What to Know in Washington: Trump’s Nerves Frayed As Toll Climbs

As the coronavirus inflicts ever more death and economic carnage across the U.S., President Donald Trump is resorting to his preferred and battle-tested tactic to fight the biggest threat to his re-election: diversion.

The shift was clear on Mother’s Day, when he flooded Twitter with 126 posts, including promoting a tweet that called his own Justice Department “corrupt.” A day later, he accused Democrats of trying to “steal” a congressional race in California.

He continued his attacks into the week, accusing Barack Obama of unnamed crimes, and then yesterday promoting a baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough had committed murder.

The totality of Trump’s display underscored the extent to which the pandemic has worn on the president, who has watched his popularity in key swing states plummet. Just two months ago Trump was reveling in a booming economy and a field of Democratic challengers that appeared in disarray. Now, he faces harsher realities: More than 81,000 dead people and an economy in the deepest contraction in memory.

The virus has meanwhile crept into the White House itself, infecting staffers in Vice President Mike Pence’s office and one of the president’s own valets.

Recent polls show that public opinion of Trump is souring as former Vice President Joe Biden pulls ahead in crucial swing states, despite a shoestring campaign and self-confinement to his Delaware home.

Just 43% of Americans approve of Trump’s coronavirus performance according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll released yesterday. That’s despite 71% of those surveyed approving of the job their state governors were doing.

Coronavirus isn’t the first crisis of Trump’s political career. And in each instance, he’s survived and even thrived through defiant and controversial behavior echoed and amplified in his outburst earlier this week. Read more from Justin Sink.

The Path to Reopening

Reopening Has States Confronting Regional Divides: California is moving to open up the nation’s most populous state while its biggest cities are still facing tight restrictions — part of an approach to reopening that’s dividing urban and rural areas across the country. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) yesterday said the state would ease guidelines to allow curbside pickup at malls, the reopening of botanical gardens and even some dine-in restaurants as the coronavirus outbreak stabilizes. Some office spaces, where employees are unable to work remotely, may also reopen in a limited capacity.

Yet the signs of optimism came the same day the public health director of Los Angeles County — the state’s largest — told county supervisors that the area’s health orders would likely extend through July, offering a reminder that life is far from returning to normal. The San Francisco Bay area has tight limitations on business in place through the end of May, with county officials saying those would hold even after Newsom started easing curbs last week.

The divergence shows the challenge for government officials in navigating reopenings across states where more rural areas may be able to move quicker than densely populated regions that have been harder hit by the coronavirus. Governors from California to Virginia are taking steps to allow for a regionalized approach to balance keeping citizens safe and revitalizing local economies, at times leaving decisions to counties. Read more from Kurt Wagner.

New Normal 2.0 for U.S. Economy Looks Awful: The U.S. economy post-Covid-19 will look a lot like the one that struggled to recover from the 2008-09 financial crisis –- only in some ways worse. Growth will be disappointingly tepid after an initial rebound and, for a time at least, inflation lower and unemployment higher than they were back then. Government debt -– and the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet -– will be much bigger, while interest rates stay low.

“Our economy will have lost something of value,” said Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. “We will be scarred, and the recovery will be slow.”

The New Normal 2.0 will be a just-in-case economy of diminished demand and paltry productivity as consumers and companies emerge from this crisis gingerly and build buffers against the next. Read more from Rich Miller.

Powell to Address Dire Outlook: Jerome Powell and his Federal Reserve colleagues are staring down the possibility of mass bankruptcies and long-lasting unemployment unless there’s a more concerted government effort to shield the U.S. economy from the impact of the coronavirus. That’s the context in which the Fed chair will speak at 9 a.m. during a virtual event with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, though he may be loath to give clear hints on future monetary policy, with the central bank’s next rate decision still a month out.

Some investors are looking for insights into how hard Powell’s resolve is against cutting the Fed’s benchmark interest rate beneath zero, something he has warned against doing in the past. Trump on Monday called such a policy a “GIFT” for the economy. Read more from Matthew Boesler.

American Airlines Gets Most Carrier Aid: Five major airlines have received the lion’s share of federal aid Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has approved in the past six weeks as the industry copes with an economy forced to shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. American Airlines Group is the biggest recipient, getting $5.8 billion in payroll assistance from the federal government, according to details the Treasury Department released yesterday. Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Ryan Beene.

Fauci, Redfield, Hahn Can Be at White House: Three top U.S. health officials will rejoin White House meetings, ending a period of isolation after an adviser to Pence tested positive for coronavirus last week. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will participate in meetings as long as they remain asymptomatic and are wearing face masks, according to a joint statement issued yesterday. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Vaccine Trial for Children Mulled: Children may be included in clinical trials to determine if an experimental vaccine works, Hahn told the Senate panel yesterday. But any potential vaccine should only be tested on children once a candidate has shown promise in healthy adult volunteers, bioethicists say. Talk of a potential decision to test the unapproved vaccine in children comes as some Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called for reopening schools in the fall.

There are 125 vaccine candidates in development, including one developed by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases under the National institutes of Health that went to human trials in March. But this study, known as a phase I trial, only involves healthy, adult volunteers because it’s the first time scientists have introduced the experimental vaccine into the human body. Testing in children would only occur in future larger studies to determine if the vaccine meets the FDA’s approval standards. Jeannie Baumann has more.

Nursing Homes Against Seniors’ Groups: Nursing homes are taking on the nation’s senior citizens’ groups over whether to extend new liability protections to long-term facilities. Senate Republicans, with the backing of industry groups, want new liability shields to cover a host of health-care businesses, including hospitals, doctors’ practices, and nursing homes, as a way to encourage them to reopen their doors. The AARP, the nation’s largest nonprofit for seniors, pushed back on new liability shields in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

  • Meanwhile, health industry experts want more details about how nursing homes under lockdown to outsiders will be reopened, even as outbreaks continue to ravage the facilities. Reports that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is crafting guidelines and regulatory criteria that could let nursing homes allow visitors to enter facilities prompted concerns about putting vulnerable residents in more danger. Read more from Tony Pugh.

China’s Disinformation Campaign Targets Virus: An army of bot accounts linked to an alleged Chinese government-backed propaganda campaign is spreading disinformation on social media about coronavirus and other topics, including an exiled businessman, according to a London-based researcher. The accounts have been used to promote content attacking critics of the Chinese government and to spread conspiracy theories blaming the U.S. for the origins of virus, according to Benjamin Strick, who specializes in analyzing information operations on social media websites. Read more from Ryan Gallagher.

Happening on the Hill

Democrats Ready Relief Vote: House Democrats proposed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill yesterday, combining aid to state and local governments with direct cash payments, expanded unemployment insurance, nationwide testing and contact tracing systems, and health insurance subsidies. While there’s little chance of the aid package gaining Senate approval and the president’s signature as written, passage in the Democratic-led House would give Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) a marker to set down in negotiations with the Trump administration and Senate Republicans.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced plans to have the House vote on the legislation Friday, but members of the party’s liberal wing want to delay that because the bill may not go far enough to address their priorities. House Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked Pelosi in a letter yesterday for a meeting about “any amendments that might be needed to ensure that it truly reflects the priorities and the work of the entire caucus.” Read more from Erik Wasson and Laura Davison.

Democrats Forge Ahead With Remote Voting Plan: The House is also expected to hold a vote Friday to allow committees to debate legislation and vote remotely during national emergencies such as the current pandemic, despite the lack of a bipartisan agreement. The announcement yesterday by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) reflected party leaders’ impatience with the pace of negotiations to craft a bipartisan agreement on procedures to enable House members to vote remotely both in committee and on the floor. Read more from James Rowley.

Republicans Feel Their Way on Virus Liability: Congressional Republicans have made liability protection for employers a nonnegotiable demand in any new coronavirus stimulus, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an ally of Trump, says regulators have a role to play in the workplace. The government must “tell the employers what they need to do to protect the workers and hold them accountable if they don’t,” Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said at a hearing of his panel yesterday.

Witnesses told the senators that federal guidelines that have been blocked by the Trump administration will be crucial to getting employees back to work and preventing their bosses from being sued. Read more from Ben Brody.

GOP Judicial Nominations Race Clock: An agenda disrupted by the coronavirus and squeezed by the election calendar pose new obstacles for Republicans in their drive to confirm dozens of judges to federal courts. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) motto is “leave no vacancy behind,” but the list of nominees idling outside the floor or awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary Committee or yet to sit for a confirmation hearing is getting longer. The last confirmation was nearly three months ago.

Trump has selected nominees for just over half of the 78 current or future federal district court and two appellate vacancies, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of federal courts data. The Judiciary Committee will on Thursday consider sending several more trial court nominations to the floor for consideration. There are 10 of them awaiting action. But most of the president’s pending picks have yet to have a hearing. Read more from Madison Alder.

Inhofe Asks for Support to Reverse Ligado Approval: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asked colleagues to urge the Federal Communications Commission to withdraw its April 20 approval of a mobile network by Ligado that critics say will interfere with GPS devices, Todd Shields reports.

Elections & Politics

Biden Running Mate Hunt Sees Abrams, Harris Diverge: The hunt for Joe Biden’s running mate is intensifying as some candidates make their interest in the job clear. Stacey Abrams and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have both taken steps to ensure their names are included in any public lists, but while Abrams has been actively campaigning, Harris has taken a subtler approach.

Biden, campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon and strategist Anita Dunn are talking to elected officials and party elders about the decision, according to two people familiar with the outreach. The four members of the vice presidential advisory committee, which includes former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, are doing the same. Biden has said he doesn’t expect to have his list whittled down to the final few until July. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and Tyler Pager.

DNC Panel Votes to Allow Remote Voting: A key panel of the Democratic National Committee voted yesterday to permit delegates to cast their votes remotely for the party’s presidential nominee, taking a first step to making the party’s quadrennial convention at least partially a virtual event in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Read more from Emma Kinery.

Trump Embraces Snapchat in Battle for Youth Vote: The day the Senate acquitted Trump of impeachment charges, his re-election campaign staff posted a video on Snapchat, where they knew young voters would see it. “Liberals tonight:” it starts. A woman falls to her knees and screams a guttural “NO!!” as newscasters announce Trump’s 2016 presidential win. Then, a spoof cover of Time Magazine shows signs for TRUMP 2028, TRUMP 2032, and so on until a final flourish: “TRUMP 4EVA.”

The clip is one of Trump’s most popular Snapchat posts, according to the campaign. It pushes the right social-media buttons, coming across more like an internet meme than a traditional political message. Sarah Frier has more.

GOP State Senator Wins Wisconsin Special Election: Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany won the special election for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, beating Democrat Tricia Zunker, The Associated Press projects. The 7th district is a sprawling area of northwestern Wisconsin that has turned strongly Republican in the past decade. Former Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) was re-elected in 2018 with 60% of the vote and Trump won the district with 57% in 2016, Emily Wilkins reports.

What Else to Know Today

Trump Tax Returns Remain Elusive: Democrats may be far as ever from seeing Trump’s tax returns after a U.S. Supreme Court argument suggested a legal fight over House subpoenas could extend for months. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Flynn Judge Holds Off on Ruling to Dismiss Case: The judge overseeing the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn won’t immediately grant a U.S request to dismiss the case, saying he’s willing to hear from outsiders who want to weigh in on what should happen next. Read more from Erik Larson.

Pompeo Heads to Israel: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo lands in Israel today to talk about Iran, economic relations with China and Israel’s plan to annex land the Palestinians claim for a state. Ivan Levingston has more on Pompeo’s agenda.

Hong Kong Leader Pushes Pro-China Agenda: Through months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam often became emotional when confronted with accusations that she sold out the former British colony to China. Now, almost a year later, Lam is again pushing ahead with politically divisive policies, Iain Marlow and Natalie Lung report.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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