how we see one another and allow ourselves to be seen," writes Maura Judkis. "When people wear a mask, ‘You’re left really only with the eyes. And that can make it difficult for people to make these snap judgments that they like to make, even if they’re wrong,’ says Leslie Zebrowitz, a psychology professor at Brandeis University who studies facial perception.” Keep those masks on, though: Doing so can reduce transmission by 75 percent, according to a new University of Hong Kong study. (CNBC)
Fashion critic Robin Givhan argues compellingly that the handshake will return when the pandemic ends: “Handshakes have endured because they encapsulate human aspirations, braggadocio and vulnerabilities. We extend our grubby paws across the void in a display of trust. And while this crisis has caused us to put that symbolism on hold, history suggests that when the tide abates, we’ll eventually trust each other again.”
Follow the money
Democrats launched an investigation into the ouster of the Transportation Department’s watchdog.
The chairs of the House Oversight and Transportation committees announced they will explore the Friday night replacement of the department’s acting inspector general, worried the move was aimed at neutering an ongoing investigation of Secretary Elaine Chao’s dealings with the state of Kentucky. “Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and has faced questions about whether her department has given preferential treatment to projects in the state,” Ian Duncan and Mike Laris report. “On Friday, President Trump named Howard ‘Skip’ Elliott, the head of a pipeline safety agency, as acting DOT inspector general. Mitch Behm, the department’s deputy, had been filling that role. The lawmakers requested information about Chao and her team’s communications with the White House about the decision to replace Behm. … In a statement, Chao’s office did not respond to the concerns about the Kentucky investigation but said that the president was within his legal authority …
McConnell defended Trump’s IG purge, which only three of the 53 GOP senators have expressed any concern about. “Look. He is certainly within his authority,” McConnell said when asked about Trump’s firing of State IG Steve Linick. “He gets to hire and fire under the Constitution all people in the executive branch.” (Felicia Sonmez)
Mike Pompeo refused an interview request from Linick before he was fired. Linick wanted to question him about whether the Trump administration acted illegally in declaring an “emergency” to bypass a congressional freeze on arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “Pompeo chose instead to answer written questions from investigators,” the New York Times reports. This further undercuts Pompeo's claims he was unaware of what Linick was examining when he asked Trump to fire him.
Pompeo’s “Madison Dinners” – elaborate, unpublicized affairs he and his wife hold regularly in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the government’s dime – are drawing new scrutiny. “State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo's political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo's personal email address,” NBC News reports.
Linick was investigating Pompeo’s treatment of Toni Porter, his senior adviser and a longtime aide from Kansas who worked for him at the CIA and then the State Department. Porter didn’t register a complaint, but the investigation into her role was triggered by multiple complaints to a hotline. (McClatchy)
Joe Biden pledged to never fire government watchdogs if he's elected. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee could come to regret this commitment as Trump moves to the fill IG posts with hardcore loyalists. (Colby Itkowitz and Matt Viser)
Trump’s preferred firm landed a $1.3 billion border wall contract, the biggest so far.
“The company that won the contract, Fisher Sand and Gravel, has been repeatedly lauded by the president in White House meetings with border officials and military commanders,” Nick Miroff reports. “After its initial bids for border contracts were passed over, the company and its CEO, Tommy Fisher, cut a direct path to the president by praising him on cable news, donating to his Republican allies and cultivating ties to former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, GOP Senate candidate Kris Kobach and other conservative figures in Trump’s orbit.”
NASA’s human spaceflight chief resigned a week before the first launch of astronauts in a decade.
“Douglas Loverro, the head of human spaceflight for NASA, abruptly resigned on Monday, after six months on the job and days before the agency is scheduled to launch astronauts for the first time since the space shuttle retired in 2011,” Christian Davenport reports. “Two people with knowledge of the situation … said his resignation was spurred when Loverro broke a rule during NASA’s recent procurement of a spacecraft capable of landing humans on the moon. … In an interview, Loverro declined to discuss the exact details of why he resigned. ‘It had nothing to do with commercial crew,’ he said. ‘It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don’t want to characterize it in any more detail than that.’ Artemis is NASA’s program to return people to the moon.”
Norma McCorvey – Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade – said she only opposed abortion for money.
“In the final third of director Nick Sweeney’s 79-minute documentary ['AKA Jane Roe'], featuring many end-of-life reflections from McCorvey—who grew up queer, poor, and was sexually abused by a family member her mother sent her to live with after leaving reform school—the former Jane Roe admits that her later turn to the anti-abortion camp as a born-again Christian was ‘all an act,’” the Daily Beast reports. “‘This is my deathbed confession,’ she chuckles, sitting in a chair in her nursing home room, on oxygen. Sweeney asks McCorvey, ‘Did [the pro-life movement] use you as a trophy?’ ‘Of course,’ she replies. ‘I was the Big Fish.’ ‘Do you think you would say that you used them?’ Sweeney responds. ‘Well,’ says McCorvey, ‘I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say. That’s what I’d say.’”
Quote of the day
"We're going after Virginia, with your crazy governor, we're going after Virginia. They want to take your Second Amendment. You know that, right? You'll have nobody guarding your potatoes,” Trump said at a White House briefing, referring to Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
Social media speed read
Northam said the potatoes will be okay:
I grew up on a Virginia farm, Mr. President—our potatoes are fine. And as the only medical doctor among our nation's governors, I suggest you stop taking hydroxychloroquine.— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) May 19, 2020
Let's all get back to work. https://t.co/eay8saxcK1
Newly unclassified communications from the Obama administration revealed that Obama wanted things done “by the book”:
In this now declassified email that Susan Rice sent herself, we see that President Obama refused to request law enforcement investigations of Team Trump’s known Russia ties and insisted that any actions be “by the book.” Apparently, “Obamagate” means doing the right thing. pic.twitter.com/AFWhGNicCM— Evan McMullin (@EvanMcMullin) May 19, 2020
And a Southeast Texas reporter encountered a group thrilled to be able to celebrate their beach's reopening:
I guess you can say I had an interesting time at the beach 🥴 https://t.co/3LrnoBxyef— Jordan James (@JordanJamesTV) May 19, 2020
Videos of the day
Hasan Minhaj talked about what happens when you can’t make rent:
Seth Meyers said he doesn’t know whether it's more psychotic that a doctor would prescribe the president hydroxychloroquine or that the president might be lying about taking it: