with Mariana Alfaro

President Trump said Sunday night that etching his likeness in granite on Mount Rushmore alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt “sounds like a good idea.”

Trump has spent a lifetime putting his name on prime real estate, but this aspiration to add his visage to perhaps the nation’s foremost symbol of presidential greatness also epitomizes how his perception of his own job performance diverges so sharply from the views of most Americans.

A quote in a Sunday front-page story on the White House’s dysfunctional coronavirus response helps illuminate why the gulf has only grown wider as the United States surpasses 5 million cases and nears 160,000 confirmed deaths.

“Everyone is busy trying to create a Potemkin village for him every day,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response. “You’re not supposed to see this behavior in liberal democracies that are founded on principles of rule of law. Everyone bends over backwards to create this Potemkin village for him and for his inner circle.”

This is one of 41 senior officials and other people directly involved in or briefed on the response efforts who gave interviews to Phil Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey and Bob Costa. Many spoke only on the condition of anonymity to reveal confidential discussions. 

“Staffers have concocted a positive feedback loop for the boss. They present him with fawning media commentary and craft charts with statistics that back up the president’s claim that the administration has done a great — even historically excellent — job fighting the virus,” my colleagues report.

Legend has it that fake portable villages were built to impress Russian Empress Catherine II by her former lover Grigory Potemkin during a 1787 trip to Crimea.

“Everybody is too scared of their own shadow to speak the truth,” said another senior official involved in the response.

Trump is “just not oriented towards things that even in the short term look like they’re involving something that’s hard or negative or that involves sacrifice or pain,” added a former senior administration official.

This is not the first time one of Trump’s undertakings has been likened to a Potemkin village. Steven Perskie, the former chairman of New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission, called the Taj Mahal casino a “Potemkin village” before Trump drove the Atlantic City project into bankruptcy through mismanagement and by taking on excessive debts.

Trump gave up on talks for a relief package with congressional Democrats. This is his latest high-profile failure to negotiate a major deal with the legislative branch, along with other issues such as health care, immigration, guns and policing. Instead, he signed executive orders with pomp and circumstance. He acknowledged during a signing ceremony on Saturday that these will not accomplish as much as legislation could, even as he overhyped what they will actually do. Meanwhile, the summer of civil unrest continued this weekend from Chicago to Portland, Ore. 

On Sunday night, however, Trump tweeted this picture of himself:

A few minutes later, the president denied a report in Sunday’s New York Times that said a White House aide reached out to the South Dakota governor’s office last year to find out what the process would be to add Trump’s likeness to Mount Rushmore. He tweeted: “Never suggested it although, based on all of the many things accomplished during the first 3 1/2 years, perhaps more than any other Presidency, sounds like a good idea to me!”

The Times journalists, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, expressed confidence in their reporting. Their story also revealed that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) greeted Trump with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included his likeness when he arrived in the state last month for an Independence Day celebration. 

Noem’s efforts to ingratiate herself with Trump prompted fears among Vice President Pence’s allies that she might be angling for his job, and the story says that she flew to Washington to reassure Pence three weeks later. But the 48-year-old has installed a TV studio in her state Capitol to allow her to frequently appear on Fox News, she’s been taking advice from Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and she’s scheduled to address a county Republican dinner in Iowa next month with an eye toward a potential run for president in 2024.

This is not the first time that Trump has expressed interest in adding his face to Rushmore. He mused about it in a 2017 speech. And, in 2018, when Noem was a GOP member of Congress running for governor, she told the largest newspaper in her state that Trump brought up the idea during their first meeting in the Oval Office.

“He said, ‘Kristi, come on over here. Shake my hand,’ ” Noem recalled. “I shook his hand, and I said, ‘Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.’ And he goes, ‘Do you know it’s my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?’ ” Noem told the Argus Leader that she quickly realized Trump was not joking. “I started laughing,” she said. “He wasn’t laughing, so he was totally serious.”

“But there’s also the question of whether the rock would be stable enough to add another towering set of presidential features,” Tim Elfrink reports. “Jefferson’s tribute had to be moved from its original spot due to flaws in the granite. The staff at Mount Rushmore says any further sculpting is simply impossible.”

Trump invited dues-paying members of his private golf club to watch him sign the legally dubious orders.

The president who pitched himself to voters as the consummate negotiator and ultimate dealmaker has repeatedly found his strategies flummoxed by the complexities and pressures of Washington lawmaking. In response, he has frequently relied on showmanship and pageantry to try to turn negotiating failures into victories,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker report. “But the four documents the president signed Saturday were neither ‘bills’ nor ‘acts,’ despite his comments referring to them as such. The president’s inability to reach a deal with Congress on a payroll tax cut or an extension of unemployment benefits underscored his underwhelming record as a presidential negotiator, according to several historians and lawmakers from both parties.”

  • “It’s pretty striking that other than the December 2017 tax law, basically all of the major moves by the Trump administration have been via executive action, even though he had control of Congress for half of the time,” said Daniel Hemel, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
  • Michael Steel, a Republican operative who worked for former House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Trump was effectively “giving up on the legislative process” and limiting his own ability to achieve more lasting influence. “If you want to get big enduring substantial change, you have to go through Congress, as torturous as that process may be. I worry he’s drinking his own Kool-Aid, and that’s the problem.”
  • “The Founders must be spinning on their marble pedestals — and not from protesters attempting to topple them,” said Barbara Perry, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “The trend toward unilateral executive orders, to avoid a polarized and stymied Congress, preceded President Trump, but he has accelerated it to the point of obliterating our bedrock constitutional principle of checking autocratic power.”
Trump’s executive actions sparked confusion and frustration among businesses and states.

“Some economists and experts faulted these policies as incomplete or legally questionable — raising the prospect that the president’s attempt to boost the economy may have only a muted impact,” Tony Romm, Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. “One of the orders allows employees making less than $104,000 to delay until January payment of a payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare. Trump added he would try to change federal rules next year to make the deferred payments into a permanent tax cut — but only if he is reelected. The tax is typically taken out of paychecks by employers. And businesses, payment processors and economists signaled Sunday in the absence of a guarantee that the payroll taxes actually will be absolved, businesses would be unlikely to alter worker paychecks. … Democrats pounced on the confusion from Trump’s executive directives, arguing that the White House should resume negotiations on a broader relief package. … 

Trump on Saturday signed an order that would offer $400 a week in federal unemployment benefits. To pay for the program, the president said he would tap $44 billion in federal funds that are allocated for natural disaster relief such as a hurricane or wildfire. But states would have to contribute $100 a week to each worker’s check, with the federal government putting up the rest. Beyond the legal questions surrounding the maneuver, many states are facing severe budget deficits as they fight the coronavirus, and several economists and lawmakers said governors may be unlikely to sign onto the program. … 

“One of Trump’s other executive orders was aimed at minimizing evictions and foreclosures. But the order does not reinstate a federal eviction moratorium that expired last month. Instead, it calls on the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ‘consider’ whether it is necessary to temporarily halt evictions. The action fell short of what housing advocates said is needed to keep millions of Americans in their homes.”

Quote of the day

“The Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government,” White House economic adviser Peter Navarro said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That’s what we have here.”

More on the coronavirus

Confirmed U.S. cases surpassed 5 million.

It took only 17 days for the number to rise from 4 million to 5 million. “The previous million cases were also reported in about a two-week span,” Derek Hawkins, Marisa Iati and Jacqueline Dupree report. “The United States leads the world with a quarter of all global infections. Brazil and India follow, with 3 million and 2.1 million reported infections, respectively.” 

The 2020-2021 school year has dawned. It’s more chaotic than ever.

“It’s going to be screen time all the time for kindergartners and graduate students alike. Teachers are threatening strikes. And students are already coming home with covid-19, the disease that has upended American education,” Laura Meckler, Valerie Strauss and Nick Anderson report. “Chicago Public Schools announced last week that it would begin the year online, after planning a hybrid system. Districts across the country have pushed back their opening dates. Last week, the first week of school in Georgia’s Cherokee County School District, administrators sent 14 letters to parents, each disclosing new coronavirus cases. That included 13 students, ­ranging from first to 12th grades, and a few teachers. More than 300 students who had been in contact with them were directed to self-isolate for 14 days. … Another Georgia high school, in Paulding County, drew national attention after students posted pictures and video of their peers walking without masks in tightly packed hallways. Now, six students and three staff members there have tested positive for the virus. … Of the 20 largest K-12 districts, 17 plan to begin the year fully remote. The big outlier is New York City, by far the nation’s largest district, which plans a hybrid system and has withstood intense pressure from teachers and others to reverse course.” 

In college towns and neighborhoods, permanent residents are bracing for the return of students.

“Monitoring the actions of young people in college towns will require collaboration between universities, local officials and law enforcement, said [Maryland] state Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D), whose district includes College Park,” Lauren Lumpkin reports. “Local leaders near Georgetown University hope a compact that asks students to agree to follow public health guidelines — including logging symptoms on a daily basis, practicing good hygiene and participating in coronavirus testing required by the university — will quash any tension between students and residents. The university is providing free tests to students and employees who live or work on or near the campus. … In College Park, Md., residents have reservations. ‘I have as much faith in them as I had in myself between 17 and 21,’ Aaron Springer, who has lived in College Park since 2001, said about students. … [He] admitted he’s ‘less comfortable’ with going to the grocery store.”

  • Coronavirus cases in children rose sharply in the second half of July, with more than 97,000 infections, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. (Chelsea Janes)
  • The director of the California Department of Public Health, Sonia Angell, resigned Sunday after the discovery of a computer system failure that resulted in the undercounting of coronavirus cases in the state. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Thousands of bikers attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota this week will be barred from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, whose members have feuded with the state’s governor over their right to restrict access to tribal lands during the pandemic. Remi Bald Eagle, a spokesman for the tribe, said they will set up checkpoints and limit access to emergency vehicles, commercial trucks and residents only. Roughly 250,000 people are expected to attend the rally. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) stopped requiring restaurant employees to present negative coronavirus tests before returning to work. DeSantis said the change eliminated the long wait for workers to get their results, while a lobbyist for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association said that getting tested once, let alone twice, could be a challenge for many employees. (Farzan)
  • The CDC closed some offices in the Atlanta area after property managers found legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria can form in warm, stagnant water that is not properly disinfected. When sinks are turned on or toilets flushed, the bacteria can be sent through the air and inhaled. (NYT)

Divided America

Democrats will feature everyday people in prime time during next week’s virtual convention. 

The list of speakers includes a former Trump voter from Pennsylvania who is supporting Joe Biden, a paramedic and immigrant from Mexico City on the front lines of the pandemic in Florida, a bus driver from Atlanta and an autoworker from Lake Orion, Mich., Matt Viser reports. Biden will speak on Thursday night. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will speak on Wednesday before Biden’s vice-presidential nominee. (Warren will get that later slot if she’s the pick, but that’s considered unlikely at this point.) Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will speak on Monday night. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama will both have speaking roles. So will former Ohio Republican governor John Kasich, former president Bill Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

  • Biden holds a slight lead over Trump in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to new CBS-YouGov polls.
  • Jill Biden told CBS that her children should be off-limits in the presidential campaign. Trump has vowed to make Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine a “major issue” and has highlighted his discharge from the Navy after he tested positive for cocaine use. (Felicia Sonmez)
  • The primary challenger to Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) apologized Sunday for what he described as “consensual” relationships with college students. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, 31, the country’s youngest openly gay mayor, who also taught college courses for a time, refused to drop out of the race. He argued that his sexual orientation had unfairly heightened the focus on his personal life. “I say this not to shirk responsibility for having made anyone uncomfortable,” Morse said in a statement. (Teo Armus)
  • Montana puts the Senate within reach for Democrats. Sen. Steve Daines (R), if not defined by legislative wins in Washington, had forged a close alliance with the president. But the pandemic, combined with the decision by Gov. Steve Bullock (D) to challenge Daines after Bullock’s unsuccessful presidential bid, has made it a margin-of-error race. (Lisa Rein)
GOP operatives have helped Kanye West’s presidential campaign in at least five states. 

Of the 10 electors listed on West’s petition in Wisconsin, at least six appear to have ties to the Republican Party. One is married to a former chairwoman of a Republican county committee and was photographed with Trump at his inauguration. “In Arkansas, a Republican operative who signed West’s ballot petition was at one point interviewed to be Trump’s campaign manager for his 2016 bid. And West’s ballot petition in Ohio was signed by a lawyer who has previously represented state Republican campaign committees,” Roz Helderman and Josh Dawsey report. “West’s campaign has so far filed petitions to appear on the ballot in 10 states, but some of those submissions, as in New Jersey, have been found insufficient by state officials. Others are still being reviewed. On Friday, officials in Illinois found that 60 percent of the signatures the campaign submitted there were invalid, leaving West without the required 2,500 signatures to appear on the ballot.”

Protesters in Portland set fire to the police union headquarters as tensions rose again over the weekend.

“The small group of protesters chipping away at the plywood on the police union building pried it loose and set a small fire in the entrance, igniting chunks of the wood and tossing them inside. Moments later, Portland police declared a riot, put out the flames, and began an hours-long game of cat-and-mouse, chasing the protesters down business-lined streets and through a park in North Portland,” Katie Shepherd reports. “The Portland Police Bureau said it made ‘several’ arrests early Sunday morning, but it did not release information on who was arrested or how many people had been taken into custody.”

  • Hundreds of people smashed windows and looted stores along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the city’s downtown shopping district. Police chased suspects toting bags full of goods, tackling some to the ground and blocking off streets. It came after police shot and wounded a man in the city’s South Side. (Tim Elfrink and Teo Armus)
  • At least 20 people were shot in Southeast Washington, including one fatally, at a party attended by hundreds. D.C. police said at least three shooters opened fire from different locations around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. An off-duty police officer, who was apparently at the party, was critically injured. (Peter Hermann, Michael Brice-Saddler and Clarence Williams)
  • Attorney General Bill Barr slammed the Black Lives Matter movement, saying protester tactics are “fascistic” and accusing the left of “tearing down the system.” “They are a revolutionary group that is interested in some form of socialism, communism,” Barr said of Black Lives Matter. “They’re essentially Bolsheviks.” (Jaclyn Peiser)
The U.S. has continued expelling migrants. They return, again and again, across the Mexican border. 

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection said last week that the agency recorded 40,746 detentions in July, up 24 percent from June and more than double the figure from April, when 17,086 were taken into custody. Since implementing the emergency measures, CBP officials have not publicly disclosed the Border Patrol ‘recidivism rate’ — the percentage of those detentions that involves repeat crossers — but the two DHS officials said the figure now exceeds 30 percent. That is up from 7 percent last year,” Nick Miroff reports. “Migration levels fell sharply in April after the measures were implemented, but crossings have jumped since then. U.S. officials expect the trend to continue as economic conditions deteriorate in Mexico and Central America because of the pandemic. The expulsion system affords migrants multiple attempts to be caught with little risk of detention or prosecution, and officials said they worry that the recidivism rate will grow.”

The new world order

The Lebanese government is in turmoil after the blast.

“Demonstrators furious with the country’s ruling elite took to the streets for a second day,” Loveday Morris, Suzan Haidamous, Louisa Loveluck and Liz Sly report. “World leaders including Trump took part in a donors conference via video link organized by French President Emmanuel Macron. A total of $298 million was raised. … Lebanese officials have estimated the damage could amount to as much as $15 billion. Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad, Environment Minister Damianos Kattar and several members of parliament stepped down. But the actions fell far short of the demands of protesters enraged at the country’s political elite. … During a cabinet meeting Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged ministers who were considering resigning to wait. … As violent protests engulfed the city Saturday night, Diab offered early elections. He said he needed two months to reach an agreement with the country’s factions. … Diab’s government, formed in January after the last one quit following mass demonstrations in October, was supposed to be a rescue team of technocrats.” 

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested under Hong Kong’s new national security law.

Lai was arrested along with his sons and several executives of his publishing group and could face life imprisonment under the new authoritarian code imposed by China. “Next Digital is the parent company of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy news outlet critical of Beijing that Lai founded in 1995,” Shibani Mahtani reports. “Shortly afterward, more than 200 police entered Next Digital’s offices … and searched Apple Daily’s newsroom. They rifled through reporters’ desks and papers, told employees to show identification cards, and warned journalists to stop filming and photographing the raid. The dramatic events marked the authorities’ sharpest use of the new security law, and highlighted the growing threat to pro-democracy activists and journalists in Hong Kong, where press freedom is supposed to enjoy constitutional protection.” 

After months of delays, Afghanistan will release its last 400 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for peace talks. 

“The move comes after intense U.S. pressure on the Afghan government to abide by preconditions to the talks outlined in the U.S.-Taliban peace deal. That agreement called for those talks to begin in March, but preliminary negotiations repeatedly hit snags. The Afghan government was not party to the peace deal between the United States and the Taliban, and objected to some of its terms,” Susannah George reports. “Abdullah Abdullah, a former presidential candidate and now head of reconciliation efforts, said once the prisoners are released, talks with the Taliban will likely begin within days.” 

Alexander Lukashenko claimed he won a sixth term in Belarus, and protesters called foul.

“In Minsk, images and video posted to social media showed heavily armored riot police using water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators after a Belarusian Central Election Committee official told state television that initial results showed Lukashenko claiming more than 80 percent of the vote,” Isabelle Khurshudyan reports. “His main opposition rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, received about 10 percent, according to the preliminary results released Monday morning, despite drawing crowds estimated at more than 60,000 at recent campaign events, which were believed to be the largest political rallies in the country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Final results are expected Friday, the election committee said.”

Social media speed read

Trump said last week that Biden is “against God.” Biden went to Sunday Mass, and the president went golfing:

Members at Trump’s club didn’t socially distance as they watched him sign the executive orders. Many weren’t wearing masks, in violation of New Jersey rules

The goats at Trump’s golf course in New Jersey got lots of attention this weekend:

A baby was born among the chaos of the Beirut explosion:

Videos of the day

Trevor Noah compiled some good news: