with Brent D. Griffiths

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The people

POWER UP'S FAUCI INTERVIEW: The nation's top infectious-disease expert wants kids to be able to return to school under certain conditions, even though the novel coronavirus is worsening in many states across the country.

In an interview with Power Up, Anthony S. Fauci cautiously supported the Trump administration's push to reopen elementary and secondary schools — and in some cases, college campuses — this fall. But he leavened his advice by explaining sending kids back into classrooms depends on how bad the virus is in various places.

  • “The default principle should be to try as best you can to get the children back to school,” Fauci told us. “The big, however, and qualifier in there is that you have to have a degree of flexibility. The flexibility means if you look at the map of our country, we are not unidimensional with regard to the level of infection.
  • “The bottom line is everybody should try within the context of the level of infection that you have to get the kids back to school, but the primary consideration … should be the safety, health and the welfare of the children, as well as the teachers and the potential secondary effects on parents and family members, he added.

Fauci explained the need to protect the psychological and physical well being of children especially those “who rely heavily on school for proper nutrition and to prevent a “negative downstream ripple effect” of parents being overburdened if schools remain shuttered. 

  • "As you know, there are some sections of the country — where the infection is really quite well controlled and there are others in which it's smoldering a little and there are others in which we're clearly having a surging of infection,” Fauci added.

Here's what the doctor recommends:

  • States with minimal virus: “So if you're in one of those areas, generally referred to as the green states … with some overlap with others and generally, you can get back to school with the kinds of precautions that you do in general society,” he said.
  • States with “smoldering infections”: “You might want to tighten that up a bit and do things like, you know, the hybrid models where you have part online, part in person,” he said.
  • States with high infections: In consultation with local authorities, and the Centers for Disease Control, they may want to pause before they start sending the kids back to school for a variety of reasons.”

Outdoor learning: “I’ve spoken to superintendents and principals, and recommend if possible, outdoors, better than indoors. If possible, keep the classrooms well ventilated with the windows open if possible, wearing a mask, physical separation, desks that are put further apart, if you could possibly, physically do that, Fauci said.

Fauci's analysis of the virus and how it influences school openings is a far cry from his boss's recent forecasts. 

President Trump continues to maintain the novel coronavirus that has killed at least 156,000 Americans will just “go away.” And though there's still no national testing strategy, he continues to push for school reopenings — though it isn't ultimately up to the president whether they do so. His Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also downplayed the risks of the virus among children, falsely claiming children are “stoppers” of the virus. [Ed. note: they're not.] 

The school showdown comes as the academic year is already starting in some states, and infections are being discovered.

  •  In Corinth, Miss., for example, after six students and one staff member were infected, 116 students were sent home to quarantine. Few were spotted wearing masks in Dallas, Ga., after a photo of a packed hallway at North Paulding High School went viral, where masks are not required but strongly encouraged.

Most American parents think it is unsafe to send their children back to school, according to a Washington Post-Schar School survey conducted by Ipsos released on Thursday, with over 80 percent of parents preferring to resume school at “least partly online.” 

Fauci also weighed in on the other big issue facing Americans this fall – whether it's safe to physically go to voting booths in November. The doctor, who Trump has sidelined in recent months because of conflicting opinions and a more popular public profile, said  Americans could go to voting booths if they're careful. 

  • “Universal wearing of a mask, maintain physical distance of at least six feet, avoid crowds, outdoors better than indoors. And then if the other is avoid situations like going to bars and places where you know infection is spread pretty easily,” said Fauci.

When pressed on whether he'd recommend mail voting as safer during a pandemic, Fauci declined to answer “because that almost certainly is going to be used as a soundbite.” 

  • “It's a sport now in Washington to pit me against the president and I don't really want to do that," Fauci said. “But someone will take a quote and bingo, it'll be me against the president and I don't want to do that,” Fauci explained.
  • Trump has repeatedly, and baselessly, bashed mail-in voting as fraudulent as many states ramp up their mail voting systems to provide options for those people who prefer not to physically go to to the polls due to the coronavirus. 

Fauci said polling places should operate like grocery stores and shops.

  • “We see a big X and then six feet away is another big X speed away is another big X,” Fauci told Power Up. “I don't see any reason why, if people maintain that type of physical distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands – why you cannot, at least where I vote, go to a place and vote.”

Plead the fifth: Fauci also declined to respond to calls for Congress to implement rapid covid-19 testing on Capitol Hill. 

The doctor's reticence to answer questions that could be perceived as political highlights the fraught relationship between the president and his team of medical experts. Fauci, who has received death threats against him and his family, says he is shocked by the polarized response to public health guidance during the pandemic. 

  • “Of all the outbreaks that I've been involved with way back from the day of, of HIV and Ebola, Zika, pandemic, flu, and anthrax — there's always a little bit of people that might push back on a message, but it was never with threats against you and your family, your wife, and my daughters,” said Fauci. “I mean, harassing my daughters? Wow. No, I never would have ever imagined that.”
  • “It's a highly divisive situation,” he added. “But as long as I'm able to go out there and give the kinds of messages that I've been giving, I don't feel constrained because I give a message to the public about what they need to do … I think that we might be able to prevent people from acquiring infection if they listened to my public health message and I could do that effectively without getting into the political divisiveness.”

Fauci's longtime friend and colleague, Deborah Birx, has also recently been on the receiving end of Trump's attacks after months of favor. Trump this week went after his White House coronavirus task force coordinator for last weekend describing the virus as  “extraordinarily widespread” across the nation. Birx is drawing criticism from old allies who blame her for being too close to Trump and helping to mismanage the virus.

In our interview, Fauci signaled support for Birx and endorsed her recent recommendation to wear masks at home “it should be seriously considered” to limit the spread, especially if people live with someone who is older or has preexisting medical conditions. 

  • “What we're seeing, as Dr. Birx described, is that we've had a flare and a surge in certain Southern states, which thankfully, in several of them we're starting to turn the corner and come down,” Fauci told us.
  • “I am fully supportive of my colleague, Dr. Birx. I have been a colleague and a friend for over three decades. And that hasn't changed one bit. She's a very talented person and she's an extremely hard worker and I support her fully. ”

On the Hill

STILL NO DEAL: “White House officials and Democratic leaders ended a three-hour negotiation without a coronavirus relief deal or even a clear path forward, with both sides remaining far apart on critical issues,” Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Paul Kane report.

  • Trump even phoned into the meeting: “We’re still a considerable amount apart,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters, our colleagues write, “after emerging from the meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.”
  • They couldn’t even agree on trivial things: “This may sum it up: The two sides disagree over whether Meadows slammed the table during talks today,” PBS NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins wrote on Twitter.

The path forward is uncertain. Trump could issue executive orders as soon as today: “Mnuchin said they would be consulting with the president and talking by phone [today] to see whether it made sense to meet again in person,” our colleagues write.

What this means:

The upshot: Perhaps this isn’t surprising. While the White House and Democrats try to  find common ground, “Congressional leaders can’t even agree on what type of thermometer to use to monitor lawmakers and aides for coronavirus symptoms,” Paul Kane and Rachael Bade report onhow to best protect those in the Capitol from the virus.

  • There are some fascinating distinctions to the debate: “The internal debate has turned into an upside-down version of what is happening with the partisan fights over coronavirus testing on the national stage. Republicans — who have been hesitant to challenge the Trump administration’s unwillingness to adopt a national testing strategy — have pushed for a comprehensive strategy inside the Capitol.”
  • Pelosi views the Capitol as too massive to test: The speaker “and Democrats have advocated continuing social distancing measures that include requiring thousands of staff members to work from home and allowing lawmakers to participate by video at committee hearings and also vote remotely.”

The policies

TRUMP TARGETS TIKTOK, WECHAT IN EXECUTIVE ORDERS: “The orders take effect in 45 days and prohibit any U.S. company or person from transacting with ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, or WeChat. While the nature of the banned transactions are not specific, it may mean the companies would not be able to appear on Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store in the United States. It also could make it illegal for U.S. companies to purchase advertising on TikTok,” Rachel Lerman reports.

  • Unclear if the orders would prohibit people from sending messages or making payments using WeChat: “WeChat is used universally in China for messaging and mobile payments, and widely used for other functions ranging from Web search to taxi hailing. It’s one of China’s most innovative Internet products to date, with Facebook adopting similar features years later in its Messenger app. But it’s also been adopted by Chinese officials as a useful surveillance tool, with growing numbers of people prosecuted for sharing politically sensitive content in chat groups.”

Outside the Beltway

ON THE U.S. FAILURE TO CONTAIN COVID: “One country stands alone, as the only affluent nation to have suffered a severe, sustained outbreak for more than four months: the United States,” the New York Times's David Leonhardt reports in a lengthy recreation on why things have gotten so bad here.

He zeroes in on two factors:

  • Preexisting challenges that are uniquely American: “It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries,” Leonhardt writes.
  • The Trump administration's substandard performance: “In no other high-income country — and in only a few countries, period — have political leaders departed from expert advice as frequently and significantly as the Trump administration. [Trump] has said the virus was not serious; predicted it would disappear; spent weeks questioning the need for masks; encouraged states to reopen even with large and growing caseloads; and promoted medical disinformation,” he writes.

The size of the U.S. collective failure in the last month alone is plain to see on the Times's front page: 

  • “Over the past month, about 1.9 million Americans have tested positive for the virus,” Leonhardt writes. “That’s more than five times as many as in all of Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia, combined. Even though some of these countries saw worrying new outbreaks over the past month, including 50,000 new cases in Spain …”

From the courts

THE WALL OF TRUMP NDAs MIGHT BE TUMBLING DOWN: “This key element of Trump’s corporate and political strategy has shown signs of unraveling, even as his campaign spends heavily to enforce such agreements. He and his allies recently have lost initial rounds in legal battles to stop damaging books by former top White House officials and his niece Mary L. Trump,” Michael Kranish reports this morning.

A much broader effort than tell-all books began last week: Jessica Denson, the Trump campaign’s former Hispanic outreach director, filed her latest effort in a class-action suit to void all such campaign contracts. “She says they are so broad that they deny individuals their First Amendment right to say anything critical of the president — even as he routinely takes to Twitter to mock and deride his critics,” our colleague writes.

  • The president's reelection campaign has battled her for two years: “In a motion for summary judgment in the case [Denson] said the campaign sought a $1.5 million claim against her for violating an NDA. She said that came after she filed a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination by campaign officials." (That separate case is ongoing.)
  • Ivana Trump still isn't talking: Ivana Trump said in a brief telephone conversation, ‘I don’t talk about my ex-husband,’” she told Kranish.

NY AG SEEKS TO DISSOLVE NRA: “The chief executive of the National Rifle Association and several top lieutenants engaged in a decades-long pattern of fraud to raid the coffers of the powerful gun rights group for personal gain, according to a lawsuit filed  by the New York attorney general, draining $64 million from the nonprofit in just three years,” Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger report.

  • More details: “Her investigation, which began in February 2019, found ‘a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent,’ according to a statement by the attorney general’s office.”

At the White House

TRUMP STILL STRUGGLES TO MODEL BEST PRACTICES: “The juxtaposition of the safeguards set up to protect the president and model safe behavior for the public with Trump’s seemingly arbitrary decision to override them in pursuit of a photo op illustrates his administration’s ongoing inability or unwillingness to send a clear message to the public on how to protect themselves against a pandemic that has killed more than 156,000 Americans,” David Nakamura reports.

  • The event in question: The president spoke at the White House about lowering prescription drug prices and invited guests to pose with him after he signed several executive actions. As he signed the orders and passed out ceremonial pens a dozen people crowded behind him shoulder-to-shoulder. “Four wore face masks, while the others did not, including the president and four doctors in white medical smocks,” our colleague adds.
  • The president's efforts remain inconsistent: “Trump aides rejected the suggestion that his reluctance to acknowledge, and take responsibility for, the uncontrolled spread of the virus has been mirrored by inconsistencies at his own events,” our colleague writes.

False positive: DeWine was tested in advance of Trump's visit to his state, part of the protocol for those around the president. At first, DeWine tested positive but hours later a subsequent and different type of test turned up negative.

  • More details: “The initial positive came from an antigen test, which are faster but thought to be less reliable than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, the method that delivered the negative result. DeWine said he has confidence in the results of the PCR test, but will take another on Saturday as a precaution,” Antonia Noori Farzan and Jennifer Hassan report.

The campaign

TRUMP-BACKED CANDIDATE WINS SENATE PRIMARY: Bill Hagerty, Trump’s former ambassador to Japan, won the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), besting Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi who challenged Hagerty over his support for Jeb Bush in 2016 and backing of now-Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) before that, Colby Itkowitz and David Weigel report.

Democrats saw a shocker on their side: “A political novice, Marquita Bradshaw pulled out the victory,” the Nashville Tennessean’s Emily R. West and Samuel Hardiman report.

  • Bradshaw’s victory is the first defeat of a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-backed candidate since 2010, per our colleaguesNational Democrats were backing Army veteran and attorney James Mackler, who raised $2.1 million. An environmentalist, Bradshaw hasn’t filed a report on her spending.

ELSEWHERE ON THE TRAIL:

Biden faces new scrutiny on race after comments about Black and Latino diversity: The former vice president drew distinctions between the two populations during interviews with Black and Hispanic journalists, the Associated Press's Bill Barrow reports.

  • “By the way, what you all know but most people don’t know, unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” Biden said to a Latina reporter from National Public Radio in an interview released Thursday.
  • Biden camp's response: Symone Sanders, a top Biden adviser said, “The video that is circulating is conveniently cut to make this about racial diversity, but that’s not the case.”

Kayne's presidential campaign is being boosted by GOP operatives: “At least six operatives who have been prominently involved in the Republican political world have been linked to Kanye West's captivating 11th-hour independent 2020 presidential bid,” ABC News's Beatrice Peterson, Terrance Smith, Soo Rin Kim, and Jeffrey Cook report.