Add to the list of people, places and things that, according to Donald Trump, makes him unfairly look bad: the numbers of blue-state residents who died of the coronavirus.
At a White House news conference Wednesday, the president argued that the United States was handling the virus well, compared with other nations "despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates." He went on: "If you take the blue states out, we're at a level that I don't think anybody in the world would be at. We're really at a very low level but some of the states — they were blue states, and blue-state management." Translation: Blame the Democrats, not Trump's now-revealed deliberate downplaying of the virus's deadliness.
It's true that in the early stages of the pandemic, New York and New Jersey had the worst death tolls, each losing hundreds of people a day. But over time, the share of total U.S. deaths that have occurred in blue states — defined as those that didn't go for Trump in the 2016 election — has dropped, The Washington Post calculated.
According to the Post, the most recent data, through Tuesday, puts 53% of U.S. cumulative deaths in blue states and 47% in red ones. Since mid-June, a majority of the new coronavirus deaths each day has occurred in red states. Since mid-July, it's at least 70%, with some of the worst numbers in Texas and Florida.
Right after suggesting Democratic-run states didn't do enough to contain the virus, Trump blasted them for not lifting coronavirus restrictions more quickly. "By the way, we'd recommend they open up their states," he said. "It's hurting people far more than the disease itself."
Trump also contended that his handling of the crisis has beat expectations. "This was a prediction that, if we do a really good job, we’ll be at about 100,000 and — 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, and we’re below that substantially, and we’ll see what comes out," he said. The count is now more than 196,000, in the upper range of those estimates.
On Tuesday, 1,422 coronavirus-related fatalities were recorded in the United States, a more than threefold increase from the previous day, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Here's a video clip of Trump's blue-state comments.
Trump trades vaccine shots
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, predicted Wednesday in Senate testimony that most of the American public will not have access to a coronavirus vaccine until late spring or summer of 2021.
Trump, determined to announce a breakthrough before Election Day, said at his news conference that Redfield was "confused" and that the CDC chief's timeline was a "mistake."
Redfield told the Senate panel that any vaccine available in November or December would be in "very limited supply" and reserved for first responders and people most vulnerable to COVID-19. Trump insisted, "We’re ready to distribute immediately to a vast section of the country."
Redfield said that even after a vaccine is available, with perhaps a 70% effectiveness rate, masks might still be "more guaranteed to protect me." Trump disagreed and told reporters he phoned Redfield to tell him so.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said "political considerations" must not be part of a vaccine approval process. "I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump. And at this moment, the American people can't either," Biden said in a speech from Delaware after receiving a briefing from public health experts. Trump accused Biden of "recklessly endangering lives" and "promoting his anti-vaccine theories."
Janison: Spinning out of control
Michael Caputo came to the Trump administration and the top communications job at Health and Human Services with a background as a political operative. He undertook a mission of ferreting out dissonance between the sobering reports on the coronavirus from the government's disease experts and Trump's nonscientific pronouncements.
Unfortunately for that plan, Caputo's recent rant on Facebook — evoking left-wing plots, his "failed" mental and physical health, ominous "shadows on the ceiling," fears for his safety and a need to stock up on ammunition — sent him to a medical leave of absence on Wednesday.
It is reasonable to wonder how many other Trump loyalists believe in the crackpot claim that scientists like those at the CDC are engaged in deep-state "sedition," a "theory" for which Caputo has apologized to staffers for voicing, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Is it any loopier than convicted liar and onetime Caputo mentor Roger Stone — whose sentence the president commuted — urging Trump to declare martial law after the election? Or the president himself spinning election-rigging conspiracies?
Caputo is hardly the only Trump appointee to let his job description become subservient to Trump's political needs. According to one sworn complaint from a whistleblower, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said U.S. intelligence about Russian cybermeddling in the election should be "held" because it "made the president look bad."
As Trump politicizes sensitive government positions, professionals who buck him and earn his abuse seem to emerge from the administration with professional reputations intact. These include Alexander Vindman, former director of European affairs in the National Security Council, and Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine, who both testified in Trump's impeachment. Both are pulling for Biden to oust Trump, the president who says he hires only "the best people."
Trump relief push meets GOP resistance
Trump is getting antsier over the deadlock in Congress on the next coronavirus relief package. On Wednesday, he urged Republicans to move closer to the Democrats' numbers. So far, they're not falling in line.
A morning Trump tweet started out with a shot at Democrats as "heartless" but then said, "Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said quickly in a joint statement they were "encouraged" by Trump's tweet. The House passed a $3.4 trillion package in May; Pelosi since has dropped the demand to $2.2 trillion, "We look forward to hearing from the President’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway," Pelosi and Schumer said.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) suggested Trump was looking out for his own political interests. "I think politically the president still benefits from maybe asking for more," Braun said. Pointing to a $650 billion package Senate Republicans voted for last week, Braun said, "you’d lose a bunch of fiscal conservatives if you did anything other than what we voted on for last week."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also seemed skeptical that Republicans would support a $1.5 trillion package. "We'd have to see what's in it, but I think it's difficult," he said.
Twice busted by fake-tweet police
Trump tweeted a video clip doctored to make it appear that a grinning Biden played a profane anti-police song on his cellphone at a campaign stop. After Twitter flagged it as "manipulated media," Trump tweeted it again, and the social media platform tagged it again.
In the original video, after Biden is introduced by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Florida, the former vice president held up his phone and played a few bars of Fonsi's 2017 megahit, "Despacito."
In the altered version, the audio track is replaced by the rap group N.W.A.'s 1988 song, "[Expletive] tha Police."
Trump and his conservative allies have ramped up a campaign of online disinformation in recent weeks, tweeting out numerous false claims and misleadingly labeled videos, The Washington Post reported.
Trump: If I lose, so do Jews
Trump turned a Rosh Hashanah call with Jewish leaders into a campaign pitch, lamenting that in 2016 only about 25% of Jewish voters supported him.
"I have a son-in-law and a daughter who are Jewish, I have beautiful grandchildren that are Jewish," he said. "But I'm amazed that it seems to be almost automatically a Democrat vote." He touted his support for Israel and concluded by saying, "We love your country."
That was reminiscent of previous remarks he's made that were criticized for suggesting that American Jews view themselves as loyal to Israel — a line that has drawn criticism for being an anti-Semitic trope.
"I have to say this, whatever you can do in terms of Nov. 3 is going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble," Trump said.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo and Jesse Coburn. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump spiked the football over the Big Ten's decision to play part of its season after the organization canceled it a month ago. "It is my great honor to have helped!!!" he tweeted, At his briefing, he said he put "pressure" on the conference. NBC News said it was told by a Big Ten university's president that Trump's lobbying played no role. "In fact, when his name came up, it was a negative because no one wanted this to be political," said the college official, who did not want to be identified.
- Attorney General William Barr told the nation’s federal prosecutors on a conference call last week to be aggressive when charging violent demonstrators with crimes, including potentially prosecuting them for sedition — plotting to overthrow the U.S. government, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Wisconsin and 16 points in Minnesota, according to new polling by ABC News and The Washington Post.
- A nurse who worked at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint, alleging women detainees underwent medically questionable numbers of hysterectomies.
- Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe reversed course Wednesday on his decision to end in-person election security briefings for key members of Congress, CNN reported.
- Jim Carrey is set to play Biden on the upcoming season of "Saturday Night Live."