with Brent D. Griffiths
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🚨BIDEN SPEAKS: Former vice president Joe Biden will appear on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” this morning, where he is expected to respond for the first time publicly to Tara Reade's allegations that he sexually assaulted her when she was one of his Senate aides.
On The Hill
HIGH RISK: One hundred U.S. senators are scheduled to return to the Capitol on Monday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected calls from Democrats to keep members home amid a pandemic that has killed more than 62,000 people — and nearly 2,000 in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region.
But the risks are apparent: Nearly half of the chamber is older than 65, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says puts them at higher risk of severe illness from covid-19. Several have known underlying medical conditions.
“They are without a doubt a high-risk group,” Dr. Ali Kahn, an epidemiologist and dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Public Health, told Power Up.
- D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has issued a stay-at-home order effective through May 15 to stop the virus's spread. While Bowser, has deemed lawmakers essential workers, that doesn't change the risk profile for senators, who must travel to Washington, stay in the surrounding area, mingle with each other to vote, and interact with staff and press.
- “We need to recognize that the Senate coming together is like any other mass gathering at this time in America,” Khan said. “As long as there is ongoing community transmission, you magnify risks of contracting the disease within an occupational setting.”
McConnell, whose office is expected to release new guidelines today for conducting Senate business during coronavirus, has defended his decision. “We can modify our routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we can honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct our business in person,” McConnell said on Fox News. He argued senators must return to confirm judicial and executive branch nominations even as the House reversed the decision to have its members return to Washington next week.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Capitol's attending physician recommended against returning. “Yes, we had intended to come back next week as had been previously scheduled,” Pelosi told NBC News's Nicolle Wallace. “But, once the Capitol Physician told us it was not proper for us to do that, in the interests of not only members and staff, but the custodians, the people who maintain the Capitol, the press who cover us, the staff of the actual legislative Chamber, there was no choice for us but to say we'll put this off.”
- McConnell's office has declined to say whether he received guidance from the attending physician that it wasn't safe to reconvene. The attending physician's office did not respond to Power Up's request for comment.
By the numbers: Power Up's review of the chamber found that 49 senators are over 65. Of those, 28 are over 70 years old. And 14 are more than 75.
- These older senators hold key positions: Perhaps unsurprisingly in a city that prizes seniority, 14 of the 20 non-joint committees are chaired by senators who are over 65. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), 86, chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is the second-oldest member of the Chamber.
- Half of the Senate GOP's six leadership positions are filled by older senators, including McConnell, who himself is 78. So are eight of Senate Democrat's 11 leadership posts, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who is 69.
And there are members of all ages with underlying conditions that could make them more vulnerable to coronavirus.
- Sens. Mazie Hirono, a 72-year-old Democrat from Hawaii, and Michael F. Bennet, a 55-year-old Democrat from Colorado, are cancer survivors. And Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, 57, who already tested positive for the virus, had part of his lung removed last year.
- People of all ages with underlying conditions like chronic lung disease, asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, etc. are also at higher risk for severe illness from the virus, per CDC guidance.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who at 86 years old is the oldest senator, asked McConnell to reconsider his decision in a letter this week that cited the diagnosis of coronavirus cases among Capitol Police officers and construction workers on the campus, per my colleagues Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane.
- “[McConnell] would bring 100 senators and many more staff members and reporters into proximity while Washington itself remains under a stay-at-home order,” Feinstein said in a statement. “There is no way to do this without increased risk. This is the wrong example for the country.”
Screening measures are lagging: The Senate also doesn't have the capacity to quickly and regularly test all senators who enter and exit the Capitol, whereas the White House has been conducting rapid testing on visitors and staff to protect the health of the nation's top elected officials.
- “In a conference call with top GOP officials, Dr. Brian Monahan [the Capitol's attending physician] said there is not sufficient capacity to quickly test senators for coronavirus — a contrast with the White House, where any people meeting with President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence are tested for the disease,” Politico's Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report. “Monahan said test results in the Senate will take two or more days, while the White House has rapid testing.”
- It won't be a blanket screening, either: “The physician will continue the practice of limiting tests to those showing symptoms of the disease, according to a Republican who was on the [Thursday] call and requested anonymity to speak freely,” per our colleagues Mike and Paul.
- Medical advice: Monahan advised senators to minimize “the number of staff in the building, create a process to screen visitors into their offices, employ more social distancing procedures and take a ‘greater interest’ in the health of their employees,” CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju report. “On that last point, he said that Senate aides who are coming to the Capitol should review a checklist of their symptoms before coming into the office. If they answered ‘yes’ to any of the six questions, they should not come into work.”
He said, he said: Schumer told reporters on Thursday that “McConnell did not consult with him on the decision to return senators to Washington next week and that he did not know whether McConnell consulted with health authorities before doing so,” according to Mike and Paul.
- McConnell's office disputed Schumer's statement: “McConnell spokesman Doug Andres, said the majority leader consulted with Schumer weeks ago in setting the May 4 return date and said further health and safety guidance would be issued this week.”
- Looking ahead: “Pelosi said Thursday that the House could return as soon as May 11 if there is new coronavirus relief legislation to vote on.”
Schumer said he would closely scrutinize the safety guidelines expected to be released today, not just for senators but for the Capitol support staff.
- “I want to make sure that the workers are protected in every way, and many of them are people of color,” Schumer said on the call organized by Senate Democrats yesterday, which focused on a Democratic report highlighting racial disparities of coronavirus, per Mike and Paul.
- “We’re going to be pulling people [into the Capitol] against the rules of the city,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said on the call. “We are now going to have thousands of people coming to work against the rules that they’ve established. I do not know what the health justification of that is.”
DEMS HAVE PRESSURED BIDEN TO ADDRESS THE ALLEGATIONS: “Over the past week, Democrats have increasingly indicated they want to hear Biden address the allegations after weeks of silence on the matter. His refusal to discuss it has put other Democrats in the position of defending him while also advocating that women alleging sexual harassment or assault should be supported,” Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan report.
What we know: “The Post published an in-depth examination of Reade's account two weeks ago in which one of her friends confirmed that Reade had told her of an incident shortly after she said it had occurred,” our colleagues write. “Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, also told The Post that she had told him in 1993 that Biden had touched her neck and shoulders. Several days after the interview, he said in a text message that he recalled her telling him that Biden had put his hand ‘under her clothes.’”
- Trump said Reade's accusation could be “false”: “I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times,” the president told reporters at the White House. More than 20 women have accused the president of sexual misconduct, ranging from the late 1970s through 2016, when he was a presidential candidate.
At The White House
U.S. OFFICIALS LOOK TO RETALIATE AGAINST CHINA: “Trump has fumed to aides and others in recent days about China, blaming the country for withholding information about the virus, and has discussed enacting dramatic measures that would probably lead to retaliation by Beijing,” Jeff Stein, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Gerry Shih report.
What's on the table: “In private, Trump and aides have discussed stripping China of its ‘sovereign immunity,’ aiming to enable the U.S. government or victims to sue China for damages,” our colleagues write. “Some administration officials have also discussed having the United States cancel part of its debt obligations to China, two people with knowledge of internal conversations said. It was not known if the president has backed this idea.”
- Trump told reporters China should have been able to “stop” the virus: “He said canceling interest payments to China could undermine the ‘sanctity of the dollar,’ but he added that there were other ways to levy extreme penalties on China, such as raising $1 trillion by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports,” our colleagues write.
IT'S UNLIKELY THE VIRUS ESCAPED A WUHAN LAB: “The U.S. intelligence community released an assessment formally concluding that the virus behind the coronavirus pandemic originated in China,” Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris and Anna Fifield report. “While asserting that the pathogen was not man-made or genetically altered, the statement pointedly declined to rule out the possibility that the virus had escaped from the complex of laboratories in Wuhan that has been at the forefront of global research into bat-borne viruses linked to multiple epidemics over the past decade."
Intelligence Community Statement on Origins of COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/MIPr6LVzU4— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) April 30, 2020
But: “Yet, despite the intense scrutiny, the novel coronavirus’s origins remain as murky now as they did when the first cases emerged in China five months ago," our colleagues write. "While intelligence analysts and many scientists see the lab-as-origin theory as technically possible, no direct evidence has emerged suggesting that the coronavirus escaped from Wuhan’s research facilities. Many scientists argue that the evidence tilts firmly toward a natural transmission: a still-unknown interaction in late fall that allowed the virus to jump from a bat or another animal to a human.”
- Trump claimed he saw evidence of a connection between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the pandemic: “Yes, I have,” the president said when asked whether he’s seen anything that makes him believe that lab workers were responsible. He did not elaborate.
Outside the Beltway
OVER 30 MILLION AMERICANS HAVE FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT: “The outbreak and subsequent recession have wiped away all jobs created since the Great Recession. Economists estimate the national unemployment rate sits between 15 and 20 percent, compared to about 25 percent at the peak of the Great Depression,” Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam report.
- The numbers are staggering: “For comparison, 4.4 million people applied for benefits for the week ending April 18, and 30.3 million have sought benefits in the past six weeks alone. That figure represents roughly 1 in 5 American workers,” our colleagues write. “There is no precedent for figures like this in modern American history.”
Some states signal they could strip workers’ unemployment benefits if they don’t return to work: “Iowa, Oklahoma and other states reopening soon amid the outbreak are issuing early warnings to their worried workers: Return to your jobs or risk losing unemployment benefits,” Tony Romm reports.
- GOP governors are making the loudest threats: “In Iowa, for example, state officials even have posted a public call for companies to get in touch if an ‘employee refuses to return to work,’" our colleague writes. “For some states, the concern is that residents who are offered their old jobs back simply may not accept them, choosing instead to continue tapping historically generous unemployment aid.”
- Business leaders say they need workers: “Labor activists, however, contend the reality is far more complicated: Some now-unemployed Americans weren’t making much money in the first place, so they may not want to risk their safety just to return to underpaid old gigs.”
SPORTS LEAGUES WANT TO RETURN, BUT HAVEN'T FIGURED OUT HOW: “Interviews with league and union officials across the United States’ major sports reveal that no league is prepared to cancel its suspended season, but with the clock ticking — in a normal year, the NHL and NBA playoffs would be well underway — none are close to announcing definitive return-to-play plans either,” Rick Maese reports this morning.
- Key quote: “It’s been a challenge. I would be lying if we were to say we have a good idea,” a top official with one league told our colleague. “They’re all degrees of bad.”
Playing without fans is far from a panacea: “Testing capacity for the coronavirus is still limited, and players will need to agree that return-to-play plans are sufficiently safe and minimize the risk of someone contracting the virus,” our colleague writes. “While the appetite for sports is huge, the outlook for the coming months is looking increasingly bleak to many.”
Just look at the national pastime: “Major League Baseball officials have considered quarantining 30 entire teams in one state but would much prefer to play games in home stadiums, albeit empty ones, relying on charter flights and five-star hotel accommodations for traveling teams,” our colleague writes. “That would allow the sport to stick to its existing schedule, chalking up the missed games as cancellations, and give the country a diversion and generate some revenue.”
- But even the seemingly simplest plan is far from reality: As one high-ranking MLB official involved in planning discussions told our colleague this week, “We’re not even remotely close to making that call.”
In the Media
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
The administration is racing to have a vaccine by January: “The timeline represents a fast pace for vaccine development but still means there would be no fail-safe protection from the novel coronavirus until long after most Americans are likely to have returned to work or school and until after the November presidential election,” Anne Gearan, Felicia Sonmez and Erica Werner report.
- Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease specialist, said the goal is production of hundreds of millions of doses by January, an effort dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.”
Trump struggles to show empathy as over 62,000 Americans die: “He views public displays of sadness as weakness and has made a point of stressing resolve, even at the risk of overlooking the deep pain afflicting so much of the country. His favorite words in his televised appearances of recent weeks are ‘powerful’ and ‘strong.’ He talks of ‘incredible’ days ahead without dwelling on the miserable days of now. He plans fireworks while Americans plan funerals,” the New York Times's Peter Baker reports.
Protesters opposing a stay at home order, some armed, descended on Michigan's Capitol: “Dozens of protesters gathered outside the House chamber and demanded to be allowed in as Michigan State Police troopers stood in a line. The protesters chanted, ‘Let us in.’ The state has long allowed guns inside the Capitol building — a policy that's previously drawn criticism from Democrats,” the Detroit News's Craig Mauger reports.
- The protest was much smaller than earlier one this month: But the images of armed people in the chamber struck a nerve with many, including legislators like Democratic state Sen. Dayna Polehanki.
Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today. #mileg pic.twitter.com/voOZpPYWOs— Senator Dayna Polehanki (@SenPolehanki) April 30, 2020
Meanwhile, a constitutional crisis is brewing in the state: The Michigan Legislature "authorized a historic lawsuit over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's powers to combat covid-19 as the governor raced to issue orders to extend the state of emergency until May 28,” the Detroit News reports.
- Republican legislators said they would not extend the Democratic governor's order, which they view as ending on Thursday: “In the eyes of GOP leadership, that means the executive orders she issued, including the stay-at-home order presumed to extend through May 15, also expired, said Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield,” the Detroit News reports.