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Wake Up To Politics - April 6, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Monday, April 6, 2020. 211 days until Election Day 2020. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Officials warn of bruising week as Trump strikes optimistic chord

Public health officials are warning that this could be the worst week of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

"This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans' lives, quite frankly," Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general, said on "Fox News Sunday." "This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it's not going to be localized. It's going to be happening all over the country."

"This is going to be a bad week," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, adding that it would be a "false statement" to suggest that the U.S. has the virus "under control."

"The next two weeks are extraordinarily important," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing on Saturday. "This is the moment to do everything that you can on the presidential guidelines. This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe." Birx shared details from models of the pandemic that showed areas that have been hit particularly hard — such as New York, Detroit, and New Orleans — are likely to reach the peak of their outbreaks in "the next six to seven days."

President Donald Trump also joined in on their warnings ("This will probably be the toughest week, there will be a lot of death, unfortunately," he said Saturday) but repeatedly took time over the weekend to share a prognosis markedly more optimistic than the doctors advising him.  

"We see light at the end of the tunnel," Trump said Sunday, even as Dr. Adams compared the coming week to national tragedies such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Trump also repeatedly broke with public health officials to tout the effectiveness of an unproven treatment for the coronavirus: hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug. "What do you have to lose? Take it," the president encouraged patients on Saturday, even though Dr. Fauci and other medical advisers have warned that more research is needed on the drug. "I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like." He made similar comments at Sunday's briefing as well.

Despite the skeptical view of his medical team, Trump has reportedly been pushed to promote hydroxychloroquine by a group of outside advisers. According to the Washington Post, Trump's personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has spoken to the president about the drug, while Dr. Mehmet Oz, the controversial television personality, has advised senior Trump administration officials on the topic, the Daily Beast reported.

In turn, according to Reuters, Trump "personally pressed federal health officials to make malaria drugs available to treat the novel coronavirus" in mid-March, "though they had been untested for COVID-19." The report continued: "Shortly afterward, the federal government published highly unusual guidance informing doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with key dosing information based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science."

Per Axios, disagreements over the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus led to the "biggest fight yet" of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in a Situation Room meeting on Saturday, as Dr. Fauci pushed back against White House trade adviser Peter Navarro's vocal support for the drug. (With conclusive proof that hydroxychloroquine can treat COVID-19 still lacking, Vice President Mike Pence announced Sunday that a 3,000-person study of the drug's effectiveness would begin in Detroit.)

Trump has contradicted his own public health advisers throughout the coronavirus pandemic, from his calls for the country to be reopened by Easter to his comments on Friday as the Centers for Disease Control announced a new recommendation that all Americans wear cloth face coverings when in public. "I am choosing not to do it," the president announced just after the guidance was unveiled.

According to the New York Times, President Trump and Dr. Fauci "have differed most strongly" on the "therapeutic potential of chloroquines to treat people who have the coronavirus" — but another key point of dissension is over a nationwide stay-at-home order, which Dr. Fauci and others have called for but Trump has resisted issuing.

The Times also noted a "telling interchange" at a briefing last week, when Trump sought to "water down" her comments about states where some residents are not practicing social distancing and the "curve" of the pandemic has yet to flatten.

A similar incident took place on Sunday, as a reporter in the White House briefing room attempted to ask Dr. Fauci about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.

"He's answered that question 15 times," President Trump replied, intervening before Dr. Fauci could respond and offer an opposing viewpoint on the drug.

Recommended read

"The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged" (Washington Post)

Key lines: "The United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation."

. . . "The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck."

The Rundown

Trump fires inspector general who revealed Ukraine whistleblower complaint: "President Donald Trump has fired the intelligence community’s chief watchdog, Michael Atkinson, who was the first to sound the alarm to Congress last September about an 'urgent' complaint he received from an intelligence official involving Trump’s communications with Ukraine’s president."

"Atkinson's decision set in motion the congressional probe that culminated in Trump's impeachment and ultimate acquittal in a bruising political and legal drama that consumed Washington for months."

"Trump formally notified the Senate and House Intelligence Committees of his intention to fire Atkinson, to take effect 30 days from Friday, according to two congressional officials and a copy of the letter obtained by POLITICO dated April 3." (Politico)

--- Atkinson responded to his firing in a statement on Sunday, saying: "It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspecotr General, and from my commitment to continue to do so." His statement closed with a message to other potential whistleblowers: "Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices," he urged.

--- Other notable personnel moves: Capt. Brett Cozier, who warned the Trump administration early about the coronavirus and has since contracted the disease, was dismissed from his command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt last week... President Trump also announced Friday that Brian Miller, currently a White House lawyer, would be nominated as the new special inspector general for pandemic recovery, charged with overseeing a $500 billion rescue fund for corporations... according to Axios, Trump is expected to follow Atkinson's ouster by firing "more inspectors general across his government" soon...

Sanders advisers urging him to exit race: "A small group of Bernie Sanders’s top aides and allies — including his campaign manager and his longtime strategist — have encouraged the independent senator from Vermont to consider withdrawing from the presidential race, according to two people with knowledge of the situation."

"The group includes campaign manager Faiz Shakir and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a top Sanders surrogate and ally, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive private discussions."

"Sanders himself has become more open to the prospect of dropping out, according to one of the people with knowledge of the situation and another close ally, especially if he suffers a significant defeat in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, which polls suggest Joe Biden will win handily." (Washington Post)

Latest coronavirus stats: As of 9 a.m. Eastern Time, nearly 1.3 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide, while more than 70,000 have died in the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, more than 337,000 infections and nearly 10,000 deaths have been recorded. The epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. remains in New York, which has reported upwards of 120,000 cases of the coronavirus nad more than 4,000 deaths.

President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 12:30 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on the coronavirus at 11 a.m., have lunch with President Trump at 12:30 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 House and Senate are on recess.

The Supreme Court will release orders from its Friday conference at 9:30 a.m. and opinion at 10 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders do not have any events scheduled.

*All times Eastern

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