In a series of contentious conversations, agency officials and aviation executives have clashed over the administration’s demand that airlines collect new kinds of data from passengers to help officials track potential virus carriers.
Airlines say they can’t meet that demand right away — a claim some administration officials say they don’t believe, according to several sources who tell CNN the calls have deteriorated so badly that agency officials have issued threats, spat expletives and accused airline executives of lying. It is an “epic battle,” said one source familiar with the talks.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have even threatened recommending that the administration try to ground planes in the US if they can’t get the passenger data, according to one source.
‘Shock and disbelief’
The administration officials’ vitriol has left airline officials in a state of “shock and disbelief,” one source said. Government officials have displayed “a lot of ignorance about what is possible,” the source said. Others familiar with the talks contend the airlines seem to be acting unreasonably by not providing the data more quickly.
Another factor adding to the friction is that the administration is considering an advisory discouraging Americans from commercial air travel. Airlines oppose this because of the body blow it would deal their industry, according to four sources familiar with the discussions.
In the White House, President Donald Trump has seen stock markets sink, a development that could undermine a central plank of his re-election campaign: that his presidency has delivered a thriving economy.
On Friday, the White House signaled it could offer an olive branch and take steps to ease the financial strain on US airlines by deferring taxes. Airlines, concerned about complicated privacy issues the data collection may pose, have tried to meet the administration halfway, proposing to develop an app and website for data collection.
For now, though, tensions remain high as the two sides remain far apart as both struggle to deal with the pandemic and the airlines brace for the fees and other punitive measures the White House might implement starting March 14.
“If the focus is doing it exactly the way the administration wants, it will be a long negotiation,” said Washington Rep. Rick Larsen, the Democratic chair of the House aviation subcommittee. The “airlines don’t have all the information the CDC wants,” Larsen said.
The standoff over data goes back years, said one source, who added that the CDC seems to be using the coronavirus outbreak to force airlines to agree to its demands. The broader debate is about what role airlines should play in determining if their passengers have been exposed to the disease.
This newest surge of friction began a few weeks ago, after the Presidential proclamation in late January that essentially banned any foreign national from entering the US if they had been to China within the previous two weeks.
In a series of calls, the administration told airlines they had to comply with a directive to ask travelers if they had been to China within the past 48 hours. CDC had initially wanted passengers to answer 22 fields of information but narrowed that to five questions about passengers’ contact info. They are particularly interested in recent visitors to China, Italy and South Korea.
Aviation executives said they don’t have the technology to do that digitally, explaining it would take six months to make the necessary technical fixes. They could, however, use paper, they said. An official from the Centers for Disease Control accused the airlines of lying, according to two of the sources, and of not stepping up to the plate, leaving the industry executives reeling in shock.
The demand is a difficult one for airlines for technical reasons as well as privacy issues, particularly in Europe.
But during conversations about the new data requirements, CDC officials made a point of telling the airlines about $250,000 fines they would have to pay if they do not start complying by mid-March. The Federal Register listing that sets out the new requirements also notes that penalties could include criminal charges and up to a year in jail.
Individual airlines often had security or IT officials on the calls to explain technical issues as needed, but the calls got so heated at times that airline representatives themselves piped up.
“There were several calls between the airlines and the US government about this new data collection process, which was initiated in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak,” said a CDC spokesperson. “We understand that any new process can be challenging to implement quickly, which is why the rule is currently open for public comment. Airlines have been encouraged to provide feedback through that public comment process.”
The calls between airline executives and the agencies are set to pick up before the March 14th deadline, though no date has been set.
Airlines for America told CNN that the airlines “appreciate the collaborative dialogue with the US government to further our shared goal of protecting the safety and well-being of all travelers, which is — and will always be — the top priority of US carriers. We look forward to continuing to coordinate and work collaboratively with the top leaders in the Administration and across federal agencies to assess the best next steps.”
Before the coronavirus outbreak, airlines were expected to share information they had in their records. The new change means they must collect the information the administration seeks. One airline official told CNN they now feel under the gun to compile the data because the administration could ask for it at any point.
Another industry official familiar with the calls said, “what may seem simple in a world of apps and other things in which it seems like everyone has information about you, it is not simple.”
This industry official says it took the US aviation industry two years to meet post-9/11 requirements, which also involved data collection.
Airlines are concerned that the Federal Register gives no clear end date on the data collection and worry that the US government could continue forcing them to collect it “for other purposes.”
“It seems they want us to do this for forever and we are pushing back,” the first source familiar said. The airlines — particularly their lawyers — are worried about what Customs and Border Protection officials will do with the information.
They are also concerned about lawsuits from other countries, particularly given European Union privacy restrictions. “The industry isn’t interested in creating a system that would get them in trouble with EU privacy rules,” the industry official said, adding that’s been a problem for airlines before.
Better ways to trace passengers
Airlines asked the agency officials if the government would back them in the event of lawsuits and were told the administration would offer no support, according to the first source familiar. This source added that one US official told aviation executives their privacy concerns were “bullshit” because no country would push back on the collection of information given the threat CoVID19 poses.
The White House was aware of the rising tensions on these calls when it invited aviation CEOs to meet with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday last week in an attempt to resolve the data sharing issues, according to third person familiar with events.
The White House meeting itself was not contentious, according to people familiar with it.
Airlines for America offered Trump a counter proposal for collecting data, telling him about an app and a website they are developing that would help the CDC get information more quickly, the group’s president said after the meeting.
Nicholas Calio, the president and CEO of Airlines for America, said the association felt there were “better ways to trace the passengers coming in” from places with high rates of the coronavirus.
“We’ve contracted to have a mobile app and a website developed that everybody would have to fill in that would go directly to the CDC with that information and we’re moving forward with that,” he said.
The airline executives also used the opportunity to ask Trump and other White House officials not to publicly discourage Americans from taking flights, saying their businesses would be at risk if the government begins warning against commercial air travel.
Despite the potential economic blow, Trump dismissed the idea of a bailout after the meeting last week. “Don’t ask that question please, because they haven’t asked [for] that,” Trump told a reporter. “I don’t want you to give them any ideas.”
But White House officials are considering deferring taxes for industries hurt by the coronavirus, including aviation, two people briefed on the discussions said.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Friday the “measures that would be targeted toward individuals or small businesses or perhaps some industrial sectors. That’s on the table… we are in the discussion and planning phase.”
CNN’s Geneva Sands, Nikki Carvajal, Kevin Liptak and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report
Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel
The cabinet on Sunday approved widespread fiscal reforms that will cut the budgets of most ministries in order to fund the establishment of six new ministries, including the office of the “alternate prime minister,” in a series of controversial decisions.
A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.
The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the new offices created Sunday was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.
Other offices are Ze’ev Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries; Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Ministry of Community Empowerment; David Amsalem’s Cyber Ministry; and Tzipi Hotovely and Tzachi Hanegbi’s Settlements Ministry.
Gantz — who is currently defense minister, in addition to the new post of alternate premier — is set to take over as prime minister in 18 months under the coalition deal, at which point Netanyahu will become alternate prime minister.
As the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office was approved, Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports that the alternate prime minister would also be granted an alternate prime minister’s residence. “It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” he said.
In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi opposed the budget cuts to foreign service, whereupon the cuts to his ministry were reduced from NIS 11.5 million ($3.2 million) to NIS 4.8 million ($1.3 million), the Walla news site reported.
On the 22-item agenda, the cabinet was also voting on filling the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, led by Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, and other ministerial panels; appointing directors general of the defense and economy ministries; and giving the green light to new Finance Minister Israel Katz’s program to encourage employment amid the pandemic.
In a Saturday night address, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March. For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May. Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) have been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the treasury proposal during the meeting, arguing that it rewards employers who dropped their workers while harming those who kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.
Katz retorted: “There is an alternate prime minister. There is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority,” the Ynet news site reported.
Sunday’s cabinet meeting also saw Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri receive building and planning powers that were previously under the treasury’s purview, while the Health Ministry was granted additional powers to combat the coronavirus.
The meeting on Sunday was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing, according to reports.
Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.
“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.
“For redundant offices like the Water Resources Ministry, the nonexistent Community Empowerment Ministry and for deputy ministers that no one needs. Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”
Separately, last Wednesday, a bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament passed its preliminary Knesset plenary reading. The so-called Norwegian Law — which still requires three more votes to become law — would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.
The opposition has blasted the bill, and the coalition’s rush to pass it, as a way of pushing more people into sweetheart jobs on the taxpayers’ dime.
Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN
In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times
WASHINGTON — With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.
Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.
While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.
As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.
The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.
The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.
Mr. Trump praised the Secret Service for being “very cool” and “very professional” but assailed the Democratic mayor of Washington for not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, which she denied. While governors and mayors have urged restraint, Mr. Trump seemed more intent on taunting the protesters, bragging about the violence that would have met them had they tried to get onto White House grounds.
“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”
His suggestion that his own supporters should come to the White House on Saturday foreshadowed the possibility of a clash outside his own doors. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for his first campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Asked about the tweet later, he denied encouraging violence by his supporters. “They love African-American people,” he said. “They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” By evening, however, Mr. Trump’s supporters were not in evidence among the crowds at the White House.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded sharply on Saturday morning, saying her police department will protect anyone in Washington, including the president, and by Saturday evening her officers were out in force around the White House.
But she called the president a source of division. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”
After his morning barrage, Mr. Trump tried to recalibrate later in the day, devoting the opening of a speech at the Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX rocket launch to the unrest in the streets and clearly trying to temper his bellicose tone.
“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” he said. “We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”
The days of discord have put the president’s leadership style on vivid display. From the start of his ascension to power, Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. That appeals to a substantial portion of the public that sees in him a president willing to take on an entrenched and entitled establishment.
But the confluence of perilous health, economic and now racial crises has tested his approach and left him struggling to find his footing just months before an election in which polls currently show him behind.
“The president seems more out-of-touch and detached from the difficult reality the country is living than ever before,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “At a moment when America desperately needs healing, the president is focused on petty personal battles with his perceived adversaries.”
Such a moment would challenge any president, of course. It has been a year of national trauma that started out feeling like another 1998 with impeachment, then another 1918 with a killer pandemic combined with another 1929 given the shattering economic fallout. Now add to that another 1968, a year of deep social unrest.
It is fair to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year that has frayed the fabric of American society with an accumulation of anguish that has whipsawed the country and its people. But in some ways, Mr. Trump has become a totem for the nation’s polarization rather than a mender of it.
“I am daily thinking about why and how a society unravels and what we can do to stop the process,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “The calamity these days is about more than Trump. He is just the malicious con man who lives to exploit our vulnerabilities.”
As the nation has confronted a coronavirus pandemic at the same time as the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, whatever unified resolve that existed at the beginning of the twin crises quickly evaporated into yet another cultural clash. And the president has made everything into just another partisan dispute rather than a source of consensus, from when and how to reopen to whether to wear a mask in public.
Mr. Trump led no national mourning as the death toll from the coronavirus passed 100,000 beyond lowering the flags at the White House, posting a single tweet and offering a passing comment on camera only when asked about it. Rather than seek agreement on the best and safest way to restore daily life, he threatened to “override” governors who prevented places of worship from resuming crowded services.
“Crisis leadership demands much more from the White House than irresponsible threats on social media,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.
Mr. Trump’s initial response to the rioting in Minneapolis, where a police officer has been charged with murder after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe, underscored the president’s most instinctive response to national challenges. Threatening to send in troops, he wrote early Friday morning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Only after a cascade of criticism did he try to walk it back, posting a new tweet 13 hours later, suggesting that all he had meant was that “looting leads to shooting” by people in the street.
“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said, a reformulation that convinced few if any of his critics.
Even some of Mr. Trump’s usual allies were distressed at the original shooting tweet. Geraldo Rivera, the television and radio host who often spends time with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, decried “the recklessness” of that message and called on the president “to self-censor himself.”
“Come on, what is this, sixth grade?” Mr. Rivera said on Fox News. “You don’t put gasoline on the fire. That’s not calming anybody.” He added: “All he does is diminish himself.”
But many of the president’s defenders rejected the idea that he had mishandled the crises, pressing the argument that Democrats and the news media were to blame for the turmoil in the streets, which spread from Minneapolis to New York, Atlanta, Washington, Louisville, Portland and other cities.
“Keep track of cities where hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and serious injuries and death will take place,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote on Twitter on Friday night. “All Democrat dominated cities with criminal friendly policies. This is the future if you elect Democrats.”
Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Mr. Trump for tax fraud earlier this year, amplified the point on Twitter. “It should be no surprise that every one of these cities that the anarchist have taken over, are the same cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t handle their cities normally, so how are they going to deal with this?”
Mr. Trump, who this past week retweeted a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (though the supporter insisted he meant that in a political sense), picked up the theme on Saturday.
With crowds visible from his upstairs windows, Mr. Trump reached for his phone and again assailed the “Democrat Mayor” of Minneapolis for not responding more vigorously and called on New York to unleash its police against crowds. “Let New York’s Finest be New York’s Finest,” he wrote. “There is nobody better, but they must be allowed to do their job!”
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