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Trump in Kenosha: The faking of a president's photo-op

President Donald Trump on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis.,

President Donald Trump on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis., with John Rode III, since revealed to be an ex-owner of Rode's Camera Shop. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

Bring in the ringer

When President Donald Trump visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday to beat his law-and-order drum, his backdrop for the cameras was local businesses destroyed in rioting after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. One such store was a camera shop.

"John Rode III, owner of Rode's Camera Shop," Trump said in an introduction at a roundtable discussion after Rode joined him on an inspection of retail ruins. "We're going to help you," the president said. "That's a very, very complete rebuild we're talking about down there."

What's wrong with this picture? Rode wasn't the owner of Rode's Camera. His family sold it eight years ago to employees Tom Gram and Paul Willette. That pair were approached by the White House on Monday to join Trump but wanted no part of the photo-op.

Gram told Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV: “I think everything he does turns into a circus, and I just didn’t want to be involved in it.” Willette declined as well and told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I didn't want anything to do with President Trump. If it were any other president I would, but not this one."

Gram criticized Trump's "law and order" posturing as one-sided. “I think he needs to bring this country together, rather than divide it,” the co-owner of the burned-out store said. “I think there’s a lot of good people in this community, and to say that only law enforcement is correct is not the message we need to hear right now.”

Willette said of Trump: "I can't begin to describe my frustration with him." The owners told the Kenosha News last week that they understood the protests, but not the destruction. "This was just a building, but people’s memories were inside. That’s what is killing me," Willette said. 

The White House responded Wednesday that the Rode family still owns the building that housed the shop. John Rode III told The New York Times: “He introduced me as the business owner and I didn’t correct him. People say you shouldn’t correct him anyway.” Rode also said he's an undecided voter.

Biden to Kenosha

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced he will go to Kenosha on Thursday. He planned to speak to a community meeting and visit with the family of Blake, which Trump wouldn't do and whose name he didn't mention.

A Fox News poll on Wednesday found that Wisconsin voters favor Biden over Trump by 5 points on the issues of policing and criminal justice and that Biden holds an 8-point lead overall. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016.

Advantage Biden

Trump's frenetic efforts to make law and order the dominant issue in the campaign don't seem to be making much headway so far. A cascade of new polls shows Biden holding sizable leads for the election, if not running away with it.

The Democrat's margin is 8 points with CNN; 7 points, USA Today/Suffolk University; 11 points, The Economist/YouGov; and 7 points, Reuters/Ipsos

The Reuter/Ipsos poll found 78% remain “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus; 60% said Trump is at least partly responsible for slow progress in overcoming the pandemic. Only about 8% of adults listed crime as a top priority for the country, compared with 30% who cited the economy or jobs and 16% who said it was the health care system.

Quinnipiac measured whether either candidate would make voters feel more safe or less safe. For Trump, 35% said more safe and 50% said less. For Biden, 42% said more safe and 40% said less. 

Reuters/Ipsos found 53% of American adults remain sympathetic to protests against racial inequality. Three-quarters of likely voters in the Quinnipiac poll agree that racism is a big problem. YouGov's poll found 56% thought protest violence would get worse if Trump wins the election; only 23% thought that would happen under a President Biden.

One encouraging number for Trump is a Monmouth University poll in which Biden's lead in Pennsylvania has shrunk from 13 points to 4 points. A Fox News poll found Biden on top by 9 points in Arizona and 4 points in North Carolina —two other swing states that went for Trump in 2016.

Biden: Closed schools an unmet emergency

Biden is calling the struggle to reopen U.S. schools amid the coronavirus a "national emergency” and accused Trump of turning his back on the problem to stoke fear about unrest.

“Where is the president? Why isn’t he working on this?” Biden asked Wednesday during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. “We need emergency support funding for our schools — and we need it now. Mr. President, that is your job. That’s what you should be focused on — getting our kids back to school. Not whipping up fear and division — not inciting violence in our streets.”

Biden said that he’d use existing federal disaster law to direct funding to schools to help them reopen safely, and he urged Trump to “get off Twitter” and “negotiate a deal.”

During a news conference afterward, Biden dropped a mini-gaffe. Mocking Trump's past suggestions that the virus would just suddenly go away, he said, “Like angel dust is going to be sprayed around. Everything’s going to be OK." He probably meant to say something like pixie dust or fairy dust, not the street name for a psychedelic drug.

Paths to cross on 9/11

Both Trump and Biden will commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked planes crashed in a field after passengers rushed the cockpit. It was not clear whether their visits to the Flight 93 memorial will overlap.

The ceremony there will be smaller than usual because of the pandemic.

Trump wants to defund New York City

Trump is ordering the federal government to prepare for defunding New York City and three other cities where officials allowed “lawless” protests and cut police budgets amid rising violent crime, the New York Post reported Wednesday night.

A five-page memo ordered all federal agencies to send reports to the White House Office of Management and Budget that detail funds that can be redirected from New York City, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon.

"It is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities,” stated the memo, which mentioned Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo by name, the Post reported.

A spokesman for de Blasio called the memo "a racist campaign stunt." Cuomo, in a conference call with reporters, called the move "cheap," "gratuitous" and "illegal." That wasn't all — Cuomo got extremely personal.

"New York City knows him for the joke that he is," said the governor. "New York City rejected him — always," he said of the fellow Queens native. "He was dismissed as a clown in New York City." Twisting the shiv deeper, Cuomo added, "Those who know him best like him least. That's true of New York City, that's true of his own family."

Cuomo's tirade got even wilder, as Newsday's Zachary R. Dowdy reports. “He can’t have enough bodyguards to walk through New York City,” Cuomo said. “Forget bodyguards, he better have an army if he thinks he’s going to walk down the streets in New York." A spokesman later said Cuomo didn't mean that literally.

Trump: If mail voting is nice, vote twice

On a North Carolina visit Wednesday, Trump suggested that people there should vote twice — once by mail and once in person — to test if systems securing mail balloting against fraud really work.

"If their system's as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote," said the president, who has been pressing claims without evidence that mail-in voting would result in massive fraud. It would be illegal for any voter to try what Trump suggested.

Attorney General William Barr, in a CNN interview, was challenged on his claim that a foreign country could flood the systems with thousands of fake ballots.

Wolf Blitzer asked: "What are you basing that on?" Barr replied, "As I've said repeatedly, I'm basing that on logic." Blitzer pressed Barr on whether he had seen any evidence of such attempts. "No," the attorney general said, adding, "but most things can be counterfeited.” In the last two federal elections, roughly one out of every four Americans cast a ballot by mail, and multiple methods are in place to keep the systems secure.

An October vaccine surprise?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told public health officials around the United States to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine as soon as late October. That would certainly please Trump, who has baselessly accused Food and Drug Administration staff of trying to stall a vaccine until after the election in a "deep state" plot.

The CDC advisory doesn't mean there's certainty a vaccine would be ready. That time frame would be weeks, if not months, before most experts expect any vaccine to be fully tested.

But the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Kaiser Health News that a coronavirus vaccine could be available earlier than expected if ongoing clinical trials produce overwhelmingly positive results.

Fauci said he trusts the independent members of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board — who are not government employees — to hold U.S. vaccines to high standards without being politically influenced. Fauci also acknowledged that cutting a trial short could undermine public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

The National Institutes of Health on Tuesday put out a blunt statement on the Trump-touted use of convalescent plasma to treat the coronavirus, citing "insufficient" evidence for its effectiveness. The FDA approved an emergency use authorization for the plasma on Aug. 23, but FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn had to walk back some of the claims he and Trump had made about that treatment during a news conference.

Debate moderators picked

Moderators have been named for the upcoming debates. Presiding over the three Trump-Biden faceoffs will be Chris Wallace of Fox News, Sept. 29; Steve Scully of C-SPAN, Oct. 15; and Kristen Welker of NBC News, Oct. 22. The moderator for the Oct. 7 vice-presidential debate will be Susan Page of USA Today.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh complained, "These are not the moderators we would have recommended if the campaign had been allowed to have any input."

None came from the list Rudy Giuliani sent on Trump's behalf last month to the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. They included some Trump-friendly members of the Fox lineup (Wallace is not one of them), Christian Broadcasting host David Brody, conservative radio host Larry Elder and CNN Trump booster Hugh Hewitt.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones and Matthew Chayes. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Dr. Scott Atlas — the nonexpert on infectious diseases Trump brought to White House as a contrary voice to experts like Fauci — is on a Fox News book-with-caution list, the Daily Beast reports. Atlas gained notice by Trump through Fox appearances, but producers of the network's straighter-news shows view him as lacking credibility on coronavirus issues.
  • Fauci told MSNBC Wednesday that the United States should not pursue herd immunity in its fight against COVID-19. The Washington Post reported Monday that Atlas was advocating the high-risk strategy, which Atlas denied.
  • The Department of Homeland Security withheld publication of an intelligence bulletin that would have warned U.S. law enforcement agencies of a Russian scheme to promote allegations that Biden suffered from "poor mental health,” according to internal emails and a draft of the document obtained by ABC News.
  • The U.S. Postal Service has paid about $286 million over the past seven years to XPO Logistics, the former employer of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, The New York Times reported. He still holds at least a $30 million stake in the company, which has ramped up its business with the Postal Service since he took the helm at the agency.
  • With the U.S. facing a shortage of poll workers because of the pandemic, Old Navy announced it will pay its store employees who volunteer to help at voting locations on Election Day, Fortune magazine reported.
  • Trying to sort out New York's options on how to vote in November? Read and save this guide by Newsday's Michael Gormley.

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