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Wake Up To Politics - April 16, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, April 16, 2020. 201 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Trump to announce guidelines for reopening U.S. economy

President Donald Trump plans to announce new guidelines today that will urge some states to ease up on social distancing and begin to reopen their economies.

The new guidelines are expected to focus on areas with low transmission of the coronavirus: Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday that the nine states with fewer than 1,000 cases will likely be the first to see their social distancing restrictions lifted. Other, harder-hit states are likely to keep their current guidelines in place.

"We'll be opening some states much sooner than other," President Trump said at his Wednesday briefing. The president has repeatedly called for the U.S. economy to reopen by May 1, falsely insisting that he has "total authority" to trigger a reopening. In fact, while the federal government could change its guidelines concerning social distancing, "stay-at-home" orders have been issued exclusively by governors and mayors, giving them the choice to revoke the orders or not.

Trump will consult the governors on their plans today, after spending much of the week maligning their authority and comparing them to mutineers. The president spoke to dozens of high-profile CEOs in a series of calls on Wednesday; according to the Wall Street Journal, they urged him to "dramatically increase the availability of coronavirus testing" before pushing to reopen workplaces, restaurants, or retail establishments.

Although many view an expansion in U.S. testing capability as key to a potential reopening, Politico reported earlier this week that coronavirus testing has actually slowed down across the country: "The number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past week," the report said, "even though new infections are still surging in many states and officials are desperately trying to ramp up testing so the country can reopen."

After his "total authority" claim on Monday, Trump seemed to acknowledge on Tuesday that each governor would have the power to reopen their individual economies as they see fit. But by Wednesday, some of his original bluster returned, as he threatened to "take very strong action against a state or a governor if we're not happy with the job is a governor is doing."

The president also threatened Wednesday to use an unprecedented executive power that would allow him to force Congress to adjourn so he could push through dozens of nominees as recess appointments. "They've been warned, and they're being warned right now," Trump said. "We'll probably be challenged in court, and we'll see who wins." (The Constitution does grant the power to adjourn the House and Senate, but only if the two chambers are in disagreement over when to adjourn, which is not currently the case.)

Both chambers of Congress are slated to meet in pro forma sessions until at least May 4, meaning little business will be conducted but the president cannot make recess appointments. Meanwhile, lawmakers are continuing to negotiate an increase in funding to the Paycheck Protection Program, the emergency small business loan initiative created by the stimulus package last month.

The program is expected to exhaust its $350 billion funding capacity this morning, but Democrats and Republicans have reached a stalemate in talks to allocate more money for the initiative. Republicans have insisted that any legislation should concern only the Paycheck Protection Prorgam, while Democrats have called for more money to be earmarked for local governments and hospitals as well.

According to The Hill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are "inching closer" to a deal that would provide $250 billion to the small business lending program and tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to states and hospitals.

Current stats: The global total of confirmed coroanvirus cases has edged past 2 million, while the pandemic has caused nearly 140,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In the United States, the virus has infected nearly 640,000 people and killed more than 30,000. (Note: Wednesday's newsletter misstated the death toll in the United States. My apologies for the error, and thanks to the readers who pointed it out.)

"The battle continues but the data indicated that we have passed the peak," President Trump declared on Wednesday.

The Labor Department announced this morning that 5.2 million unemployment claims were filed last week, bringing the four-week total to a staggering 22 million. "The eye-popping job losses in the past month have erased virtually all of the 22.8 million jobs gained from February 2010 to February 2020 during the rebound from the Great Recession," the Washington Post reported, creating a level of job loss not seen in the United States since the Great Depression.

Obama enters 2020 fray with Biden endorsement

The Rundown

Virus may have originated in Wuhan lab: "There is increasing confidence that the COVID-19 outbreak likely originated in a Wuhan laboratory, though not as a bioweapon but as part of China's attempt to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States, multiple sources who have been briefed on the details of early actions by China's government and seen relevant materials tell Fox News."

. . . "The sources believe the initial transmission of the virus – a naturally occurring strain that was being studied there – was bat-to-human and that "patient zero" worked at the laboratory, then went into the population in Wuhan." (Fox News)

--- Yahoo News previously reported that the U.S. intelligence community is "weighing the possibility that the pandemic might have been touched off by an accident at a research facility rather than by an infection from a live-animal market," while the Washington Post reported on State Department cables from 2018 in which U.S. officials sent warnings to Washington about the lab in Wuhan.

Inside the White House: "Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s eldest daughter and a senior White House adviser, has positioned herself as one of the leaders of the administration’s economic relief efforts and one of its most vocal advocates of social distancing."

. . .  "But Ms. Trump herself has not followed the federal guidelines advising against discretionary travel, leaving Washington for another one of her family’s homes [in New Jersey], even as she has publicly thanked people for self-quarantining. And effective April 1, the city of Washington issued a stay-at-home order for all residents unless they are performing essential activities." (New York Times)

--- Another "do as I say, not as I do" moment: "As U.S. discouraged mask use for public, White House team raced to secure face coverings from Taiwan for senior staff" (Washington Post)

Warren would accept VP slot: "Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Wednesday she would accept the role of Joe Biden's running mate if the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee offered her the No. 2 spot on the ticket."

"'If he asked you to be his running mate, would you say yes?' MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked Warren in an interview, to which the senator replied succinctly: 'Yes.'"

"Warren's acknowledgment that she would be willing to serve as Biden's vice presidential nominee comes as he has intensified his search for a running mate after emerging triumphant from the party's nominating contest." (Politico)

--- Meanwhile, one of Biden's other potential running mates faces fierce protests: "Thousands of demonstrators descended on the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's restrictive stay-at-home order, clogging the streets with their cars while scores ignored organizers' pleas to stay inside their vehicles."

. . . "The order contained several provisions that were unpopular with some Michiganders, such as barring in-state travel to vacation residences and a tightening of business restrictions that included large stores having to close areas 'dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint.' State Republican lawmakers said the order unnecessarily curtailed freedoms and harmed businesses." (NBC News)


President Donald Trump will participate in a video teleconference with G7 leaders on coordinated action in response to COVID-19 at 8:30 a.m., host a phone call with members of the House at 10 a.m., host a phone call with members of the Senate at 11 a.m., deliver remarks celebrating America's truckers at 1:30 p.m., and participate in a video teleconference with governors on COVID-19 response and economic revival at 3 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will participate in a call with Senate Democrats on COVID-19 response at 1 p.m. and join President Trump for his 3 p.m. video teleconference with governors.

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

The Senate will meet in a pro forma session at 3 p.m.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court has no conferences or oral arguments scheduled.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in several virtual fundraisers.

*All times Eastern

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