Coronavirus politics
May 22, 2020

A new poll from Politico and Harvard's School of Public Health found that Americans are broadly concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic — 78 percent of respondents called their state's outbreak a "serious problem," including 88 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 77 percent of independents. But there is a sharp new partisan divide about how to respond.

When asked if nonessential businesses — like hair salons, gyms, malls — should be allowed to reopen in their state, 51 percent said no, not until the spread of COVID-19 has been contained, while 46 percent said yes. But 61 percent of Republicans favored opening all businesses now, as President Trump has been forcefully pushing, while 69 percent of Democrats backed keeping nonessential businesses closed, a position most public health experts prefer.

"What we have here is a very real partisan split that you don't expect to find in a public health epidemic," Robert Blendon, the Harvard health policy professor who helped design the poll, tells Politico. "I think the president and many Republican leaders in the Congress have really defined getting the economy going as a critical issue, where Democrats don't buy into that focus." The poll was conducted May 5-10 among 1,007 adults and has a margin of error of ±3.5 percentage points.

Trump has been trying to get Americans to subscribe to the idea of transitioning to a feeling of normalcy, and he has succeeded in one way, John Harris argues at Politico: "The incumbent president has managed to make American politics the first arena of national life to return to something recognizable as normal." Harris explains:

Campuses are still closed, and may yet be for months to come. Most people still don't feel it's safe to visit aging relatives. ... But political culture has returned to something close to its pre-pandemic state. People are filled with resentment and malice toward their fellow citizens. They are arguing over eccentric or ephemeral controversies. They are sanctimoniously and often hypocritically denouncing the sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy of their opponents. Above all, many influential voices across the ideological spectrum are united in the assumption that the most important subject — constant and all-consuming — to be thinking and talking about is Trump. [John Harris, Politico]

Trump is "trying to get American politics back to normal, as he understands the word," Harris writes. "At least in some narrow ways he knows it's working." Read his column at Politico. Peter Weber

May 5, 2020

President Trump called attention to the latest attack ad from a #NeverTrump Republican group in a series of tweets he posted very early Tuesday morning. "I guess we know what keeps the president of the United States up at night," responded George Conway, one of the Lincoln Project's founders and husband to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. "It isn’t the Americans who are dying once every 45 seconds of COVID-19."

"A group of RINO Republicans who failed badly 12 years ago, then again 8 years ago, and then got BADLY beaten by me, a political first timer, 4 years ago, have copied (no imagination) the concept of an ad from Ronald Reagan, 'Morning in America,' doing everything possible to get even for all of their many failures," Trump tweeted. The ad, released Monday, is called "Mourning in America."

"Their so-called Lincoln Project is a disgrace to Honest Abe," Trump tweeted. "I don’t know what Kellyanne did to her deranged loser of a husband, Moonface, but it must have been really bad." He also attacked GOP strategists John Weaver, Rick Wilson, Even McMullen, Steve Schmidt, Reed Gavin, and Jennifer Horn. "They’re all LOSERS, but Abe Lincoln, Republican, is all smiles!" Trump tweeted.

Speaking of Lincoln, political ads, and smiles, former Vice President Joe Biden took Trump's latest self-comparison to the first Republican president — at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, in a Fox News town hall — threw in a little Justin Timberlake and let Trump write his own script. Peter Weber

April 21, 2020

President Trump's "political fate now hinges on a simple premise: Everybody who needs a coronavirus test must be able to get a test," Politico's Nancy Cook reports, citing Trump aides and advisers who say they "now view disapproval of his preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic as his biggest political liability heading into the 2020 election." Without enough tests, CEOs and governors have told the White House, they can't get businesses back up and running.

The U.S. has lagged in testing since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a flawed test in late January, leaving the U.S. largely blind to the virus' spread until the end of February, when other labs were allowed to develop and use their own coronavirus tests. Trump promised March 6 that "anybody that wants a test can get a test," and in the following six weeks he has toggled between insisting the U.S. has enough tests, telling governors testing is their responsibility, and bizarrely blaming his predecessor for leaving him flawed tests for a virus that did not exist until late 2019.

On Monday, Trump sparred with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who bought half a million tests from South Korea.

Meanwhile, Trump has no clear point person on coronavirus testing. "At the White House, responsibility for the nationwide testing problems hopscotched from official to official in February and March," The Wall Street Journal reports. Adm. Brett Giroir was named testing czar on March 12, but Jared Kushner is also involved, as are others.

As Trump focuses on the economy, "lower ranking officials are trying to sort out the testing puzzle and individual labs are vying for supplies in a fractured and exhausted marketplace" where each test requires different, often obscure chemicals and supplies from different producers, the Journal reports. "With normal market forces warping under the pressure, some labs stockpiling goods, and others struggling to get them, many see a clearer role for the federal government to resolve the mismatch."

"The administration's response to the coronavirus now overshadows all of the Trump campaign's carefully planned efforts to highlight Trump's record on the economy, judicial appointments, or deregulation," Cook writes at Politico, quoting a Republican close to the White House: "If the testing does not get sorted out as soon as possible, it will be another nail in an almost closed coffin." Peter Weber

April 15, 2020

President Trump's incorrect assertion Monday that he has "total" authority over when states lift or relax coronavirus mitigation rules "caught his aides off guard and prompted them to study whether Trump would have such authority in a time of emergency like the ongoing pandemic," The Washington Post reports. Trump continued pushing the idea Tuesday, suggesting that disobeying his orders to reopen the economy would be akin to "mutiny."

Governors from both parties noted pointedly on Tuesday that they have and will retain the authority to lift social distancing rules they put in place. By his press conference Tuesday night, Trump largely reversed course.

"I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly and I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening, and a very powerful reopening plan, of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate," Trump said. "The day will be very close," and in some states "maybe even before the date of May 1." He added that "the governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency," but they "are responsible, they have to take charge, they have to do a great job," or he might "close 'em up and start all over again."

"Trump outlined a vision in which workers would be tested, perhaps on a weekly basis, and governors would test travelers arriving at their states' borders," The Associated Press reports. "But the U.S. is nowhere near having that kind of infrastructure." Atypically, Trump ended the press conference without letting federal health officials field questions.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump appeared to threaten to withhold federal assistance from states that don't obey him, oddly placing himself in the role of Capt. William Bligh.

One official told the Post that "Trump is frustrated that the governors are getting so much credit and no blame while he gets all the blame and none of the credit," specifically complaining about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Trump tweeted Tuesday that Cuomo has been "begging" for supplies but "now he seems to want Independence! That won't happen!" Peter Weber

April 10, 2020

President Trump tweeted Wednesday that "the Radical Left Democrats have gone absolutely crazy that I am doing daily presidential news conferences," adding that "the ratings are through the roof." But it was The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page that urged Trump, a few hours later, to give up his favorite "showcase" and let Vice President Mike Pence and "his first-rate health experts" run the briefings.

When the briefings started, "Trump benefited in the polls not because he was the center of attention but because he showed he had put together a team of experts working to overcome a national health crisis," the Journal editorialists said. Now each briefing devolves into a "dispiriting brawl" with the press, and "the president's outbursts against his political critics are also notably off key at this moment. This isn't impeachment, and COVID-19 isn't shifty Schiff. It's a once-a-century threat to American life and livelihood."

Trump rejected the advice.

Fox News senior analyst Brit Hume called that "a ridiculous tweet," adding that Trump "could get his views across without bragging, endlessly repeating himself, and getting into petty squabbles" with the press. Anti-Trump GOP strategist Stuart Stevens tried to imagine any recent president "bragging about his ratings" for speeches they gave after national tragedies, adding: "Decency is a place never visited by this damaged man."

Trump revels in "belittling Democratic governors, demonizing the media, trading in innuendo, and bulldozing over the guidance of experts," so "the publicity-obsessed president is unlikely to relinquish his grip on the evening sessions," The New York Times reports. But "White House allies and Republican lawmakers increasingly believe the briefings are hurting the president more than helping him," and one top political adviser said Trump was just creating ammunition for Joe Biden.

"He can't escape his instincts, his desire to put people down, like Mitt Romney, or to talk about his ratings," former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) told the Times. "A leader in this sort of crisis should have a 75-to-80-percent approval rating." Still, Trump spoke only 20 minutes at Thursday's briefing, after averaging 53 minutes in recent weeks. Peter Weber

April 6, 2020

President Trump has made it pretty clear he doesn't think the federal government has more than an advisory and support role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to ensuring U.S. states and health-care systems have adequate medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to fight the coronavirus. State officials have gotten the message. Procuring ventilators and PPE has proved especially tricky, though, with state and local governments forced to bid against each other — and the federal government.

And the bidding isn't fair. Trump has used the Defense Production Act to compel companies to sell medical supplies to the federal government before states or hospitals, Kaiser Health News reports, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) is the most prominent, but not the only, state official to say federal authorities seized shipments of masks the state had ordered from private wholesalers. It isn't clear what the federal government plans to do with these supplies.

"Our biggest problem is that just about every single order that we have out there for PPE, we get a call right when it's supposed to be shipped and it's typically the federal government has bought it," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said Saturday. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has described trying to buy ventilators and masks as "like being on eBay with 50 other states," while Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Sunday's Meet the Press that "it literally is a global jungle that we're competing in now" and he'd "like to see a better way."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a news conference last week that states are starting to band together "to see if we can help procure not only a reduction in costs per unit, but also procure a mindset where we're not playing in the margins of a zero sum where it's us versus them" on buying needed supplies. Cuomo suggested "we need a nationwide buying consortium."

"By delegating significant responsibility to state leaders and the business community, Trump can continue to approach his job as he often has: as a spectator pundit-in-chief, watching events unfold on television with the rest of the nation and weighing in with colorful Twitter commentary," The Associated Press notes. But letting the governors take charge carries political risks, too. Peter Weber

March 30, 2020

Many states have requested ventilators, N95 face masks, gowns, face shields, and other essential equipment from the federal emergency stockpile as their hospitals prepare for or struggle under a surge of COVID-19 cases, but only Florida has gotten 100 percent of what it asked for, The Washington Post reported Sunday. Massachusetts said it has received 17 percent of its requested protective gear while Maine has gotten about 5 percent and West Virginia about 1 percent.

But Florida, which didn't make its first request until March 11 — later than many other states — received its full request three days later, then got an identical shipment on March 23 and is expecting a third, the Post reports, citing the state Division of Emergency Management. "This disparity has not been lost on the states that feel shortchanged in their requests from the Strategic National Stockpile," ProPublica reported a week ago. Florida officials and President Trump offered a similar explanation for what appears to be special service.

"The governor has spoken to the president daily, and the entire congressional delegation has been working as one for the betterment of the state of Florida," Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told the Post. "We are leaving no stone unturned." On Sunday, Trump said at a news conference that "Florida has been taken care of," along with other states, adding later: "Florida, I looked, they're very aggressive in trying to get things and they're doing a very good job." Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has been criticized for keeping the beaches open during Spring Break, is a close ally of Trump. Florida is also Trump's new home of record.

Control over the Strategic National Stockpile passed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to a different Health and Human Services Department division in late 2018 and then to the Federal Emergency Management Agency barely a week ago. FEMA has, but won't detail, a spreadsheet of each state's requests and shipments, the Post reports, and there doesn't seem to be a uniform rationale for how the limited stockpiles are allocated. "If a governor jumps up and down and yells and screams, it gets attention," Nicole Lurie, a former HHS emergency preparedness official in the Obama administration, tells ProPublica. "It probably helps to have a really loud megaphone." Peter Weber

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