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Public is skittish on Trump's demand for filled classrooms

A day school's classroom in Monterey Park, Calif.,

A day school's classroom in Monterey Park, Calif., has desks spaced apart for summer sessions on July 9. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Frederic J. Brown

School's in or out?

Getting creamed in the polls helped pry away President Donald Trump this week from his all-is-going-well claims on the pandemic. The question arises now on just how tough he is prepared to hang on to his demand that schools reopen full time with full classrooms for in-person learning. 

Trump said at his coronavirus briefing Wednesday that "I am comfortable" with the prospect of his 14-year-old son, Barron, and grandchildren heading to classrooms this fall. "I would like to see the schools open — open 100%," he said.

But only about 1 in 10 Americans think that day care centers, preschools or K-12 schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a new AP-NORC poll. Nearly half say there would have to be major adjustments. Most think mask requirements and other safety measures are necessary to restart in-person instruction, and roughly 3 in 10 say that teaching kids in classrooms shouldn’t happen at all in the fall.

Despite Trump's threat to cut off federal funds for schools that balk at reopening, a growing number of school districts are opting to keep students out of the classroom and making the switch to virtual learning for the fall semester, CBS News reports.

Republicans in the Senate are rejecting the idea of withholding federal aid from schools that remained closed, CNN reported. "I'm not a big fan of doing anything where the federal government impacts local, state governments or schools," said Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana. "I want schools to reopen, but I don't like that. I don't like the federal government getting involved." Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, backed off his vow to fully reopen schools.

Trump spoke of children having “very strong immune systems." As for whether they could bring the virus home to more vulnerable relatives, the president said his administration would receive the results of a study next week on that question. Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently said children "can transmit to others." A study from the South Korean government found that children aged 10 to 19 may transmit the coronavirus just as much as adults can. Still more questions concern the safety of teachers and other school staff.

Trump also gave himself an out if his school-reopening vision doesn't happen. "Ultimately it's up to the governors of the states. I think most governors, many governors want these schools to open," he said. That doesn't mean, based on his conduct over the past four months, that he can't second-guess them.

Branded as scofflaws

Several Trump-owned properties have continued to host gatherings with guests and employees that skirt state- and city-mandated face covering ordinances as well as the organization's own public rules for operating during the pandemic, ABC News reported.

Greg Aselbekian, a frequent patron at Trump's Washington hotel, posted on Facebook about a "NO MASKS ALLOWED" party to celebrate his 27th birthday there. Aselbekian, who is on the board of Veterans For Trump, told ABC he caught the coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February. "It sucked for like three weeks. It was like a flu on steroids," he said.

In North Carolina, the Twitter account for the Trump National Golf Club in Charlotte on July 15 posted photos of adults not wearing masks.

The president’s maskless appearance at his Washington hotel earlier this week — in apparent defiance of D.C. regulations — caught the attention of local authorities, who then inspected the hotel on Wednesday to check for compliance with city rules and found nothing amiss, The Washington Post reported.

When he was asked Tuesday about not having the mask on at the hotel, Trump said he was "pretty far away from people."

Janison: Friends with benefits (of doubt)

Normally you'd expect a president whose longtime acquaintance was arrested on sex-trafficking charges to express hope and faith that the American court system will justly and fairly resolve the case, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. With Trump, who expects normal?

"I don’t know,” he shrugged Tuesday when asked if he thought Ghislaine Maxwell would reveal which powerful men were involved in her late ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring. “I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach."

Even without guessing what signal Trump may be sending someone accused of pimping minors, his sympathetic remarks seem to reflect a circumstantial view of law enforcement and personal liberties. That is, he demands law and order or hails personal freedoms, depending on what fits the immediate agenda.

Trump didn't choose to turn reporters' attention to Maxwell's alleged victims as he does, say, when weighing in on crimes involving suspects who are in the country illegally. Trump's support for law enforcement tends to be fickle, depending on whether allies and associates are defendants. Don't bet on the Trump camp taunting Maxwell with "Lock her up!" chants for now.

Feds descending upon Chicago

Trump in the past insisted Chicago's crime problem could be solved in a week. We'll see what happens.

Trump said Wednesday he will "surge" federal law enforcement officers to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, seeking to pump up the "law and order" theme that has overtaken the now-shattered economic boom as a campaign message. Trump has been warning that violence will worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November.

The effort will include at least 100 Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers who generally conduct drug-trafficking and child-exploitation investigations, in addition to personnel under the Justice Department umbrella. 

DHS officers already have been deployed against protesters in Portland, Oregon, where local authorities have complained that the federal agents exacerbated tensions. But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who initially blasted the idea, said Wednesday she now doesn't "see a Portland-style deployment coming" and was open to help in combating gun violence in her city.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says he spoke with the president Tuesday and that Trump agreed to hold off on any intervention in New York City.

Adventures with Photoflop

Every picture tells a story, but not always a true one.

A Trump ad with the theme "public safety vs chaos & violence" shows a group of protesters attacking a police officer on the ground. Portland 2020? No, it's Kyiv 2014. The photo is from the capital of Ukraine during a pro-democracy uprising that toppled a pro-Russian government six years ago.

Rudy Giuliani, in his role as an attack dog for Trump, tweeted a meme falsely captioned to say it shows Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) at a training camp for al-Qaida terrorists in Somalia. False. The archival photo of a Somali army recruit was taken in 1978, three years before Omar was worn. The congresswoman, a native of Somalia and a Muslim, is a frequent target of Trump and his allies as emblematic of radical Democrats.

Earlier this month, to highlight Trump's vow to protect statues from violent protesters, a Trump digital ad included a photo of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The latest Turnberry twists

In response to a New York Times report, Trump said Wednesday that he never spoke with his ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, about asking the U.K. government if it could help steer the British Open golf tournament to Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland.

Johnson did not deny the episode but said only that he did not violate any "ethical rules and requirements." A former deputy to Johnson, Lewis A. Lukens, said Wednesday that it happened just as the newspaper reported. “I advised him that doing so would violate federal ethics rules and be generally inappropriate,” Lukens wrote in a text message to NPR.

Trump didn't get the British Open, but he did get in a plug for his struggling resort during the coronavirus briefing. “Turnberry’s a highly respected course, as you know, one of the best in the world," he said.

He's a cognitive machine

The story of how the president performed on a cognitive test in 2018 may have eclipsed his winning of the Electoral College in 2016 as a Trump bragging point.

In a Fox News interview Wednesday, Trump said the hardest part was repeating five words in order — “person,” “woman,” “man,” “camera,” “TV” — and then having to repeat them in order after some time elapsed.

"They say, ‘That’s amazing. How did you do that?’ I do it because I have, like, a good memory, because I’m cognitively there.” (Watch a video clip.)

Experts told The Washington Post that the president’s fixation on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment is puzzling because the test is normally administered only if someone is concerned that a person may be experiencing dementia or other cognitive decline. It's not an intelligence test.

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:

  • Biden said in a virtual town hall with a union group Wednesday that Trump is the country’s first racist to be elected president. Whatever the merits of Biden's view on Trump, the White House has been home to plenty of segregationists and white supremacists, as well as a dozen slave owners. Biden's aide Symone Sanders acknowledged the past record but said Trump "stands out" in "modern history."
  • Trump's nominee to head the Office of Personnel Management, John Gibbs, has a history of inflammatory tweets, CNN reports. One spread a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign chairman took part in a satanic ritual. Another Gibbs note defended a man who was kicked off Twitter for anti-Semitic postings.
  • The Trump administration denied in court papers on Wednesday that it had thrown Michael Cohen back in prison in retaliation for the former personal lawyer's plan to publish a tell-all book about the president, The New York Times reported.
  • A nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll finds Biden leading Trump by 8 points — 46% to 38% — with a majority of undecided voters leaning toward the Democrat.
  • A new Quinnipiac poll of Texas voters shows Biden ahead of Trump by 1 point, 45% to 44%.
  • Trump's campaign is running Spanish-language ads accusing Democrats of "a shameful smear campaign against Goya Foods, a beloved Hispanic-owned family business.” It's the latest flare-up in a controversy over the Goya CEO's praise of Trump that led to calls for a retaliatory boycott.

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