I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Friday, April 17, 2020. 200 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
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Trump unveils guidelines for "opening up America again"
Just days after declaring he had the "total authority" to unilaterally reopen the country, President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a three-phase plan that allows governors to decide when to restart their economies after coronavirus-related shutdowns.
"America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open," Trump said. "A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution. To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy."
However, he added, "We are not opening all at once but one careful step at a time."
Although the president has repeatedly pointed to May 1 as a target date for the shutdowns to end, his "Opening Up America Again" guidelines do not include any recommended dates for implementation. Instead, the plan lays out three phases and put the onus on governors to decide when to advance to each one.
States in "phase one" are advised to implement strict social distancing, with prohibitions on gatherings larger than 10 people and non-essential travel.
In "phase two," non-essential travel can resume and gatherings can expand to up to 50 people. Schools can reopen but most businesses will be encouraged to continue telework.
Finally, states will return to normalcy when in "phase three," as businesses fully reopen and only vulnerable individuals encouraged to practice physical distancing.
Only vague guidelines are given about the criteria for advancing from phase to phase.
"You're going to call the shots," Trump reportedly told the nation's governors in a conference call before unveiling the plan, a reversal from his rhetoric of earlier in the week.
Although governors mostly welcomed Trump's acknowledgment of their authority, many critics pointed out that the president's plan failed to include a national testing strategy of any kind, despite business leaders encouraging him to implement one as the U.S. testing system continues to see glitches and setbacks.
"Senior administration officials said that although the federal government will try to facilitate access to tests, states and localities will be responsible for developing and administering their own testing programs," the Washington Post reported.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, about 3.4 million people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States, far fewer tests than experts say are needed before the country can safely reopen.
As the New York Times writes, beyond "how to finance the billions of dollars necessary for expanded testing," the White House plan also does not answer several other key questions, such as "whether travel should be restricted between states; when the ban on international travel from Europe and elsewhere would be lifted; and how the states should deal with future shortages of protective equipment if the virus resurged in the fall."
Many states have formed regional pacts to jointly decide about when to lift the coronavirus shutdowns, and some governors have already moved to extend their statewide "stay-at-home" orders.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), whose state has been hit hardest by the pandemic, announced Thursday that his shutdown order would be expended through May 15. More than a dozen other states have also extended their orders into the month of May or beyond.
Inside Congress: "For Congress, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything — except the personality feuds that have defined the institution in the Trump era."
"Instead of congressional leaders and President Donald Trump rallying to take on a virus that’s crushing the economy and killing tens of thousands of Americans, the opposite has happened. The partisan sniping and long simmering squabbles among the White House and 'Big Four' — Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — are more prominent than ever."
"The most recent example came Thursday. As an emergency rescue fund for small businesses ran dry, leaders on both sides dug in — extending a weeklong dispute about how to replenish the program and who was at fault for the delay." (Politico)
--- "With Congress essentially closed, House Democrats are proposing a temporary rules change during the coronavirus crisis that would allow lawmakers to vote remotely via another lawmaker physically present at the U.S. Capitol."
"The rare move, which would require a vote for passage, [was] presented Thursday during a private Democratic caucus conference call as anxious lawmakers clamor to bring Congress back on line during the stay-home shutdown." (Associated Press)
Inside the White House: Former congressman Mark Meadows, newly installed as President Trump's fourth White House chief of staff, "has been overwhelmed at times by a permanent culture at the White House that revolves around the president’s moods, his desire to present a veneer of strength and his need for a sense of control."
. . . "It it has not helped him with his White House colleagues that the former North Carolina congressman, who has a reputation for showing his emotions, cried while meeting with members of the White House staff on at least two occasions. One instance was in the presence of a young West Wing aide; another time was with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner." (New York Times)
--- "Trump builds campaign-style press shop at the White House" (Politico)
Inside the courts: "Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone lost his bid for a new trial on Thursday in the last case brought in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian activity in the 2016 elections."
"Mr. Stone was sentenced earlier this year to more than three years in prison for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of an investigation, but had sought a new trial after finding social-media posts critical of Mr. Trump from the jury forewoman."
"Mr. Stone accused the woman of lying on her questionnaire to serve on the jury—a claim that the judge rejected in an 81-page opinion released Thursday, noting that Mr. Stone’s own legal team had failed to do any basic research on the juror and didn’t meet the burden of proof for getting a new trial." (Wall Street Journal)
--- "Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, will be released from his three-year prison sentence early because of concerns of the coronavirus continuing to spread behind bars, his lawyer said Thursday night."
"Attorney Roger Bennett Adler said that Cohen, 53, will be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement. He'll be released May 1 after a two-week quarantine at the prison, Adler said. Cohen was initially set to be released in November 2021." (NBC News)
President Donald Trump will receive his intelligence briefing at 2 p.m. and host a phone call with faith leaders on "the great American revival" at 4 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence will participate in a call with Senate Democrats on COVID-19 response at 1 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 Senate is not in session.
The House will meet for a pro forma session at 11 a.m.
The Supreme Court will hold its weekly conference.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual fundraiser.
*All times Eastern
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