President Donald Trump accused the nation’s top infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, of wanting to “play all sides of the equation” with congressional testimony Tuesday that warned reopening the country too quickly could lead to coronavirus case flare ups.
“I was surprised by his answer, actually,” Trump told reporters yesterday at the White House. “Because you know, it’s just — to me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”
The president’s public rebuke of Fauci’s testimony was a remarkable split with the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has come under criticism from some Republicans who charge he’s been too cautious in his advice on lifting social distancing precautions. Trump has been pushing to reopen the U.S. economy faster as joblessness increases.
Fauci on Tuesday said there would not likely be a vaccine or broadly effective treatment for coronavirus before the fall term began for students, and said the U.S. needs “to be careful we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects” of the virus.
Fauci said that while children “do much, much better than adults,” some young people with coronavirus are suffering from “a very strange inflammatory syndrome.”
He warned more generally that if states open before reaching criteria set by the Trump administration, “my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks.”
But Trump said virus data paints a “pretty amazing” picture suggesting young Americans are largely untouched by the disease. He said his only hesitation on reopening schools was protecting teachers and professors who might be vulnerable to the disease, which has killed more than 80,000 Americans. Read more from Justin Sink and Mario Parker.
Wisconsin Court Invalidates Stay-Home Order: A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court yesterday decided that an unelected state agency head’s emergency order shutting down the state because of the Covid-19 pandemic is not enforceable.
In a 4-3 decision, the court concluded that Executive Order 28 was actually a rule, and that Andrea Palm, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services secretary designee, didn’t follow statutory rulemaking procedures when she issued the order. The order required the state’s population of nearly 6 million people to shelter in place and shut down non-essential businesses to help keep the coronavirus from spreading. The ruling lifts the stay-at-home requirement and allows shuttered businesses to reopen immediately Read more from Stephen Joyce.
Happening on the Hill
Senate to Vote on Expired Surveillance Programs: The Senate will vote today on legislation that would revive expired surveillance authorities.
Before the vote on final passage of the bill, the Senate will consider a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would strip the secret court that oversees national counterintelligence and counterterrorism eavesdropping of its authority to approve wiretaps and other surveillance on American citizens. Senate aides and privacy advocates said they don’t expected approval of Paul’s amendment because it would drastically alter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, James Rowley reports.
- The Senate fell one vote short of adopting an amendment that would have required a search warrant for the government to conduct secret surveillance of online users’ browsing data. The 59-37 vote yesterday was a defeat for privacy advocates. The measure, from Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would have been added to the bill, Steven T. Dennis reports.
- A separate bipartisan amendment, by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), was adopted 77-19. It bolsters provisions calling for independent legal advisers to help review cases in the secret FISA process overseeing the surveillance authorities, and strengthens a requirement for exculpatory evidence to be turned over to the secret court.
Early Virus Missteps by HHS Under Scrutiny: The alleged missteps made by federal health officials in their response to the coronavirus pandemic—from dismissing early concerns about the contagion to pushing resources toward unproven treatments—will be on display today as a top federal health official makes his first public appearance since his removal.
Rick Bright, who served as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until the end of last month, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee today to lay out his concerns that Health and Human Services Department leaders were “dismissive” about his “dire predictions” early this year about the possible spread of the coronavirus, according to his written testimony. Alex Ruoff has more.
Feuding Clouds First Virus Panel Hearing: Republicans accused Democrats yesterday of using a new House subcommittee created to monitor coronavirus relief spending as a platform to attack Trump, immediately seizing on remarks from the opening witness at the panel’s first hearing. The complaints from the panel’s top Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) made for a rocky start for the subcommittee, as its members met through teleconferencing to tune into professionals on how to reopen the country. Read more from Billy House.
FBI Seizes Burr’s Phone in Insider-Trading Case: FBI agents seized the mobile phone of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of an investigation into stock sales, according to a published report. Burr and three other senators sold holdings after receiving closed-door briefings on Capitol Hill early this year about the emerging threat of the coronavirus. The Los Angeles Times, quoting an unnamed source, reported last night that agents, acting on a search warrant, took Burr’s phone at his home. The newspaper, citing another unnamed source, said the bureau took that step after issuing a warrant to Apple for information on the senator’s iCloud account. Read more from John Harney.
Chinese-Made Drone Use by Police Spurs Scrutiny: Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding information from Homeland Security officials on how a Chinese company’s drones are being used by public safety agencies during the virus outbreak. Read more from Alan Levin and Billy House.
The Path to Reopening & Economic Effects
Ex-Glaxo Official and General to Lead Vaccine Race: Trump plans to name Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines division, and Gustave Perna, a four-star U.S. general, to lead a Manhattan Project-style effort to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, two people familiar with the matter said.
Slaoui and Perna will oversee the initiative known as Operation Warp Speed, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement expected later Wednesday. Slaoui will work on a volunteer basis. The Trump administration project seeks to produce 300 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year, hastening development by simultaneously testing many different candidates and beginning production before they’ve completed clinical trials. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Drew Armstrong.
Mnuchin Seeks to Assuage Investors: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to reassure investors about the U.S. economy after stocks slumped to a three-week low on warnings by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell of unprecedented risks. “I think what the chair was saying is that there could be significant downside risk, but on the other hand” if the U.S. reopens its economy slowly and carefully, “next year we’ll be back to having a great economy just like we had before,” the Treasury chief told Fox News.
Powell earlier yesterday warned of broad dangers related to the coronavirus pandemic, saying a recovery would take time and that the U.S. is at risk of longer-term economic damage. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.
Credit Card Spending Plunges 40%: Monthly U.S. retail sales dropped in March by the most on record, but a new report by the JPMorgan Chase Institute found average weekly household credit card spending plummeted a staggering 40% by the end of the month from the prior year. Reade Pickert has more.
Sorting a $17 Billion Pot of National-Security Aid: There’s a $17 billion pot of money in the pandemic aid package for companies vital to national security — and no one seems to want it. The $2 trillion rescue package Congress adopted in late March includes loans and loan guarantees specifically for companies “critical to maintaining national security.” The funds at first were seen as largely directed at Boeing, which at the time had been pleading for a government bailout. But after selling $25 billion in bonds to investors, the aircraft maker turned down the aid, which would have come with strings attached that it didn’t like. With the $17 billion up for grabs, the U.S. defense industry is asking the Trump administration to change the criteria for getting some of it, arguing the terms are too strict. Read more from David McLaughlin and Tony Capaccio.
Elections, Politics & Probes
Oil Crash Hurts Trump in Texas, Helps Elsewhere: Gasoline prices of less than $2 a gallon ought to be good news for a U.S. president with an eye on reelection: It’s a truism that American voters are hypersensitive to the price of gas and factor it into their decisions in the voting booth. But with the U.S. now the world’s top energy producer, rock-bottom oil prices are inflicting major economic damage and pose a problem for Trump.
In the runup to November, the twin shocks of Covid-19 and the oil price collapse are jeopardizing Trump’s standing in Republican Texas, the second-biggest prize on the electoral map. Yet the same energy dynamics dragging down the economy in Texas could give Trump a boost in Pennsylvania. Read more from Gregory Korte.
Women Urge Stronger Biden Response in Reade Case: Democratic activists and women’s groups say they saw a familiar and distressing playbook unfolding when Joe Biden addressed the sexual assault allegation against him by denying them and largely moving on. Now, they’re trying to convince Biden that if he doesn’t continue to address the issue head on, he risks depressing turnout of women voters, potentially giving a boost to Trump.
Their goal is to get the party’s presumptive presidential nominee to unequivocally show that his views and behavior around women have changed since his rough questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991 and his history of inappropriate touching, both of which he has apologized for. Read more from Tyler Pager.
Judge Weighs Criminal Contempt for Flynn: The judge overseeing Michael Flynn’s prosecution asked whether Trump’s former national security adviser should be held in criminal contempt for perjury and named a former federal judge to argue in opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s case. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington issued a one-page order on Wednesday appointing John Gleeson to present arguments in opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss and address whether Flynn should be held in contempt. Read more from Erik Larson and Patricia Hurtado.
Meanwhile, Republican senators shared a letter listing the names of government officials in the Obama administration who may have seen intelligence reports from late 2016 revealing the identity of Flynn. Ric Grenell, the new acting director of national intelligence, took the unprecedented and controversial step of releasing the information that was long demanded by the president and his supporters in Congress who say Obama-era officials sought to undermine the incoming Trump administration. Trump told reporters at the White House yesterday that “the unmasking is a massive thing” and that Biden had falsely denied involvement. “How do you know nothing if you’re one of the unmaskers?” he asked. Read more from Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis.
Trump Holds Advantage in Battlegrounds: Trump is ahead by 6 points in 15 battleground states, though presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is leading nationally, according to a CNN poll released yesterday. The poll showed that 52% of registered voters in battleground states favored Trump, while 45% backed Biden. But the numbers were nearly reversed among voters nationally, who backed Biden by 51% and Trump by 46%. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.
Buttigieg to Host Training for Biden Volunteers: Pete Buttigieg will hold a virtual training tomorrow for organizers in Virginia with Joe Biden’s campaign. The training comes as Democrats have had to adjust their traditional door-to-door canvassing operations to respond to social distancing requirements due to the coronavirus. With Biden remaining under quarantine at his home in Delaware, the 38-year-old former South Bend, Indiana mayor will add some of the technological skills he showed during his failed presidential campaign to the training. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.
Meet Mike Garcia, Succeeding Katie Hill: Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, says he sees serving in Congress as a “natural desire to serve my country.” “I’m hearing my nation call for help, and this is why I’m looking to run,” Garcia said early in his campaign to represent California’s 25th District, a politically competitive area of northern Los Angeles County and southeastern Ventura County. Garcia, a first-time candidate for political office, defeated Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith by 56%-44%, according to unofficial results. Read more from Greg Giroux.
What Else to Know Today
Trump Says U.S. Is Looking at Chinese Companies on Exchanges: Trump said he is “looking at” Chinese companies that trade on the NYSE and Nasdaq exchanges but do not follow U.S. accounting rules, according to Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. Read more from Elizabeth Wasserman.
Trump Sees Unemployment Rate Worse Than 10% Until September: Trump said he doesn’t see U.S. unemployment dropping below 10% by September, two moths before Election Day. Read more from Mario Parker and Kathleen Miller.
White House Says It Can Hire Labor Panel at Will: The Trump administration shot back at a lawsuit over the power of a federal panel that resolves labor disputes between the government and its employees. The suit, filed last month, claims that Trump stacked the obscure agency with anti-labor members. Read more from Erik Larson.
WTO Director-General Said Plans to Depart: The World Trade Organization’s top trade official, Roberto Azevedo, has told member governments he plans to step down before his term ends in 2021, according to four people familiar with the matter. Read more from Bryce Baschuk and Jenny Leonard.
Apple Says Government Affairs Chief to Leave: Apple Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs Cynthia Hogan is leaving the iPhone maker next month, the company said yesterday, Mark Gurman reports.