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As Trump counts on COVID vaccine in 2020, voters growing wary of it

Volunteer Trish Malone is inoculated by study coordinator

Volunteer Trish Malone is inoculated by study coordinator Audrey Kuehl in Oregon during Moderna's coronavirus vaccine trial. Credit: KHN / TNS / Jim Craven

Skepticism spreads

With 189,000 dead from the coronavirus in the U.S. and forecasts the toll could more than double by year's end, a safe and effective vaccine would seem to be an answer to the nation's prayer. But trust is eroding, with President Donald Trump openly agitating health officials to either have an approved vaccine by Election Day or be able to show that one is imminent.

A CBS News poll asked voters what their first thought would be if there is a vaccine this year. Barely more than a third — 35% — said they'd think of it as "scientific achievement." The other 65% said they would think it's "rushed through."

The percentage of those who would get the vaccine as soon as one becomes available has dropped from 32% in July to 21% now. Those who would consider getting the vaccine but would wait to see what happens rose from 51% to 58%. Those who say they'll never get one increased from 17% to 21%.

By 47% to 34%, more voters would trust Joe Biden than Trump to make sure a safe vaccine is available, while 14% said they wouldn't trust either. Three-quarters of voters say whoever wins the presidential election should publicly take the vaccine to show that it's safe.

The White House is planning a $150 million public service announcement campaign to convince people that a vaccine, when approved, has gone through all needed scientific vetting and can be trusted, a senior official told The Washington Post. The idea is that Trump would stay in the background, other than to "spike the football," and let trusted experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci do the talking.

But the plan also calls for the administration to "receive due credit." Counting on Trump to exercise restraint — after months of promoting dubious treatments and overstating the benefits of others — could be tough to lock down when he believes his reelection is at stake.

The CBS poll found Democrats had the least trust in a vaccine for 2020, a sentiment echoed by the party's vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris in a CNN interview that aired Sunday. "I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump, and it would have to be a credible source of information," the California senator said. "He's grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not." Harris said she would trust Fauci and other public health experts and scientists, but she worries about them getting sidelined in the vaccine approval process. 

Law and order no cure for Trump

The CBS poll found Biden leading Trump by 10 points — 52% to 42% — with Trump failing to move the needle with his attempts to link the Democratic presidential nominee to disorder and argue that Biden would make America unsafe.

A 49% plurality thought Biden is trying to calm the unrest, while 30% thought he was encouraging fighting. Trump was judged by 47% to be encouraging fighting, while 39% felt he was seeking to calm the situation down.

By a ratio of more than 2 to 1, voters feel the way to end the them is to make police reforms and address discrimination, not to use law enforcement to punish protesters. Despite Trump's attempts to drum up fear among suburban voters, eight of 10 people in the suburbs feel it's unlikely that violent protests would happen where they live.

Sucker punch and counterpunch

Trump toggled over the holiday weekend between self-pity and demands for retribution over the story in The Atlantic magazine that reported that the commander in chief called America's war dead "losers" and "suckers." 

"You work so hard for the military … and then a slimeball reporter, maybe working with disgruntled people, makes up such a horrible charge," said one of the president's tweets. Before that, he demanded that Fox News fire its national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, whose sources corroborated parts of The Atlantic's reporting, including that Trump didn't want to visit an American military cemetery in France on a rainy day in 2018. Griffin's story didn't get much airplay on Fox, but her colleagues rallied around her.

On Sunday, Trump moved on to a new target — billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, a co-owner of the magazine that ran the story written by its editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. She is the widow of Apple chairman Steve Jobs. In what appeared to be a presidential call for harassment by his followers, Trump tweeted: "Steve Jobs would not be happy that his wife is wasting money he left her on a failing Radical Left Magazine that is run by a con man (Goldberg) and spews FAKE NEWS & HATE. Call her, write her, let her know how you feel!!!"

CNN also found that one of Trump's denials rings false. He told reporters Friday that after the 2018 cemetery visit was canceled, he "called home" to Melania Trump at the time and told her how upset he was that he couldn't go. The president recalled, "I said, ‘I hate this. I came here to go to that ceremony.’ ”

The hole in Trump's story is the first lady wasn't back home. She had accompanied him on the trip to Paris and was supposed to go to the cemetery too. That evening, the Trumps went to a dinner hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trump's sticky-fingered art caper

When the cemetery trip was scrubbed that day, Trump had extra time on his hands and hung out at the Paris mansion that serves as the U.S. ambassador's residence. 

Several pieces of artwork caught his eye — a portrait and a bust of Benjamin Franklin and a set of silver figurines of Greek gods. The next day, he ordered them removed and loaded onto Air Force One to be taken to the White House, Bloomberg News reports. Ambassador Jamie McCourt was startled but didn't object, the report says. Trump joked that she would get them back "in six years."

One estimate said the artworks were worth $750,000, but the figurines, supposedly from the 16th and 17 centuries, were 20th century-made fakes; the bust was a replica and the portrait was a copy.

A White House spokesman said Trump's souvenir-taking was entirely aboveboard. “The President brought these beautiful, historical pieces, which belong to the American people, back to the United States to be prominently displayed in the People’s House,” Judd Deere said.

Donald Trump Jr.'s grave concerns

Donald Trump Jr. joined his dad in trying to discredit the Atlantic piece, which quoted former White House senior adviser John Kelly's unnamed friend as saying that the president "just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.”

In light of that, it's worth another look at what the president's son wrote in a book published last year about accompanying his father on a visit to Arlington National Cemetery in 2017. Driving past the graves of troops and veterans, Donald Jr. wrote that he was reminded of "all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off the office.’ ”

The Trumps did not actually shed a huge chunk of their business. The president has used his Twitter account and his travels to plug his golf resorts in Ireland and Scotland and wanted to steer a G-7 meeting to his Miami-area property. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, lists more than 3,300 alleged conflicts of interest.

DeJoy and the letter of law

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's rise in Republican circles was fueled by prodigious fundraising. The Washington Post reports that five former employees at a business DeJoy previously ran described how those hauls were bolstered by pressuring them to give money that DeJoy later reimbursed through bonuses.

“Louis was a national fundraiser for the Republican Party. He asked employees for money. We gave him the money, and then he reciprocated by giving us big bonuses,” said David Young, DeJoy’s longtime director of human resources at New Breed Logistics in North Carolina. Another former employee, who asked not to be named, said, “He would ask employees to make contributions at the same time that he would say, ‘I’ll get it back to you down the road.’ ”

Although it can be permissible to encourage employees to make donations, reimbursing them for those contributions is a violation of North Carolina and federal election laws, the Post reported. Known as a straw-donor scheme, the practice allows donors to evade individual contribution limits and obscures the true source of money used to influence elections. The more than $1 million in donations between 2003 and 2014 appear to be beyond the federal statute of limitations, but there's no such time limit under North Carolina's law.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, tweeted: "Any credible allegations of such actions merit investigation by the appropriate state and federal authorities." 

A spokesman for DeJoy said the postmaster general was not aware that any of his former employees had felt pressured to make donations. DeJoy's stewardship of the Postal Service has been under scrutiny over service cuts blamed for delays and because of Trump's attacks on mail-in voting. 

Anita Hill: I'm with Biden

The Anita Hill story has been a part of Biden's record that long put him on the defensive with women's rights advocates. Biden ran the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on 1991 on sexual-harassment allegations made against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by Hill, a former assistant to Thomas. Biden was accused of not taking the allegations seriously and allowing a circuslike atmosphere to humiliate her.

Biden has since expressed regret that he didn't ensure that Hill got “the hearing she deserved." Hill said in a CNN interview Saturday that she is supporting Biden.

"Notwithstanding all of his limitations in the past, and the mistakes that he made in the past, notwithstanding those — at this point, between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, I think Joe Biden is the person who should be elected in November," Hill said. It's not just because of Trump, she added. "It's more about the survivors of gender violence," she said.

She expressed a willingness to work with Biden on issues of sexual harassment, gender violence and gender discrimination.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, written by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump is a big fan of boat parades by his supporters, but a nautical rally near Austin, Texas, on Saturday went awry. Five of the smaller boats sank, swamped by the waves and wakes generated on Lake Travis by larger craft after vessels failed to distance properly. No one was reported hurt.
  • A vehicle parade of Trump supporters rolled from Copiague to Shirley on Sunday afternoon in an event dubbed “MAGA-Gras,” reports Newsday's Vera Chinese.
  • Harris said there were "two systems of justice" in the United States for white and Black Americans, and "it does us no good if we want to solve those disparities to pretend they don't exist." The comments came when she was asked in the CNN interview about Attorney General William Barr disputing that there is systemic racism in policing. See Scott Eidler's story for Newsday.
  • The White House is directing federal departments and agencies to "cease and desist" funding for certain types of racial-bias awareness classes and diversity training deemed "un-American" and "divisive." Trump over the weekend tweeted about 20 messages of support for the move. One said that “critical race theory is the greatest threat to western civilization." Another retweeted a conservative commentary website: "How to be Anti-White 101 is permanently cancelled!"
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on "Fox News Sunday" that he supports passage of a "targeted" coronavirus relief bill, but he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are still stalled over its size. Separately, he said he and Pelosi agreed on the need for a temporary funding measure to avoid a federal government shutdown while a new spending bill is negotiated. See Newsday's story by Eidler.
  • Michael Cohen's book is out. The former Trump fixer and recent jailbird wrote that Trump routinely referred to Black leaders of foreign nations with racist insults, told him that Blacks and Hispanics were "too stupid" to vote for him and admired that Vladimir Putin ran Russia "like it was his personal company."

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