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Trump’s White House in chaos on coronavirus’ most tragic day – CNN



Trump’s White House in chaos on coronavirus’ most tragic day – CNN_5e8e5a39c94c7.jpeg

Trump set out Tuesday to cement his image of a wartime leader facing down an “invisible enemy” at a dark moment as the country waits for the virus to peak and with the economy languishing in suspended animation.

But instead of putting minds at rest, Trump’s wild performance instead put on a display many of the personal and political habits that have defined his tumultuous presidency. It was a troubling spectacle coming at such a wrenching chapter of national life, the kind of moment when Presidents are called to provide consistent, level leadership.

Trump’s acting Navy secretary quit after an episode in which he called an aircraft carrier captain dismissed for raising the alarm about virus infections among his crew “stupid.”
New White House press secretary downplayed pandemic threat and said Democrats were rooting for coronavirus
Then Trump insisted he hadn’t seen January memos by a top White House official warning about the pandemic at the same time the President was dismissing it as a threat.
He also announced he was placing a “very powerful hold” on funding for the World Health Organization, even though it correctly identified the scale of the virus and he didn’t. Then moments later, he insisted he did no such thing.
Adding to the sense of farce, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham was moved out, without ever having given a briefing, on yet another day of staff turmoil. CNN’s KFile reported Tuesday that her replacement, Kayleigh McEnany, recently said that thanks to the President, “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”

Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow admitted that a small business rescue program was off to “a bad start” after recipients struggled to register funds, only for the President to celebrate the program’s roaring success — and to credit his daughter Ivanka with personally creating 15 million jobs.

To top off a disorientating day in the West Wing, the President presided over an unchained news conference in which among other topics, he lashed out at mail-in voting, making claims about fraud that don’t square with the facts, even though he recently cast such a ballot himself. The comment followed extraordinary scenes in Wisconsin, after Republicans blocked the Badger State’s Democratic governor from delaying the state’s primary over concern that voters could infect one another with the novel coronavirus.

Trump’s daily jousts with the media recreate the adversarial dynamic of his 2016 campaign and much of his earlier presidency and invite his supporters to adopt his narrative of events rather than fact-based critiques of his conduct. This has been a successful device in the past to cement the anti-establishment President with his followers.

But a new CNN/SSRS poll Wednesday finds increasing overall concern about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis following an initial spike in his ratings in recent weeks.

A majority of Americans — 55% — now say the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread of the disease in the United States, up eight points in about a week. And 52% say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the outbreak. As usual, assessments of Trump break on partisan lines. Some 80% of Republicans say the federal government has done a good job, and Trump’s approval rating is steady at 44%.

Also Wednesday morning, a prominent model that tracks the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has updated its projections to predict that the nation will reach its peak number of daily Covid-19 deaths in four days and its peak use of resources — such as hospital beds and ventilators — in three days.

The model also predicts that far fewer people — 60,415 — than have been previously projected will die due to Covid-19 by August.

That model, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, previously projected on Tuesday that about 82,000 people would die by August and that the country wouldn’t reach peak resource use until next week.

A dark day in the fight against Covid-19

In many ways, it was just another inexplicable day of the Trump presidency.

Trump did mention Americans grieving the loss of loved ones in his scripted remarks, but the intensity of Trump’s clashes with reporters and litany of outrageous claims seemed incongruous with a backdrop of such human tragedy with more than 1,800 deaths reported in a single day.

There are, after all, more confirmed cases in the United States than anywhere else in the world — even if there are some hopeful and preliminary signs that the wave of infections may be beginning to slow in the New York epicenter.

The chaos and contradictions coming from the administration do not just raise questions about the White House’s current management of the pandemic. They will cause concern because the second stage of the national effort — reopening the economy and keeping a second wave of infections at bay — will require focused and subtle leadership that can win the confidence of the nation.

Top public health official says number of dead could be lower as Americans practice social distancing

No White House has ever faced the task of ensuring such an expansive economic package is properly implemented and does not fall prey to corruption. There is little in the history of the Trump administration that suggests this will go smoothly.

The President sparked fresh fears about his capacity to properly oversee previous rescue packages and those to come when it emerged he had removed Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine from a post monitoring the stimulus funds.

The move prompted Democrats to warn that Trump is seeking to oversee the package himself. Trump had already warned he will ignore a provision in the bill requiring the special inspector general to report to Congress on the handling of the funds.

His dismissal of Fine was the latest swipe against the structures of government meant to hold him accountable — that peaked with his defiance of the impeachment inquiry.

On Monday, Trump personally attacked a Health and Human Services inspector general who uncovered massive shortages of vital protective equipment at hospitals battling Covid-19.
On Friday night, the President fired the intelligence community inspector general who alerted lawmakers to a report about his pressure on Ukraine to dig up dirt on his Democratic foe Joe Biden.

Trump dismisses Navarro memos

With the pandemic taking a tighter grip on the United States, Trump has taken vigorous steps to cover up for his multiple statements earlier this year downplaying the virus.

The question of his responsibility for a lack of preparation for the crisis intensified on Tuesday when The New York Times revealed that a top economic official, Peter Navarro, had written a memo to the President in January warning coronavirus could become a “full blown pandemic” causing trillions of dollars in economic damage and risking the health of millions of Americans.
How Peter Navarro went from an anti-China 'gadfly' to trusted Trump coronavirus adviser

The revelation undercut the President’s repeated declarations that nobody could have foreseen the consequences of the virus. It also left him in a tricky spot. Either he had to admit that he had seen the warning, or if he said it didn’t reach him, he would paint a picture of dysfunction at the White House.

He did neither, seeking to foster misinformation and confusion around the document designed to disguise his own culpability.

The President maintained that he did not see the memo or memos until several days ago.

“I didn’t see them. I didn’t look for them either,” the President said, then argued falsely he had reached the same conclusion as Navarro, citing his decision to stop flights from China. In fact, Trump was downplaying the impact of the virus as recently as early last month.

When asked why he did not level with Americans about the potential impact of the crisis if his unexpressed thoughts aligned with Navarro, Trump said: “I’m not going to go out and start screaming, this could happen.”

“I’m a cheerleader for this country. I don’t want to create havoc and shock.”

Trump nominates a new foil — the WHO

Unlike the President, the World Health Organization has warned for weeks about the gravity of coronavirus.

The WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International concern on January 30 after sending a team to Wuhan and to meet Chinese leaders in Beijing.

On the same day, at a rally in Michigan, the President said of the virus, “We think we have it very well under control.”

But on Tuesday, the President lashed out at the global health body, claiming it had underplayed the threat of the virus and that he had got it right.

“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it,” the President said in his briefing.

“They called it wrong. They missed the call. They could have called it months earlier,” Trump said.

“It’s a great thing if it works but when they call every shot wrong that’s no good,” he said, accusing the WHO of being biased towards China, which Republicans have accused of trying to cover up the virus.

Given the President’s long timeline of false statements and predictions, that must go down as one of the most audacious comments of his presidency. It was also reflective of his own tendency to nominate an enemy and accuse it of the very transgression that he is accused of perpetrating.

He added to the confusion by denying that he had said that he would halt funding to the WHO — a move that would be counterproductive in a pandemic and would undermine already compromised perceptions of US leadership on the crisis.

“I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we are going to look at it,” the President said.

The President was also unable to provide much clarity on the chaos afflicting the Navy, following the resignation of Thomas Modly. The acting Navy secretary quit a day after leaked audio revealed he called the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “stupid” in an address to the ship’s crew.

This came a little more than a week after Capt. Brett Crozier sent a memo warning of coronavirus spreading among the sailors. The memo leaked and Modly subsequently removed Crozier from command.

“I had no role in it. I don’t know him but I’ve heard he was a very good man,” the commander in chief said.

But Trump also rebuked Crozier.

“He didn’t have to be Ernest Hemingway. He made a mistake but he had a bad day. And I hate seeing bad things happen.”

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Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel




Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel_5ed43a3d6fdc5.jpeg

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.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are seen at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL)

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.

Incoming Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, with his predecessor, incoming Finance Minister Israel Katz, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020 (Foreign Ministry)

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.

Incoming Economy Minister Amir Peretz at a changeover ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“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.

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Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN




Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN_5ed43a31b38fc.jpeg

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In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times




In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times_5ed43a2a0f874.jpeg

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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