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Wake Up To Politics - May 4, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Monday, May 4, 2020. 183 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Podcast alert: The latest episode of the Wake Up To Politics Podcast digs into the impact coronavirus has had on young Americans and explores how the pandemic and other major events have shaped their political identities. It features thoughts from young listeners of the show, plus an interview with TIME national correspondent Charlotte Alter, the author of a book on millennials in politics.

Senate returns to Washington despite risks to aging members

The U.S. Senate will return to regular session today for the first time in five weeks, bringing all 100 senators — plus staffers, Capitol workers, and reporters — together in a city where cases of the coronavirus continue to climb.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has unveiled new health guidelines to discourage large gatherings whenever possible, but that hasn't stopped Democrats from criticizing his plan to reconvene the Senate.

"This is not the time to back off of protective measures when the disease is not yet in check," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a letter urging McConnell to reconsider his decision last week, noting that "the coronavirus is present at the Capitol." (A number of lawmakers, congressional staffers, Capitol Police officers, and other Capitol Hill personnel have tested positive for the virus.)

At age 86, Feinstein is the oldest member of the Senate — but she is far from the only senator vulnerable to the coronavirus because of age. 49 senators (just less than half) are 65 or older, putting them at them at "higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness," according to CDC guidance. 21 of these senators are in their 70s and six are in their 80s.

The United States has so far recorded 1.1 million cases of the coronavirus; the District of Columbia has had more than 5,000.

The House was originally planning to reconvene today as well, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) backed off after members of both parties, as well as the Capitol attending physician, expressed concerns. According to the Daily Beast, the attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, also told McConnell's office in a call last week that Washington, D.C., had not yet cleared benchmarks necessary for a safe reopening.

Monahan also warned that his office lacked the capacity to test all 100 senators for the coronavirus; later, Health and Human Services Secretary offered to make 1,000 tests available to lawmakers and congressional staffers. But McConnell and Pelosi issued a rare joint statement Saturday turning Azar down.

"Congress is grateful for the Administration’s generous offer to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time," the two leaders said. "Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly."

In an earlier statement, McConnell likened the return of the Senate to other "workers in essential sectors" across the country "reporting for duty and performing irreplaceable work their country needs," adding that "there is critical business waiting for us, including continued action on COVID-19."

But, as negotiations have stalled over the next coronavirus stimulus bill, the pandemic won't be the first order of business for the chamber upon its return today: instead, the Senate will be focused on confirming executive nominees. McConnell said it was necessary for lawmakers to return to work regardless. "We will continue to stand together for the American people — even as we stand six feet apart," he said.

As members of the Senate reconverge in Washington, President Donald Trump is toying with escaping the city. Trump has barely left the White House since late March, but is planning a visit to Arizona on Tuesday as his first major out-of-town event. "We're going to start moving around," he told reporters last week, amid reports that he was "frustrated" holed up at the capital.

Trump did travel a short distance out of the White House campus on Sunday to participate in a Fox News virtual town hall from the Lincoln Memorial. With the iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln looming behind him, Trump expressed hope that the U.S. economy could safely reopen soon. "We have to get it back open safely but as quickly as possible," he said, insisting "you can satisfy both" economic and public health needs.

While fielding questions in the town hall, the president also upped his projection of the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus, estimating that as many as 100,000 Americans could lose their lives. "I used to say 65,000," he acknowledged.

More than 67,000 deaths have been confirmed from the virus in America thus far.

The Rundown

Top coronavirus headlines: "34 days of pandemic: Inside Trump’s desperate attempts to reopen America" (Washington Post)

"Oxford scientist says its vaccine is making headway, could show efficacy by June" (NBC News)

"Fears rise that Trump will incite a global vaccine brawl" (Politico)

"Pompeo Says There Is Evidence Coronavirus Came From Wuhan Lab" (Wall Street Journal)

Inside Biden's VP search: "A convergence of forces has transformed Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s search for a running mate on the Democratic ticket. His pledge to pick a woman immediately limited the pool of potential candidates and intensified the competition; that decision, coupled with Mr. Biden’s garrulous tendency to think aloud about his options, have remade the tryout period into an unusually public audition, and the coronavirus outbreak ensured that it is taking place entirely online and on TV."

"And Mr. Biden himself has increasingly pushed into the political foreground the overwhelming reason that his choice may be the most consequential in decades: the expectation, downplayed but not exactly denied by the Biden campaign, that the 77-year-old would be a one-term president. If that turns out to be the case, his running mate now could well be leading the Democratic ticket in four years."

. . . "Mr. Biden himself has talked publicly about potential candidates to an unusual degree. He has chatted with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and held personal phone calls with Senators Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who answered bluntly “yes” when asked on MSNBC if she would accept an offer to be Mr. Biden’s running mate. Advisers to all four women acknowledge privately that they are keenly interested in the vice presidency." (New York Times)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump has no public events scheduled.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on "COVID-19 response and economic revival" at 1:30 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 3 p.m and vote on confirmation of Robert J. Feitel to be Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at 5:30 p.m.

The House is not in session.

The Supreme Court will release orders from its Friday conference at 9:30 a.m. and hear oral arguments by teleconference in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com at 10 a.m.

  • Reuters: "In a first, the nine justices are set to participate in arguments in 10 cases - each scheduled for an hour - this week and next week conducted remotely by teleconference rather than in-person to combat the spread of the pathogen. In another break with tradition, the court will provide a live audio feed of the arguments to the news media."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual town hall on "protecting essential working" hosted by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) at 12 p.m.

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