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Trump's hope that COVID will 'go away' has gone away, Fauci reveals

A drive-thru coronavirus testing site Friday in Miami

A drive-thru coronavirus testing site Friday in Miami Beach. Florida is one of the states seeing surges in infections, deaths and hospital admissions. Credit: AP / Wilfredo Lee

Infectious politics

People of good faith wanted to believe the coronavirus would be defeated by now, as President Donald Trump once predicted. But on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases specialist, warned a Senate committee that far-worse conditions loom without new efforts to reduce the spread.

“Clearly we are not in total control right now,” Fauci told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The number of new cases per day could reach 100,000 from the current 40,000, he said.

Those fishing for good news sounded vexed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Trump ally, said: “We shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best for everyone ... We just need more optimism." Fauci replied: “I feel very strongly we need to do whatever we can to get the children back to school.” Minutes later, Fauci added that conditions "could get very bad."

Southern states especially reported surges in recent days. That includes Florida, where the Republican National Committee moved most of next month's nominating convention from North Carolina, which refused to ditch distancing standards for Trump. Now Jacksonville, the new host city, has announced a face-mask requirement for indoor gatherings, which the GOP had worked to avoid. Even Donald Trump Jr. said: "You know, I don't think it's too complicated to wear a mask."

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said of Trump: "You have a moral obligation" to set an example by wearing a mask in public. Biden could be seen doing just that after he stepped from the rostrum Tuesday for a speech and news conference in his home state of Delaware.

“Despite the administration’s propaganda that their response should be a cause for celebration, despite President Trump’s request that we should slow down testing because he thinks that makes it look bad, COVID-19 is still here,” Biden said. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

Biden said he hasn't been tested for the virus, but he could be soon. He reported no symptoms and noted his Secret Service team is tested.

Afghan pact powwow

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Taliban’s top political leader against attacking Americans in Afghanistan, the State Department reported on Tuesday. They discussed implementation of an agreement reached in February.

"The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans," department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said of Monday's video conference. Under the pact, the U.S. would withdraw all of its troops by early 2021.

Putin input?

Pompeo's conversation Monday with Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban official, followed the revelation of U.S. intelligence reports as early as last year that Russia paid bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops.

The New York Times now cites reports of electronic data showing large financial transfers into a Taliban-linked bank account from an account controlled by Russian military intelligence. That agency, called the GRU, played a role in U.S. election hacking four years ago, according to the Mueller report.

Trump has essentially dismissed the significance of the purported Russia-related information. But once again, the passivity of his public approach to President Vladimir Putin has come front and center.

On Long Island, the father of slain Marine Sgt. Robert Hendriks supports the launch of an investigation, Newsday's Robert Brodsky reports. Hendriks and two others from his unit were killed last year when a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicle as they returned to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

On Capitol Hill, a partisan crossfire intensified over the disclosures. And as Newsday's Tom Brune reports, Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, are once again dissatisfied with the level of actual information they are receiving from the White House about this latest Russia-related scandal.

Trump's plan to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany also is drawing fire from several members of Congress who see the move as another gift to Putin.

China defies Trump

Beijing has unveiled a new national security law for Hong Kong that will punish secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. It heralds a more authoritarian era for China’s freest city, Reuters reports.

Pro-democracy activist groups appeared to be disbanding.

The Trump administration's halting of U.S. defense exports to Hong Kong and restricting its access to U.S. high-tech products while under the grip of China now seem to have aroused little, if any, pro-democracy pressure.

The defiance of President Xi Jinping's move might be less significant in U.S. politics if Trump hadn't kept boasting of his fine relationship with him — or if he hadn't frequently blamed his predecessors for the prospect that China was "laughing at us."

Final funding fracas

The stimulus program for small-business owners launched in April closed Tuesday with more than $130 billion unused. Lawmakers are discussing how to repurpose the budgeted funds. 

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) led a group taking up how best to use remaining funds from the Paycheck Protection Program as small businesses reopen. But the issue is unlikely to be resolved until the Senate begins working in late July on what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said will be the final major coronavirus-relief bill, The Washington Post reported.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressed support for the restructuring effort.

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:

  • The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Montana can create a tax credit program for private tuition assistance even though it would mean most of the state program benefits religiously affiliated schools.
  • Biden's first encounter with the media in a news conference in months was generally viewed as a gaffe-free performance.
  • Users of an online multiplayer game for kids, Roblox, say their profiles were hacked with the message: “Ask your parents to vote for Trump this year!” and “MAGA2020.”
  • Trump has been turning his Twitter feed into something of a crime blotter.
  • Biden said he will release a list of Black women he'd consider nominating for the Supreme Court.
  • A New York State judge on Tuesday issued a temporary order blocking a book by Mary L. Trump, the president’s niece. The president’s brother Robert sued to squelch the tell-all about the family due out July 28.

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