6 min read

Wake Up To Politics - May 27, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from Wake Up To Politics world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, May 27, 2020. 160 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Trump, Biden face off over masks

President Donald Trump mocked his likely Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, for wearing a face mask on Tuesday, the latest escalation of the cultural clash over the pandemic accessory. Trump has expressed skepticism about masks since first announcing the CDC’s guidance in April encouraging Americans to wear face coverings when in public settings due to the coronavirus. “It’s a recommendation, they recommend it,” he said at the time. “I just don’t want to wear one myself.”

The president has not been seen with a face covering in public since, even as he has traveled or held press conferences with masked officials, stoking opposition to masks among many of his supporters.

Biden, on the other hand, donned a mask Monday for his first public appearance in over two months, a Memorial Day wreath-laying near his home in Delaware. Trump was quick to criticize his rival’s decision at a press conference Tuesday, calling it “very unusual” that the former vice president would wear a mask while “standing outside with his wife” in “perfect weather” — even though Biden was complying with the recommendation of Trump’s own government.

The president also retweeted a Fox News analyst mocking a picture of Biden in a mask; the Democrat then made the image his profile photo on Twitter.

“Presidents are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine,” Biden fired back in a (masked) interview with CNN on Tuesday. “It’s costing people’s lives,” he added, calling Trump “an absolute fool.”

Their clash over masks is symbolic of the contrasting approaches Trump and Biden have taken in responding to the coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly pushed the nation to reopen and resumed traveling, making repeated visits to battleground states struggling amid the pandemic. Biden, meanwhile, has continued to strike a more cautionary note on the virus and has refused to hold in-person campaign events.  

According to Axios, Trump’s advisers “relish the contrast” and are planning additional “mask-free outings” for the president. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the two campaigns are essentially placing “opposing bets” on how voters will view the pandemic: Trump’s advisers “expect an economic recovery that will overshadow concerns about the health risks of the virus” and “plan to project the president as the leader of that comeback.” Biden’s team believes that “the election will be a referendum on what his aides view as the president’s halting response to the virus at the start of the year” and are aiming to position the ex-VP as the candidate of “competence and responsibility.”

These differing approaches have also emerged in the messaging surrounding their party conventions slated to be held this summer. Trump has declared that the Republican confab will move forward, even threatening Tuesday to move it to a new location if North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper doesn’t tell him “within a week” that the state will still host the gathering.

As Democrats explore a virtual event or several satellite gatherings, Biden has said “it’s hard to envision” the convention being held as planned.

Twitter adds fact check to Trump posts

For the first time ever, Twitter appended a warning fact-checking a pair of President Trump’s tweets on Tuesday. He accused the social media company of “stifling free speech.” The controversy began when the president once again targeted states adopting vote-by-mail practices, declaring in an early-morning tweet that “there is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.”

Twitter responded later in the afternoon, adding a link to the tweets reminding users that “there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.” The move came after years of pressure on the company to reprimand the president for spreading unsubstantiated claims on their platform.

The president was quick to seize on the fact-checking label, sending a new round of tweets claiming Twitter was “stifling free speech” and “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election.” He followed up this morning with posts threatening to “strongly regulate” social media platforms or “close them down.”

Although Twitter appended a label on Trump’s tweets about mail-in voting, the company opted against flagging anything on his recent posts spreading a conspiracy theory about MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough. Trump has repeatedly suggested, without evidence, that Scarborough was responsible for the 2001 death of his former congressional staffer, Lori Klausutis, and even implied that the two were having an affair.

In a letter published Tuesday, the late aide’s widower, Timothy Klausutis, urged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to delete the presidential tweets in question. “I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife  — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Klausutis wrote.

Twitter responded with a statement expressing sympathy for the Klausutis family but declined to delete Trump’s tweets or add a fact-checking label. Hours after the letter was made public, the president once again repeated the conspiracy theory, calling it a “very suspicious situation” that he hopes “somebody gets to the bottom of” at a White House event.

The Rundown

The United States is expected to surpass 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus at some point today. The nation has also reported more than 1.6 million cases of the virus; according to Reuters, cases increased in twenty states last week.

As deaths and cases are on the rise, renewed questions have been raised about the tests being used to diagnose the virus. These tests could be “missing up to 20 percent of positive cases,” according to NBC News. Antibody tests that are being used to determine if people have been infected with the virus in the past are also being questioned: the CDC said in new guidance Tuesday that they could be wrong up to half the time.

The Justice Department has reportedly closed investigations into three U.S. senators for stack trades made as the coronavirus pandemic began. “Prosecutors on Tuesday alerted defense attorneys for Republicans Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and James Inhofe of Oklahoma as well as Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California that they are closing investigations into their trading,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

A similar investigation will continue into Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who resigned the chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid the probe earlier this month.

The federal government’s longest-serving inspector general resigned on Tuesday amid a push by President Trump to oust the watchdogs in several agencies. Glenn Fine, the Defense Department’s principal deputy inspector general, submitted his resignation after being replaced as the acting Pentagon IG last month. When Trump appointed a new acting IG, he also effectively removed Fine as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a group of IGs overseeing $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funds.  

Fine, who had served in the Pentagon’s IG office since 2015 and previously served as the Justice Department IG from 2000 to 2011, is one of five inspectors general to be removed by President Trump in recent weeks.


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will meet with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at 11 a.m. He and First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Second Lady Karen Pence will then travel to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch SpaceX launch two NASA astronauts into orbit, the first human space mission from the U.S. since 2011.  

The Trumps and Pences will participate in a tour of the facility at 3 p.m., receive a briefing on the launch at 3:20 p.m., and participate in a viewing of the launch at 4:25 p.m. The president will deliver remarks at 6 p.m. before returning to the White House.

The Senate is not in session.

The House will convene at 10 a.m. for the first time since May 15. Members are slated to vote on four pieces of legislation; for the first time in the chamber’s history, some lawmakers will vote remotely by proxy, a plan House Republicans are suing to stop.

Among other measures, the chamber is expected to vote on H.R.6172, a Senate-passed bill to reauthorize a trio of lapsed surveillance tools under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Although the bill was crafted with bipartisan support, President Trump threw its fate into jeopardy Tuesday with a tweet urging Republicans to vote in opposition.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual conversation with Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) at 10:30 a.m. and later attend a virtual fundraiser.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, please consider donating to support me and my work, listening to my podcast with St. Louis Public Radio, and spreading the word about the newsletter to your friends and family. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, go to wakeuptopolitics.com to subscribe and learn more.