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Nothing to see here: White House to keep economic outlook under shroud

The New York State Department of Labor office

The New York State Department of Labor office in Flushing, Queens, earlier this month. Nationwide, more than 40 million unemployment claims have been filed since mid-March. Credit: Charles Eckert

The outlook: There won't be one

For decades, there's been a rite of summer for White House budget wonks: issuing a "mid-session" review in July or August to make economic projections for the months that follow.

Not in 2020. The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump's administration has opted against publishing the forecasts, which almost certainly would buttress the case on how deep and long the coronavirus-caused recession will be, even as Trump officials predict a mighty bounceback starting in the third quarter.

The document would be slated for publication just a few months before voters decide whether to reelect Trump or turn him out. “It gets them off the hook for having to say what the economic outlook looks like,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who served as an economic adviser to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

White House officials defending the decision to sit on the projections from the Council of Economic Advisers told the Post it is difficult to model economic trends amid such volatility. Another 2.1 million jobless claims in the past week pushed the total since mid-March to more than 40 million.

Both liberal and conservative critics said the White House should publish its economic projections in line with the precedent set by prior administrations, the Post reported. During the Great Recession in 2009, the White House under President Barack Obama continued to release the numbers, although they were unflattering.

White House officials have said they are being transparent about the severity of the downturn. Kevin Hassett, a White House economist, said over the weekend that unemployment could remain north of 10% on Election Day. Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said last week that “the numbers coming in are not good. In fact, they are downright bad in most cases.”

Since the release of the White House budget in January, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed from about 3.5% to close to 15%. Last month, the Congressional Budget Office said it expects to see double-digit jobless rates well into next year.

Stimulating confusion

About 4 million Americans who haven’t received their stimulus payments yet may receive them in the form of a debit card, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. But there are problems: New Yorkers who already received the card are raising concerns that the envelope could easily pass for junk mail that’s normally tossed aside.

Rene Hensley of Lindenhurst said that at first glance, the envelope he received looked like many of the credit card offers that arrive by mail that he often dismissed. "I wasn't even going to open it,” he said. “Everybody's talking about a paper check, no one said some people were getting a debit card.” Hensley said he believes his 94-year-old mother threw away her card.

The cards are being administered by MetaBank, a private firm contracted by the Treasury Department. They require recipients to register the card online or via phone, and have some fees attached for use, including $7 for a replacement card and 25 cents to view the balance.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "Treasury needs to get the word out about how these are being sent, ensure the intended recipient can access the money, and swiftly replace any that might have been accidentally discarded.”

Twittering into the wind

Trump on Thursday issued an executive order to fight what he called Twitter's stifling of free speech. He also said that "if it were legal," he would silence Twitter.

It's not. His order calls on rule-making agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new regulations on Twitter and other social media companies. Experts express doubts on whether much can be done without an act of Congress, The Associated Press reported.

Trump said fact-checks that Twitter put on two of his tweets attacking mail-in voting were “editorial decisions” amounting to political activism, and that such actions should cost social media companies their liability protection for what is posted on their platforms. No sooner had Trump lamented the fact-checks than he was flagged on another highly controversial tweet.

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts," Trump tweeted early Friday in offering military assistance for riots in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Twitter labeled the posting as violating its rules about "glorifying violence" but left it in place, saying its availability "may be in the public interest."

The president’s critics, meanwhile, scolded the platforms for allowing him to regularly put forth false, misleading and defamatory information.

Twitter is continuing to add new fact-checking labels to hundreds of tweets, including a Chinese foreign ministry official's false tweet that the coronavirus outbreak may have begun in the United States.

Zuckerberg gets a 'like'

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg drew praise from the White House after he criticized Twitter's policy. "I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online," and neither should other private companies, Zuckerberg told Fox News.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany favorably contrasted Zuckerberg's approach to the "completely incoherent" model of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Zuckerberg of "pandering to the White House." She said of Facebook: "Their business model is to make money — at the expense of the truths and the facts that they know, and they defend that."

Covering all the bases

Trump again signaled sympathy Thursday with those who reject his coronavirus task force's recommendations for wearing face masks.

He shared a tweet of an article on the right-wing Federalist website that said the mandated use of face masks represents a "culture of silence, slavery, and social death" aimed at "conditioning us to accept abuses of our liberty."

Trump's comment: "So many different viewpoints!" 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came down on the pro-mask side. During a tour of hospitals this week in his home state of Kentucky, the Republican said, "There should be no stigma attached to wearing a mask." It shows, he said, “ ‘OK, I’m going to take responsibility not only for myself but for others.’ ”

But a contingent of House Republicans continues to defy the recommendations, refusing to wear them in the Capitol, CNN reported. "It's part of the dehumanization of the children of God," said Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana. "You're participating in it by wearing a mask."

House Democrats, meanwhile, began taking advantage of proxy voting procedures they pushed through over GOP objections to make it easier to avoid the health risks of in-person contact. Rep. Thomas Suozzi of Glen Cove had a California colleague cast some votes for him, while Garden City's Rep. Kathleen Rice carried proxy votes for two absent congressmen, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of 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.

Biden flunks a fact-check

Joe Biden misrepresented his own record of warnings ahead of the coronavirus pandemic during his interview by Charlamagne tha God last week on the "Breakfast Club" radio show, according to a review by factcheck.org.

For instance, Biden falsely suggested that he called for implementing nationwide social distancing restrictions before March 8, the website said, but the campaign didn't provide an example. In fact, Biden was still holding campaign rallies with large groups of people at that point. His campaign switched to work-from-home mode on March 14.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also said, "The NAACP’s endorsed me every time I’ve run. I mean, come on, take a look at the record.” The civil rights organization does not endorse political candidates.

What else is happening:

  • A day after the pandemic death toll reached a historic marker, Trump took note of it on Twitter: "We have just reached a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000," he said. "To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!"
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said Thursday that his department has all but stopped use of the unproven Trump-touted drug hydroxychloroquine on veterans with COVID-19. Wilkie told a House hearing that government-run VA hospitals have “ratcheted it down” to just three prescriptions in the past week as studies pointed to possible dangers.
  • The Trump administration mishandled the initial distribution of remdesivir, the only approved coronavirus medication, delaying treatment to some critically ill patients, The Washington Post reported. Citing nine current and former senior administration officials as sources, the Post said some of the first shipments went to the wrong hospitals, to hospitals with no intensive care units (and therefore no eligible patients) and to facilities without the refrigeration needed to store it.
  • Trump said the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, seen in video while handcuffed on the ground with a police officer's knee on his neck, was "a very shocking sight" and “I feel very, very badly.” It was a very different tone for Trump, who has been silent in the face of white-on-black violence and has a long history of "blue lives matter" defenses of police, The Associated Press writes.
  • Clarification: Yesterday's The 1600 newsletter noted that less liability protection for social media could increase the chances of lawsuits triggered by baseless allegations that Trump is wont to make. But the heightened legal exposure wouldn't be on Trump. Rather, it would raise the risk for social media platforms on which Trump posts such statements, meaning the companies would have greater incentive to take the messages down.
  • Rudy Giuliani and two associates are trying to raise $10 million to finance the production of a documentary promoting the allegations about Biden and Ukraine, Mother Jones magazine reports.

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