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Wake Up To Politics - April 20, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Monday, April 20, 2020. 197 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Coronavirus in America: Where things stand

Opposition to stay-at-home orders mounted over the weekend, as thousands of protesters across the United States bucked social distancing advisories and rallied against statewide coronavirus shutdowns.

Although public opinion polls have shown strong majorities of Americans continuing to support such restrictions, President Donald Trump sided with the protestors in a series of Friday tweets calling to "liberate" a trio of Democratic-led states under stay-at-home orders.

Trump's tweets came just days after he ostensibly deferred to governors on reopening their state economies, issuing a set of cautious guidelines that lacked specific direction or a national testing strategy. He is, the New York Times wrote, the "head of government" with an "anti-government message."

Although experts have pointed to widespread testing as a key prerequisite for a return to normal life, U.S. efforts to test for the coronavirus have been plagued by blunders. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "laboratory operators and state health officials are navigating a thicket of supply shortages, widespread test backlogs, unexpected snafus and unreliable results, often with no referee—prolonging the national crisis."

According to the COVID Tracking Project, an average of 146,000 people per day have been tested for the virus across the United States this month; to safely reopen the country by mid-May, 500,000 to 700,000 daily tests would need to be performed between now and then, Harvard researchers say.

However, more than 90 coronavirus tests on the market have yet to even be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Washington Post reported, leading to doubts about their accuracy.

While governors from both parties have pleaded for federal assistance in securing swabs and reagants for additional tests, President Trump has said the responsibility for overseeing tests lies with the states. "Testing is a local thing," he said at the White House press briefing on Sunday. Trump's briefings have become a daily ritual, announcing new coronavirus polices in between a flurry of unrelated tangents.

On Sunday, for example, the president announced plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel a company to produce more testing swabs — even as he deflected blame for the testing shortages and offered few specific (such as the name of the company in question) — while also finding time to opine on everyone from Mitt Romney to Roger Stone to a CNN reporter.

Although Trump has held out hope for a forthcoming nationwide reopening, experts have called such a vision into question. "The scenario that Mr. Trump has been unrolling at his daily press briefings — that the lockdowns will end soon, that a protective pill is almost at hand, that football stadiums and restaurants will soon be full — is a fantasy," the New York Times reported in an exhaustive analysis, based on interviews with 20 experts.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, lawmakers have struggled to seal a deal on extending funding for small businesses. Borrowing a page from NBC's "Seinfeld," Politico Playbook termed the negotiations "a fight about nothing" this morning, as Democrats and Republicans mostly agree on the broader items being haggled over.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Trump administration's point-man in the talks, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that "very good progress" is being made towards an agreement. He outlined a deal that would include $300 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, an emergency fund for small businesses, as well as $50 billion for the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief fund, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for testing.

The emergency fund quickly ran out of its initial funding last week, amid a chaotic rollout that has left many small businesses in limbo while unemployment has surged above 20 million.

As Democrats and Republicans spar over prescriptions for the ailing economy, the death toll from the coronavirus in the United States has exceeded 40,000 while the confirmed caseload nears 800,000. Only one other country (Spain) has reported more than 200,000 cases of the virus; the U.S. accounts for about 4% of the world's population, but more than 30% of its COVID-19 cases.

Furthermore, about 20% of those tested for the coronavirus the U.S. are found to be positive, a rate that suggests many people with the virus have yet to be tested, according to researchers. (The World Health Organization recommends a test-positivity rate of 10%.)

The epidemiologists interviewed in the aforementioned Times piece warned that until a vaccine arrives — possibly not for 18 more months — much of America will likely not be safe to "come out of hiding" for a sustained period.

Instead, they projected a cycle of "fits and starts," as people returning to work leads to new surges of infections and lockdowns.

"If Americans pour back out in force, all will appear quiet for perhaps three weeks," the Times reported. "Then the emergency rooms will get busy again."

The Rundown

Race for the White House — Trump, Biden clash over China: "As part of a $10-million ad buy in swing states, America First Action, the principal super PAC behind Trump’s reelection effort, this week broadcast spots juxtaposing old clips of Biden speaking favorably about China, with allegations that Beijing 'stole American manufacturing and hoarded our emergency stockpile.'"

. . . "Unwilling to let Trump’s arguments go unanswered, Biden’s campaign battled back Friday with a spate of ads disputing his alleged support for China, and going on offense — blaming Trump for being too trusting of President Xi Jinping as the coronavirus spread."

. . . "With rallies and other physical campaigning on hold, the heated battle over China marked the first direct major engagement of the general election campaign." (Los Angeles Times)

Race for the Senate — Democrats gain momentum: "Republicans started this election cycle as heavy favorites to keep their Senate majority, with a lineup of elections mostly in red-tinted states and GOP incumbents favored over a slate of relatively unknown and untested challengers."

"Now, nearly six months out from the election, Democrats are making them sweat."

"Republicans are still more likely than not to maintain control, but Democrats strengthened their hand with a slate of challengers raising massive sums of money in races that represent the heart of the battle for the majority, putting control of the Senate within reach. Republicans remain modest favorites to keep the Senate, with incumbents holding cash advantages in most competitive races and several offensive targets potentially cushioning their majority."

. . . "Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority, and Democrats would need to net three seats to win control of the chamber if they also win the White House — or four seats if Donald Trump wins reelection. The most important states remain Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine, four races where Democratic challengers outraised incumbent GOP senators in the first quarter of this year." (Politico)

Recommended reads — the human side of coronavirus: "A Beloved Bar Owner Was Skeptical About the Virus. Then He Took a Cruise." (New York Times)

"13 hours, 22 bodies: The long, lonesome shift of a crematory worker in the heat of COVID-19" (NBC News)

"Brooke Baldwin: How fighting coronavirus taught me about the gift of connection" (CNN)


President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 1 p.m.

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

The Senate will meet for a pro forma session at 2 p.m.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court will release orders from its Friday conference at 9:39 a.m. and opinions at 10 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has no events scheduled.

*All times Eastern

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