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Wake Up To Politics - May 7, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, May 7, 2020. 180 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Analysis: Projecting victory, White House seeks to move past outbreak

In his latest reversal of the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the White House coronavirus task force would remain in place — less than 24 hours after he and Vice President Mike Pence suggested that the group would begin winding down.

"I thought we could wind it down sooner. But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, suggesting that news coverage of plans to phase out the task force swayed his final decision. "When I started talking about winding it down, I got calls from very respected people saying, 'I think it would be better to keep it going.'"

But even as the president changed his mind and promised to keep the task force in place "indefinitely," the White House has continued to follow his lead in referring to the coronavirus crisis in the past tense, projecting as though the outbreak is behind them.

"I'm in the Coronavirus Task Force meetings and they've gotten our country through this. There were supposed to be 2.2 million deaths, and we're at a point where we're far lower than that," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at her briefing Wednesday, declaring victory because the country has not reached the upper estimate of what the administration had projected the death toll would be if no social distancing restrictions had been put in place.

"We're on the other side of the medical aspect of this," presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in a "Fox and Friends" interview last week.

"We have flattened the curve and countless American lives have been saved," Trump himself said at an event in Arizona on Tuesday, declaring that "our country is now in the next stage of the battle, a safe and gradual reopening of our country," while acknowledging that some additional lives would be lost as a result.

"Confronted with America’s worst public health crisis in generations, President Trump declared himself a wartime president," New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker wrote this week. "Now he has begun doing what past commanders have done when a war goes badly: Declare victory and go home."

But despite the Trump administration's triumphant posture, the coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of slowing in the United States. As of this morning, more than 1.2 million Americans have been infected with the virus and upwards of 73,000 have died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University; nationwide, both numbers continue to climb, as the infection rate has stagnated but not slowed.

The death toll has already exceeded what President Trump once said it would; an influential model is now projecting it could reach 134,000 by mid-August, almost double its previous estimate. Per Axios, Trump has privately complained to some advisers that the death count is being inflated, although most experts believe deaths are being undercounted in the U.S.

According to an analysis by the Times, most of the states beginning to reopen their economies have actually seen an increase of daily average cases in the past two weeks — despite federal guidance that said states should have a "downward trajectory" of cases over 14 days before reopening. (President Trump has largely ignored the guidance as he's urged states to reopen; according to the Associated Press, the administration has also suddenly shelved a detailed 17-page report from the CDC giving step-by-step advice for local leaders on when and how to reopen parts of their communities.)  

The White House stance is also at odds with almost two-thirds of Americans: according to a Monmouth poll released Tuesday, 63% of Americans are concerned that states will begin lifting restrictions too early, while only 29% are concerned that they won't be lifted early enough.

Still, President Trump — who was slow to recognize the extent of the burgeoning pandemic — has quickly sought to move past the crisis entirely.

"One day, they said 'we have to close our country,'" Trump said in Arizona on Tuesday. "Well, now it's time to open it up. . . Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon."

Another 3.2 million Americans file unemployment claims

The economic impacts of the pandemic have also yet to fade: nearly 3.2 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department announced this morning, bringing the total number of jobs lost in the past seven weeks to at least 33.5 million.

The coronavirus crisis has led to levels of joblessness not seen in the United States since the Great Depression: the Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to release its April jobs report on Friday, and forecasters expect unemployment to jump to at least 16%, nearly quadrupling from 4.4% in March. (Experts also say that the government's unemployment numbers are likely an undercount that don't reflect the full extent of the economic crisis in the country.)

According to a Washington Post/Ispos poll, Hispanic and black Americans are more likely than white Americans to have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus shutdowns: 20% of Hispanic adults and 16% of black adults said they had been laid off or furloughed since the outbreak began, compared to 11% of white adults. Blacks and Hispanics have also been shown to be dying of the coronavirus at higher rates than whites.

The Rundown

Trump to carry on Obamacare lawsuit: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his administration will urge the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, maintaining its all-out legal assault on the health care law amid a pandemic that will drive millions of more Americans to depend on its coverage."

"The administration appears to be doubling down on its legal strategy, even after Attorney General William Barr this week warned top Trump officials about the political ramifications of undermining the health care safety net during the coronavirus emergency." (Politico)

Top GOP donor named postmaster general: "A top donor to President Trump and the Republican National Committee will be named the new head of the Postal Service, putting a top ally of the president in charge of an agency where Trump has long pressed for major changes in how it handles its business."

"The Postal Service’s board of governors confirmed late Wednesday that Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman who is currently in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, will serve as the new postmaster general." (Washington Post)

DeVos announces campus sexual assault guidelines: "The Trump administration released new guidelines Wednesday for how universities and K-12 schools should handle complaints of sexual assault and misconduct as part of a contentious overhaul that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos launched in 2017."

"Now, under reworked federal rules, alleged student perpetrators will have added protections, including the presumption that they are innocent throughout the disciplinary process and the right to be provided all evidence collected against them. Those students can also cross-examine their accusers and vice versa during live hearings, although it must be done through a lawyer or representative." (NBC News)

DOJ releases Mueller scope memo: "The Department of Justice has released a less redacted copy of a memo laying out the scope of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) after the current and former Judiciary Committee chairmen requested it."

. . . "President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have long sought the memo, which until now has remained classified, arguing it will show that Mueller exceeded his authority." (Politico)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will meet with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at 2 p.m. and deliver remarks at a service marking the National Day of Prayer, which is held annually on the first Thursday in May, at 4 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will deliver personal protective equipment, or "PPE," to Woodbrine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Arlington, Virginia, at 11 a.m., join President Trump for his 2 p.m. meeting with Gov. Abbott, deliver remarks at the National Day of Prayer service at 3:50 p.m., and lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 5 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and vote on overriding President Trump's veto of S.J.Res.68, a resolution restricting his ability to take military action against Iran without congressional approval, at 1:30 p.m.

  • A two-thirds vote of each chamber of Congress is required to overturn a presidential veto. (The resolution originally passed 55-45 and is unlikely to receive the 67 votes needed for a veto override.)

The House is not in session. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will hold his weekly press conference at 9:30 a.m. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.

The Supreme Court has no oral argument or conference scheduled.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a virtual roundtable with African-American leaders from Jacksonville, Florida, at 1:30 pm and hold a virtual rally with supporters in Tampa, Florida, at 5:15 p.m.

  • According to the Tampa Bay Times, the virtual rally will include "all the expected trappings: music, slick video presentations and speeches from local politicians and other special guests" — part of a new Biden campaign strategy to digitally imitate local campaign events.

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