with Brent D. Griffiths
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At The White House
TRUMP'S SPIN DOCTORS: President Trump has a new weapon in the war against the novel coronavirus: doctors.
As nearly 90,000 Americans have been killed by the disease devastating the economy, Trump is taking aim at and seeking political affirmation from the medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. The push is another way the president is questioning scientific consensus during his presidency, even as he has sidelined the nation's premier public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control, during the pandemic.
After a meeting yesterday with Republican senators on Capitol Hill, Trump disparaged a study of veterans finding no benefit to an anti-malarial drug in covid-19 patients as a “Trump-enemy statement.” The attempt to cast doubt on the research came after Trump announced he is taking hydroxychloroquine to protect himself against the coronavirus.
- “That was a false study done,” Trump said, defending his decision to take a drug not proven to help those with the virus, which may even have dangerous effects on the heart in some people. “Where they gave it to very sick people. Extremely sick people. People that were ready to die. It was given by obviously not friends of the administration. ”
WH physician says he talked about hydroxycholorquine with President Trump and determined the “potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” pic.twitter.com/U2vVRpME1D— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) May 19, 2020
And on Tuesday, the Associated Press's Michael Biesecker and Jason Dearen revealed Republican political operatives and allies of the president are rallying “'extremely pro-Trump' doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal [CDC] to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.”
- “There is a coalition of doctors who are extremely pro-Trump that have been preparing and coming together for the war ahead in the campaign on health care,” Nancy Schulze, a GOP activist, said on a May 11 call organized by a conservative think tank. “And we have doctors that are … in the trenches, that are saying ‘It’s time to reopen.’”
- “Anybody who joins one of our coalitions is vetted,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump's campaign communications director, told the AP. “And so quite obviously, all of our coalitions espouse policies and say things that are, of course, exactly simpatico with what the president believes. … The president has been outspoken about the fact that he wants to get the country back open as soon as possible.”
Trump has routinely attacked the media, bureaucrats, science and Democrats during his bellicose presidency. But luring doctors onto the political battlefield in a campaign year is a new front. And it could be especially dangerous during a major health crisis when factual information saves lives — and misinformation can cause deaths.
- “I find it totally irresponsible to have physicians who are touting some information that’s not anchored in evidence and not anchored in science,” Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, told Biesecker and Dearen. “What often creates confusion is the many voices that are out there, and many of those voices do have a political interest, which is the hugely dangerous situation we are at now.”
- “I think it’s a very bad idea to be taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medication,” Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute told the New York Times's Annie Karni and Katie Thomas. “There are no data to support that, there’s no evidence and in fact there is no compelling evidence to support its use at all at this point.”
Trump's own Food and Drug Administration cautioned doctors against using hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19 patients outside of a hospital or a clinical trial, our colleagues reported at the end of April. But Trump has increasingly politicized medicine during the pandemic as he has pushed the drug repeatedly as a possible cure.
- “The FDA … said hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have been linked to abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation, dangerously rapid heart rates called ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, and in some cases, death,” our colleagues reported. “The agency said the medications should be used only in settings where patients can be closely watched for cardiac problems. QT prolongation refers to an extension of the split-second time required for the heart to recharge between beats.”
WHO else? Trump's attacks yesterday extended to the World Health Organization after he threatened to permanently cut off funding to the international agency, which he says has “consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal.”
The Lancet, a British medical journal, yestrdray released a statement calling Trump out for his “factually incorrect” claim. Last week, the journal published an unsigned and scathing critique of Trump's “inconsistent and incoherent national response” to the pandemic, our colleague Siobhán O'Grady reported.
- “Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” the editorial said.
- The editorial also criticized Trump for “hobbling” the CDC: “The Trump administration's further erosion of the CDC will harm global cooperation in science and public health, as it is trying to do by defunding WHO. A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic.”
In the Agencies
POMPEO HELD ELITE DINNERS ON TAXPAYER DIME: “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 [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo's political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo's personal email address,” NBC News's Josh Lederman, Laura Strickler and Dan De Luce reports.
- The affairs were called “Madison Dinners: The off-the-public schedule gatherings featured, “billionaire CEOs, Supreme Court justices, political heavyweights and ambassadors,” NBC News reports. “An NBC News investigation found that Pompeo held about two dozen Madison Dinners since he took over in 2018.”
Ousted State IG Steve Linick was already investigating whether Pompeo used a staffer for private duties: “On Tuesday, a State Department official and two other people familiar with the matter identified the political appointee to NBC News as Toni Porter, who had also worked for Pompeo at the CIA and now works in the Office of the Secretary of State,” NBC News reports. “Emails reviewed by NBC News show that Porter was the chief liaison between Pompeo's office and the Office of the Chief of Protocol, which runs the Madison Dinners.”
TRUMP ALLY GETS BIGGEST WALL CONTRACT TO DATE: “A North Dakota construction firm that has received backing from [Trump] has now secured the largest border wall contract ever awarded, a $1.3 billion deal to build 42 miles of black-painted fencing through the rugged mountains of southern Arizona,” our colleague Nick Miroff reports.
The company was initially given the cold shoulder: Then “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,” Nick writes.
- A previous contract to Fisher is already under review: “Fisher’s first and only other major border contract, for $400 million, is under review by the Defense Department inspector general after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about improper White House influence on the procurement process. The inspector general’s office confirmed Tuesday that the audit is ongoing.”
EPA STAFF WERE IGNORED IN ROLLBACK OF FUEL STANDARDS: “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, according to documents shared with The Washington Post,” Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis scooped.
- This could create some legal issues: “The documents — obtained by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee — include an exchange between two agencies that has not been entered into the public record as required under the Clean Air Act,” our colleagues write. “In his letter, Carper argued the EPA violated federal rules by failing to enter all relevant documents into the public record, changing the rule after it was signed and not meeting its obligation to write its part of the mileage rule.”
GLOBAL EMISSIONS PLUNGE: “The wave of shutdowns and shuttered economies caused by the pandemic fueled a momentous decline in global greenhouse gas emissions, although one unlikely to last, a group of scientists reported,” Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report.
That includes a peak drop in daily emissions by 17 percent in early April: The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found some nations had even steeper declines.
- The total emissions for 2020 is expected to fall as well: The study projects a decline of “between 4 and 7 percent compared with last year — an unheard-of drop in normal times but considerably less dramatic than the decline during the first few months of the year, when economies screeched to a halt,” our colleague writes. “The final 2020 figure will depend on how rapidly, or cautiously, people around the world resume ordinary life.”
BIPARTISAN RESTRICTIONS ARE STOPPING TRUMP RALLIES: “A survey of governors’ offices in 10 swing states showed that none had received a request from the president’s campaign to hold a rally and that most are operating under reopening plans that would not allow large gatherings any time soon,” Toluse Olorunnipa reports.
- Eric Trump claimed over the weekend, without evidence, Democrats were purposely blocking his dad from holding rallies: But Tolu found the Trump campaign has not reach out to governor’s offices in Georgia or Florida to inquire about rallied there either. Both states are led by Republican allies who have at least somewhat relaxed stay-at-home restrictions.
Trump is nearing his longest stretch without holding a rally: “It has been 80 days since Trump last held a campaign rally, and he could soon surpass the 92-day stretch that began in December 2017 for the longest drought since he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015,” our colleague writes. “Trump has held 400 rallies since announcing his candidacy and regularly credits the raucous events with powering him to the White House.”
Federal judge rules Texans can vote by mail: U.S. District Judge Fred Biery “agreed with individual Texas voters and the Texas Democratic Party that voters would face irreparable harm if existing age eligibility rules for voting by mail remain in place for elections held while the coronavirus remains in wide circulation,” the Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura reports.
- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) vowed an immediate appeal: Under Biery’s ruling “voters under the age of 65 who would ordinarily not qualify for mail-in ballots would now be eligible.” Biery is a Clinton appointee.
A pandemic didn’t stop donations from pouring in: “ActBlue, the Democratic online donor platform, raised $141 million in April, which is among its top six months in both the total amount of money raised and total unique donors since its founding in 2004, officials said,” Michelle Lee reports.
- Republicans also set a record: “WinRed, the Republican counterpart that launched last year, saw its biggest month so far in April with nearly $60 million, officials said.”
On The Hill
NO SIGN OF STIMULUS AGREEMENT: “The growing insistence by Trump and Republican lawmakers to push for reopening while halting any new talks about aid has created a stark divide in the government’s approach. As Trump has largely shut down negotiations for more emergency assistance, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell warned that much more may be needed,” Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and Jeff Stein report.
The disconnect between the White House and the Fed was on full display: “Shortly after Powell said policymakers should remain flexible, Trump suggested to Republican senators at lunch that he might oppose extending unemployment benefits for millions after they expire in July,” Seung Min Kim reports.
The White House still wants to do something about payroll taxes: Both Republicans and Democrats have previously said that's a nonstarter. But White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters Trump still wants a payroll tax holiday, Reuters's Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey report.
- What that means: “For most Americans, 7.6 percent of their paycheck is withheld by the federal government to go toward the taxes they owe for the year. A holiday, essentially a temporary tax cut, generally benefits lower-paid households the most,” Reuters reports. “Kudlow pointed out, though, that people must have jobs in order for the holiday to work, a tricky proposition with tens of millions losing work in the last two months."
In the Media
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
“Jane Roe” said her famous conversion into an antiabortion activists was “all an act”: Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court decision, “says in a documentary filmed in the months before her death in 2017 … [that she only spoke out against abortions] because she was paid by antiabortion groups including Operation Rescue,” the Los Angeles Times's Meredith Blake first reported.
- Key quote: “I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” she says in “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres Friday on FX. “It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”
Asian American doctors and nurses report sharp increase in bigoted verbal abuse and physical attacks: “Everybody is scared. I’m putting myself out there only to be treated this way. It’s very disheartening,” Hengky Lim, a 44-year-old nurse practitioner in Los Angeles County from Indonesia told our colleague Tracy Jan about the discrimination he's encountered. “We’re not sick. You’re the one who is sick, which is why you are here. And you are exposing us as the health-care provider taking care of you, and we are treated as though we are the ones carrying the coronavirus.”
- Congress is taking notice: Earlier this month, 16 Democratic senators asked the Justice Department to address the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the Center for Public Integrity's Kristine Villanueva reports.
Michael Flynn's attorneys want an appeals court to force a judge to dismiss his conviction: “Flynn’s lawyers also asked the appeals court in Washington to reverse the judge’s order allowing outside groups and a retired federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s request to toss the case,” Spencer S. Hsu and Ann E. Marimow report.
- Mitch McConnell slammed the judge's order to argue against the DOJ's decision: “McConnell said the move by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan was the latest example of aides and advisers to President Donald Trump being treated unfairly in the U.S. legal system,” Politico's Josh Gerstein reports.