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Democrats will downsize convention to keep COVID at bay

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week in Darby, Pa. Credit: AP / Matt Slocum

Ceding virus-seeding risk to Trump

President Donald Trump shifted his Republican convention acceptance speech to Jacksonville, Florida, so no local officials would stand in the way of a big crowd filling the arena. The Democrats announced Wednesday they will stay in Milwaukee but ask most people to keep away.

While Joe Biden still intends to accept the nomination in person, the 17,000-seat Fiserv Forum basketball arena is out and the smaller Wisconsin Center convention and exhibition space will take its place. How many will be allowed to attend the speech is not yet set.

State delegations have been informed by organizers that they should no longer plan to travel to Wisconsin and instead plan to conduct official business for the convention remotely, including the vote for their presidential standard-bearer.

Over the four days from Aug. 17 to 20, there will be a mix of in-person events, anchored in Wisconsin, and virtual components from satellite locations across the country. Gone in the year of the coronavirus will be the large-scale events and parties that are traditional at the quadrennial nominating conventions. Further details will come after public health officials complete their assessments closer to the event dates. The DNC also has hired two epidemiologists as advisers.

“Leadership means being able to adapt to any situation,” Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said. “That’s exactly what we’ve done with our convention. Unlike this president, Joe Biden and Democrats are committed to protecting the health and safety of the American people.”

For Trump, a big crowd is the priority. He had hoped to pack 19,000 supporters into his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last Saturday night, but coronavirus fears left thousands of seats empty. He will deliver his acceptance speech on Aug. 27 in Jacksonville at the 15,000-seat Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. Republicans have said they do not expect social distancing to be enforced or masks to be required, The Washington Post reported

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has attended at least eight GOP conventions, told Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez last week that he will "probably not" attend any events in Jacksonville because "thousands of people in a closed arena raises health issues." A University of North Florida survey found that 58% of Jacksonville residents somewhat or strongly oppose the decision to move the convention finale to their city.

MIA on COVID

As the coronavirus surges move south, so are Trump's poll numbers on handling the pandemic. A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows that 37% of Americans approved of the way Trump has responded to the crisis, his worst rating since the poll started asking the question at the beginning of March. Disapproval stood at 58%. 

More than 36,000 new infections were reported by state health departments on Wednesday — surpassing the previous single-day record of 34,203 set on April 25, The Washington Post reported

Texas and Florida reported more than 5,000 new cases apiece. Surges have erupted elsewhere in the South and West, including Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada and Oklahoma. A new forecast from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. could see 150,000 fatalities by July 18, up from the current 122,000.

Trump has had little to say about the pandemic in recent days beyond blaming higher numbers on testing and making racist "kung flu" remarks. Welcoming President Andrzej Duda of Poland to the White House on Wednesday, Trump called it the first visit from a foreign leader "after Covid."

The White House said that Trump, who addressed about 3,000 supporters in Arizona on Tuesday, will not change his plan to travel to his New Jersey golf club this weekend, despite new quarantine orders by the tristate region's governors on visitors who recently have been to high-risk states. “The president of the United States is not a civilian,” said spokesman Judd Deere. 

Trump's Rust Belt blues

Biden has widened his lead over Trump to 8 points in Wisconsin, a state that was crucial to Trump's 2016 Electoral College victory, according to a closely watched Marquette University Law School poll. The previous two Marquette polls showed a narrower Biden margin of 3 points.

Ohio, a must-win for Trump, looks competitive in a new Quinnipiac University poll with the Democrat ahead by 1 point. Trump won the Buckeye State by 8 points over Hillary Clinton four years ago.

Yet another nationwide poll is showing a double-digit lead for Biden. A New York Times/Siena College survey finds Biden up by 14 points, 50% to 36%. Trump's handling of the pandemic and of race relations in the wake of the George Floyd killing appear to be pulling him down, the Times said. A new bedrock of Biden support is white women with college degrees, who favored Clinton by 7 points in 2016 but prefer Biden over Trump by 39 points now.

Biden retweeted the poll with a comment: "Ignore the polls. Register to vote."

Janison: Labor disunion

Labor's allegiance might matter in November, and more public employees belong to unions in the U.S. than do workers in the private sector, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Months before the Floyd uproar, Trump's unswerving support of police earned him an endorsement from the International Union of Police Associations. “Every top Democrat currently running for this office has vilified the police and made criminals out to be victims," said Sam Cabral, president of the AFL-CIO-chartered organization. 

He has courted other law enforcement unions, too. Last year, it was revealed that Trump urged his top border-security official to finalize a contract with the Border Patrol union, a Trump ally. This contract boosted the number of union officers who can draw public pay without having to perform patrol duties.

Trump is opposed just as fervently by other public employee unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Biden. An AFT resolution accused Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of making it her mission "to defund and destroy public education."

A win for Flynn

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered the dismissal of the criminal case against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but it may not be the final word.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in a 2-1 ruling that the Justice Department’s move to abandon the case against Flynn at the direction of Attorney General William Barr settles the matter, even though Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Later, at the White House, Trump told reporters he was happy for Flynn. “He was treated horribly by a group of very bad people,” Trump said. “What happened to Gen. Flynn should never happen in our country.”

Some critics of the Justice Department’s dismissal urged the full appeals court to take up the case and reverse the decision of the three-judge panel, as it is empowered to do.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had declined to immediately dismiss the case, seeking instead to evaluate on his own the department’s request.

Trump protectors weren't protected

Dozens of Secret Service officers and agents who were on site for Trump’s rally in Tulsa were ordered to self-quarantine after two of their colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported.

Six members of the Trump campaign's advance staff also tested positive. It is still unknown how the rally may have impacted Tulsa’s count of coronavirus cases, which are rising swiftly.

Tulsa County hit a new record Wednesday, with 259 new confirmed cases, part of “steep upward trends” seen across Oklahoma, Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, said at a news conference.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Democrats are growing more comfortable with Biden's "basement" strategy of infrequent public appearances during the pandemic, Politico reports. “Trump is running against Trump. And it's smart of Biden to not get in the way of that,” said Hilary Rosen, a consulting partner of top Biden adviser Anita Dunn. “It’s become a referendum on Trump’s behavior.”
  • Trump's perfect endorsement record in House Republican primaries came to an end Tuesday with candidates he favored getting beaten in North Carolina and Kentucky. The loser in the Tarheel State was running for the seat vacated by Mark Meadows when he became White House chief of staff and is a close friend of Meadows. The 24-year-old winner also is pro-Trump.
  • Biden six months ago said “I have the most diverse staff of anybody running," but his campaign still refuses to give out details on personnel that would back up his claim, BuzzFeed News reports.
  • Trump pushed for a fireworks event at Mount Rushmore on July 3. Fire experts from the region fear the pyrotechnics could set off disastrous wildfires because of abnormally dry conditions, the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reported.
  • While Trump talks tougher about China, the White House asked and got Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, to agree to stall a sanctions bill, Politico reported. The measure would punish China for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci was approached about becoming a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" and said he was flattered, but declined, the Daily Mail reports.

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