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Wake Up To Politics - May 14, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, May 14, 2020. 173 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Breaking: 3 million Americans filed jobless claims last week

Nearly 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department announced this morning, bringing the total of new jobless claims over the last eight weeks to a historic 36.5 million.

The report reflected a slight drop in Americans seeking unemployment benefits from recent weeks, but still a significant jump from the pre-coronavirus era, a reminder of the enormous economic impact of the pandemic.

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the United States was facing a recession "without modern precedent," comments that helped send the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 2.2 percent, marking its third consecutive day of losses.

Powell also called on Congress to provide "additional fiscal support," which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took as support for her $3 trillion HEROES Act, which will receive a vote in the House on Friday. The relief package, which includes funding for state and local governments, a second round of direct payments for Americans, and hazard pay for essential workers, has faced criticism from Republicans and progressive Democrats alike.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the legislation "a big laundry list of pet priorities" that would be "dead on arrival" in the Republican-led Senate, at least one GOP lawmaker plans to support it in the House on Friday. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who represents one of the districts hardest hit by the coronavirus, told The Hill that he plans to buck party line and back the measure.

---" Small business used to define America’s economy. The pandemic could change that forever." (Washington Post)

--- "Coronavirus likely forced 27 million off their health insurance" (Axios)

Trump criticizes Fauci's Senate testimony

President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized testimony given by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, to the Senate Health committee the day before, expressing frustration with Fauci's cautious approach toward reopening the country.

Trump particularly took issue with Fauci's characterization that schools should be careful about reopening for in-person classes in the fall; the doctor noted that a vaccine would likely not be available by then and urged lawmakers not to be "cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects" of the virus.

"I was surprised by his answer," Trump told reporters. "To me, it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools."

In an interview with Fox Business News that aired this morning, the president continued to contradict Fauci. "We have to get the schools open," he said. "We have to open our country. Now, we want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible. We can't keep going on like this. You’re having bedlam already in the streets. You can’t do this."

Fauci warned in his Senate testimony that localities "prematurely open[ing] up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently" would lead to "little spikes that might turn into outbreaks" across the United States.

Trump's comments came as a growing group of Republican senators have begun to rebuke Fauci, clashing with the longtime NIH official's approach to the coronavirus shutdowns.

--- "Campus Life in the Fall? A Test With No Clear Answer" (New York Times)

--- "Mask or no mask? Face coverings become tool in partisan combat." (Washington Post)

--- Trump to name former pharma exec as vaccine czar (Associated Press)

FBI seizes Burr's cellphone in probe of stock sales

From the Los Angeles Times: "Federal agents seized a cellphone belonging to a prominent Republican senator on Wednesday night as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into controversial stock trades he made as the novel coronavirus first struck the U.S., a law enforcement official said."

"Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, turned over his phone to agents after they served a search warrant on the lawmaker at his residence in the Washington area, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a law enforcement action."

"The seizure represents a significant escalation in the investigation into whether Burr violated a law preventing members of Congress from trading on insider information they have gleaned from their official work."

"To obtain a search warrant, federal agents and prosecutors must persuade a judge they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. The law enforcement official said the Justice Department is examining Burr’s communications with his broker."

..."Burr sold a significant percentage of his stock portfolio in 33 different transactions on Feb. 13, just as his committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings and a week before the stock market declined sharply. Much of the stock was invested in businesses that in subsequent weeks were hit hard by the plunging market."

Senators release list of Obama officials who "unmasked" Flynn

A pair of Republican senators on Wednesday released a recently declassified list of Obama administration officials who requested to "unmask" a U.S. citizen mentioned in intelligence reports during the 2017 presidential transition, making them aware that the citizen's name was that of Michael Flynn, President Trump's first national security adviser.

The roster named dozens of officials whose requests were made and approved between November 2016 and January 2017; they include then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and then-White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

This high-profile list added immediate fuel to President Trump's recent allegations that the Obama administration improperly targeted his adviser Flynn, a scandal he has referred to as "Obamagate." Flynn would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition — the conversations that were detailed in the intelligence reports seen by the Obama officials.

However, "unmasking" requests are a fairly common tool for high-ranking officials to seek additional information about the intelligence reports they receive: according to the Associated Press, more than 10,000 such requests were made by Trump administration officials last year.

Although the document released Wednesday confirms that each official who made a request that unmasked Flynn had their request "approved through NSA's standard process," the inclusion of Biden — Trump's likely general election opponent — on the list made it into a hot political football.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale accused Biden on Wednesday of being involved in a "setup of Gen. Flynn"; there is no indication that the ex-VP would have known Flynn's identity prior to the "unmasking" request.

In a highly controversial move, the Justice Department abruptly dropped its charges against Flynn last week. Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is overseeing the case, has hesitated to accept the DOJ's action, announcing Wednesday that he had appointed a former federal judge to oppose the department's efforts to drop the case. Sullivan also signaled that he may peruse perjury or contempt charges against Flynn.

2020 Central

Republicans win California special election: "Republicans have won a special election for Congress in Southern California, reclaiming a suburban House seat that they lost to Democrats in the 2018 midterms.

"Democrat Christy Smith, a state assemblywoman, conceded defeat to Republican Mike Garcia Wednesday, one day after the closely watched special election runoff for the seat vacated by former Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned last year."

... "His victory represents the first time in 22 years that California Republicans have captured a congressional seat from Democrats."

"Smith will get a second chance at Garcia in November — the same two candidates in the runoff also qualified for the general election — but Garcia's victory will no doubt boost his candidacy, drawing donors and national attention, though the final margin is still in doubt." (Politico)

Biden pivots to the left: "Throughout the Democratic presidential primary, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s rivals criticized his focus on restoring America to the pre-Trump era, accusing him of promoting a backward-looking political vision that ignored the deep-rooted causes of the nation’s problems."

"Mr. Biden’s message to voters sometimes fueled that perception: He constantly invoked the Obama legacy. He leaned on longtime party donors and endorsements from establishment Democrats — some of whom had been out of office for years. He criticized some of the progressive ideas of his primary rivals."

"But as he steps into the general election having vanquished the party’s left wing, and the nation reels from a pandemic that has devastated the economy, Mr. Biden is striking fewer of the moderate notes that won him the nomination, instead courting progressives with a new openness to systemic disruption." (New York Times)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will travel to Allentown, Pennsylvania to visit a medical equipment distribution center. He will tour Owens & Minor, Inc. Distribution Center at 1:45 p.m. and deliver remarks at 2:15 p.m. before returning to Washington, D.C.

The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. to consider H.R. 6172, a bill to extend three lapsed government surveillance authorities from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The chamber will vote on an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at 12 p.m. before voting on final passage of the bill at 1:30 p.m.

The House will meet in a pro forma session, a brief meeting without conducting business, at 3 p.m.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear testimony from Richard Bright, the government scientist turned whistleblower, at 10 a.m. "Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history," Bright will warn, according to CNN.

The Supreme Court will release opinions at 10 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual convening with mayors and city leaders hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and then hold a virtual roundtable on coronavirus response with Democratic Govs. Ned Lamont (CT), Phil Muprhy (NJ), and Gretchen Whitmer (MI).

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