Judging from their TV appearances, President Trump’s advisers are unwilling to admit error and adjust their handling of the coronavirus pandemic accordingly. They still insist they are doing everything perfectly, and still blithely point to about a third of the United States as merely some “hot spots.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Adm. Brett Giroir, who heads the widely panned federal testing operation, would not admit that much of anything was wrong, only conceding he wouldn’t be “satisfied” until the virus is eradicated. Giroir hedged when asked if everyone could get a test, saying everyone who “needs” one can get it. (This would not include all asymptomatic people.) Presented with a Harvard University analysis that says we should be doing between 3 million and 3.5 million tests a day, Giroir raised a straw man that 300 million tests was unrealistic. He insisted that, despite long wait times for test results, that the Defense Production Act did not need to be invoked to increase the supplies necessary to collect and process test specimens.

The interview continued:

HOST JAKE TAPPER: When it comes to contact tracing and the states not drawing down enough money that’s there for them to do it, does the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] need to improve its guidance to states as to how to do that, yes or no?
GIROIR: No.
TAPPER: They don’t? Okay. It’s the states ...
(CROSSTALK)
GIROIR: I think the contact tracing guidance is pretty clear.
But more — literally more important than contact tracing is to wear a mask, right? We have to assume that everyone who’s on the street could be positive. And if you’re positive, and you wear a mask ...
TAPPER: Absolutely.
GIROIR: ... you will not transmit it to others.
Would have loved to talk to you about the hairdressers, both hot with covid, 139 clients. Both wore a mask, 139...
(CROSSTALK)
TAPPER: Right, wearing masks, nobody got covid.
GIROIR: Not a single transmission of covid.
TAPPER: Yes.
GIROIR: That's why this is much more important than anything we do.
TAPPER: Absolutely.
And last question, sir.
GIROIR: Yes, sir.
TAPPER: Should schools, no matter what, even if they have a positivity rate in that community of more than 5 percent, even if the virus is spreading in that community, should schools open in the fall?
GIROIR: We have always been clear that the presumption needs to be that we want our kids in school, for all the reasons you know, social, emotional ...

Asked about tracing, Giroir talked about masks. Tapper never got a definitive answer to his question on schools. Frankly, Giroir’s denial that there is a real problem with testing and tracing flies in the face of what Democratic and Republican governors have been saying for weeks and the experience of Americans, who in many cases must wait more than a week for test results. This delay makes contact tracing virtually impossible if the person who has tested positive unknowingly continues to infect others.

The economic message was not much better. Economic adviser Larry Kudlow, appearing on the same show, insisted the economy is going great: “I don’t think the economy is going south. I think it’s going north. And I think that there’s a bunch of indicators.” Once again, the message is to just ignore the “hot spots” — which include some of the most populous states. After 17 straight weeks with more than 1 million unemployment claims filed, he gushed over the “strong” jobs picture. Kudlow insisted unemployment benefits are too high, dissuading people from getting jobs:

TAPPER: In many cases — you talk about restaurants — it’s not safe for them to go back to work, because the administration and states have not been able to get the virus under control.
I mean, that's the reason. That's the problem why restaurants can't hire workers. It's not because waiters and servers and maitre d's and bartenders don't want to go back to work. It's because either they're not allowed to open their bars or have significant seating in their restaurants, or it's not safe to go there.
That's the whole problem. That's going to be the problem with schools in the fall. It's the problem with people reluctant to get on airplanes.
KUDLOW: Yes.
TAPPER: I mean, it’s because you were not able to get the virus under control ...
KUDLOW: That is part of it.
TAPPER: ... that the economy continues to struggle.
KUDLOW: That is — that ...
(LAUGHTER)
KUDLOW: I will say again, the economy is improving by leaps and bounds.
I will also say, there are more states that are reopening and doing very well. There are some key states, yes. California and Texas and Florida, right now that are having hot-spot difficulties. But it’s nothing like it was last winter. ... It’s a more optimistic picture than the one you are painting. And I think that we have made great strides. I mean, federal government doesn’t control this. We are leaders, hopefully, in encouraging people to be safe and secure and accept our guidelines.
The states are in charge of this. Each state has a different story. Most of the states are doing rather well in this. So, I just -- I'm not that pessimistic. Maybe I'm too optimistic.
I'm happy to report, Ambassador Deborah Birx, who is our leader on the health virus task force, she's reporting now that these bad hot spots states, the three or four of them, are actually showing early signs of plateauing. Let us hope and pray that that is the case.
We're doing everything we can. And we're working well with the state governments.
TAPPER: We have had four days of more than 1,000 deaths. Yes, I mean...
KUDLOW: Yes, the fatality rate is — any death is a tragedy.

Kudlow did promise eviction protection would be included in the package. But look for Republicans to reduce the $600 unemployment benefit subsidy so people don’t sit around loafing. The refusal to recognize reality and to treat huge states as hot spots, thereby justifying a reduction in benefits, will sound to many Americans cruel and ludicrous. Their parsimony over $600 contrasts with their generosity whenever it comes to tax cuts for the rich or loan subsidies to major corporations.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), whose name frequently appears on the list of top picks for Joe Biden’s vice president, was having none of this. “Well, I think both of them are so sad. For the admiral, I know that he knows better. We are not testing where we should be. The virus is not being contained,” she said. “The states that Kudlow ticked off, as though it was something small, is almost a third of the population of the United States. We have over 140,000 people who are dead. Vice President Pence said a month ago that things were getting so much better; 40,000 people have died since then.” Bass asked: “When will the administration develop a national strategy? This is just so tragic.”

This is no mystery as to why Trump’s handling of the pandemic is reaching new lows (32 percent in the most recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll) or his overall job performance (38 percent in the same poll). The result: “The AP-NORC poll makes clear the challenge ahead for Trump on that front: 8 in 10 Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction. That’s more than at any point since Trump took office.” (Who could possibly think we are heading in the right direction?)

Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Republicans, pointing out they gave a $2 trillion tax cut heavily tilted to the rich and big corporations but “they’re resenting $600 for single moms to be able to put food on the table, for dads to maintain the dignity of — of keeping their families intact, and with unemployment insurance, with assistance for rent.” As they are cutting unemployment, Republicans are also proposing liability immunity if their employees come back and get sick. Again, Pelosi was emphatic:

What they’re saying to essential workers, you have to go to work because you’re essential. We’ve placed no responsibility on your employer to make that workplace safe and if you get sick, you have no recourse because we’ve given your employer protection. And if you don’t go to work because you’re afraid of being sick and you have that job opportunity, you don’t get unemployment insurance. This is so unfair. Let’s just get to the heart of it. At the point of all of this is, this president — I have a new name for him, Mr. Make Matters Worse. He has made matters worse from the start. Delay, denial. It’s a hoax. It’ll go away magically. It’s a miracle, and all the rest. And we’re in this situation with — you spelled out some of the numbers very clearly early. So it makes matters worse — now then we send our children to school. The best way to send our children school is to fund it, to fund it.

Cutting unemployment benefits while giving employers immunity is a peculiar way to win votes in an election year, but a good way to pander to donors and right-wing ideologues.

Whatever the Republicans present and whatever the final package will be, their attitude helps explain why they are losing coast to coast, be it in presidential and Senate races or the congressional generic poll for House races. Their denial of the degree to which they have botched the pandemic response and their blindness to the experience of ordinary Americans have not changed. Their suspicion that Americans are somehow goofing off, that parents are irrational for not wanting to send their kids to in-person school and that we should not be concerned about 60,000 or more new cases a day does not suggest they have learned much of anything after 143,000 deaths.

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