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Trump warned his reopening plan must meet critical test

Health care workers at a coronavirus testing site

Health care workers at a coronavirus testing site in the parking lot of the Brentwood Recreation Center in Brentwood on Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

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Got to accentuate the negative

Business leaders got on a conference call with Donald Trump on Wednesday and gave him their two cents on what it would take to restart an economy that is bleeding trillions: a dramatic increase in coronavirus testing.

The corporate chiefs from banking and financial services were echoing what governors and public health experts have been saying for weeks — that easing social distancing requires knowing who tests positive and negative. Trump was told that testing was a must for people to have confidence in a safe return to work, shopping in retail stores and eating in restaurants. So, too, was the availability of personal protective equipment where needed.

The caution flags were waved as the White House prepared to announce on Thursday guidelines aimed at clearing the way to ease restrictions in areas that have been spared major outbreaks while keeping them in place in harder-hit locales. The ultimate decisions will remain with governors.

At his coronavirus briefing later, Trump touted progress in testing development, but he remained insistent that it's mainly a job for the states to get done. “It’s what I want, too, and we have great tests, and we want the states to administer these tests for the most part,” the president said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said earlier in the day that New York has conducted 500,000 tests but needs much more in a state of 19 million people. Listing such challenges as organizing mass testing, assembling the equipment and providing the staffing, he concluded "we can’t do it without federal support.”

Trump's phone sessions with business groups followed a new chapter of disarray in his administration's coronavirus response. On Tuesday, when Trump read a long list of names for his new business advisory group, it was the first many of those leaders knew about it because of haphazard efforts to contact them, according to NBC News. They also weren't told what exactly the White House wanted them to do.

Two labor leaders listed by Trump, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and Teamsters' chief James Hoffa, were not asked ahead of time, labor sources told NBC. A few of the executives the White House named were no longer with their companies.

Who's with Trump on WHO?

Trump's decision to halt U.S. funding to the World Health Organization hasn't won much applause. 

While some countries share in Trump’s criticism that the WHO hasn't been tough enough with China, close U.S. allies said Wednesday that they vehemently disagreed with a suspension of payments and were not planning to follow suit. Many U.S. allies saw Trump’s move as an effort to score domestic political points, The Washington Post reported

Australia's conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the WHO is “not immune from criticism,” but the UN agency “does a lot of important work.” A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, still recuperating from a serious bout with COVID-19, said the WHO is an essential global organization fighting a global pandemic, “and we have no plans to stop our own funding.”

Even Trump's director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the WHO and the CDC have a “long history of working together” and continue to have a "really productive" relationship.

Janison: Follow the money threats

Trump's move to punish the WHO might have campaign appeal, but a look at previous Trump funding freezes raises doubts about the real-life results of these sorts of "no-soup-for-you" gestures, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The most famous example may be the hold Trump put on military aid to Ukraine, pending an announcement of a "corruption" investigation pointed at U.S. Democrats. The aid eventually went through, the probe never was announced and Trump's impeachment became the biggest result.

After withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the president reimposed sanctions. But the same parties remain in charge of the government in Tehran.

Last month, Trump said his administration would begin withholding funding from "sanctuary cities" after a federal court ruled it could do so. For now, though, it seems doubtful cities or states will cave and allow their law enforcement officers to help ICE raids and deportations.

All we'd hear is Radio Maga?

Trump's televised coronavirus briefings have become his default campaign platform during the pandemic. But last month he had another idea, The New York Times reports: starting a talk radio show.

As Trump pitched it to White House officials, he would take call-in questions daily for two hours from the audience about the coronavirus crisis.

But then Trump offered a reason why he couldn't go through with it. He did not want to compete with Rush Limbaugh, who is among his most influential backers.

Fauci's games theory

Dr. Anthony Fauci said professional sports' return this year while the coronavirus pandemic recedes is possible — but under very specific circumstances, including no fans in the seats.

“There’s a way of doing that,” the federal government's top infectious diseases expert said on “Good Luck America,” an in-house interview series from Snapchat. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled and have them tested, like, every week, and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out."

That serves as a soft endorsement of various contingency plans being formed by the major professional sports leagues, which badly want to resume or start their seasons, writes Newsday's Tim Healey.

Power play amid pandemic

Going off on a tangent during his Wednesday briefing, Trump threatened to shut down both chambers of Congress, paving a way to allow him to fill vacancies in his administration without Senate approval.

He has been blaming the vacancies on Senate Democrats for blocking his nominations. The Washington Post noted most of the vacancies exist because Trump hasn’t selected anyone to fill them. Several of his nominees haven’t been given a confirmation hearing yet in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump cited a never-exercised power the Constitution grants the president to adjourn Congress if leaders of the House and Senate can’t agree on whether to adjourn. The Senate often recesses but stays open in a “pro forma” session, which thwarts Trump’s ability to make recess appointments that bypass the regular confirmation process.

Trump argued that his nominees would help to deal with fighting coronavirus, without offering any explanation of their relevance to the effort. One he mentioned was his pick to run the board that oversees the Voice of America, whose reporting has upset Trump.

Lawmakers are away now because of the risks of meeting during the pandemic.

More coronavirus news

Hospitalizations of coronavirus patients continued to level off in New York on Tuesday, as Cuomo said the state has probably hit its apex, even though a staggering 778 more people died and the toll of lost lives approached 11,000.

See a roundup of the latest pandemic news 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:

  • IRS officials now say paper stimulus checks to help Americans cope with the pandemic won't be delayed by the effort to put Trump's name on them. But his name will be there in a first for any president on such a government check. “I don’t know too much about it,” Trump insisted at his briefing Wednesday, but he added, "I'm sure people will be very happy to get a big, fat, beautiful check and my name is on it."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed Joe Biden on Wednesday, the latest of the former vice president’s onetime rivals to back him as the Democratic Party strives for unity to defeat Trump. In a four-minute video, the progressive Massachusetts senator said Biden “knows that a government run with integrity, competence and heart will save lives and save livelihoods.”
  • Kanye West told The Hollywood Reporter that he'll support Trump for reelection because, he said, Trump has been good for his real estate investments. Rapper Cardi B, one of Sen. Bernie Sanders' top celebrity backers, told him on an Instagram Live that she'll vote for Biden.
  • Paul Manafort's lawyers have asked for Trump's former campaign chairman to be moved out of prison due to coronavirus risks. A similar request from former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen was rejected by a federal judge.
  • Trump National Doral, the president's troubled hotel and golf resort in Miami, is laying off 560 employees due to the impact of coronavirus. That's where Trump once wanted to host a G-7 summit.
  • Reporters at Wednesday's coronavirus briefing, which was held in the Rose Garden, saw a rat run behind Trump.

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