Democrats are understandably skeptical about Trump’s claims that he downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus because he was trying to avoid creating a “panic.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in an MSNBC interview this morning that Trump had “an obligation to let people know” coronavirus was deadly and airborne, as the president told Bob Woodward in February.
The New York Democrat argued the president’s response to the pandemic could be summed up in four words: “Trump lied. People died.”
Schumer added, “This time he said he didn’t want to panic people. Really? Is this the same president who’s busy panicking America right now? Telling women in the suburbs that your safety is at risk, when the suburbs are not at any risk at all in that way?”
Schumer went on to say, “He doesn’t mind panicking people when it serves his interest, but what’s worse is he will not tell the truth when it serves his interest and then people are so badly hurt. It’s a despicable incident.”
The Senate leader expressed hope that Woodward’s reporting would shock some of the president’s supporters enough to realize he should not be reelected in November.
Trump is also tweeting this morning about Kim Jong Un, after reports suggested the North Korean leader may be seriously ill.
“Kim Jong Un is in good health. Never underestimate him!” Trump said.
As he was working on his new book, “Rage,” journalist Bob Woodward gained access to 25 “love letters” between Trump and Kim that have not been previously seen.
The letters are filled with deferential and flowery prose between the two leaders, who first met in Singapore in June 2018.
Six months after that first meeting, Kim told Trump in a letter, “Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day.”
Kim added that another meeting “between myself and Your Excellency” would be “reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.”
Trump replied to Kim’s letter, “Like you, I have no doubt that a great result will be accomplished between our two countries, and that the only two leaders who can do it are you and me.”
This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over for Martin Belam.
Trump continues to insist he downplayed the threat of coronavirus because he wanted to keep the American public “calm.”
The president tweeted moments ago, “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”
Of course, it’s a bit odd to have a president who’s spent the past few months warning about “violent anarchists” overrunning American cities claim that he was focused on avoiding a public panic.
Woodward has faced some criticism for not disclosing his Trump tapes sooner. A ProPublica reporter suggested it could have changed the behavior of administration officials early in the pandemic:
884,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment last week.
The latest unemployment figures are out. 884,000 people made first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week according to data from the Department of Labor. It was a little higher than anticipated.
It was also slightly up on the 881,000 filings the week before. Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, the latest total is still more than quadruple pre-covid levels.
Here’s how the Bureau of Labor Statistics pictured the long-term job market in the US yesterday.
Some mixed messaging on mail-in and absentee voting coming from the Trump family this week.
On Tuesday, Donald…
Just now, Eric…
And now again Donald…
Barry Eichengreen, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, has written a stark warning for us this morning that the most dangerous phase of the US Covid-19 crisis may be yet to come.
Mortality is only one aspect of the virus’s toll. Many surviving Covid-19 patients continue to suffer chronic cardiovascular problems and impaired mental function. If 40,000 cases a day is the new normal, then the implications for morbidity – and for human health and economic welfare – are truly dire.
And, like it or not, there is every indication that many Americans, or at least their current leaders, are willing to accept 40,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths a day. They have grown inured to the numbers. They are impatient with lockdowns. They have politicised masks.
This is also a more perilous phase for the economy. In March and April, policymakers pulled out all the stops to staunch the economic bleeding. But there will be less policy support now if the economy again goes south … Congress seems incapable of replicating the bipartisanship that enabled passage of the Cares Act. The $600 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits has been allowed to expire. Divisive rhetoric from Donald Trump and other Republican leaders about “Democrat-led” cities implies that help for state and local governments is not in the cards.
The Senate will be voting today on a new stimulus package to try and help people through the coronavirus pandemic. We know that the Democratic Party isn’t going to back it, with Chuck Schumer repeatedly having called it “emaciated”. There may even be a few on the fringes of the Republican side who don’t back it either, as they still see it as being too generous.
Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson have written a scene-setter for Bloomberg today, saying it is doomed-to-fail, so what comes next? They write:
It isn’t clear whether negotiations might resume, or if lawmakers will leave Washington to wage their November election campaigns without approving a fresh dollop of aid to businesses and workers hurt by the Covid-19 crisis.
McConnell on Wednesday expressed doubt Democrats want any deal, telling reporters they appear more interested in taking their case for a big-ticket relief package to voters. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was more optimistic, saying Republicans are under growing political pressure to get a deal and seeing signs the Trump administration is more open to compromise.
But the two sides seem as far apart as ever. From the Deomcratic point of view there’s a long list of things missing. And worse, there’s this:
Democrats have slammed the bill for “poison pill” provisions that include lawsuit protections for businesses that reopen and a tax break for paying for private-school costs.
They are also wary that this relief effort is just enough to give cover to endangered incumbents in November, allowing them to point at it and say “I did this”.
Julian Assange extradition trial held up over coronavirus risk
In London, the extradition trial of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been held up over the risk of coronavirus. My colleague Ben Quinn reports:
Julian Assange’s extradition case has been paused until Monday so that a member of one of the legal teams can be tested for Covid-19 after potential exposure.
The judge Vanessa Baraitser granted an adjournment at the request of lawyers for the WikiLeaks co-founder and the US government.
“We should not really be here today. Covid would be in the courtroom,” said Edward Fitzgerald QC, who is representing Assange in his struggle to resist extradition to the US, where he could face a prison sentence of up to 175 years if convicted on all charges.
His request for an adjournment was backed by James Lewis QC, acting for the US government, who addressed the Old Bailey via video link.
Read the full report here: Julian Assange hearing paused for lawyer to get Covid test
In another development in US-China relations, Reuters is reporting that a China’s foreign ministry spokesperson has responded to the announcement yesterday that the US has revoked the visas of more than 1,000 Chinese nationals it deems a security risk.
Zhao Lijian described the move as being “naked” political persecution, and racial discrimination that seriously violated human rights.
“China reserves the right to make a further response on this issue” he added.
Yesterday acting head of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the administration was blocking visas “for certain Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to China’s military fusion strategy to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research.”
Overnight secretary of state Mike Pompeo has been conducting what you might call diplomacy-by-Twitter. He’s just posted a couple of tweets criticising the Iranian government following a recent Amnesty Iran report into the use of torture by the state.
A few hours earlier he was publishing criticism of China over their media censorship.
He has also today urged Southeast Asian countries to stand up to maritime bullying by China, and to reassess business deals with its state firms.
Speaking remotely to foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Pompeo said the region should be confident in the United States and know it can bank on its support.
“Today, I say keep going. Don’t just speak up but act,” Pompeo said. “Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned enterprises that bully ASEAN coastal states in the South China Sea. Don’t let the Chinese Communist Party walk over us and our people.”
ASEAN has said it does not want to take sides amid friction over a recent spike in military activities by both powers in the South China Sea. Asked about China-US tensions on Tuesday in an interview with Reuters, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said: “We don’t want to get trapped by this rivalry.”
Kamala Harris is also a key component of how Trump is aiming to attack Biden’s run for president. Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak have written for CNN this morning about how the Trump campaign hopes to have it both ways with racial rhetoric.
They quote an adviser saying “He’s always going one step too far” with his racially charged appeals to his base, and say:
There are signs Trump’s efforts are failing to move the needle among the suburban voters Trump believes he is attracting using racially divisive language. Trump experienced almost no post-convention bounce, and his rival Joe Biden is enjoying the steadiest polling lead in history.
Instead of adjusting course, Trump has dug in. He has told advisers that “my people” aren’t looking for a unifying president and has fretted his mostly White conservative supporters are turned off by messaging that even acknowledges underlying concerns about racial injustice or police brutality.
Trump has ignored those topics in favor of advancing a “law and order” mantra he believes is better received among conservatives and railing against any attempt to reckon with the country’s racist history.
Speaking of the Biden campaign, Axios have a story this morning about the women’s groups fighting disinformation campaigns against VP pick Kamala Harris. Alexi McCammond writes:
They worry that sexist branding of Joe Biden’s running mate by forces supporting President Trump could depress turnout by Black and Latina women who don’t consistently vote but would likely support the Biden-Harris ticket if they did cast a ballot.
The attacks on Harris go well beyond standard fare of criticizing her as “phony” or even as “radical,” veering into misinformation and salacious insinuations that she leveraged her sexuality for professional gain.
McCammond reports that the groups are launching a $10 million ad campaign to support Harris and, conducting weekly polling to monitor if the disinformation sticks. They are aiming to target 5 million voters across the critical states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia. The report also notes that:
More than 11,000 online news articles were flagged by TIME’S UP Now, a group formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, as using sexist or racist language about Harris in the first two weeks after her announcement.
Russian state hackers suspected of targeting firm working on Biden Campaign – reports
Away from the Woodward book and coronavirus for a minute – although I’m sure there will be plenty more reaction to that to come as the country wakes up – Reuters have this exclusive this morning, that Russian state hackers are suspected of targeting a firm working on the Joe Biden Campaign. Reuters say their sources tell them:
The hacking attempts targeted staff at Washington-based SKDKnickerbocker, a campaign strategy and communications firm working with Biden and other prominent Democrats, over the past two months.
A person familiar with SKDK’s response to the attempts said the hackers failed to gain access to the firm’s networks. “They are well-defended, so there has been no breach”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegations as “nonsense”. Moscow has repeatedly denied using hacking to interfere in other countries’ elections.
SKDK managing director Anita Dunn was a White House communications director during the Barack Obama presidency and serves the Biden campaign as a senior advisor.
The attempts to infiltrate SKDK were recently flagged to the campaign firm by Microsoft, which identified hackers tied to the Russian government as the likely culprits. The attacks included phishing, a hacking method which seeks to trick users into disclosing passwords, as well as other efforts to infiltrate SKDK’s network.
Time magazine have just pushed their new cover out on social media – and it’s about the nation’s coronavirus death toll, which they label “An American Failure”.
In an accompanying piece, Alex Fitzpatrick and Elijah Wolfson ask “How Many More Lives Will Be Lost Before the US Gets It Right?”
Although America’s problems were widespread, they start at the top. A complete catalog of President Donald Trump’s failures to address the pandemic will be fodder for history books. There were weeks wasted early on stubbornly clinging to a fantastical belief that the virus would simply “disappear”; testing and contact tracing programs were inadequate; states were encouraged to reopen ahead of his own Administration’s guidelines; and statistics were repeatedly cherry-picked to make the US situation look far better than it was, while undermining scientists who said otherwise. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told the journalist Bob Woodward on March 19 in a newly revealed conversation. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Common-sense solutions like face masks were undercut or ignored. Research shows that wearing a facial covering significantly reduces the spread of Covid-19, and a pre-existing culture of mask wearing in East Asia is often cited as one reason countries in that region were able to control their outbreaks. In the US, Trump did not wear a mask in public until July 11, more than three months after the CDC recommended facial coverings, transforming what ought to have been a scientific issue into a partisan one.
If you’ll excuse me a slight navel-gazing industry indulgence here, there will be plenty of journalists yesterday both envious of Bob Woodward for getting his scoop on tape, and also somewhat bewildered that he then sat on the information for months, watching how the president spoke in public about the coronavirus pandemic in a very different fashion.
Media columnist Margaret Sullivan has addressed that in a piece for the Washington Post this morning. She writes:
In fairness, it wasn’t just journalists raising concerns. A reader wrote to me arguing that Woodward’s revelation “could have been helpful in the spring, both explaining the seriousness of the disease to the public, showing the Trump administration’s bungled and inept response, and pushing the Trump administration to do more.” He added, with a touch of cynicism, that he hoped the author’s advance fee made the delay worthwhile.
She’s spoken to Woodward about this, and his response was:
First, he didn’t know what the source of Trump’s information was. It wasn’t until months later — in May — that Woodward learned it came from a high-level intelligence briefing. In February, what Trump told Woodward seemed hard to make sense of — back then, Woodward said, there was no panic over the virus; even toward the final days of that month, Anthony S. Fauci was publicly assuring Americans there was no need to change their daily habits.
Second, Woodward said, “the biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true.”
Trump defends coronavirus response in Fox News interview
Donald Trump took his defense of his actions onto the airwaves last night, with a phone-in interview on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. Some of the key points that the president made were:
- He told Hannity that he spoke to Bob Woodward because he thought he’d “give it a shot” since Woodward does “constant hit jobs”, citing books he had written on Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
- He repeated his claim that the country could have lost 2 million or 2.5 million people if he hadn’t taken the actions he has.
- He said even one death is no good, and placed the blame firmly with China. “It was China’s fault. They sent this to us.”
- He claimed that Dr. Fauci and Joe Biden were both against the China travel ban when he implemented it.
- He said “nobody had any idea [coronavirus] would be as violent as it turned out to be.”
- Of the national response he said “It’s amazing what we’ve done, we’ve been able to do something especially with the kind of size [of country] we’re dealing with. We’ve done an incredible job.”
- He reiterated that he had wanted to appear calm to the American people, saying “I’m the leader of the country. I can’t be jumping up and down and scaring people. I don’t want to scare people. I want people not to panic.”
- He wanted the economy to now be re-opening faster.
- He was critical of three states specifically for re-opening their economies too slowly: North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan
- And a final word on the book? Trump said he didn’t know if it would be good or bad, but that he almost definitely won’t read it.
Worth noting perhaps that the three states he singled out are all considered to be crucial battleground states for the election. And of the figures that the administration has achieved, the US has the largest number of coronavirus cases in the world, and this morning the total death toll topped 190,000, again more than any other country.
You can watch the segment here: Hannity opens Trump interview defending his Covid response: ‘You Taking It Seriously Was Very Clear Then’
Brian Stelter at CNN has a pretty good summing up of where yesterday’s revelations leave us, and some of the questions left unanswered. In the Reliable Sources email today, Stelter writes:
Trump’s statements to Woodward force us, well, force some of us at least, to wonder: What if? What if Trump had risen to the occasion? What if he had been more forthright with the public about what he was hearing in private? What if the federal government’s early failures regarding testing hadn’t hobbled the initial response to the virus? What if the feds had closed the front door of the house, and all the side doors, in the form of earlier European travel bans, instead of just partially closing the back door from China?
I could go on and on but it’s mightily depressing. What if the president had addressed the nation once, twice, three times and introduced concepts like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” in February? What if, instead of accusing Democrats of coming up with a “new hoax,” he had partnered with them? What if he had spent less time talking to Woodward? What if someone else had been president?
Good morning. At any other time, the revelation that the US president had deliberately downplayed the threat of a viral pandemic that he knew to be deadly would be the only story in town.
These aren’t normal times though, and that’s just going to be one of the threads in our coverage of US politics today, as the death toll from coronavirus continues to rise, the west coast is suffering catastrophic fires, and there’s 54 days to the election…
- It emerged that in February Donald Trump, in taped interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward, knew that the coronavirus was airborne and deadly, while still downplaying the threat in what he was telling the American public.
- He told Woodward “This is deadly stuff … You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed … It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu”, while days later he told the nation “we have it very much under control in this country” and “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for”. He went on to describe the virus as the Democratic party’s “new hoax”.
- Trump has defended his remarks, saying “I’m a cheerleader for this country … and I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic.”
- Joe Biden accused Trump of betraying the country. The Democratic nominee said, “He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. He failed to do his job on purpose … It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.”
- 1,176 deaths and 33,201 new coronavirus cases were reported yesterday. That takes the Johns Hopkins University measured total Covid-19 death toll in the US to over 190,000 for the first time, with 6.3 million cases reported in total.
- Large, fast-moving fires ravaged the American west, destroying hundreds of homes in the Pacific north-west and sending a dense plume of smoke that turned skies amber across parts of the region.
- Trump named Republicans Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley among 20 possible future picks for the Supreme Court.
- Whistleblower Brian Murphy claimed that Trump loyalists interfered to downplay Russia election threat.
- It was revealed that vice president Mike Pence is slated to speak next week at fundraiser hosted by QAnon supporters in Montana.
- On the campaign trail, the president will be giving a speech in Freeland, Michigan today. His opponent Joe Biden is attending virtual finance events, and Democratic VP pick Kamala Harris is headed to Florida.
I’ll be with you for the next couple of hours, you can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org