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1600: Doubts abound that Trump virus relief actions will cure much

President Donald Trump on Saturday signs executive "actions"

President Donald Trump on Saturday signs executive "actions" on coronavirus relief in Bedminster, N.J. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Jim Watson

Too good to be true?

President Donald Trump put on a show touting himself as the hero coming in to save the day for tens of millions of Americans facing desperate straits after Congress could not reach a deal on another coronavirus relief package. The trouble is that the package of "executive actions" he announced over the weekend look less effective than he made them sound, are on shaky legal ground, or both.

Example: Trump's vow at a Saturday news conference to protect millions from the threat of eviction has a fundamental shortcoming, according to Politico. It would do nothing to help the vast majority of the country’s tenants. It covers barely a quarter of the nation’s 44 million rental units — only residents of buildings that have federally guaranteed mortgages.

Trump said he was restoring some unemployment benefits after the extra $600-a-week payment approved by Congress in the spring lapsed. But the Trump order, for up to $400 more a week, requires states, many of them strapped, to provide 25% of the money — though Trump suggested Sunday there's wiggle room for states. His diversion of other funds to cover the federal portion invites a constitutional challenge that he's usurping Congress' power over appropriations. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin payments could start “immediately” where states go along with it. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the payments could take a few weeks.

There was confusion over about Trump's declaration that he will defer through December the collection of the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare for employees who earn under $104,000 annually, and that, if reelected, he will consider a "permanent" elimination of the payroll tax. The Washington Post reports that employers and employees alike may balk at the lack of a guarantee against a whopping end-of-year bill.

Kudlow said Trump “did not mean that he was eliminating the Social Security tax.” On CNN's "State of the Union," Kudlow said, “When he referred to 'permanent,' I think what he was saying is that the deferral of the payroll tax to the end of the year will be made permanent. It will be forgiven. The tax is not going to go away.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on "Fox News Sunday" that, in a second term, Trump would “push through legislation to forgive that so, in essence, it will turn into a payroll tax cut.” Pressed on how the suspension would be paid for without increasing some other tax, such as income, Mnuchin responded, “You just have a transfer from the general fund.” 

Democrats pointed to what the president’s actions did not cover: an actual moratorium on evictions and money for schools to reopen safely, feed hungry families, aid state and local governments and help administer safe elections this fall. They called for a resumption of negotiations for Congress to pass a package. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a news conference that Trump's orders "can be summed up in three words: unworkable, weak and narrow.” For more, see Newsday's story by Rachelle Blidner.

5 million and rising

The battle over coronavirus relief is playing out as the confirmed count of U.S. coronavirus cases passed 5 million, with more than 160,000 deaths, both by far the worst in the world. Trump's first Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said the death toll in the U.S. will be "definitely" somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 by the end of 2020.

"Whether we're closer to 200,000 or closer to 300,000 depends on what we do now and how it evolves," Gottlieb said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

A Washington Post examination of the White House response to the pandemic — based on interviews with 41 senior administration officials and other people directly involved in or briefed on the response efforts — finds it was first an exercise in denial and has been dominated since by a politics-first, science-second attitude.

Nearly seven months after the first coronavirus case was reported in the United States, there still is no national strategy to contain the outbreak — other than the demands, some of them contradictory, that Trump issues on Twitter or at news conferences.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who used to meet at 8 a.m. daily with health professionals, now huddles with politically oriented aides whose focus is how to convince the public that Trump has the crisis under control, rather than on methodically planning ways to contain it.

Janison: Trump's a least reliable source

When an American president speaks, and the world is listening, caution and reliability should be expected. Not with this one, Newsday's Dan Janison writes.

Since taking office, Trump has stepped up from his role of a celebrity who fed self-serving items to gossip pages under a false name, to possibly the nation's most unreliable government source. He demonstrated it again with loose talk that the deadly Beirut explosion last week was "a terrible attack." The investigation so far points to an accident involving ammonium nitrate and gross negligence for storing that highly explosive chemical at the city's port.

But for Trump, what does evidence have to do with it? Conspiracy stories, snap conclusions and crackpot theories have famously suffused his official accounts about the coronavirus, the electoral system and much more. These reports, taken together, read like delirious headlines in a supermarket tabloid. It should come as no surprise that one of his defining scandals involved the National Enquirer.

World leaders and diplomats have learned to tune him out and no longer find themselves scrambling over every Trump tweet and utterance, The Washington Post writes. His characterization of the Beirut explosion largely was met with a collective global shrug. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has made a core theme of his campaign the argument that Trump’s lack of credibility is eroding the presidency and U.S. relevancy on the world stage.

An election night without results?

Battalions of lawyers on both sides are preparing for scorched-earth legal battles over the Nov. 3 election that could keep the outcome in doubt into December or even January, The New York Times reports.

In 2000, the disputed result in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore centered on Florida. This time, the fights could extend to dozens of states. The threat of such scenarios has emerged more starkly in recent days as Trump complains that the election will be rigged and Democrats accuse him of trying to make that a self-fulfilling prophesy, according to the report.

Lawyers are in court already, mounting preemptive strikes. Democrats are gaming out worst-case scenarios, including how to respond if Trump prematurely declares victory or sends federal officers into the party’s strongholds in the final days leading to the election as an intimidation tactic. While Trump attacks mail-in voting, Democrats suspect Louis DeJoy, the GOP megadonor running the Postal Service, is crippling the agency's capacity to fulfill its role.

Seeking the 'Leave it to Beaver' vote

Trump's recent appeals to suburban voters — directing tweets to the “Suburban Housewives of America” and “all the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream” — seem to be rooted in a bygone era, says Lawrence Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

“Aiming his tweets and refocusing his campaign on suburban voters, especially women, makes a lot of sense,” Levy told Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. “The problem for the campaign is that he seems to have a 1950s or 1960s vision of the suburbs." Levy noted that "more than half of women work out of the house" and a "growing number of women" heads the household.

As for Trump's attack on the enforcement of fair-housing rules, Levy said the president is “appealing to communities that are more and more diverse, where blatant appeals to racial and class fears not only may not work as well as perhaps they once did, but they can backfire.”

Polls show Trump's suburban support has eroded since 2016, especially among women. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Biden with a 24-point lead over Trump among women in the suburbs; in a Fox News poll, Biden had a 23-point advantage.

More coronavirus news

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

What else is happening:

  • A Trump White House aide reached out to South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to ask about the process for adding additional presidents to Mount Rushmore, The New York Times reported. Noem said Trump has told her it's his "dream" to be included. That's not her call — the monument is federal — but Noem presented Trump when he visited July 3 with a 4-foot replica of Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.
  • Trump hit up the region's wealthy summer playgrounds for campaign millions over the weekend. On Saturday, he went to a fundraiser that fetched up to $500,000 a couple in Southampton, where his host was billionaire former hedge fund manager John Paulson, according to CNBC. He made another stop at son Donald Trump Jr.'s Water Mill home, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. On Sunday, it was on to the Jersey Shore and the Long Branch retreat of Stanley Chera, a New York real estate investor and Trump donor who died of COVID-19 in April; the top ticket was $250,000.
  • Their six-figure fees got members of Trump's Bedminister, New Jersey, golf club a perk at no additional cost. Dozens were allowed to crowd the back of the room where Trump held news conferences on Friday and Saturday. They cheered Trump and booed a reporter who asked why social-distancing guidelines weren't enforced against the guests, who stood shoulder to shoulder, with few wearing masks.
  • Trump abruptly ended Saturday's news conference when a CBS News reporter challenged him on a lie about veterans health care he has told more than 150 times, according to CNN. "Why do you keep saying that you passed Veterans Choice?" correspondent Paula Reid asked. The law that allows veterans to seek care outside the VA system was passed in 2014 and signed by then-President Barack Obama. Trump tried to call on another reporter, but Reid asked again. Trump refused to respond and walked off.
  • A Gallup Poll shows a partisan divide on Americans' willingness to get a coronavirus vaccine when one is approved by the FDA. The survey found that 81% of Democrats would get the vaccine, but only 47% of Republicans agreed. Among independents, prospective vaccine acceptance was 59%.
  • CBS News polls show Biden ahead of Trump by 6 points in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won those crucial states in 2016.

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