Becoming Mr. Science
Faced with low approval ratings over the coronavirus spike, President Donald Trump has stepped up efforts to associate himself with ongoing scientific work toward a vaccine.
Gone for now is all the previous chatter about ultraviolet light, the miracle of warm weather, alleged harmlessness of the virus in kids and other magical thinking. On Monday, the president traveled with Vice President Mike Pence to North Carolina bask in the start of the largest COVID-19 vaccine research trial to date.
The research is funded by the federal government and overseen by the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with private companies. Trump visited the Bioprocess Innovation Center at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in Morrisville, North Carolina, a facility making a vaccine for Novavax. He called the so-called Operation Warp Speed, as it was named months ago, a "historic initiative." He added, “We will achieve a victory over the virus by unleashing American scientific genius."
White House advisers and GOP leadership told Trump in recent weeks that he needs to go all in on messaging about progress on vaccines and therapeutics, Axios reports.
The site of Monday's visit had its symbolism. Trump had moved plans for GOP convention hoopla from elsewhere in North Carolina, due to the governor's insistence on social distancing and masks. But the secondary plan for Jacksonville, Florida, fell through last week due to the COVID-19 surge. Also, a new poll shows Democrat Joe Biden leading the Republican president by 7 points in North Carolina, a key swing state.
Timing of the vaccine's development, regardless of the president's role in producing it, could matter politically with less than 100 days left to the election. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who's popular but is a target of Trump-insider criticism, said Monday the phase 3 trial of an experimental vaccine developed by the NIH and Moderna Inc. might have results by November or sooner.
Ironically, the current rise in infections across the Sunbelt could make it potentially easier to detect whether the vaccine is effective, according to experts. At the same time, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Monday that Tennessee should close bars and limit indoor restaurant dining. But Gov. Bill Lee soon said he had no plans to do so. Trump, however, said other states should be opening up.
Security chief's 'secure location'
National security adviser Robert O'Brien has become the highest-ranking White House official to test positive for the coronavirus. The White House said O’Brien has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off-site.”
Officials insisted “there is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President” and that the “work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted.”
During a brief exchange with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, while en route to North Carolina, Trump said: "I haven't seen him lately. I heard he tested, yeah. I have not seen him."
It was unclear when O'Brien was last in physical contact with Trump. He joined the president on a July 10 trip to Florida. A photograph of O’Brien in Paris with security officials from Britain, France, Germany and Italy in mid-July shows them standing closely without masks. O’Brien and others do not have face coverings in photos of his ceremonial stops released by the White House.
Trouble in trillions
Republicans who control the Senate want to slash weekly emergency unemployment payments from $600 to $200. Democrats who hold the House have proposed extending the enhanced benefit of $600 a week until January because the unemployment rate remains high. But that's not the full extent of partisan disagreement as talks start in earnest on a new trillion-dollar-plus coronavirus aid package for the U.S.
Over the weekend, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow promised new $1,200-stimulus payments and an extension of a federal eviction moratorium. The Senate package has been estimated at $1 trillion; the House version, at $3 trillion.
Newsday's Tom Brune compares the proposals as they currently stand.
An hour before Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases official, threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Yankee-Nationals opener, Trump said he would do the same. He called Yankees president Randy Levine "a great friend of mine" who had invited him to do so. "I think I'm doing that on Aug. 15 at Yankee Stadium," Trump said at a coronavirus briefing Thursday.
Perhaps this announcement came as a surprise to both his staff and the Yankees. Irritation with Fauci's turn in the spotlight led the president to spontaneously take up Levine's longstanding offer, The New York Times reports. No date was ever finalized. On Sunday, Trump tweeted: "Because of my strong focus on the China Virus, including scheduled meetings on Vaccines, our economy and much else, I won’t be able to be in New York to throw out the opening pitch for the @Yankees on August 15th. We will make it later in the season!”
But according to Newsday's Erik Boland, even that much is far from assured. There are differences of opinion within the Yankees organization as to how a Trump invite would fit with a lengthy statement released by the club on June 8 about Black Lives Matter and racial inequities.
Biden, Pence hail Lewis
Biden and his wife, Jill, visited the U.S. Capitol Monday to pay respects to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during a private ceremony in the Rotunda, before he was moved outside to lie in state on the Capitol steps. Biden said upon Lewis' death on July 17: “How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance?” Lewis had effusively endorsed Biden in April.
Pence and his wife, Karen, attended in the evening. Trump said earlier in the day he would not be going. Pence, a former congressman, has called Lewis "an icon of the civil rights movement" who "for me, he was also a colleague and a friend."
The Trump administration is sending at least 100 more federal agents to Portland, Oregon, where protesters and local officials say the tactic triggered more violent clashes and re-energized protests in other cities.
Local officials continued to voice objections to the presence of uninvited personnel clad in riot gear and camouflage. The protests aimed at local police that erupted in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis entered their second month with no end in sight.
In New York City, another bloody weekend of shootings, including 10 homicides, led NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to acknowledge Monday that a citywide strategy to quell gun violence had yet to make any tangible headway, Newsday's Anthony DeStefano reports.
Meanwhile, D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco is due to testify before a House committee Tuesday that "excessive use of force" was used against peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington on June 1. This refutes Attorney General William Barr's earlier assertions that force was justified.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- The University of Notre Dame has become the second host to withdraw from one of the fall's three scheduled presidential debates. The first debate now will take place at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
- Biden's tax plan would target profitable companies that currently pay little in taxes, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Military contractors linked to the Kremlin have seized control of two of Libya’s largest oil facilities, heightening tensions between Russia and the U.S.
- The Commerce Department petitioned the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to narrow liability protections of online companies.
- The dollar showed losses after slumping to a two-year low, as investors worry about damage from the coronavirus to the U.S. economy.
- Trump's lawyers battled some more in court Monday to prevent the handover of his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney's office.