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Wake Up To Politics - May 19, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, May 19, 2020. 168 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Is the two-party system on its last legs? The latest episode of the Wake Up To Politics Podcast explores the past and future of political parties in America, drawing on illuminating interviews with political scientist Lee Drutman and Politico's chief political correspondent Tim Alberta.

Trump says he is taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent coronavirus

President Donald Trump announced Monday that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that has been studied for its ability to prevent coronavirus infection, despite scientific evidence that suggests is not effective and could cause serious health risks.

“I've heard a lot of good stories [about the treatment],” he told reporters. “I'm not going to get hurt by it. It's been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it. Frontline workers take it. A lot of doctors take it.”

Trump's sudden declaration that he uses the unproven drug comes after he spent weeks towards the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak promoting it as a “game changer,” urged on by a group of conservative allies and media figures.

However, in guidance released late last month, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine “outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.” Additionally, little evidence has emerged to support the idea that the drug is effective in combating coronavirus, while “clinical trials, academic research, and scientific analysis indicate that [it has been linked to a ] significantly increased risk of death for certain patients,” according to the Washington Post.

The president — who has also resisted federal guidance to wear a face mask throughout the outbreak — seemed to reject the conclusions of his own government on Monday. “What do you have to lose?” he repeatedly asked.

Trump's physician, Navy Commander Sean Conley, released a memo late Monday night which said he and the president had “numerous discussions” about hydroxychloroquine after one of Trump's personal valets tested positive for coronavirus and jointly concluded that “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”

Notably, the memo did not explicitly confirm that the president had been taking the drug. In Trump's telling, he has been taking one hydroxychloroquine pill a day for “about a week and a half now,” since around the time it was reported his valet had been infected.

Trump's comments on coronavirus treatments Monday came moments after blaming the controversial firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Yeah, I don't know him at all,” Trump said. “I never even heard of him, but I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike.”

At the time of his ouster, Linick was reportedly investigating whether Pompeo was making a taxpayer-funded staffer perform personal errands for him and probing an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Pompeo told the Washington Post on Monday that he did not know Linick had been investigating him.

The hydroxychloroquine announcement and Linick firing were the latest in a flurry of recent statements by the president that have served to remove focus from his widely-criticized handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to take American lives at a stunning clip. Trump has tweeted or retweeted more than 100 times in the past three days, including messages that described his predecessor as “incompetent,” labeled his party's previous presidential nominee as a “loser,” and accused journalists of “illegally” reporting on him.

Amidst this barrage of presidential allegations, the United States marked two somber milestones on Monday, as the nation surpassed 1.5 million infections and 90,000 deaths from coronavirus.

The Rundown

Trump threatens to permanently pull WHO funding: “President Donald Trump late Monday threatened to permanently pull US funding from the World Health Organization if it does not ‘commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.’”

“In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump said, ‘It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world. The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China.’’ (CNN)

Barr calls Obama, Biden investigations unlikely: “Attorney General William Barr said Monday he does not expect the Justice Department to investigate former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden as part of its review of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

“‘As to President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don't expect [U.S. Attorney John Durham's review] will lead to a criminal investigation of either man,’” Barr said. ‘Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others.’” (NBC News)

Rubio tapped as acting Senate Intel chairman: “Sen. Marco Rubio will temporarily serve as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Monday.”

“The Florida Republican’s appointment as interim chairman of the panel comes after Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) last week informed Senate leadership that he would step aside as chairman while he faces an FBI investigation into his stock trades.” (Politico)

Vaccine trial shows promising results: “Drugmaker Moderna Inc. reported early results Monday from the first human study of its experimental coronavirus vaccine that gave a positive signal about the shot’s ability to protect people, raising hopes that a weapon to slow or halt the pandemic could be on the horizon.”

“The company said the vaccine induced immune responses in some of the healthy volunteers who were vaccinated, and the shots were generally safe and well-tolerated.” (Wall Street Journal)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will deliver remarks on "supporting our nation's farmers, ranchers, and food supply chain" at 11 a.m. and hold a Cabinet meeting at 3 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) at the Capitol at 9 a.m., chair a meeting of the National Space Council at NASA headquarters at 10:30 a.m., and participate in the Cabinet meeting at 3 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and vote to confirm Scott Rah to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Arizona at 11:45 a.m. The chamber will then recess until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings; after returning, the Senate will vote to advance the nomination of James Trainor III to be a member of the Federal Election Commission at 2:30 p.m. and then vote to confirm Trainor at 4:30 p.m.

The House will meet for a pro forma session at 10:30 a.m. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will swear in Reps.-elect Tom Tiffany (R-WI) and Mike Garcia (R-CA), who won a pair of special elections last week, at 10:45 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will attend a virtual fundraiser and participate in a virtual Yahoo News town hall with chef José Andrés.

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