Teed up and teed off
On a Memorial Day weekend during which flags were flying at half-staff to dually mourn America's war dead and a coronavirus fatality count nearing 100,000, President Donald Trump set an example of getting back to normal, in his signature way.
First, that meant no holiday from incendiary tweeting. The president retweeted eight posts Saturday from a supporter, John J. Stahl, that called Hillary Clinton a "skank," suggested Nancy Pelosi was drinking “booze on the job" and made fat-shaming cracks about Stacy Abrams, the former Georgia legislator who is a potential running mate for Joe Biden.
Stahl, a failed Republican House candidate in California, has in the past posted racist and sexist material against black women, such as referring to another potential Biden pick, Sen. Kamala Harris, as a "ho" and comparing Abrams with a whale, The New York Times noted.
The president also ramped up his feud with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is competing in a GOP primary runoff in Alabama against a Trump-backed opponent to try to reclaim his Senate seat. Sessions, who has long absorbed abuse from Trump without responding in kind, tweeted back at the president Friday. He said that when he recused himself from the Russia investigation, earning Trump's eternal contempt, "I did my duty & you're damn fortunate I did." Trump doesn't think so. He told a Sinclair TV interviewer Saturday that his first attorney general was "not mentally qualified" for the job.
It got wilder. Trump resumed spreading an utterly baseless and thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, murdered a young woman who worked as an intern in his Florida district office. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) pleaded with Trump: "Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us."
Fox News commentator Brit Hume, often sympathetic to Trump, chided the president on Twitter for sharing "this discredited tale, based on a three-year old post from some wingding website." Hume added, "This is why even his critics should want DJT to play a lot of golf, because when he does, he’s not tweeting crap like this."
As it happens, Trump managed to squeeze in the tweetstorms with visits to his Virginia golf course both on Saturday and Sunday. In his first golf outings in 75 days, Trump was spotted playing with three other people and was seen driving a golf cart alone around the links, NBC News reported. At one point, Trump patted another golfer on the shoulder. None of the players was seen wearing a mask.
Birx: Keep keeping a distance
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, reaffirmed her warnings that ignoring social distancing guidelines posed a risk in further spreading COVID-19, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Scott Eidler.
Birx, who on Friday encouraged Americans to spend time outdoors as long as they wore masks and followed social distancing guidelines, was asked if she made the right call, given the images of packed beaches and public spaces that emerged the next day.
"People are spreading the virus unknowingly … you don't know who's infected," Birx said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "And so we really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical. And if you can't social distance and you're outside, you must wear a mask. These are items that are really critical to protect individuals."
White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” predicted that unemployment numbers will rise next month before starting to decline. The jobless rate is likely to reach "north" of 20% and remain in double digits in November, he said.
Janison: Peak silly season
Does it feel like the nation is going inane? To varying degrees, you can blame both Trump and Biden, according to Newsday's Dan Janison.
The president in the past week has absurdly accused people and states of nonexistent crimes. He tweeted that Michigan was illegally sending everyone absentee ballots — which the state wasn't. He called mail-in ballots fraudulent — which they are not. He threatened to cut off funds to Michigan and Nevada over the issue — which he will not. Was he overreacting to the notion that greater voter participation threatens his job security, or did he just want to squirt some verbal seltzer down the pants of those who might view him as a clown?
While visiting a Ford plant in Michigan Thursday, he refused despite company policy to keep a mask on so as not to "give the press the pleasure" of seeing him wearing one. The virus doesn't take sides in Trump's fights with news media. He also praised company founder Henry Ford's "bloodlines" to his descendants — a peculiar compliment given the late Ford's promotion of virulent anti-Semitism and crackpot eugenics theories in the 1920s and 1930s that inspired German Nazis.
As for Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee had to walk back ill-considered remarks to an interviewer who challenged his commitment on racial-justice issues. "Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden white-splained to African American radio host Charlamagne tha God.
Pushing against the envelope
While Trump claims against the evidence that mail-in voting is ripe for widespread fraud and “cheaters,” his reelection campaign and state allies are scrambling to launch operations meant to help their voters cast ballots in the mail, The Associated Press reported.
Through its partnership with the Republican National Committee, Trump’s campaign is training volunteers on the details of mail-in and absentee voting and is sending supporters texts and emails reminding them to send in their ballots. Yet Trump, who himself votes by mail, tweeted Sunday: "The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history."
Advocates of the option say it will benefit voters for whom in-person balloting could be risky if coronavirus remains a threat. The mail-in method also has been around in some places for a long time, such as Oregon. Bev Clarno, its Republican secretary of state, said last month: "I think after 20 years, we’ve proven that our system is very secure and voters love it."
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a Trump ally, said on CNN's "State of the Union": "I think as long as you can do it safely, and as long as you can make sure there's no fraud, we ought to be able to do absentee ballots like we do it in Florida.”
Progress could mean less N.Y. aid
The longer the White House and Senate Republicans keep a new coronavirus aid package on pause, the less money New York State is likely to get from a fund for states that's based on their share of the nation’s cases of infection, Newsday's Tom Brune reports.
The difference could be billions less than the amount announced when the House passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act on May 15. A Newsday analysis found the size of the package depends on if and when Congress enacts a bill with an infection-rate-based fund for states and whether New York cases continue to decline, as some forecasts suggest.
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who organized a letter asking House leaders to add that special fund to the final bill, acknowledged that the legislation as written would diminish New York’s share of the funding over time if the state's caseload continues to decline.
"I want our percentage [of COVID-19 cases] to go down. That's good for New York,” Suozzi said in a phone interview. But he added, “I'll work with others to see if we can advocate to increase the $49 billion fund to be a bigger pot of money.”
Liz is more
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who made opposition to high-dollar fundraisers a central feature of her presidential campaign, has agreed to host just such an event for Biden on June 15, The New York Times reported.
The move comes as Warren, a potential Biden running mate, has been moderating some of her positions to get into closer alignment with Biden. A proponent of "Medicare for All," she now accepts Biden's more incremental approach toward expanding health coverage.
CNN reports Warren's vice presidential prospects are on the rise as Biden envisions a bolder presidency to confront the economic and health crisis resulting from the pandemic. Still, the degree to which Biden is willing to hand over significant power to an ideological rival, and what Warren is willing to concede in order to strike a partnership, remains an open question, the report says.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Medical ethicists weighed in with Newsday's Figueroa on the choices facing public officials between saving lives and saving livelihoods. See her story.
- Some political context on Trump's demand (beyond his authority) Friday that governors allow churches to reopen: Public and internal polling since the pandemic exploded show a staggering decline in the president’s favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics, Politico reported.
- Nearly two weeks ago, the White House urged governors to ensure that every nursing home resident and staff member be tested for coronavirus within 14 days, but a review by The Associated Press found that at least half of the states are not going to meet the target and some aren’t even trying. New York said it has sent out enough kits to test every resident, though it remains unclear whether they will be done by the deadline.
- Election officials in Pennsylvania, a key presidential battleground state, said it isn't likely to finish counting ballots on the night of Nov. 3 because of expanded mail-in voting, Politico reported.
- Trump's return to the golf course quickly found its way into a Biden ad. "Nearly 100,000 Americans have died. The death toll is still rising. The President is playing golf," it said.
- Trump on Sunday ordered a ban on foreigners traveling from Brazil, which is second to the U.S. in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. The order takes effect Friday. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, an ideological ally of Trump, has repeatedly downplayed the virus, dismissing it as a “little flu,” and attacked stay-at-home orders imposed by his country's governors as a “crime.”