Love those ratings
President Donald Trump is betting he has hit upon a cure — not for the coronavirus itself, but for the battering he has taken in the polls in large part because of his handling of the crisis. He's bringing back his White House coronavirus briefings, resuming them as soon as Tuesday.
"I'll do it at 5:00 like we were doing. We had a good slot, and a lot of people were watching, and that's a good thing," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "We had record numbers watching," he said. "In the history of cable television, there's never been anything like it."
There's no disputing the last part of that comment. As ABC News notes, the president was criticized by members of his own party for holding the freewheeling sessions, some close to two hours long, during which he frequently touted misinformation and falsehoods, not to mention baiting, battling and belittling reporters. The sessions ended in late April after Trump drew ridicule for speculating that injecting disinfectants could ward off COVID-19.
He also went off on tangents attacking political foes, and Trump hinted that could be back in the format for Season 2. "I'll be discussing the, as I call it, the China virus, the China plague. I'll be discussing it and I'll also be discussing perhaps some other things," he added. His use of the briefings to try to promote his reelection campaign was a key reason some cable networks scaled back live coverage. Yet Trump clings to a belief that commanding enormous amounts of media attention can only benefit him politically, The Daily Beast writes.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had been publicly pushing for a return to televised coronavirus briefings, Politico recalled. Last Friday, Conway told Fox News that she believed daily presidential addresses to the nation on the coronavirus would improve Trump’s sagging poll numbers. She also acknowledged that some in the administration disagreed.
On April 30, with the briefings on hiatus, the nation's coronavirus death count stood at 63,000 out of 1.07 million cases. It is now about 141,000 deaths from 3.8 million cases. But Trump suggested he has a good story to tell. "A lot of the country is doing well," he said, even though he acknowledged "this big flare-up in Florida, Texas, couple of other places," referring to the surge in cases and hospitalization in Sunbelt states.
Not clear yet is who will be in Trump's supporting cast, given his sniping lately at Dr. Anthony Fauci. If you're looking to watch on Tuesday, remember that the 5 p.m. starting time often slipped by a half-hour or more, and you may have to do some channel-flipping to find it.
Masked man come lately
Trump leaped another inch on Monday in favor of masks to curb coronavirus spread. He didn't explicitly tell his supporters who have resisted to wear them, but he assured them for the first time it was a "patriotic" thing to do, or at least that "many people" say it is.
The tweet said: "We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!"
His message was muddier in the "Fox News Sunday" interview shown the previous day, saying he opposed a national mask mandate. "No, I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don't believe in that, no," Trump told host Chris Wallace. He added, "I don't agree with the statement that if everybody wear a mask everything disappears," and "masks cause problems, too."
Trump: Portland on the Hudson?
The Trump administration's dispatch of federal agents in camo outfits and unmarked vans to round up protesters in Portland, Oregon, have given even libertarian-minded Republicans pause as policy that is constitutionally dubious.
No matter to Trump. He signaled he may order federal agents to be deployed to New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and other major cities to crack down further on unrest and crime spikes across the country. "We're not going to let this happen in our country," he said, noting the cities are "all run by liberal Democrats."
"This is worse than Afghanistan, by far," Trump told Fox News. "This Is worse than anything anyone's ever seen." The Chicago Tribune reported that 150 agents from the Department of Homeland Security are expected in the Windy City this week and the scope of their duty is unknown.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the feds should keep off the city's streets. “New Yorkers and the NYPD know how to keep this city safe,” he said in a statement. “What federal agents are doing in Portland is unacceptable, and it has no place in New York.”
Mayors have no say about it, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News. "I don't need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job. We're going to do that, whether they like us there or not," he said.
Janison: Shows of force and farce
Trump is casting himself as The Great Suppressor, bringer of order, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Whether his deployments are enough to matter, or legitimate constitutionally, may be an afterthought. The point is to look and sound tough, to humiliate political critics and haters.
In Portland, the White House has generated for all to see the sight of DHS personnel scooping up people for questioning, throwing flash-bang grenades and tear-gassing and whacking demonstrators. His message is that blue-state Democrats won't assert control — that only Trump will stand up to "this American carnage," unafraid of backlash from progressives and African Americans for launching too muscular a response.
It is a fixed narrative. If streets become calmer, we are to believe this was the president's doing. If violence, crime and property damage crest, that's the fault of local and state authorities. Heads he wins, tails they lose. Trump's bid for credibility never relies on results.
Whenever Trump evokes one of his "strong" military responses, it comes out less than fully effective and is controversial even among Pentagon brass. Two years ago, before the midterm elections, Trump ginned up a near-invasion by Central American migrants. He called up several thousand troops to stand by at the Mexican border for no clear practical purpose.
Sheriff: Jacksonville not ready for GOP
The sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida, told Politico he can’t provide security for the Republican National Convention, just five weeks away, because of a lack of clear plans, adequate funding and enough law enforcement officers.
“As we're talking today, we are still not close to having some kind of plan that we can work with that makes me comfortable that we're going to keep that event and the community safe,” said Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams, a Republican. He said "what has been proposed, in my opinion, is not achievable right now … from a law enforcement standpoint, from a security standpoint.”
The coronavirus surge in Florida has further scrambled plans and forced GOP planners to seek ways to downsize the gatherings. The Republican National Committee has not yet nailed down which venue will be used for each convention event. But the RNC said Monday there's nothing to worry about.
"Jacksonville has accommodated upward of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event for our attendees,” said spokeswoman Mandi Merritt.
GOP donors circle wagons around Senate
Republican donors and strategists are seeking to redirect money to protect their narrow Senate majority amid growing fear of complete Democratic control of Washington in 2021, The New York Times reports.
They're not talking openly about abandoning Trump at this point, even as they note his weak poll numbers with alarm. A total collapse at the top of the ticket, they agree, would only make holding the Senate harder.
But right now, Senate Republican incumbents and candidates are losing badly in the money chase as Democratic cash surges not just into the top Senate battlegrounds — states like Maine, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina — but also in red states such as Montana where seats are increasingly up for grabs.
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:
- Fauci will throw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals before their Opening Day game Thursday against the Yankees. In a statement, the Nationals called the government's top infectious diseases specialist a "true champion for our country." When the team still had live crowds, fans booed Trump's appearance at a World Series game last October.
- Joe Biden told MSNBC's Joy Reid that his vice-presidential short list includes four Black women. When the vetting is done, the list will be narrowed and he’ll have “personal discussions” with each of the contenders, he said.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump won't get away with it if he loses the election but refuses to accept the result. “There is a process” spelled out in the Constitution, she said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." “It has nothing to do with a certain occupant of the White House doesn’t feel like moving and has to be fumigated out of there.”
- Biden is expanding efforts to bring aboard Republicans disaffected with Trump, The Associated Press reports. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, has been approached and is expected to speak on Biden's behalf at the Democratic National Convention next month, the report said.
- The emerging Senate Republican coronavirus relief bill appears likely to embrace some of Trump’s key priorities, despite opposition from within his own party. They include a payroll tax cut, very little aid to state and local governments and measures tying school funding to the reopening of classrooms, The Washington Post reports.
- Biden said Monday that he is putting Russia and other foreign governments “on notice” that as president, he will respond to any interference in U.S. elections by imposing "substantial and lasting costs.”