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Trump administration answers on opening schools don't match up

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday at her

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday at her department's headquarters in Washington. Credit: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta

Dread of the class

As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher, The Associated Press reports. Such caution is guiding many local governments and school districts.

But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hit the Sunday talk show circuit to push President Donald Trump’s insistence on getting kids and teachers back in the classroom for in-person instruction. "The rule should be kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with school by school or a case-by-case basis. There's ample opportunity to have kids in school," DeVos said.

She also repeated a Trump threat to withhold funding from schools that don't fully reopen, while sidestepping questions on how the administration could legally do that. But she also called recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "common sense." Trump complained that those guidelines are too expensive and impractical.

Health experts say there are too many uncertainties and variables to assure now that schools will be safe. Among them: Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions? What are the chances infected children would spread COVID-19 to one another and to adults?

Florida on Sunday shattered the national record for a state’s largest single-day increase in confirmed cases, with 15,299 people tested positive — nearly 4,000 more than the previous record set in New York on April 15. 

Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services and the administration’s point person on COVID-19 testing, delivered a grim forecast of the weeks to come. "We do expect deaths to go up," Giroir said on ABC's "This Week," and stricter lockdowns might be needed in Southern states. "It's starting to turn now, but we won't reap the benefits of that for a few weeks," said Giroir, who also called the CDC guidelines for schools "right on target."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the Trump administration of recklessness. "We all want our children to go back to school," Pelosi said on CNN's "State of the Union." "But they must go back safely. And when you hear what the administration is saying, we know that they have no appreciation for the failure that has brought us to this point … They ignore science and they ignore governance in order to make this happen.” For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump assures Stone stays unturned

Roger Stone won't do the time, but he did the crime, said former special counsel Robert Mueller.

In a rare public comment since the close of the Russia investigation, Mueller wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Saturday that Stone "remains a convicted felon, and rightly so,” despite Trump’s decision late Friday to commute his 40-month prison sentence for lying, obstruction and witness tampering. "When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable," Mueller wrote.

Trump called Stone "a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency."

As has been the case with other Trump interventions for political allies, the president bypassed long-standing protocols for granting commutations and pardons, the Post writes. And in rewarding a confidant found guilty of lying, Trump crossed a line that even Richard Nixon would not during Watergate, noted The New York Times.

Stone promised on the day of his arrest: “I will never roll on Donald Trump.” In contrast, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen did flip, becoming a "rat" in Trump's eyes, and is now in prison.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican who voted to convict Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, tweeted Saturday: "Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president."

Fauci makes Trump feel ouchy

Two-thirds of Americans in a recent poll trusted Dr. Anthony Fauci as a truth-teller on the state of the coronavirus pandemic and its outlook. Only one-quarter have faith in Trump.

With the government's top infection diseases expert openly disputing the Trump line that the virus is under control, the White House decided to undermine his credibility. An official acting anonymously circulated a statement that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things," The Washington Post reported. It included a list of the scientist's comments from early in the outbreak.

The New York Times noted in one instance, Fauci's comments were edited to make them sound more off the mark than they were. On Feb. 29, Fauci said, "at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.”

Fauci went on to say, in the omitted section: "Right now the risk is still low, but this could change. When you start to see community spread, this could change and force you to become much more attentive to doing things that would protect you from spread.”

Janison: Trump throws boomerangs

Trump faces special challenges trying to frighten voters about Joe Biden, especially with so many Americans disapproving of his own job performance, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

He paints Biden as a danger from the left. But during the Democratic primaries, the anti-Biden rhetoric from Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren made the former vice president out to be quite the opposite — pro-corporate, centrist and accommodating to the GOP.

Biden is old and feebleminded? The problem is, a Trump effort at this late date to impugn someone else's mental faculties invites a harsh assessment of his own, including slurred words and blurted sentence fragments caught on video. Trump's claim of having "aced" a "recent" cognitive test only makes skeptics suspect that he's embellishing or fabricating another strange triumph.

Claims that Biden is coddling extremists, such as those who would "defund the police," also leave Trump exposed to easy counterpunching for looking the other way when white supremacists hail him. He tries to criticize Biden while he splatters himself by commuting the sentence of Stone.

Economy needs another injection

Congress faces a tight deadline this month to enact another coronavirus aid package as cases spike, causing some states’ economic reopenings to stall, and unemployment bonus payments end in three weeks, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

A survey by Apartment List, an online rental platform, found 32% of U.S. households have not made their full housing payments for July yet, according to CNBC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stand far apart on what should be included that legislation and how much it should cost — $1 trillion vs. $3 trillion.

On July 26, the last unemployment checks with the $600 bonus will be mailed. The House Democrats’ bill extends the bonus through January. McConnell said the bonus "will probably not be included." The White House and both sides in Congress support another round of direct cash payments but differ on details. Another fight looms on aid to states and localities.

Trump exercised over focus on golfing

Before heading out to his Virginia golf course on Sunday, Trump launched a two-tweet complaint against "Fake News" reports about his frequent visits to the links. In the postings, he took shots at former President Barack Obama and people who follow a physical workout regimen.

"I know many in business and politics that work out endlessly, in some cases to a point of exhaustion. It is their number one passion in life, but nobody complains," tweeted Trump, who regards most forms of exercise as unhealthy.

"Obama played more and much longer … rounds, no problem," Trump said. "I play VERY fast, get a lot of work done on the golf course, and also get a ‘tiny’ bit of exercise."

In reality, according to counts by CNN and CBS News, Trump has played around twice as often as Obama had at the same point in his presidency. When he ran for president in 2016, Trump repeatedly attacked Obama for golfing and said, “I’m gonna be working for you. I’m not gonna have time to play golf.”

More coronavirus news

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

What else is happening:

  • A private group enthused for Trump's border wall paid for a three-mile section in Texas that is now showing dangerous signs of erosion at its base, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune reported. Trump tweeted Sunday: "It was only done to make me look bad." The contractor for that project, Tommy Fisher, president of North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, also won about $1.7 billion in federal contracts for border wall work in Arizona after pitching his building prowess to Trump via Fox News.
  • Trump let himself be photographed while wearing a mask for the first time Saturday during a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but the practice to curb the spread of the coronavirus still doesn't get his all-out endorsement. "I've never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place" — like in a hospital, he said. A Biden spokesman charged that Trump "wasted four months" by "actively discouraging people from taking a very basic step to protect each other." 
  • A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll shows Trump losing strength in three Sun Belt states he won in 2016 that are now coronavirus epicenters. Biden leads by 6 points in Florida. They are tied in Arizona, and Trump is up by only 1 point in Texas. Separately, a Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll has Biden 5 points ahead in the Lone Star State.
  • A letter from a group of top business leaders asked Trump to stop trying to end the DACA program, stating that the economic recovery from the pandemic could be hurt if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is rescinded and nearly 800,000 young immigrants face deportation. Among the signers were the heads of Apple, Hilton Worldwide, General Motors, Starbucks, Google and Amazon.
  • With the Justice Department seeking to withdraw the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, some Trump allies would like to see him join the president's campaign and speak at rallies like he did in 2016, Politico reports. “He’s the perfect example of deep-state victimization," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
  • Trump in recent months has retweeted at least 90 adherents of the QAnon conspiracy cult, which believes a mysterious government official — "Q" — leaves online clues about a secret Trump plan to bust a pedophilia and child-sex trafficking ring led by Washington elites, according to a report in Politico. The FBI has labeled Q followers a potential source of domestic terrorism.

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