I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, April 15, 2020. 202 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
Coronavirus: Latest updates
--- President Donald Trump "has all but decided to begin declaring the country ready to get back to business on May 1," the Washington Post reported, setting off a scramble "inside the White House to determine how to stagger a reopening of the economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic while also protecting Trump from any political fallout."
Although Trump is "adamant" about the May 1 reopening, "within Trump's circle," the report added, "there is acknowledgment that it will not be possible for the president to simply flip a switch" and that a "return to normal" will likely take many months in the highest-risk areas.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the U.S. does not have the testing and tracing capabilities needed to begin reopening the country. "We're not there yet," he warned.
In the Rose Garden on Tuesday evening, Trump recited the names of dozens of high-profile business executives who he said would be advising him on the reopening date, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. (According to the New York Times, at least one person on the president's list had received "no advance notice" ahead of the announcement and had not been asked in advance about joining such an advisory group.)
According to the Post, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have drafted a public health strategy to implement Trump's call to reopen parts of the country next month. "The plan lays out three phases: Preparing the nation to reopen with a national communication campaign and community readiness assessment until May 1. Then, the effort through May 15 would involve ramping up manufacturing of testing kits and personal protective equipment and increasing emergency funding. Then staged reopenings would begin, depending on local conditions," the report said.
--- Trump also announced Tuesday that he was ordering his administration to halt funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), pending a review into whether the United Nations agency was responsible for "severely mismanaging and covering up" the spread of the coronavirus.
Trump accused the agency at his Tuesday briefing of spreading "China's misinformation about the virus" in the early days of the outbreak. "So much death has been caused by their mistakes," he added, attempting to blame the WHO for his administration's slow response to the pandemic. (In January and February, Trump repeatedly praised both China's and the WHO's handling of the coronavirus, despite his current posture.)
Trump's decision to suspend funds for the WHO amid its attempts to handle a global health crisis received plaudits among conservatives, but criticism in other coroners. "Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates wrote on Twitter this morning. "Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever."
--- The U.S. government has begun sending $1,200 relief checks to Americans in order to ease the financial pain caused by the coronavirus. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that 80 million people will receive a direct deposit in their bank account by today; eligible people who have already filed their 2019 or 2018 tax returns, and who have shared their banking information with the IRS, will be the first to receive the payments.
About 70 million people for whom the IRS does not have banking information will receive paper checks in the coming days. According to the Washington Post, these checks will bear President Trump's signature, the first time a president's name will appear on an IRS disbursement. The Post reported that adding Trump's name to the checks — a move some have criticized as politicizing the stimulus payments in an election year — will delay their delivery by several days, which the Treasury Department denies.
--- As of 9 a.m. Eastern Time, there have been 1,997,321 cases of the coronavirus and 127,601 deaths from the pandemic reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, the caseload has reached 609,685 while the death toll stands at 128,011.
Obama enters 2020 fray with Biden endorsement
Former President Barack Obama formally endorsed his former vice president, Joe Biden, in a video released on Tuesday.
"Choosing Joe to be my Vice President was one of the best decisions I ever made, and he became a close friend," Obama said. "And I believe Joe has all the qualities we need in a president right now. He’s someone whose own life has taught him how to persevere; how to bounce back when you’ve been knocked down."
Obama's endorsement, which came one day after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' own video announcing support for Biden marked the end of the Democratic primary process, was a rare public step into the political arena for the former president since leaving the Oval Office.
While he remained outwardly neutral in the primaries, the New York Times reported that Obama did play a role behind the scenes: counseling Sanders to end his candidacy over the course of four long phone conversations, in an attempt to "accelerate the endgame" of the nomination process.
Although the Obama endorsement came as no surprise, notching it was another step for Biden towards uniting the Democratic Party ahead of the general election campaign. It will also give him a powerful surrogate who promised to campaign on his behalf. The next step towards party unity will come today: according to CNN, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another progressive 2020 presidential candidate, will release a video endorsing Biden later this morning.
In an Associated Press interview on Tuesday, Sanders said it would be "irresponsible" for his supporters to "sit on their hands" and not support Biden in the fall, an implicit rebuke to his ex-staffers who have continued to criticize the former vice president and opted not to endorse him.
With Sanders, Warren, and Obama behind him, Biden will be supported by the trifecta of major figures representing the various wings of the party, boosting his campaign as he struggles to grab attention amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump will host a series of phone calls with the business leaders who are part of the "Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups" that he says will advise him on reopening the U.S. economy. Trump will call them sector by sector, following this schedule:
- financial services, food and beverage, hospitality, and retail industry groups (10 a.m.)
- health care, tech, telecommunications, and transportation industry groups (12 p.m.)
- agriculture, construction/labor/workforce, defense, energy, and manufacturing industry groups and thought leaders (2 p.m.)
- sports industry groups (3:30 p.m.)
Vice President Mike Pence will participate in a call with the College Football Playoff Management Committee at 11 a.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 will hold a virtual town hall with non-medical workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis.
*All times Eastern
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