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Trump outlines a plan for America to stagger to our feet

President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the

President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert, at Thursday's White House briefing. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

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One step at a time

President Donald Trump and his coronavirus team on Thursday unveiled their recommendations for a staggered, state-by-state, three-phase emergence from a virtual national shutdown. Reversing what he said days ago about who calls the shots, he told the nation's governors in a conference call: "You’re going to call your own shots." He also left them to fill in the blanks. 

For example, the guidelines called for states to be on a 14-day "downward trajectory" in COVID-19 cases before the first steps to ease their social distancing restrictions. But down to what level? Trump's plan doesn't say.

Nor does it spell out a national testing strategy. Testing over the past week stepped up to a rate of 146,000 a day, but The Washington Post reports that experts say millions a day will be needed to determine when it's safe enough.

Trump saw restrictions easing on a staggered basis, depending on local conditions. “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time, and some states will be able to open up sooner than others,” he said at the daily coronavirus briefing. Parts of the country that have been spared out-of-control outbreaks could take their first steps toward reopening businesses, schools, restaurants and other elements of daily life "literally tomorrow," he said. That won't be the case for worst-hit states like New York and New Jersey.

“I don’t want anyone coming back that isn’t in a position to come back,” Trump said. “The last thing we want is, say, a New York to come back too soon. A New Jersey to come back too soon. We want them to come back when they’re ready.” Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended New York's shutdown to May 15 from a previous April 29 expiration. Cuomo said he could not project what will happen beyond mid-May.

Still, Trump wants to move faster than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press. The CDC talked about using more specific criteria and, in many cases, looking for improvement over longer periods of time before easing restrictions in high-transmission areas. “I think you’re going to have some nice surprises over the next few days,” Trump said Thursday. “And I think it’ll be much faster than people think.”

For more on Trump and the latest recommendations, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. For a summary of each of the three phases, click here. To read the guidelines in full, click here.

Economic toll mounts

Another 5.2 million workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of Americans who have filed initial jobless claims to around 22 million, or roughly 13.5% of the labor force, since March 14. That's a level the nation hasn't seen since the Great Depression.

A $350 billion emergency lending program for small businesses ran dry Thursday morning and stopped accepting claims, but negotiations picked up between Democrats and the Trump administration to pump in more cash. Trump said at his briefing that he expected “something’s going to be happening."

Poll: Trump's response too slow

Almost two-thirds of Americans — 65% — say that Trump was too slow to take major steps to handle the threat of the novel coronavirus in the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Americans have more positive views of how he is currently handling some aspects of the coronavirus outbreak. About half — 51% — say he is doing an excellent or good job in addressing the economic needs of businesses facing financial difficulties. A smaller number — 46% — give him a positive rating for addressing the needs of ordinary people who have lost jobs or income. Fewer still — 42% — say he's given Americans accurate information.

The poll also found 66% of Americans are more concerned about state governments lifting social distancing and stay-at-home orders "too quickly" than "not quickly enough."

Janison: Trump-Biden debates begin

There are months to go before any face-to-face debates between Trump and Joe Biden, but the verbal dueling has begun, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Biden has been hitting Trump for his management of the coronavirus crisis and accused Trump of framing a "false choice" between protecting public health and restarting the economy. The president and his allies are making Biden one of the targets in their blame-it-on-China offensive.

After failing to knock Biden out of the Democratic race with unsupported smears involving Ukrainian natural gas business, the Trump camp is trying to paint the former vice president as an ally of China with the moniker "Beijing Biden." “Now more than ever, America must stop China,” a narrator says in a pro-Trump ad over eerie music as a Chinese flag waves on screen. “And to stop China, you have to stop Joe Biden.”

Biden's camp responded by noting Trump's earlier praise of China's coronavirus response and adding: "China played Donald Trump for a sucker, and now all of us are paying an atrocious price for his malpractice.”

Under-stimulated

New glitches emerged Thursday in the stimulus plan to send Americans payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

Several million people who filed their taxes via H&R Block, TurboTax and other services were unable to get their payments because the IRS did not have their direct deposit information on file.

Some parents told The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal that they received a $1,200 payment for a single head of household or a $2,400 check for a married couple, but that the IRS left out the payments of $500 per child under 17.

Weep Meadows

Trump's fourth chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has been on the job for less than three weeks, but he's already made an impression by bursting into tears at least twice, The New York Times reported.

One instance was in the presence of a young West Wing aide; another time was with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Both times, the discussions were about staff changes. Administration officials say he has been overwhelmed at times by the Trump White House culture riven by infighting and driven by the president's moods.

In his previous role as a Republican congressman from North Carolina, Meadows also had a reputation for openly showing emotion. It helped the hard-right Freedom Caucus founder with across-the-aisle relationships. "He is someone with a mind and a heart, that’s just undeniable,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). But the waterworks might not go over so well with a president who uses "Crying" as part of insult nicknames.

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:

  • Trump said Thursday that sports likely will resume at first as "made for television" events in empty stadiums. Then will come partially filled venues — “fans will start coming in, maybe they’ll be separated by two seats" — before conditions will allow full stadiums and arenas. The question of when for each step remained unanswered.
  • Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale floated an idea: Play some NBA and MLB games in small towns without coronavirus cases.
  • Trump dialed down the political attacks during Thursday's briefing, but he groused, "We have some states that got too much credit for what they've done, frankly. I could name you a couple of those." He didn't, so it's not certain he was talking about Cuomo, whose TV appearances he sometimes watches.
  • A federal judge on Thursday denied a request for a new trial made by Trump ally Roger Stone following his conviction on charges related to the Russia investigation. Stone, backed by angry tweets from Trump, claimed the jury forewoman was biased and petitioned for a new trial. Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled the claim was unfounded.
  • Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen will be getting an early release from an upstate prison where 14 inmates and seven staff members have tested positive for coronavirus, CNN reported. His sentence doesn't end until November 2021, but the Bureau of Prisons notified him that he can serve the rest of his term in home confinement. First, he'll need to undergo 14 days of quarantine.
  • Ivanka Trump and Kushner, disregarding social-distancing guidelines, traveled with their children to the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey to celebrate the first night of Passover last week, The New York Times reported. People following stay-at-home rules held seders on apps like Zoom.
  • Robert Mercer, the billionaire Long Island hedge fund magnate, has made his first six-figure donation to Trump’s reelection after a pause in financially supporting him, The Washington Post reported. Mercer was one of Trump’s most influential financiers in 2016.
  • The Trump administration on Thursday gutted an Obama-era rule that compelled the country’s coal plants to cut back emissions of mercury and other human health hazards. The Associated Press reported the move was designed to limit future regulation of air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

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