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Wake Up To Politics - May 11, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Monday, May 11, 2020. 176 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

White House coronavirus cases complicate Trump's push for reopening

As President Donald Trump continues to push for businesses and public places in the United States to reopen after a spate of coronavirus-inspired lockdown, he faces a new challenge: responding to a series of coronavirus cases in his own place of businesses, the White House.

At least two White House employees tested positive for the virus late last week — Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, Katie Miller, and one of President Trump's personal valets — as did a personal assistant to the president's daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump. (The assistant works for Ivanka Trump in a personal capacity, according to CNN.)

Miller, the wife of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, has been a frequent attendee at meetings of the White House coronavirus task force. Like other members of the task force, she has not worn a face mask at the meetings, potentially exposing top public health officials to the virus. She was asymptomatic and had tested negative for coronavirus as recently as Thursday.

Three members of the White House task force — National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield — said this weekend that they plan to self-quarantine in some form after being exposed to Miller.

Fauci, Hahn, and Redfield are all scheduled to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday; they now plan to participate remotely. The panel's chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), said Sunday that he will also lead the hearing remotely after an aide tested positive for the virus.

Despite reports that Vice President Pence was also planning to self-isolate at home, a spokesperson said Sunday that the VP will be back at the White House today.

The recent infections inside the Trump orbit have reportedly unnerved administration employees and the president himself. "It is scary to go to work," White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett acknowledged on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

"I think that I'd be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing... It's a small, crowded place. It's a little bit risky," he added. "But you have to do it because you have to serve your country."

The White House took new steps Friday to address the spread of the virus internally, encouraging more employees to "work remotely if at all possible" and announcing that the building would receive "heightened levels of daily cleaning," according to a memo obtained by the Washington Post. The administration is also ramping up testing for anyone that meets with President Trump.

The memo did not instruct presidential aides to wear masks, despite guidance from the CDC recommending them in all public spaces. President Trump and Vice President Pence have repeatedly held high-profile meetings and travel without wearing masks, even as the virus spread to their respective staffs.

But even as coronavirus spreads to his own team, and the White House moves to send home some of its staffers, President Trump has continued to push for the country to reopen and for more Americans to go back to work.

"We have to get our country open again," Trump said last week, acknowledging that reopening could result in some people losing their lives. "People want to go back, and you’re going to have a problem if you don’t do it."

According to CNN, "in conversations this weekend, Trump has expressed concern that aides contracting coronavirus would undercut his message that the outbreak is waning and states should begin reopening."

However, those private trepidations have rarely been on public display: instead, the president has projected optimism, urging Americans to slowly return to normal life even as the confirmed U.S. death toll from the virus nears 80,000.

Trump is not only worried about the complications to his case for reopening. According to the Washington Post, he is "glum and shell-shocked by his declining popularity," struggling to process recent polls that show him trailing his likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in key states.

The coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis have made Republicans nervous not just about keeping the White House, but about defending their Senate majority as well, the Post reported.

Meanwhile, as the New York Times writes, an obvious question hangs in the air: "If it is so hard to maintain a healthy environment at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the most famous office address in the world, where staff members are tested regularly, some as often as every day, then how can businesses across the country without anywhere near as much access to the same resources establish a safe space for their workers?"

The Trump administration has yet to release detailed guidance on reopening that might answer such a question. "As a result," the Times reported, "businesses have been left to make their best guesses with lives on the line."

The Rundown

More coronavirus headlines: "Doctors keep discovering new ways the coronavirus attacks the body" (Washington Post)

"FDA Grants Emergency-Use Status for First Coronavirus Antigen Test" (Wall Street Journal)

"FDA authorizes the first at-home Covid-19 saliva test" (CNN)

"U.S. to Accuse China of Trying to Hack Vaccine Data, as Virus Redirects Cyberattacks" (New York Times)

Talks fall apart for next phase of stimulus legislation: "Confronted with the worst jobs report since the Great Depression, the White House and congressional Democrats aren’t even talking to each other about what — if anything — to do about it."

"President Trump says he’s 'in no rush' to take action given that nearly $3 trillion already has been approved in response to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus. House Democrats are taking the opposite tack, pressing forward to vote as soon as this coming week on a massive new relief bill that’s unlikely to win GOP support."

"The disconnect shows how the bipartisan consensus that emerged in the early days of the pandemic, allowing Congress to produce four relief bills in rapid succession, has largely disappeared. In its place there is partisan finger-pointing and blame-shifting. Trump on Friday dismissed Democrats as 'stone cold crazy' and said he couldn’t work with them. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Republicans who failed to act would be 'taking the same misguided path as Herbert Hoover,' who failed to pull the nation out of the Great Depression." (Washington Post)

Kamala Harris rises in Biden veepstakes: "Kamala Harris was written off as a possible vice presidential pick for Joe Biden last year after a cutting debate performance where she seemed to suggest he was racially insensitive."

"Now, Harris is not only in top contention, but Biden aides, surrogates and major donors see her as the best fit at the onset of the process — at least on paper — to join him atop the Democratic ticket."

"Biden’s campaign has formally started vetting a group of prospects that includes roughly a dozen women. But in interviews, more than two dozen Democrats, including advisers, allies and donors aligned with Biden, returned to Harris as an early frontrunner. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the favorite among progressives, was also seen as rising above the pack." (Politico)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 12:30 p.m. and hold a press briefing on coronavirus testing at 4 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on coronavirus response and economic revival at 11 a.m.

The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and hold a cloture vote advancing the nomination of Brian Montgomery to be Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development at 5:30 p.m.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court justices will hear remote oral arguments in McGirt v. Oklahoma, considering whether the eastern half of Oklahoma is an Indian reservation, at 10 a.m. (Listen live)

The justices will then hear remote oral arguments in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, considering how to determine whether an employee is a "minister" for the purposes of enforcing the "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws. (Listen live)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will attend a virtual fundraiser.

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