with Brent D. Griffiths
Good morning. It's National Nurses Day. Thank you is not enough for all of the nurses and health-care workers risking it all on the front lines of the pandemic. We honor and remember the sacrifices these nurses make every day.
Death toll: As of this morning, a total of 70,588 deaths due to covid-19 and at least 1,197,000 cases have been reported since Feb. 29, per The Post's tracker.
On The Hill
‘TRUTH TO POWER’?: A pair of Trump administration nominees with significant sway over key decisions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The GOP-led Senate returned to Washington to push through President Trump's nominee to be inspector general for coronavirus relief funds, Brian Miller, and his pick for the nation's top intelligence official, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.).
Ratcliffe and Miller both pledged independence from the president against the backdrop of a White House that is increasingly prioritizing politics over science, refusing to allow policymakers to freely attend congressional hearings and answer questions about the administration's handling of the pandemic.
Trump admitted yesterday he doesn't want officials like Anthony S. Fauci, the administration's top scientist, appearing before the House and sharing information with a “bunch of Trump haters.”
- Saying the quiet part out loud: “The House is a setup. The House is a bunch of Trump haters,” Trump told reporters.
- Last week, a White House spokesman offered a different explanation, claiming it would be “counterproductive” to have those involved in the coronavirus response take time out from their work to testify before lawmakers.
- The White House also informed lawmakers in a memo, obtained by our colleague Seung Min Kim, members of the coronavirus task force are barred from testifying before Congress in May without permission from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows: “ … it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused on implementing of covid-19 response,” the memo reads.
Ratcliffe: The Texas Republican vowed to “speak truth to power,” according to our colleagues Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima, and sought to “assuage Democrats concerned about his willingness to provide candid information free from political considerations.”
- “Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I will provide if confirmed will not be altered or impacted by outside influence,” said Ratcliffe, who is seeking to oversee 17 intelligence agencies.
- Ratcliffe, however, demurred when asked by Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) if he would publicly disavow Trump's statement last year that the intelligence community had “run amok,” saying he didn't think the “men and women of the intelligence agencies are running amok.”
- The Texas congressman, who initially withdrew his nomination last summer after criticism he had inflated his resume, also said that whistleblowers would “enjoy every protection under the law,” if confirmed as DNI.
Miller: Miller was also pressed on his ability to be independent, coming from a job as senior associate counsel at the Office of White House Counsel and after Trump's decision to remove other inspectors general. Miller sidestepped those questions but said an inspector general “always faces the possibility that they will be fired … You just have to do your job and let the consequences be what they may be,” Miller testified, according to our colleague Erica Werner.
- “I will be independent. If the president removes me, he removes me,” Miller told Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) who predicted Miller would be fired he did not follow the president's orders. “If I am unable to do my job, I will resign. But I will not comment on the White House counsel’s operation.”
- Asked by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) if he would seek presidential approval before “investigating contacts, issuing reports or communicating with Congress,” Miller said that he would not,” Politico's Kyle Cheney and Zachary Warmbrodt report.
The questions asked of Miller and Ratcliffe underscored Democrats' deep concerns about Trump weaponizing intelligence and seeking to muzzle scientific voices within the administration as he's pushing to open the country back up again. Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, alleged in a whistleblower compliant on Tuesday he was “reassigned to a less prestigious role because he tried to ‘prioritize science and safety over political expediency’ and raised health concerns over a drug repeatedly pushed by President Trump as a possible cure for coronavirus,” our colleagues Yasmeen Abutaleb and Laurie McGinley report.
- “On a call with reporters earlier on Tuesday, Bright’s lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, said Bright came under pressure from [assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS Robert] Kadlec to award contracts ‘based on political connections and cronyism,’” per Yasmeen and Laurie. “'Dr. Bright’s removal from BARDA was retaliation, plain and simple,' Katz said. Bright’s lawyers are requesting that HHS reinstate him as BARDA director while his complaint is investigated.”
- “Bright alleges in the complaint that Kadlec and others pressured him to buy drugs and medical products for the nation’s stockpile of emergency medical equipment from companies that were linked politically to the administration and that he resisted such efforts.”
It didn't help that the White House announced the coronavirus task force might be shutting down by the end of May because of “the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country,” Vice President Pence told reporters. That's as the national death toll from the virus keeps rising and several models this week predicted an increased U.S. death toll.
- But Fauci disputed Pence's comments to CBS News's Paula Reid in an interview conducted right before the vice president spoke about phasing out the task force: “That's not true, I've been in every task force meeting, and that's not what they are doing,” Fauci said earlier Tuesday.
- As he toured a Honeywell mask manufacturing plant in Arizona — without a face mask — Trump confirmed to reporters the task force would shut down and be replaced with “something in a different form.”
- “I think we're looking at Phase Two and we're looking at other phases … the task force has done a phenomenal job,” Trump said.
‘It’s possible' : Trump conceded during an interview with ABC News's David Muir it's possible” some lives will be lost as the country reopens:
- “It's possible there will be some because you won't be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is,” Trump said last evening. “But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing, we're going to be washing hands, we're going to be doing a lot of the things that we've learned to do over the last period of time. "
At The White House
KUSHNER'S MISMANAGEMENT: “Jared Kushner, has relied in part on volunteers from consulting and private equity firms with little expertise in the tasks they were assigned, exacerbating chronic problems in obtaining supplies for hospitals and other needs, according to numerous government officials and a volunteer involved in the effort,” Yasmeen Abutaleb and Ashley Parker report.
- A volunteer who left the group filed a complaint with Congress: “Although some of the volunteers have relevant backgrounds and experience, many others were poorly matched with their assigned jobs, including those given the task of securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals nationwide, according to a complaint filed last month with the House Oversight Committee,” our colleagues scooped.
The group was asked to give priority to VIP tips, like those from Fox New hosts: “Among them were leads from Republican members of Congress, the Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former ‘Apprentice’ contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump,” the New York Times's Nicholas Confessore, Andrew Jacobs, Jodi Kantor, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Luis Ferré-Sadurní added. “Trump allies also pressed FEMA officials directly: A Pennsylvania dentist, once featured at a Trump rally, dropped the president’s name as he pushed the agency to procure test kits from his associates." Those leads rarely proved fruitful.
- Some leads were problematic. One went disastrously wrong: “In late March, according to emails obtained by The Times, two of the volunteers passed along procurement forms submitted by Yaron Oren-Pines, a Silicon Valley engineer who said he could provide more than 1,000 ventilators,” the Times reports. “Kushner’s volunteers passed the tip to federal officials who then sent it to senior officials in New York, who assumed Oren-Pines had been vetted and awarded him an eye-popping $69 million contract. Not a single ventilator was delivered, and New York is now seeking to recover the money.” As BuzzFeed News first reported, Oren-Pines had tweeted his offer in a reply to Trump.
Some legitimate suggestions found difficulty getting traction: Jeffrey Hendricks, a South Carolina physician, “had longtime manufacturing contacts in China and a line on millions of masks from established suppliers,” the Times reports. Hendricks was diverted to Kushner's team who was sorting through thousands of possible leads. Hendricks said some of his messages went returned — this was after he filled out forms and even sent a picture of the masks to prove they were real.
- After volunteers left, he finally saw progress: Hendricks's tip was passed on to a Defense Department employee. “After five weeks of somewhat frustrating efforts, I’m finally hopeful,” he told the Times.
And those equipment shortages are not over: Even though Trump boasted on May 1 that shortages of ventilators, test kits, masks, and other personal protection equipment was a thing of the past, Politico's Alice Miranda Ollstein and Adam Cancryn obtained audio that shows otherwise.
- “POLITICO obtained audio recordings of three conference-call meetings held between April 24 and May 1, led by HHS and FEMA officials and designed to keep a wide range of federal agencies apprised of the government’s coronavirus response. The meetings included updates from internal task forces focused on various elements of the response — like data and analytics, testing sites and community mitigation efforts — as well as from regional FEMA and HHS leaders in offices around the nation,” per Ollstein and Cancryn.
- “In the calls, officials in Washington and their regional counterparts were blunt about their struggle to keep pace with a flood of requests from governors for more medical equipment, even as the president touted the administration’s actions to secure sufficient gear from foreign and domestic producers.”
THE VP RACE IS ON: “Black Democrats have joined in a concerted effort to urge [Joe Biden] to pick a black woman as his vice-presidential nominee. Now some liberal groups and activists, who have long had an antagonistic relationship with the presumptive nominee, are pressing [former vice president Joe] Biden to select a liberal woman,” Matt Viser, Annie Linskey and Vanessa Williams report.
- At the core is a never ending argument about 2016: That's “whether energizing black voters or winning over some white working-class voters in the industrial Midwest represents the best shot for the party in November. Hillary Clinton’s defeat four years ago was narrow enough that either option could explain it, giving Democrats little certainty as they try to wrestle the presidency from Trump.”
Bernie won't back Warren: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the final competitor to cede to Biden and the liberal figure best positioned to push for concessions, has declined to support [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren despite their ideological alliance, according to three people familiar with his conversations with Biden, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to recount the private discussions,” our colleagues write.
- But an influential Sanders-aligned group found support for her: Our Revolution, a political nonprofit launched by Sanders and top allies from his 2016 campaign, "just completed a survey of its members that it said showed 62 percent favoring Warren as Biden’s running mate and 22 percent wanting Abrams. Harris, [Sen. Amy] Klobuchar and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, all more moderate, didn’t break 10 percent.”
Abrams and Harris are adopting different strategies: “Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has been extraordinarily blunt in saying she would accept the job. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has taken the opposite tack, remaining low-key while others advocate for her,” our colleagues write.
- What Biden world thinks of Abrams's efforts: “[Her] open campaigning has caused some eyerolls, but several around Biden say it has not necessarily damaged her chances. One aide noted, with a hint of admiration, that Abrams managed to work into a recent interview that she is a native of Wisconsin, a crucial battleground state.”
U.S. DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED VENEZUELAN INVASION: “An apparent attempt to invade Venezuela involving several Americans remained shrouded in confusion as the two countries traded accusations but offered little new information about the mysterious mission,” Karen DeYoung, Anthony Faiola and Alex Horton report.
- Trump said “it has nothing to do with our government”: “Venezuela’s foreign minister said two Americans, both former U.S. Special Operations soldiers, were ‘confessing without any reservations’ after being arrested by security forces during the aborted invasion. He did not describe what the men had told authorities about the operation, which President Nicolás Maduro described as an assassination plot.”
What happened: “The two men were captured, along with six others, on Monday when the small boat they were traveling in attempted to land along Venezuela’s coastline, only to be met by Venezuelan military and police forces,” our colleagues write. “On Sunday, eight others, apparently Venezuelans, were killed and two were captured in a separate landing attempt, according to Venezuelan reports.”
- More details: “The failed attempt to start an uprising collapsed under the collective weight of skimpy planning, feuding among opposition politicians and a poorly trained force that stood little chance of beating the Venezuelan military,” the Associated Press's Joshua Goodman reports in a lengthy investigation.
In the Media
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Georgia shooting case will go to grand jury after disturbing video surfaces: Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed in February after being chased by two armed men who told police he looked like a burglary suspect, Michael Brice-Saddler and Meryl Kornfield report. “The lack of charges thus far has enraged advocates across the country, who have expressed deep frustration with both the shooting of the unarmed man and how the case has been handled.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized for gallbladder condition: She “underwent a nonsurgical treatment for a benign gall bladder condition called acute cholecystitis,” Robert Barnes reports. “The court’s public information office said Ginsburg was resting comfortably at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and plans to participate in Wednesday’s teleconference oral argument.”
Obama's office privately blasted Republican attempts to get Biden docs: “In March, Obama’s office told the National Archives and Records Administration — which maintains presidential records — that a request from two top Republican senators for Obama administration documents related to Ukraine was improper,” BuzzFeed News's Emma Loop scoops. The former president's lawyer called it an effort “to give credence to a Russian disinformation campaign,” but ultimately agreed to release the information “in the interest of countering the misinformation campaign underlying this request."
Leaving, behind the mask: In the land of milk and honey, well, there were masks aplenty. But on his tour of an Arizona factory, Trump did not wear one — “despite guidelines saying they should be worn inside the factory at all times," the AP's Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville report.
- But in the end, [Trump] "wore only safety goggles during a tour of the Honeywell facility,” the AP reports. “Nearly all factory workers and members of the press as well as some White House staff and Secret Service agents wore masks. Senior White House staff and Honeywell executives did not."