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Wake Up To Politics - April 13, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Monday, April 13, 2020. 204 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

       "What did the president know and when did he know it?"Trump faces renewed scrutiny over slow virus response

The United States now records more coronavirus cases (557,663) and deaths (22,116) than any other country. President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed wonderment at the scale of the pandemic, declaring at White House briefings that it "came out of nowhere" and that "nobody saw this coming."

But recent news reports have unearthed evidence that President Trump and his advisers were repeatedly warned about the coronavirus in the early months of 2020, long before he enacted the social distancing measures that are thought to have mitigated the virus' spread.

According to a report in the Washington Post last week, the Trump administration was first warned about the coronavirus outbreak in China on January 3. "Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief," the Post reported.

According to a detailed New York Times investigation published on Saturday, Trump also received warnings about the outbreak in January from advisers like Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

Azar briefed Trump about the virus on January 18 and then again on January 30, the Times reported; the president responded that Azar "was being alarmist."

Navarro penned a memo in late January, writing about "the of risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans." According to the Times, Trump was told about the memo at the time, which he has since denied.

"By the third week in February, the administration’s top public health experts concluded they should recommend to Mr. Trump a new approach that would include warning the American people of the risks and urging steps like social distancing and staying home from work," according to the Times.

Instead, President Trump continued to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus and refused to make such recommendations until almost another month.

In its new investigative piece, the Times also reported on a chain of emails among an elite group of infectious disease doctors and experts in and out of government who traded fears about the Trump administration's reaction to the virus for months.

One doctor, who advised former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, compared the administration's slow response to "ignoring the smoke detector and waiting until your entire house is on fire to call the fire dept."

President Trump pushed back on the Times report this weekend, calling it "a Fake, just like the 'paper' itself," specifically denying that Azar and Navarro had warned him about the outbreak.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged in a CNN interview on Sunday that he and others had pushed for stronger restrictions to be recommended long before they were put in place.

"I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives," Fauci said. "Obviously, no one is going to deny that."

Trump responded by retweeting a supporter's call to "#FireFauci" on Sunday evening, adding yet another controversy to the at-times-tenuous relationship between the president and the government's top infectious disease expert.

The two men have previously disagreed — in public — on when to ease social distancing guidelines and reopen the United States for business, a matter which remains unresolved.

President Trump has continued to advocate in recent days for a nationwide May 1 reopening, even as medical experts and governors alike have called that unlikely and urged a more piecemeal approach.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported, a plan has emerged from some of those experts to get the U.S. on track to return to normalcy: "Ramp up testing to identify people who are infected. Find everyone they interact with by deploying contact tracing on a scale America has never attempted before. And focus restrictions more narrowly on the infected and their contacts so the rest of society doesn’t have to stay in permanent lockdown."

Yet, according to the Post, "the president and his top advisers have fixated almost exclusively on plans to reopen the U.S. economy by the end of the month," instead of setting a strategy to contain the outbreak itself.

Asked last week which metrics he would consult in deciding whether to lift social distancing restrictions at the month's end, President Trump replied: "The metrics right here," pointing to his head. "That's my metrics."

Former aide accuses Biden of sexual assault

Just as former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee last week, a woman who briefly worked in his Senate office filed an official complaint with the Washington, D.C., police recounting an incident of sexual assault that took place in 1993.

The woman, Tara Reade, has since confirmed to multiple news outlets that Biden was the perpetrator of the alleged assault, accusing the then-senator of pinning her against a wall, reaching under her skirt, and penetrating her with his fingers while she worked for him as a 29-year-old staff assistant.

The Biden campaign has denied the allegation.

Multiple outlets have published interviews with friends and relatives of Reade who have confirmed that she told them about the alleged assault at the time. She also claims to have raised the issue of sexual harrasment at the time to a pair of top Biden aides, which they deny, and to have filed a formal complaint through the Senate personnel office.

While no record of the complaint has been found, multiple interns who worked in Biden's office at the time have confirmed Reade's account that she was suddenly moved away from supervising them; Reade has claimed that the move was retaliation for her accusation of sexual harassment.

Reade was one of several women who accused Biden of unwanted touching towards the outset of his presidential campaign last year, although she did not detail her expanded claim of sexual assault until a podcast interview in March.

Biden's deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement that the former vice president "firmly believes that women have a right to be heard — and heard respectfully," but maintained that Reade's claim is "untrue" and "absolutely did not happen."  

The new claim about Biden comes just as he is gearing up for a bruising general election campaign against President Donald Trump, who has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and assault himself. It is the first presidential race since the #MeToo movement in 2017 forced a global reckoning about women's allegations of abuse against powerful men in politics, entertainment, and other industries.


President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 12:30 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on coronavirus at 11:30 a.m., have lunch with Presiden Trump at 12:30 p.m., and lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 3 p.m.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force will hold a press briefing at 5 p.m.

The House and Senate are not in session.

The Supreme Court has no conferences or oral arguments scheduled.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has no events scheduled.

*All times Eastern

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