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Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump’s Remarks Prompt Warnings on Disinfectants’ Dangers; Navy Recommends Reinstating Captain – The New York Times

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Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump’s Remarks Prompt Warnings on Disinfectants’ Dangers; Navy Recommends Reinstating Captain – The New York Times_5ea3723c208ba.jpeg

Stark warnings of the dangers of ingesting household disinfectants follow Trump’s White House remarks.

President Trump’s assertion at the White House that household disinfectants might be able to kill the coronavirus inside the body was denounced as misguided and dangerous by doctors and elected officials — and prompted Lysol and Clorox to issue statements warning against the improper use of their products.

As the outcry grew, the president tried to suggest Friday that he had only been kidding, then took no questions from reporters — a highly unusual move — at the daily White House virus briefing that was one of the shortest yet.

Earlier, he claimed he had not been serious when he spoke about disinfectants. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Mr. Trump told journalists in the Oval Office as he signed the latest virus relief bill into law.

His explanation, which came after his comments were widely assailed and mocked, contrasted with his own press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who had made no claim that the president was actually not being serious. Instead, in a statement earlier in the day, she said that the president had repeatedly made clear that Americans should consult with doctors, and blamed reporters for mischaracterizing Mr. Trump’s remarks, without saying how.

“Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines,” Ms. McEnany said.

The president made the initial remarks Thursday evening at the White House after a scientist, William N. Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters at the briefing that the government had tested how sunlight and disinfectants — including bleach and alcohol — could kill the coronavirus on surfaces in as little as 30 seconds.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it?” he added, turning to Mr. Bryan, who had returned to his seat. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”

Apparently reassured that the tests he was proposing would take place, Mr. Trump then theorized about the possible medical benefits of disinfectants in the fight against the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

Bleach and other disinfectants may kill microbes, but they also can kill humans if swallowed or if fumes are too powerful. That is why bottles of bleach and other disinfectants carry sharp warnings of ingestion dangers. And experts have long warned that ultraviolet lamps can harm humans if used improperly — when the exposure is outside the body, much less inside. The link between ultraviolet light and skin cancer is well established.

The president’s comments were alarming enough that his own public health appointees felt the need to warn Americans not to take them seriously.

“A reminder to all Americans- PLEASE always talk to your health provider first before administering any treatment/ medication to yourself or a loved one,” Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, wrote on Twitter. “Your safety is paramount, and doctors and nurses are have years of training to recommend what’s safe and effective.

After the president’s comments on Thursday, searches soared for cleaning products including laundry detergent capsules like Tide Pods. By the afternoon, a hotline run by the state of Maryland had received more than 100 calls on the subject, Michael Ricci, the spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said on Twitter.

The calls prompted a response from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency: “Under no circumstances should any disinfectant product be administered into the body through injection, ingestion or any other route.”

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the company said. The words “under no circumstance” were highlighted in bold.

And the Clorox Company said on Friday that disinfecting surfaces with bleach was one way to help slow the spread of the virus, but added: “Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances.”

Mr. Trump has long touted various ideas against the virus despite a lack of scientific evidence, from sunlight and warmer temperatures to an array of drugs, including the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. But some of his recommendations, however, have had disastrous effects. Last month, an Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized after the couple ingested a chemical found in hydroxychloroquine.

Social media companies have been struggling to address the spread of misinformation about the virus, including junk science and supposed cures. Last month, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, specifically mentioned a bleach “cure” as an example of “misinformation that has imminent risk of danger.”

“Things like, ‘you can cure this by drinking bleach,’” he said. “I mean, that’s just in a different class.”

Advisers urge Trump to skip daily briefings or stop answering questions at them.

President Trump’s advisers are trying to get him to agree to a different structure for the daily coronavirus briefings that have become both a source of comfort to, and a source of self-destruction for, the president.

The conversations had been going on for some time, but came to a head after Thursday’s briefing, during which Mr. Trump mused aloud about whether scientists could explore the possibility of injecting people with disinfectant to ward off the virus’s effects. Doing so would be toxic and possibly deadly.

The hope is to either restrict the number of times Mr. Trump appears at the briefing, or to have him leave without taking questions, according to a person familiar with the discussions, which were first reported by Axios.

His most effective moment at one of the briefings came weeks ago when he warned of a “painful” two weeks as deaths attributed to the virus were expected to spike. But the news conferences have more commonly served as an opportunity for Mr. Trump to air grievances about the press and his critics.

Salons, barbershops and other businesses reopened across Georgia on Friday after Gov. Brian Kemp defied opposition from the president, public health experts and some mayors in his state.

Lines started forming around 7 a.m. and snaked around some businesses. Mr. Kemp’s order generally allowed barbershops, nail salons, gyms, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Dine-in service at restaurants will be allowed to resume on Monday.

The move to reopen in Georgia, along with similar plans in Oklahoma and Alaska, is being closely scrutinized as other governors consider future steps for their own states.

In Oklahoma, customers waited in line Friday morning in their pickup trucks outside Joe’s Barber Shop in Midwest City. “I’m glad it’s starting to open up,” the owner, Joe Gann said, speaking through a white surgical mask as he gave a customer a tight crew cut.

But in Norman, where local restrictions remain in effect until at least May 1, Missy Gubitz, a salon manager and stylist, said she would not feel comfortable returning to work. “I love what I do and love to make people feel good about themselves,” she said. “But we are not essential.”

Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, urged people to stay home.

But at a shopping center on Auburn Avenue, the heart of Atlanta’s historic black business district, every spot in the parking lot was full. The two barbershops in the center were open and receiving a slow trickle of customers. Few employees wore masks.

Georgia has recorded more than 22,000 virus cases and that at least 892 people have died, and some parts of the state are still seeing cases rising, government statistics show.

Alaska lifted some restrictions for restaurants, retail stores and personal care services, like hair and nail salons. It plans to limit indoor seating at restaurants to 25 percent of their capacity, with tables kept 10 feet apart.

“There will be very few places capable of opening,” said Sarah Oates, the president and chief executive of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association.

Businesses should weigh whether they can operate under the restrictions, said Ethan Berkowitz, the mayor of the state’s largest city, Anchorage. “My message is: Go slow, don’t rush into things,” he said.

While polls have shown that most Americans are more concerned with easing restrictions too soon than too late, protests calling to end them have erupted in several states, including in Wisconsin on Friday.

The different approaches means that there is no one unified strategy for reopening the nation. Some are opening up salons and barbershops first. Others started with retail stores and kept salons closed. There is even confusion within each state, with questions about whether a governor’s decision to reopen superseded local orders to stay home.

But most everywhere, officials seemed to agree that a phased-in approach was needed. In Colorado, where a stay-at-home order is to expire on Sunday, the governor described a new phase starting next week, in which doctors can do elective medical procedures and retail businesses will be able to open for curbside pickup. But he said residents should still expect to maintain physical distancing.

“We still have work to do,” he said. “We are not through the woods yet.”

Capt. Brett E. Crozier should be restored to command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy’s top officials recommended on Friday.

But Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who was briefed on the recommendations, has asked for more time to consider whether he will sign off on the reinstatement of the captain of the nuclear-powered carrier.

Mr. Esper received the recommendation that Captain Crozier be reinstated from the chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael M. Gilday, and the acting Navy Secretary, James McPherson, on Friday. Defense Department officials said earlier that they expected to announce the results of the Navy’s investigation into the matter on Friday afternoon.

Mr. Esper’s decision to hold up the investigation has surprised Navy officials, who believed that the defense secretary would leave the process in the hands of the military chain of command.

Covid-19 has killed more than 10,500 residents and staff members at nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide, nearly a quarter of deaths in the United States from the pandemic.

But states are increasingly turning to nursing homes to relieve the burden on hospitals by accepting infected patients who are considered stable. Although there is no evidence so far that the practice has allowed infections to spread in nursing homes, many fear that it is only a matter of time. One lawsuit in New Jersey claims that a nursing home worker who died was likely to have been sickened by a patient readmitted from a hospital.

At the outbreak’s center, New York established a strict new rule last month: Nursing homes must readmit residents sent to hospitals with the virus and accept new patients deemed “medically stable.” On Thursday, the governor said nursing homes in New York would be investigated to ensure that they were following strict rules that were put in place during the outbreak. Those rules include notifying residents and family members within 24 hours if a resident tests positive or dies because of the virus and readmitting those infected only if homes can provide an adequate level of care.

New Jersey and California have also said that nursing homes should take in such patients. Homes can refuse patients if they claim they can’t care for them safely, but administrators worry that doing so could provoke scrutiny from regulators, and advocates say it could result in a loss of revenue.

In contrast, Massachusetts and Connecticut have designated specific facilities to handle Covid-19 patients — considered the safest way to free up hospital beds.

The Congressional Budget Office said Friday that it expects the federal budget deficit to hit $3.7 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year, which would be its largest size as a share of the economy since World War II.

In a new round of forecasts that officials cautioned were highly uncertain amid the pandemic, the budget office said it expects the economy to shrink by 5.6 percent over the course of this year, ending 2020 with an unemployment rate of nearly 12 percent.

The budget office said it expects a historic drop in economic activity to be recorded this spring, but that recovery will begin to set in as social distancing measures are relaxed but not eliminated at the end of June.

Still, it forecasts a slow climb back from the damage the virus caused the economy and the federal budget. It projects growth of 2.8 percent in 2021 — which would be nowhere close to the sharp rebound that some Trump administration officials have said they expect — and a budget deficit of more than $2.1 trillion for the 2021 fiscal year.

By the close of the 2020 fiscal year, which ends in September, the budget office now expects the size of the national debt to exceed the annual output of the economy.

The S&P 500 rose more than 1 percent by Friday afternoon, bucking a global decline. Shares in Europe and Asia had fallen earlier. Oil prices also rose on Friday adding to a sharp rebound earlier in the week. Still, they remain near historic lows amid concerns about oversupply.

The new projection from the budget office came as Mr. Trump signed the $484 billion relief bill into law on Friday, replenishing a fund for small businesses strapped by the lockdowns across the country and providing money for hospitals and increased testing.

He said the bipartisan legislation, which passed unanimously in the Senate and with just five negative votes in the House, would be “great for small businesses, great for the workers.”

Mr. Trump was joined in the Oval Office by a half-dozen Republican lawmakers. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader who steered the bill through Congress, was not present, nor were any Democrats.

In the past month, Congress has approved an astonishing $2.7 trillion in response to the pandemic. The latest measure contained no money for state governments, despite growing pleas from governors with state budgets stretched to the breaking point. Local governments have been overwhelmed with unemployment claims with more 26 million people losing their jobs in just five weeks.

Yet Republicans have resisted sending funds to the states, which Mr. McConnell has called “blue state bailouts.” Mr. McConnell alarmed and angered state officials this week when he suggested that states should consider filing for bankruptcy.

The federal government is kicking in an extra $600 per beneficiary, but states must pay the bulk of unemployment benefits using trust funds. At least three states — California, New York and Ohio — are expected to deplete their trust funds within two weeks, with Massachusetts, Texas and Kentucky close behind. Once those funds run out, the states can borrow money from the federal government.

The F.D.A. issued a warning against using anti-malaria drugs that Trump has touted.

The drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients and has resulted in some deaths, and should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals where patients can be closely monitored for heart problems, the Food and Drug Administration warned on Friday.

“The F.D.A. is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with Covid-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin” and other drugs that can disrupt heart rhythm, the agency said. The statement also noted that many people were getting outpatient prescriptions for the drugs in the hopes of preventing the infection or treating it themselves.

There is no proof that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine help coronavirus patients. They are approved to treat malaria and the autoimmune diseases lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But reports from France and China suggesting a benefit sparked interest in the drugs, even though the reports lacked the scientific controls needed to determine whether the drugs actually worked.

Mr. Trump has advocated their use repeatedly, sometimes combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic that is used to treat bacterial infections, not viral diseases. His repeated promotion of the use of the anti-malaria drugs is at odds with many of his top public health officials.

With no proven treatments for the coronavirus, many hospitals have been using hydroxychloroquine, sometimes with azithromycin, in the hope that they might help.

Scientists have urged that the drugs be tested in controlled clinical trials to find out definitively whether they can fight the virus or quell overreactions by the immune system that can become life-threatening. Studies are underway.

Trump’s suspension of family-based immigration is just the start, an aide says.

President Trump’s decision to suspend family-based immigration for 60 days because of the coronavirus is just the beginning of a broader strategy to reduce the flow of foreigners into the United States, Stephen Miller, the architect of President Trump’s immigration agenda, told a group of conservative allies on Thursday.

During a private conference call with the president’s supporters, Mr. Miller sought to reassure them of the president’s commitment to their cause and urged them to publicly defend Mr. Trump’s executive order, pledging that it is just a first step in the administration’s longer-term goal of shrinking legal immigration.

“The first and most important thing is to turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor — mission accomplished — with signing that executive order,” Mr. Miller said, according to an audio recording of the conference call obtained by The New York Times and first reported by The Washington Post.

The executive order Mr. Trump signed this week bars foreigners from receiving green cards for 60 days, a move that was condemned by immigration advocates. But it does nothing to limit visa programs that draw tens of thousands of workers to the United States, infuriating groups which support reducing the flow of foreigners into the country.

Mr. Miller said that further restrictions on programs for foreign workers were likely.

“In terms of dealing with some of these seasonal flows of guest workers and developing a strategy for that, that’s what the president directed us to do,” he added.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to revisit rulings from earlier this year that had allowed the Trump administration to move forward with plans to deny green cards to immigrants who make even occasional and minor use of public benefits like Medicaid.

New York, Connecticut and Vermont had asked the justices to temporarily suspend the program in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow,” Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, said last week.

The pandemic, the states’ motion said, justified loosening the administration’s new requirements for the so-called public charge rule, which allows officials to deny permanent legal status, also known as a green card. The administration responded that it had already taken steps to address the issue.

The Supreme Court’s orders said there may be another way for the states to obtain relief, by filing a motion with the trial judge.

Mr. Trump said on Friday that he would not authorize any financial assistance for the struggling United States Postal Service if it does not agree to enact dramatic price increases for shipping packages.

It is the latest threat in a long-running saga between Mr. Trump and the Postal Service that stems from his belief that Amazon and other online retailers have been profiting from low prices that have left it asking for a government bailout. The Postal Service has experienced a surge of demand with more Americans increasingly relying on delivery but is facing a $54 billion shortfall over the next decade, and projecting a $13 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year because of the pandemic.

“The Postal Service is a joke because they’re handing out packages for Amazon and other internet companies, and every time they put out a package, they lose money on it,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

But later on Friday afternoon, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he “will never let our Post Office fail.” He said the Postal Service “has been mismanaged for years,” but said, “The people that work there are great, and we’re going to keep them happy, healthy, and well!”

The Postal Service had appealed to lawmakers this month for an $89 billion lifeline and warned that it could run out of money by the end of September without help.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin scuttled a bipartisan effort to provide aid to the Postal Service in the economic relief package that passed last month. He insisted instead that his department be given new authority to lend up to $10 billion to the Postal Service on terms it helps set.

Mr. Mnuchin said on Friday that Treasury is working on a plan to put certain criteria for a Postal Service reform program as a condition for offering the loan. He also noted that a search is underway for a new postmaster general who will implement changes.

Hawaii has tried to discourage visitors during the coronavirus pandemic by requiring them to quarantine for 14 days.

Now, it is offering them a free return ticket home.

With a $25,000 grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the nonprofit Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii has begun helping to return travelers who don’t have the means to follow the mandatory 14-day quarantine, which involves paying for lodging and food delivery.

Since starting the program on April 6, the organization has sent 20 visitors to their airports of origin, including travelers from Guam, Los Angeles, Denver and Birmingham, Ala.

“The majority of travelers we have sent back, in my opinion, have been irresponsible in traveling to Hawaii during the Covid-19 pandemic when they know we are trying to keep Hawaii safe from the spread of this disease,” said Jessica Lani Rich, the president and chief executive of the group. The organization typically provides visitor support, such as translation assistance.

Ms. Rich said some of the visitors being returned home told her they had been taking advantage of low airfares to travel.

Though visitor arrivals are down nearly 99 percent, some residents have reported seeing tourists on beaches despite quarantine restrictions and stay-at-home orders. All beaches in Hawaii are closed, though people may cross them to swim, paddle or surf while observing social distancing.

“I see maybe one or two tourists a day,” said Ryan Houser, a restaurant’s “fish sommelier” and Waikiki resident.

“It’s a little offensive,” he added. “I would love to go to the beach every single day if I could, but I want to minimize the Covid-19 spread and make sure the curve stays flat.”

This was the year Mr. Trump was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at West Point, the only service academy where he has not spoken. Then the graduation was postponed because of the virus, the cadets were sent home and officials at the school were not sure when it would be held, or even whether it was a good idea to hold it.

Then, last Friday, the day before Vice President Mike Pence was to speak at the Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony in Colorado, Mr. Trump abruptly announced that he would, in fact, be speaking at West Point.

That was news to everyone, including officials at West Point, according to three people involved with or briefed on the event. The academy had been looking at the option of a delayed presidential commencement in June, but had yet to complete any plans. With Mr. Trump’s pre-emptive statement, they are now summoning 1,000 cadets scattered across the country to return to campus in New York, the state at the center of the outbreak.

“He’s the commander in chief, that’s his call,” said Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate and former chairwoman of the academy’s Board of Visitors. “Cadets are certainly excited about the opportunity to have something like the classic graduation, standing together, flinging their hats in the air.

“But everyone is leery about bringing 1,000 cadets into the New York metropolitan area for a ceremony,” she added. “It’s definitely a risk.”

Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the West Point superintendent, said in a telephone interview that returning seniors will be tested off-campus. Those who test negative will then be sent to the school, where they will be monitored for 14 days before graduation. While the campus has enough dormitory rooms for the 1,000 seniors, General Williams said that he was still deciding whether seniors would share bedrooms on their return.

“All 1,000 of them will not intermix,” he said. “They’ll be in their rooms. They’ll have their masks on. Groups will be segregated in the mess hall when they eat.”

Deaths from the virus continued their gradual descent, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday, with the state recording 422 more deaths, the smallest number since April 1. The official state death toll now stands at 16,162.

The number of virus patients in hospitals has fallen sharply, too, by more than 3,000 people since last Friday, according to statistics he cited. While polling places would remain open, he announced that he would direct the state Board of Election to send every voter a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot for the upcoming June 23 primary.

On Thursday, he described preliminary results showing that one of every five New York City residents has tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, suggesting that the virus had spread far more widely than known.

If the pattern holds, the results from random testing of 3,000 people raised the prospect that many New Yorkers — as many as 2.7 million, the governor said — had been unwittingly infected. He added that such an elevated infection rate would seem to show that the death rate was far lower than believed. The results appear to conform with research from Northeastern University that indicated that the virus was circulating by early February in the New York area and other major cities. Thousands of people across the county have emailed The Times with accounts of their own experiences in January and February with illnesses that they think may have been the virus.

While the reliability of some early antibody tests has been questioned, researchers in New York have worked in recent weeks to develop and validate their own antibody tests, with federal approval. State officials believe that accurate antibody testing is a critical tool to help determine when and how to begin restarting the economy and sending people back to work.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Kim Barker, Alan Blinder, William J. Broad, Patricia Cohen, Helene Cooper, Michael Cooper, John Eligon, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, J. David Goodman, Adam Liptak, Elaine Glusac, Maggie Haberman, Amy Julia Harris, Dan Levin, Sarah Mervosh, Michael Rothfeld, Eric Schmitt, Michael D. Shear, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Ben Fenwich, Emily Cochrane, Miriam Jordan, Denise Grady, Christine Hauser, Andy Newman, Frances Robles, Richard Fausset, Amy Harmon, Carl Hulse, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Alan Rappeport, Thomas Fuller and Marc Santora.

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

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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

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

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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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