In his view, he's fighting more than just the “hidden enemy,” his name for the novel coronavirus ravaging the nation. Trump's also battling the media, which he falsely claimed missed opportunities to save lives; Democratic governors who have banded together to explore lifting restrictions; and his own top public health adviser, who used the start of yesterday's briefing to clarify an earlier comment that more lives could have been saved if the Trump administration had acted earlier.
Yesterday's two hour and 24-minute coronavirus task force briefing, a daily ritual for Trump that has become a substitute for his campaign rallies, featured a propaganda-style video that spliced together praise of Trump's handling of the crisis from some of his favorite frenemies — Democratic governors and oft-mocked reporters — included clips of others downplaying the threat.
- Trump said that he'd ask “some questions” of reporters in the White House briefing room after the airing of the video “because you're so guilty” — the first of his many attempts to deflect blame for the administration's slow response to the crisis, which has been examined in leading news organizations, including our own, in recent weeks.
The video was a prologue for a litany of grievances issued by the president in defense of the federal response to the virus: “Everything we did was right,” Trump maintained.
- “ … in the middle of this deadly pandemic that shows no clear signs of abating, the president made clear that the paramount concern for Trump is Trump — his self-image, his media coverage, his supplicants and his opponents, both real and imagined,” our colleague Ashley Parker writes.
Trump's targets at yesterday's live-stream: The media, governors, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony S. Fauci, Joe Biden, China, and more.
The Media: Trump appeared to be seething over a New York Times article published over the weekend identifying key dates between early January and mid-March in which he dismissed warnings about the coronavirus. Though he often uses reporters as a foil, the president's sparring with them intensified on Monday.
The most heated exchange came after CBS News's Paula Reid pressed Trump on a notable gap in the campaign-style video that skipped over the administration's actions during most of February and early March — the chunk of time public health experts say was squandered by the administration for not promoting social distancing or providing enough virus testing.
- “What did you do with the time that you bought, the month of February? … That video has a gap — the entire month of February … What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?” Reid asked Trump.
- “A lot, a lot,” Trump claimed, without listing any specific measures. “You know you’re a fake,” he added.
The Governors: After a handful of governors on the East and West coasts united to decide together how to lift pandemic restrictions, Trump declared he alone would decide how and when to reopen the country.
- “The authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total,” Trump said, adding, “The president of the United States calls the shots.”
- “If some states refuse to open, I would like to see that person run for election,” Trump added, suggesting that those who refused to re-open would pay a political price.
- Flashback: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Trump told governors in mid-March in a conference call, a recording of which was shared with The New York Times. “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself," Trump told governors earlier in March.
- An overnight change: “There once was a time when President Trump made clear that governors were the ones mainly responsible for the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. But that was Sunday. On Monday, he declared that he was really in charge and would make the decision about when and how to reopen the country,” the New York Times's Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report.
- “The president’s reversal raised profound constitutional questions about the real extent of his powers and set him once again on a potential collision course with the states. For weeks, he sought to shift blame to the governors for any failures in handling the virus, presenting himself as merely a supporting player. Now as the tide begins to turn, he is claiming the lead role," they report.
The threat of a blanket edict from the president garnered immediate criticism from governors, some lawmakers and constitutional scholars alike:
- “I don't agree with the president's legal analysis,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on CNN after the briefing. “The president doesn't have total authority, we have a constitution. We don't have a king, we have an elected president.”
The No. 3 House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.)
- “The Constitution was written precisely [to] deny that particular claim,” Jonathan Turley, constitutional scholar who testified on behalf of Trump during the impeachment hearings, tweeted. “It also reserved to the states (& individuals) rights not expressly given to the federal government.”
- “'When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,' says [Trump]," Jack Goldsmith, a former legal adviser to George W. Bush, tweeted. “Heads will now explode over his authoritarian rhetoric. But the reality is that Trump, during COVID-19 crisis as before, has wielded presidential power ineffectually. The president’s authority in an emergency is potentially very broad but not total. But effective exercise of that authority takes organization, knowledge, leadership, good judgment, and persuasiveness. DT's response to COVID-19 has displayed presidential weakness, not power."
Fauci: Public tension between Trump and one of his top advisers peaked after the president amplified a tweet calling to #FireFauci. At last night's briefing, Fauci took to the lectern to clarify comments he made the previous morning that lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner.
- The walkback: “The first and only time that Dr. Birx and I went in and formally made a recommendation to the president to actually have a quote shut down in the sense of not really shutdown but to really have strong mitigation…. Obviously, there would be concern by some that in fact, that might have some negative consequences,” Fauci told reporters. “Nonetheless, the president listened to the recommendation and went to the mitigation.”
- Asked if Trump pressured him to make a statement clarifying his comments, Fauci bristled: “…everything I do is voluntarily. Please don't even imply that.”
- “I think controversy’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump added, asked directly about retweeting material criticial of Fauci. “Everyone says we don’t get along, but I love you,” Trump said jokingly.
Fauci would be hard to actually fire as he's a civil servant and not a political appointee. But that doesn't mean he can't endure diminished influence and standing with the president.
- “Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) described Fauci as a ‘rare breed who stuck around and gained influence simply because he knew his stuff.’ But he said he was worried about his future in the administration,” our colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa, Seung Min Kim, and Josh Dawsey report.
- “You don’t need to be fired in this administration to become invisible,” Murphy added.
- “He is the single most important expert in the United States government at this time,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said. “He relies on science, and science only, and speaks the truth to the public. That’s why he may in fact be in danger.”
Biden: Trump also took the opportunity to lash out at his presumptive Democratic opponent, former vice president Biden, who came out in support of Trump's ban of travel from China, but called his “scapegoating others at a time when the virus was emerging from China" not a time for “Trump's record of hysterical xenophobia and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.”
- “So on January 17, there wasn't a case, and the fake news is saying he didn't act fast enough,” Trump complained. “Well, you remember what happened because when I did act, I was criticized by Nancy Pelosi, by sleepy Joe Biden. I was criticized by everyone in fact I was called xenophobic. I was asking Biden to please define that for me."
Outside the Beltway
THOUSANDS OF CITIES ARE FACING BUDGET SHORTFALLS: “More than 2,100 U.S. cities are anticipating major budget shortfalls this year and many are planning to slash programs and cut staff in response, according to a new survey of local officials, illustrating the widespread financial havoc threatened by the coronavirus pandemic,” Tony Romm reports this morning.
The bleak outlook is leading some city leaders to push for more federal support: “The findings inject new urgency into a simmering congressional debate over Washington’s role in safeguarding cash-starved cities and states from financial ruin. Local governments generally cannot run deficits, unlike the nation’s capital, leaving them no choice but to slash their spending or raise taxes — absent more federal support,” our colleague writes.
- New York, San Francisco and Chicago all have major financial struggles on the horizon: “San Francisco leaders say they anticipate a budget shortfall as high as $1.7 billion over the next two fiscal years. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has proposed a freeze on hiring and $1.3 billion in cuts to his budget, citing sharp drops in tax revenue in what’s become the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.”
What about current aid? Congress allocated $150 billion in aid for states and large cities as part of the historic coronavirus stimulus package, but that money has restrictions on how it can be spent, Mainly, the funds can only be used to cover covid-19 response but not channeled to budget shortfalls from the economic slowdown sparked by the disease.
BERNIE ENDORSES BIDEN: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pledged to vigorously support former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign to defeat [Trump], as the two men presented a unified front in a Democratic Party long riven by ideological divisions,” Sean Sullivan, Felicia Sonmez and Michael Scherer report.
The news was kept under wraps until Biden introduced the senator during a live-stream event yesterday afternoon: “It came five days after Sanders bowed out of the race — and much sooner than 2016, when it took Sanders weeks to get behind Hillary Clinton,” our colleagues write.
- What's next?: “The senator said staffers from both campaigns have been working together for weeks to create task forces that would address the economy, education, climate change, criminal justice issues, immigration and health care. He acknowledged that he disagrees with Biden on some of these fronts but said he looked forward to ‘bringing some great people’ into the joint teams. Biden said the six groups would pursue ‘creative new ideas and proposals.’”
- For now, any online fundraising boost is still to come: “Asked if Sanders would lend his [donor] list, [Sanders campaign spokesman Mike] Casca declined to comment definitively on his plans.” Sanders's set records with his unprecedented scope of his online fundraising machine and the list of supporters he built over two presidential campaigns.
The endorsement comes at a crucial time: “Even after Sanders ended his bid and praised Biden last week, many of his supporters, including some who had been on his campaign’s payroll, continued to condemn Biden publicly,” our colleagues write. “The hope among allies of the two men is that Monday’s endorsement will quell those critics and allow Biden to forge stronger ties to the party’s left flank.”
- Trump world's response: “This is further proof that even though Bernie Sanders won’t be on the ballot in November, his issues will be. Biden had to adopt most of Bernie’s agenda to be successful in the Democrat primaries,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement that exaggerated Biden’s leftward movement.
AMASH STILL EYEING THIRD-PARTY RUN: “Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) said that he’s considering a White House run against [Trump], a move that could pose a challenge to the president’s campaign for a second term. Amash, who left the Republican Party last year and is seeking reelection to his Grand Rapids-area House seat as an independent, made the comment in a tweet responding to a statement by Trump that as president, his ‘authority is total,’” Felicia Sonmez and David Weigel report.
LIBERAL CHALLENGER OUSTS WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT JUDGE: “Jill Karofsky beat Daniel Kelly, whom then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) appointed to the state’s high court in 2016. Trump endorsed Kelly and on Election Day urged Wisconsin voters ‘to get out and vote NOW’ for the justice,” Amy Gardner and David Weigel report of a race that like the state's presidential primary featured in-person voting during a pandemic.
Such an ouster is extremely rare for the court: “Karofsky’s victory marked the first time in a dozen years that a Supreme Court challenger beat an incumbent — and just the second time in more than half a century. Her win over Justice Daniel Kelly will shift conservative control of the court from 5-2 to 4-3,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Patrick Marley reports.
- Why Democrats care so much about the seat: “An ongoing legal battle over a voter roll purge raised the stakes of this year’s election, with implications for November. Kelly recused himself, and conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn sided with voting rights groups to halt the purge," our colleagues write. “That left the court deadlocked 3-3 and gave Democrats a shot at stopping the purge, one of their top priorities ahead of the 2020 election.”
On The Hill
PHASE 4 REMAINS STALLED: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said that they won’t agree to the Trump administration’s insistence on more money for small business loans unless their demands are met for additional funding for hospitals, state and local governments and food stamp recipients. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Democrats’ demands should wait for another day, while the small business program needs more money now,” Erica Werner reports.
- Mnuchin's comments follow GOP congressional leaders saying they also reject Democrats' demands: “The developments appeared to harden a stalemate on Capitol Hill over how or when the federal government will take further action to address the worsening economic impacts of the coronavirus, with millions newly unemployed and much commerce in the nation at a virtual standstill as the U.S. confronts recession conditions,” our colleague writes.
Further complicating matters, the House is not expected to return to Washington before May: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the delay could be “possibly longer if health experts recommend against bringing more than 400 lawmakers back to Washington during the coronavirus pandemic,” Paul Kane reports.
- The House had been slated to come back the week of April 20: But Hoyer said the original plan “had become impossible because some experts consider these next few weeks a critical moment in trying to slow the coronavirus spread in the Washington region,” our colleague writes.
In the Media
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
USS Theodore Roosevelt sailor dies from virus: “A U.S. sailor assigned to an aircraft carrier crippled by the novel coronavirus died, the Navy said, marking the first death of an active-duty service member caused by the virus as confirmed cases among the crew climbed to at least 585,” Dan Lamothe reports.
South Dakota governor's resisted a stay-at-home order. Now, the state has an outbreak that threatens the U.S. food supply: “South Dakota is home to one of the largest single coronavirus clusters anywhere in the United States, with more than 300 workers at a giant pork-processing plant falling ill. With the case numbers continuing to spike, the company was forced to announce the indefinite closure of the facility Sunday, threatening the U.S. food supply,” Griff Witte reports of Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) who recently said such orders reflected a “herd mentality.”
- More on the plant shutdown: “The shutdown of the Sioux Falls plant, coupled with other closures, ‘is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,’ Kenneth Sullivan, Smithfield president and chief executive, said in a statement,” our colleague writes. ‘It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.’”
Florida's top health official was removed from a press conference after saying social distancing would need to be extended: “Floridians will be keeping their distance and wearing face masks for up to a year until a covid-19 vaccine exists, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Monday before being whisked away by the governor’s spokeswoman,” the Miami Herald's Lawrence Mower reports. The Herald reports that Rivkees's spokesman said he left to attend a meeting with Adrian Lukis, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
- Brother, pro-wrestling is considered essential in Florida: At least one of the exceptions to DeSantis's stay-at-home order is not difficult to pin down even if The Rock may question if it passes the smell test.
- “At a press conference Monday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings was asked whether WWE would continue operations. He said that WWE was not originally deemed an ‘essential business,’ a designation allowing it to stay open during the state’s ‘shelter-in-place’ order. However, a conversation with DeSantis changed that,” the Herald's Samantha J. Gross reports. The WWE's exemption is based on the organization continuing to close its facilities to the general public.