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Wake Up To Politics - April 27, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Monday, April 27, 2020. 190 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

White House to scale back Trump briefings amid concerns of political fallout

After holding dozens of press briefings throughout March and April as he led the federal government's coronavirus response, President Trump is now planning to pare back his daily appearances before the television cameras, according to Axios and other news outlets.

Trump's change in strategy comes after weeks of concerns from White House officials and outside advisers that the briefings were damaging him politically. These concerns mounted late last week, as the president suggested on Thursday that an "injection" of disinfectant could help people combat the coronavirus — leading to an outcry among scientists and a statement from the manufacturer of Lysol warning that "under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body." (Trump later insisted that his suggestion had been "a very sarcastic question.")

The controversy only served to raise Republican anxiety levels about the next election.  According to the New York Times, "President Trump's erratic handling of the coronavirus outbreak, the worsening economy and a cascade of ominous public and private polling have Republicans increasingly nervous that they are at risk of losing the presidency and the Senate if Mr. Trump does not put the nation on a radically improved course."

Indeed, recent polls have shown presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading in key battleground states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and just barely trailing President Trump in more traditionally conservative states like Texas.

"Perhaps most significantly," the Times reported, "Mr. Trump’s single best advantage as an incumbent — his access to the bully pulpit — has effectively become a platform for self-sabotage."

Trump took no questions at his Friday briefing and didn't address the press at all on Saturday or Sunday. Instead, the president continued to communicate through Twitter — dashing off 75 tweets or retweets over the weekend, many of which were excoriations of the news media or the Democratic Party.

The president was particularly critical of a New York Times report detailing his daily schedule during the pandemic, which reportedly includes long hours of watching television news and assessing how his response to the coronavirus is being covered.

Meanwhile, as testing for the virus continues to lag and some states begin to move toward reopening, the Trump administration is also said to be considering a shakeup of its public health advisers. According to the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets, officials are considering replacing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar "following criticism of his management of the early response to the coronavirus pandemic."

Axios also reported that the White House is planning a shift in its messaging towards an economic focus, which will place the doctors of the White House Coronavirus Task Force — Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci — in a "back seat."

Trump denied the reports about Azar in a tweet on Sunday, calling them "Fake News" and adding that the Cabinet official "is doing an excellent job!" He followed it up with a trio of (since-deleted) tweets calling on journalists to give back their "Noble prizes," an error which he later claimed was sarcastic as well.

The Rundown

Social distancing could last until summer, WH coordinator says: "Some form of social distancing will probably remain in place through the summer, Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus task force coordinator, said Sunday — the same day several governors expressed optimism about the course of the virus and outlined their plans for a piecemeal reopening of their economies."

"It was the latest instance of conflicting signals coming not just from state and federal leaders but also from within the Trump administration in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that so far has claimed the lives of more than 54,000 Americans. Last week, Vice President Pence predicted that 'we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us' by Memorial Day weekend."

"But on Sunday, Birx said in an interview on NBC News's 'Meet the Press' that 'social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.' She cited the need for further testing that would need to be developed following a scientific 'breakthrough.'" (Washington Post)

  • "Reopening US states are taking their first steps toward a new normal" (CNN)
  • "Ex-Officials Call For $46 Billion For Tracing, Isolating In Next Coronavirus Package" (NPR)

Pelosi backs Biden: "Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday as the Democratic Party continued to coalesce around its presumptive presidential nominee."

"Mr. Biden now has the formal support of the party’s last president, Barack Obama; two of its most prominent progressives, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; two previous presidential nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore; and its leader in the House, Ms. Pelosi."

"In a video released on Monday morning, Ms. Pelosi drew on her years of working with Mr. Biden behind the scenes on legislation when he was Mr. Obama’s vice president, describing Mr. Biden as 'a leader with the humility to seek expertise and science, and the confidence to act upon it.'" (New York Times)

  • "A Candidate in Isolation: Inside Joe Biden’s Cloistered Campaign" (New York Times)
  • "New evidence surfaces in Tara Reade allegation against Biden" (Politico)
  • Stacey Abrams makes the case for herself as Biden’s VP pick (Vox)

South Korea dismisses Kim Jong Un health rumors: "South Korea’s government has dismissed rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in fragile condition, as speculation about his health intensifies amid the North’s silence on his whereabouts."

"There are concerns, particularly in Seoul and Washington, about what would happen to North Korea and its nuclear program if anything had actually happened to Kim. For South Korea and the U.S., Kim’s absence would mean the departure of a man they’ve dealt with over the past two years to try to achieve the North’s denuclearization, though talks have stalled in recent months."

"Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told a closed-door forum in Seoul that South Korea has “enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments” in rival North Korea that would back up speculation about Kim’s health, his ministry said Monday." (Associated Press)

  • "In North Korea, the Fourth Man Could Be a Woman" (New Yorker)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will participate in a video teleconference with governors at 2 p.m. and meet with industry executives at 4 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 8 a.m.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court is expected to release orders at 9:30 a.m and opinions at 10 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual fundraiser.

*All times Eastern

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