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Wake Up To Politics - May 20, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, May 20, 2020. 167 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.

Coronavirus updates

Less than six months after the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported, the pathogen has now infected more than 5 million individuals. As of 6 a.m. Eastern Time, there are 5,003,170 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, according to Worldometer. The global death toll of the pandemic has reached 325,218. The United States remains the country with by far the most reported coronavirus cases (1,570,908) and deaths (93,537).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released detailed guidelines for reopening the United States on Tuesday, after a dispute with the White House. The 60-page document laid out a roadmap for schools, restaurants, child care, and mass transit to reopen their doors.

“For schools, the CDC recommended a raft of social distancing policies: desks at least six feet apart and facing the same direction, lunch in classrooms, staggered arrival times, cloth masks for staff and daily temperature screenings for everyone,” the Washington Post reported. “It advised that buses leave every other row empty, bars add sneeze guards and child-care centers limit sharing of art supplies.”

The guidance was largely unchanged from the previous version reportedly shelved by the White House. According to CNN, one of the main revisions made during the drafting process concerned recommendations for churches: an official told the network that the Department of Health and Human Services forced the CDC to remove a reference to Communion plates, “despite a scientific review that confirmed one of the ways people can contract the virus is by drinking out of a Communion cup.”

The guidelines had been one dispute amid rising tensions between the White House and the CDC, which culminated with one of President Trump’s top advisers public criticizing the agency this weekend. “Early on in this crisis, the CDC — which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space — really let the country down with the testing,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But it remains unclear whether President Trump and his allies will heed the CDC’s recommendations. As the White House held up the guidelines, many states moved followed the president’s urging and moved ahead with reopening on their own terms: as of today, every state has at least partly phased out their coronavirus-induced lockdowns.

According to the Associated Press, Republican political operatives are recruiting pro-Trump doctors to “go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by” the CDC, a sign that the president’s allies may push forward with calls for the nation’s economy to reopen despite what the federal government recommends.

Inside the White House

The late-night ouster of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick last Friday seems to have opened a Pandora’s box of negative stories for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Linick may have been fired at Pompeo’s recommendation, but the move has led to a steady stream of news reports bringing to light investigations into the secretary that the IG had been conducting.

The ouster quickly brought fresh scrutiny to Pompeo’s use of taxpayer funds, as multiple news outlets reported that Linick had been investigating Pompeo for possibly having a political appointee perform personal tasks for him and his wife, such as walking their dog, picking up dry-cleaning, and making restaurant reservations. The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday the appointee was Toni Porter, a senior adviser to the secretary who has served Pompeo since his first congressional run.

Soon, a second area of investigation emerged, as outlets reported that Linick was also probing Pompeo's decision to sign off on an arms sale to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval. (Pompeo was reportedly aware of the inquiry, as he declined an interview request from the IG’s office but agreed to answer written questions from investigators, according to the New York Times.)

Finally, the dam broke later on Tuesday as NBC News reported on a series of taxpayer-funded dinners hosted by Pompeo and his wife, many of which featured political and business heavyweight guests who “seem to have little connection to the world of diplomacy” but instead could have provided a “donor and supporter base for Pompeo’s political ambitions.” The New York Times followed up with a broader story about Susan Pompeo, the secretary’s wife, and her outsized role at the State Department and in her husband’s controversial use of government resources.

The flurry of negative press could impair Pompeo, as multiple former administration officials have resigned amid similar investigations (see Pruitt, Scott, and Zinke, Ryan). Until now, he had been known as one of President Trump’s most loyal and favored Cabinet secretaries; as recently as two weeks ago, the president urged Pompeo to run for the U.S. Senate in Kansas, according to the Washington Post. (Pompeo has recently declined entreaties to file for the race, which he would have to do by June 1.) But officials have quickly fallen out of Trump’s favor for analagous excesses before; one senior administration official opined to NBC News that “if the president knew about [the taxpayer-funded dinners], he would have fired Pompeo months ago.”

2020 Central

President Trump and his allies are unleashing a wide range of attacks against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as the general election heats up. Trump’s campaign debuted a surge of negative ads against Biden last week, “attacking his record, his integrity and his mental acuity with a media blitz anchored by about $10 million in television ads in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, Iowa and North Carolina,” according to the Washington Post.

As the New York Times wrote, the ads are “as relentless as they are varied,” ranging from painting Biden as “China’s puppet” to referencing his “geriatric health.” In an interview with the Washinton Examiner last week, the president himself took aim squarely at Biden’s mental capacity: “Joe has absolutely no idea what’s happening,” he said.

Congressional Republicans are also lending a helping hand, with the Senate Homeland Security Committee slated to vote today on approving a subpoena as part of the panel’s investigation into corruption allegations against Biden’s son Hunter. Senate Republicans have also assumed a leading role in investigating President Trump’s unproven claims that the Obama-Biden administration illegally spied on his campaign, which he has termed “Obamagate.”

A pair of GOP senators released a declassified list of Obama administration officials who sought to “unmask” the identity of a U.S. citizen during the 2017 transition who was revealed to be Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Biden was on the list; he was also named in an email by former national security adviser Susan Rice discussing the Obama administration’s decision not to share “sensitive information related to Russia” with Flynn. The email was declassified Tuesday after a request by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee.

Biden also continues to face questions about a sexual assault allegation from his former aide, Tara Reade. However, Reade’s credibility is receiving renewed scrutiny amid a trio of new reports: one by Politico describing a “a trail of aggrieved acquaintances” she had allegedly deceived, one by CNN probing her conflicting accounts of her time in Biden’s office, and another by PBS interviewing 74 former Biden staffers who said they “never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct” before Reade made her claims this year.

Still, the Trump campaign has continued to utilize Reade’s allegations against Biden, as well as documented instances of the former vice president’s tactile behavior. Donald Trump Jr. went so far as to suggest that Biden was a “pedophile” in an Instagram post over the weekend, although he later said he was joking.

Biden has largely ignored the new round of attacks from Trump allies, although he did respond to the post by Trump Jr. on Tuesday. “It’s sick,” Biden told Yahoo News in a virtual town hall. “But he is his father’s son.”


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will receive his intelligence briefing at 11:45 a.m., hold a conference call with Hispanic leaders at 12:30 p.m., and participate in a meeting with Govs. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) and Laura Kelly (D-KS).

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Orlando, Florida, to meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) to discuss Florida’s phased economic reopening, deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) to a nursing home, and participate in a roundtable discussion with hospitality and tourism industry leaders to discuss their plans for re-opening.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a press briefing at 3 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and consider two judicial nominations: Anna M. Manasco to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama (cloture vote at 11 a.m., confirmation vote at 3 p.m.) and John F. Heil III to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern, Eastern and Western Districts of Oklahoma (cloture vote at 12:30 p.m., confirmation vote at 4:30 p.m.)

The House is not in session. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will hold a virtual roundtable with Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) on rural issues for supporters in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at 11 a.m., deliver a virtual commencement address to the graduating class of Columbia Law School at 1 p.m., and hold a virtual rally for supporters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at 4:30 p.m.

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