The new abnormal?
It's not breaking news that Trump's tweets and comments commonly seem self-aggrandizing, venomous, delusional and paranoid, not to mention false. But the wildness and distancing from reality has come in more highly concentrated doses since he went on a pharmaceutical smorgasbord of treatments for the coronavirus, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserted Thursday there's reason for heightened concern.
"The president is, shall we say, in an altered state right now," Pelosi said on Bloomberg TV. "I don’t know how to answer for that behavior," adding, "There are those who say when you are on steroids or have COVID-19, there may be some impairment of judgment."
Hours later, she followed up by announcing plans to introduce legislation Friday that would create a "Commission on Presidential Capacity" under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The panel would assess whether the president still has the mental and physical capacity to hold office or is in too diminished a condition.
Trump shot back in a tweet: "Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation. They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!"
Congress is not in session now, and even if it was, there's little chance the Republican-led Senate would go along with Pelosi's 25th Amendment commission. But while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't questioned the president's sanity, he went further than ever on Thursday in openly challenging Trump's judgment and good sense. McConnell revealed that he had not gone to the White House in more than two months because of how it has addressed the coronavirus.
"My impression was their approach to how to handle this was different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing," McConnell said during an event in his home state of Kentucky, where he is seeking reelection. "You’ve heard of other places that have had a different view, and they are, you know, paying the price for it," he said.
McConnell also said he and Trump talk "frequently" on the phone and that "he seems normal."
Janison: Denial fever
Trump is determined to issue spin and denial about COVID-19 even after catching it, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Rejecting as he did months ago that the virus is a very big problem for everybody has now given way to a jarring mess of smaller and more specific Trump denials and self-contradictions.
During a rambling, nearly hourlong interview Thursday morning on Fox Business Network, Trump said, "I think I would have done it fine without drugs. You don't really need drugs." But he also said in practically the same breath that he had "tremendous luck" with an antibody cocktail made by Regeneron that he called a "cure."
He even pronounced his ample, exercise-averse self a "perfect physical specimen."
"I feel perfect. There’s nothing wrong," he said. "I don’t think I’m contagious at all." Given the official time frame for his reported symptoms, that denial is dubious unless he caught it earlier than the White House reported.
He goes to extremes
Whatever the cause — whether side effects or his sinking prospects as the election draws closer — Trump lashed out at two loyal Cabinet members for not doing enough to help him destroy his enemies.
Trump is tweeting accusations that Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were part of a "treasonous plot" against him and demanded action against those who "spied on my campaign." He complained on Fox Business Network that Attorney General William Barr hasn't arrested anyone.
"He's got all the information he needs," Trump said. "Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes — the greatest political crime in the history of our country — then we’ll get little satisfaction, unless I win."
Trump said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should find a way to release emails from Clinton. "They're in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad, actually," he said.
Trump also wanted to share his takes on Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, after her Wednesday night debate with Vice President Mike Pence: a "monster," a "communist," "totally unlikeable," who "wants to open up the borders to allow killers and murderers and rapists to pour into our country." Biden later called Trump's comments "despicable."
'Liberation' plot busted in Michigan
Federal prosecutors on Thursday said FBI agents had arrested six men who plotted for months to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and take her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin to stand "trial" for treason because of coronavirus restrictions.
Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan, called the men "violent extremists" who sought to overthrow the state government.
Seven others tied to a militia group, the Wolverine Watchmen, were charged in state court under Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and seeking a "civil war."
After the arrests, Whitmer denounced Trump for his hesitance to call out violence from the far right, such as during last week's presidential debate when he advised the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by." "Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action," Whitmer said. "When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement from her coronavirus quarantine, accusing Whitmer of "sowing division by making these outlandish allegations."
Oct. 15 debate a lose-lose
On Thursday morning, with the forecast for an end to Trump's contagiousness still cloudy, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the second scheduled face-off between the president and Biden would be virtual.
But Trump refused to do a remote debate. Biden's campaign then suggested moving the second debate to Oct. 22, the date for the third debate.
Trump's campaign said he would do Oct. 22, but only if it's face to face, and wanted the third debate on Oct. 29, just five days before Election Day. Biden's team said no to Oct. 29, adding that's too late.
It's uncertain whether any more debates will come off. With Trump refusing to do Oct. 15 remotely, Biden is filling the time with an ABC News town hall that evening.
Another health mystery deepens
The White House never said much to explain Trump's unannounced visit last November to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It now turns out that extraordinary steps were taken to keep a lid on the trip.
NBC News and The Washington Post reported that doctors and medical staff at the hospital were required to sign nondisclosure agreements before they could be involved in treating him. The demand offended personnel who took seriously their legal and professional duties to safeguard patient confidentiality.
At least two doctors who refused to sign the NDAs were subsequently not permitted to have any involvement in the president's care.
House of discount cards
After getting caught by surprise by Trump’s promise to send $200 drug-discount cards to seniors, federal health officials are scrambling to get it done by Election Day, Politico reported.
The administration is seeking to finalize the plan as soon as Friday and send letters to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries next week, informing seniors that the cards are on the way and pitching them on Trump's effort to lower prescription drug costs.
Medicare's trust fund is being tapped to pay the nearly $8 billion cost of the cards. Democrats denounced it as brazen gimmick. "It’s a shameless stunt that steals billions from Medicare in order to fund a legally dubious scheme that’s clearly intended to benefit President Trump’s campaign right before Election Day," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee.
A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, insisted: "This has nothing to do with politics. It’s good policy and demonstrates the president is continuing to deliver on his promises to our nation’s seniors."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, reported by Newsday's staff and written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump's hailing of an antibodies cocktail by Regeneron that he received as a coronavirus therapy was accompanied by a pledge to soon make it widely available. But the company said that in the next few months, it will have only 300,000 doses of the experimental cocktail. That would just cover the number of Americans sickened in the past week, The Washington Post reported.
- The Regeneron product was developed with cells originally derived from fetal tissue, a practice that his administration has moved to restrict, The New York Times writes. Last year, the Trump administration suspended federal funding for most new scientific research involving fetal tissue derived from abortions.
- The Biden campaign quickly cashed in after a fly camped out on Pence's head during his Wednesday debate with Harris, selling nearly 35,000 "truth over flies" swatters at $10 apiece. Biden said Thursday: "It was hard to take my eye off the fly."
- The Pence-Harris vice-presidential debate was the second most-watched ever, trailing Biden's 2008 showdown with Sarah Palin, but ahead of the 1984 faceoff between the first female major-party nominee, Geraldine Ferraro, and George H.W. Bush.
- Federal and state law enforcement officials have begun expanded preparations for the possibility of widespread unrest at the polls on Election Day, a response to extraordinarily high tensions among voters and anxieties about safety stoked in part by Trump's call for supporters to watch voting places for fraud, The Associated Press reported.
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday his government is bracing for potential "disruptions" if election results from its neighbor are not clear. "We need to be ready for any outcomes," he said.