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Wake Up To Politics - April 8, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, April 8, 2020. 209 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Trump's personnel churn continues through coronavirus

President Donald Trump may be grappling with a global pandemic — but the churn of sudden personnel changes that have marked his administration has continued nonetheless.

Just on Tuesday (the deadliest day of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States so far), Trump announced a shakeup of the White House communications staff, continued a "purge" of inspectors general across the government, and accepted the resignation of the service secretary overseeing the U.S. Navy.

A new press secretary

The communications shakeup reportedly came at the direction of newly-installed White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who himself joined the administration during the coronavirus pandemic, becoming Trump's top aide last week.

According to the New York Times, Meadows had "clashed" with White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham and "targeted her as someone he wanted to replace"; on Tuesday, Grisham announced that she would be leaving the West Wing and returning to First Lady Melania Trump's staff, where she served before becoming Trump's press secretary and communications director.

Grisham's short tenure was marked by her termination of the daily White House press briefing — a tradition that had already been slipping away under her Trump administration predecessors, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. In Grisham's nine months in the post, she never held a single briefing.

Although no replacement has been formally announced, multiple news outlets have reported that Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany will soon succeed Grisham, who will become the First Lady's chief of staff and spokesperson. Defense Department spokeswoman Alyssa Farah will also join the White House communications team as director of strategic communications, while Meadows' longtime aide Ben Williamson will become a senior communications adviser.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "the new press operation has plans to 'rapidly professionalize the operation' inside the White House, shop"; McEnany is also "expected to restart regular news briefings once the coronavirus outbreak passes and the need for daily updates from Mr. Trump and the virus task force subsides."

"It is the first of several planned shake-ups that Mr. Meadows, who has officially been in his job for only a little over a week, plans on making," the Times reported.

Another IG ousted

Just hours after Grisham announced her departure, news outlets began reporting that President Trump had dismissed yet another  independent federal watchdog — for the second time in less than a week.

Trump removed acting Defense Department inspector general (IG) Glenn Fine on Tuesday, a move that had particularly acute reverberations because Fine had been appointed by a panel of fellow IG's to oversee the $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funding.

Because Fine has been layered over as the Pentagon inspector general — Sean W. O'Donnell, who also serves as the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general, will move into the post on an acting capacity, while Fine reverts to becoming the DoD's Principal Deputy Inspector General — a different IG will have to be chosen to provide oversight of the coronavirus funds.

No reason was given for the shuffle, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called "part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the President against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people." Trump also dismissed the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, on Friday; Atkinson had been the first official to alert Congress about the whistleblower complaint that eventually led to Trump's impeachment.

According to Axios, Trump is planning a "purge" of other inspectors general across the government. At his daily briefing on Monday, Trump sharply criticized the Health and Human Services Department IG, Christi Grimm, blasting her report on coronavirus testing delays as "just wrong."

Navy imbroglio ends with resignation

For much of the week, a coronavirus sideshow in the U.S. Navy has captured attention, as the commander of an aircraft carrier was fired after pleading for resources to treat and quarantine hundreds of infected crew members.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly provoked even more controversy on Sunday when he traveled to Guam to address the USS Theodore Roosevelt crew; in remarks that were later made public, Modly denounced their ousted captain, Brett Crozier.

Modly accused Crozier of committing a "betrayal," adding that Crozier was either "too naive or too stupid" to be in command of the ship or he intentionally leaked the memo warning about the coronavirus.

Just a day after those inflammatory words leaked themselves — and Modly issued statements standing by them, and then apologizing for them — Modly submitted his resignation as acting Navy chief.

"He resigned of his own accord, putting the Navy and Sailors above self so that the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Navy, as an institution, can move forward," Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote in a letter accepting Modly's resignation.

Meanwhile, the Navy announced on Tuesday, 230 members of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crew have now tested positive for the coronavirus. Crozier himself has been diagnosed with the illness as well.

The Rundown

Wisconsin votes despite virus outbreak: "It was an election day for the history books, unprecedented and unimaginable."

"After Gov. Tony Evers tried to delay it, and the state Supreme Court declared the vote must go on, Wisconsinites went to the polls in Tuesday's spring election and cast ballots carefully, deliberately and defiantly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic."

..."Across the state, in schools, churches and town halls, poll workers risked their health to make sure democracy worked. Members of the National Guard also pitched in."

"In Milwaukee, where only five polling sites were open, the workers donned face masks and rubber gloves, handed out black pens to voters, wiped surfaces clean and kept the lines moving as best they could even as the state remained under a safer-at-home order." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

--- There won't be results from any of the Wisconsin elections, including the presidential primary fight between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, until Monday, April 13. Precincts have until then to receive absentee ballots from voters (which must be postmarked by April 7), and were told not to report results until that deadline.

--- Via Axios, some photos of Wisconsin voters at their polling places on Tuesday, face masks and all.

Congress expected to approve more small business aid: "The Senate could move as early as Thursday to approve approximately a quarter trillion dollars in new relief to small businesses as Congress races to keep up with economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic."

"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he is working with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). to deliver more money to the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular $350 billion program for businesses to cover payroll and expenses during the coronavirus pandemic."

"Republicans are moving quickly to potentially jam Democrats into accepting an extension of small business programs without addressing other Democratic priorities. A spokesman for Schumer said there’s been no negotiations thus far with Schumer and Small Business Committee ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)."

"Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he's spoken to all four House and Senate party leaders about sending $250 billion to the program. And McConnell said he intends to pass new relief as soon as Thursday without a roll call vote." (Politico)

--- Complicating the negotiations, Pelosi and Schumer announced a list of priorities this morning they also hope are included in the next coronavirus relief measure, including "$100 billion more for hospitals and health care providers, $150 billion in assistance for states and localities, and a 15 percent increase in the maximum food stamp benefit, which is currently about $646 per month for a family of four," according to Roll Call.

Latest coronavirus stats: As of 9 a.m. Eastern Time, 1.45 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University; 83,424 individuals have died from the pandemic.

In the United States, just short of 400,000 cases of the virus have been reported, while nearly 13,000 people have died due to the outbreak. As McClatchy noted, the coronavirus has now killed more Americans in five weeks than H1N1 (also known as the swine flu) did in a year.

The U.S. recorded more deaths from coronavirus Tuesday — almost 1,900 — than any country has yet in a single day. America is now nearing the death tolls recorded in Italy and Spain, the two countries with the most coronavirus deaths.

Despite the worsening death toll, some officials said Tuesday that the "they saw grounds for hope that the pandemic’s devastation would at least not be as bad as the direst projections," according to the Washington Post, as a leading model shifted its estimate of total U.S. deaths from the coronavirus downward.


President Donald Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 11:45 a.m., participate in a phone call with state, local, and tribal leaders on coronavirus response and mitigation at 1:45 p.m., and participate in a phone call with faith leaders at 2:30 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will participate in a call with House Republicans on coronavirus response at 10:30 a.m., followed by a call with House Democrats at 1 p.m. He will also join the president's 2:30 p.m. call with faith leaders and lead a 3 p.m. meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

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 has no conferences or oral arguments scheduled.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual fundraiser and a virtual town hall on unemployment and issues facing working families.

*All times Eastern

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