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New U.S. coronavirus eruptions at odds with Trump's try to move on

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert, testifies Tuesday at a House hearing on the coronavirus. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Kevin Dietsch

Clearly still a present danger

Donald Trump put the pandemic in the past tense on Tuesday. "We did a great job," he tweeted. But the America First president has not put America First in getting the coronavirus under control. Even while Trump claims infection stats only reflect more testing, and places hit hardest early like New York are coming out of lockdown, seven states are reporting new highs for hospitalizations.

The European Union, where the worst is over, may bar Americans when it opens its borders to travelers on July 1. When the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard from four of the government's top officials from the coronavirus fight on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci cited "a disturbing surge of infections" in some areas of the U.S., with "community spread" a big culprit. He pleaded with people to avoid crowds and wear masks — advice Trump neither follows nor encourages.

The kind of hospital crush New York suffered in March and April is reappearing elsewhere. In Houston, America’s largest pediatric hospital began taking adult patients to help increase capacity. Texas surpassed 5,000 new cases for a single day for the first time — just days after it eclipsed 4,000 new cases for the first time, and a doubling since late May.

Yet Trump — who ended daily coronavirus briefings at the White House shortly after he was widely ridiculed for musing about injecting disinfectants — seems to grow more disengaged with the federal effort. Fauci and the other health officials said they haven't spoken to the president in weeks. (They also sought to clear up the confusion Trump continues to create with statements suggesting he directed a slowdown in testing. There were no such orders, they said.)

Trump's apparent envy of Fauci's public acclaim bubbled to the surface in his morning tweets about his performance. "The Fake News refuses to acknowledge this in a positive way. But they do give … Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is with us in all ways, a very high 72% Approval Rating. So, if he is in charge along with V.P. etc., and with us doing all of these really good things, why doesn’t the Lamestream Media treat us as they should?"

Fauci is still walking a tightrope with Trump. Last week, the president rejected Fauci's apprehension about the NFL playing in the fall. "Tony Fauci has nothing to do with NFL Football. They are planning a very safe and controlled opening," he tweeted Friday.

Questioned at the hearing about Trump’s shunning of masks, Fauci did not directly criticize the president, but he said it was important for public officials like him to wear face coverings “not only because I want to protect others and to protect myself, but also to set an example.” He also indicated he didn't feel bound by Trump's withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization. "Despite any policy issues that come from higher up in the White House, we at the operational level continue to interact with the WHO in a very meaningful way," Fauci said.

Throwing the Stone case

A prosecutor who withdrew from the Roger Stone case after Justice Department leaders intervened to recommend a lighter sentence will tell Congress Wednesday that there was repeated pressure on his colleagues to cut Stone "a break." The reason, they were told, was Stone's friend in the White House.

"What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President," Aaron Zelinsky, one of four prosecutors who quit the case, wrote in prepared testimony for a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President.’ ” The Justice Department pushed back at Zelinsky's allegations, saying it was "hearsay (at best), not firsthand knowledge" because he didn't talk to Timothy Shea, then-acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Shea was installed by Attorney General William Barr after a previous nominee for the job, Jessie K. Liu, was withdrawn, reportedly because the president didn't like that she worked on cases against Trump associates with former Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller. 

Despite the go-easy moves, Stone ultimately was sentenced to serve more than 3 years in prison plus 2 years’ probation and a $20,000 fine for lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into Russia's help for Trump's 2016 campaign. He is due to report to prison next week, but his lawyers Tuesday sought a two-month delay because of coronavirus risks, and the Justice Department didn't oppose the move. Trump has broadly hinted about granting Stone a pardon.

Janison: The buck stops — no, still going

Trump told voters when he ran in 2016 that they'd get "sick and tired of winning." Overdosing on winning is not the president's problem now, but he seems not to tire of making excuses for things that go wrong, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

With the U.S. coronavirus death toll above 120,000 and new outbreaks popping up, Trump says testing is driving up the numbers and puts primary blame on China, apportioning none to his administration's stumbling initial response.

Excuse-a-thon 2020 plows ahead on other fronts, too. Trump wants us to believe the disorder and backlash embodied in anti-racism and anti-police demonstrations couldn't possibly implicate his leadership or lack thereof. 

After a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, proved a flop, campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp said enemies of the president created a hostile environment and blocked supporters from attending. Rate that mostly false. While inside, Trump spent many minutes explaining away an appearance at West Point, where he seemed to have had difficulty drinking water one-handed and walking down a slightly inclined ramp.

And when a Fox News poll showed him trailing Joe Biden by 12 points? The "haters" created it, Trump said.

Racisting Arizona

Masks were few and distances less than social as the president spoke to a Students for Trump rally in Phoenix.

“We’re here today to declare that we will never cave to the left wing and the left-wing intolerance,” the president said Tuesday evening to a crowd of about 3,000 at a megachurch. He condemned the removal of monuments for slave owners and Confederate leaders as a destruction of American history. “They hate our history, they hate our values,” Trump said.

His speech included a racist call-and-response as he riffed on how the coronavirus has many names. That prompted members of the audience to yell "kung flu." Trump said, "Kung flu, yes, kung flu." (Here's a video clip.) Trump also said "some people can't explain what the 19" is in COVID-19. The "19" is for 2019, the year it was discovered.

Trump seems to be digging in on racially divisive reelection themes. Over the last few days the president has tweeted context-free videos of random incidents involving black people attacking white people, including one from a New York City subway station last October, The New York Times noted.

Before the event, officials at the Dream City Church claimed an air filtration system it installed can kill "99.9% of COVID within 10 minutes." Scientific experts told the Daily Beast and CBS News that the claim was false. Arizona reported a new daily record of nearly 3,600 additional coronavirus infections Tuesday.

Mail-vote cry returned to sender

Trump's complaint that increased mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a "rigged" election isn't getting stamps of approval from Capitol Hill Republicans, CNN reports.

"I think it's fine," Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, said of the expansion of mail-in voting in her state. "It's worked well in Nebraska. We had tremendous turnout in the primary in May."

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chairs the Rules Committee that helps oversee elections, said he supported expanded mail-in voting and didn't agree that it made elections vulnerable to rigging. He did add that states that "dramatically change" their systems to include more mail-in voting present a "challenge."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the process for mail-in voting through absentee ballots has worked well in his state. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said she trusts mail-in voting, which is how half of the ballots were cast in primary elections earlier this month in her home state of West Virginia. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, where every registered voter is sent a ballot in the mail, said the process in his state "works great."

Brawl in the family

The president's younger brother, Robert Trump, is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop their niece Mary L. Trump from publishing a tell-all book next month, The New York Times reported.

The 55-year-old daughter of the late Fred Trump Jr. has written "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” It is described on Simon & Schuster's website as a portrait of the “dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security and social fabric."

The legal action was filed in Queens County Surrogate’s Court, where the estate of the president’s father, Fred Trump Sr., was settled after a battle among heirs after he died in 1999. The president said his niece entered into a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement.

Robert Trump said in a statement: “I and the rest of my entire family are so proud of my wonderful brother, the president, and feel that Mary’s actions are truly a disgrace.” Mary Trump's attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., said her foes in the family were trying “to suppress a book that will discuss matters of utmost public importance.”

The election analyzed avuncularly

Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele — not a Trump fan — says the president's campaign chiefs are deluding themselves if they think he will come out on top in side-by-side comparisons with Biden.

Steele told Britain's Independent online newspaper that Biden is the uncle who everyone wants at Thanksgiving dinner, even if he might say some off-color or confusing things, while Trump is the uncle who everyone wants to leave after he shows up late and gets drunk. (Steele's talking about demeanor; Trump doesn't drink.)

“With Uncle Joe, they're like, ‘I'm glad he's here,’ but with Uncle Trump, it’s, ‘When does he go? When does he leave?’ ” Steele said. “So that’s the selection, and if you don't appreciate how that impacts the way voters look at this, you're going to make some dumb mistakes.”

Hope and plenty of change

Biden joined forces with Barack Obama on Tuesday for a virtual fundraiser that netted $7.6 million, the biggest haul from a single event by the former vice president for his Democratic presidential campaign.

There were 175,000 online participants, according to the Biden campaign. The event also marked Obama’s first appearance of the 2020 campaign with Biden on the virtual trail.

Obama lit into Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis. "We have to listen to public health experts and — poor Dr. Fauci, who you know, is having to testify and then see his advice clouded by the person he's working for," the former president said. 

Obama also accused Trump of practicing a “shambolic, disorganized, mean spirited approach to government” that endangered American values. 

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:

  • With no active opponents on the ballot, Biden was on his way Tuesday night to adding a chunk of the 320 New York convention delegates that will be allocated from the state's Democratic primary, Newsday's Michael Gormley reports.
  • Another Trump tweet has drawn a Twitter warning label. He said if protesters tried to set up an "autonomous zone" in Washington, D.C., they would be "met with serious force!" Twitter said it flagged the tweet for "violating our policy against abusive behavior, specifically, the presence of a threat of harm against an identifiable group."
  • Trump said his former national security adviser John Bolton should be behind bars for publishing "highly classified information" in his book "The Room Where It Happened," which roasts the president as incompetent and only looking out for his own reelection interests. "Washed up Creepster John Bolton is a lowlife who should be in jail, money seized," the president tweeted.
  • Trump moved Hogan Gidley from the White House press office to his campaign, where he will be its new press secretary. He fills the slot opened when Kayleigh McEnany moved from the campaign to become White House press secretary.
  • Congress is hitting an impasse on policing legislation as key Senate Democrats on Tuesday opposed a Republican proposal as inadequate.
  • Trump toured and signed a section of southern border wall in San Luis, Arizona, on Tuesday as part of a trip meant to mark the construction of 200 miles of the barrier.

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