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Models Project Sharp Rise in Deaths as States Reopen – The New York Times

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As President Trump presses for states to reopen their economies, his administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, a 70 percent increase from the current number of about 1,750.

The projections, based on government modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases a day currently.

The numbers underscore a sobering reality: The United States has been hunkered down for the past seven weeks to try slowing the spread of the virus, but reopening the economy will make matters worse.

“There remains a large number of counties whose burden continues to grow,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned.

As the administration privately predicted a sharp increase in deaths, a public model that has been frequently cited by the White House revised its own estimates, doubling its projected death toll.

The institute wrote that the revisions reflected “rising mobility in most U.S. states as well as the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11, indicating that growing contacts among people will promote transmission of the coronavirus.”

The projections confirm the primary fear of public health experts: that a reopening of the economy will put the nation back where it was in mid-March, when cases were rising so rapidly in some parts of the country that patients were dying on gurneys in hospital hallways.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump said deaths in the United States could reach 100,000, twice as many as he had forecast two weeks ago. But that new number still underestimates what his own administration is now predicting to be the total death toll by the end of May — much less in the months to come. It follows a pattern for Mr. Trump, who has frequently understated the impact of the disease.

“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” he said in a virtual town hall on Fox News on Sunday. “That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person over this.”

The White House responded that the new federal government projections had not been vetted.

“This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman.

After a wave of new state orders easing restrictions over the weekend, at least half a dozen more states began allowing certain businesses to reopen on Monday, some even as cases continued to rise.

Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska were among the states that allowed the reopening of some businesses on Monday even though they were seeing increasing cases, according to a New York Times database. Other states that have partly reopened while cases have continued to rise include Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas, according to the data.

About half of all states have now begun reopening their economies in some significant way, which public health experts have warned could lead to a new wave of cases and deaths.

“The vast majority of Americans have not been exposed to the virus, there is not immunity, and the initial conditions that allowed this virus to spread really quickly across America haven’t really changed,” said Dr. Larry Chang, an infectious-diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University.

While the country has stabilized, it has not really improved, as shown by data collected by The Times. Case and death numbers remain on a numbing, tragic plateau that is tilting only slightly downward.

At least 1,000 people with the virus, and sometimes more than 2,000, have died every day for the last month. On a near daily basis, at least 25,000 new cases of the virus are being identified across the country.

And even as New York City, New Orleans and Detroit have shown improvement, other urban centers, including Chicago and Los Angeles, are reporting steady growth in the number of cases.

The situation has devolved most significantly in parts of rural America that were largely spared in the early stages of the pandemic. As food processing facilities and prisons have emerged as some of the country’s largest case clusters, the counties that include Logansport, Ind.; South Sioux City, Neb.; and Marion, Ohio, have surpassed New York City in cases per capita.

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked the state’s Riot Control Act to lock down the entire city of Gallup, on the edge of the Navajo Nation. As of Sunday, the Gallup area had the third-highest rate of infection of any metropolitan area in the United States.

“We’re scared to death, so this had to be done,” said Amber Nez, 27, a shoe store saleswoman and Navajo Nation citizen who lives in Gallup. “I only wonder why we didn’t do this sooner.”

Many other states are already entering their next chapters.

Restaurants, stores, museums and libraries in Florida are allowed to reopen with fewer customers, except in the most populous counties, which have seen a majority of the state’s cases. In Clearwater, some beachgoers used seaweed to mark a six-foot barrier around them.

The White House has barred members of its coronavirus task force and their aides from appearing before Congress this month without the express approval of Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, according to an email obtained by The New York Times.

In addition, officials with “primary response departments,” including the Departments of State, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, will be restricted to appearing at four hearings department-wide for the duration of May.

The White House Office of Legislative Affairs laid out the policy in an email to senior congressional aides, noting that it could change before the end of the month.

“Agencies must maximize their resources for Covid-19 response efforts and treat hearing requests accordingly,” the message said. That argument was repeated by a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

Democrats condemned the move, saying it reflected an impulse by the president to silence health experts.

“By muzzling science and the truth, it will only prolong this health and economic crisis,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader. “The president’s failure to accept the truth, and then his desire to hide it, is one of the chief reasons we are lagging behind so many other countries in beating this scourge.”

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the committee, said on Monday that a May 12 hearing — what he called a “status report on going back to work, back to school” — would include appearances by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease official; Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Admiral Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. played traffic cop. Justice Clarence Thomas asked his first questions in more than a year. Justice Sonia Sotomayor disappeared for a few moments, apparently having failed to unmute her phone.

On the whole, the Supreme Court’s first argument held by telephone went smoothly. The justices asked short bursts of quick questions, in order of seniority, as the world — also for the first time — listened in.

Chief Justice Roberts asked the first questions and then called on his colleagues. When lawyers gave extended answers, he cut them off and asked the next justice to ask questions.

The question before the court was whether an online hotel reservation company, Booking.com, may trademark its name. Generic terms cannot be trademarked, and all concerned agreed that “booking,” standing alone, was generic. The question for the justices was whether the addition of “.com” changed the analysis.

The court will hear 10 cases by phone over the next two weeks, including three on May 12 about subpoenas from prosecutors and Congress seeking Mr. Trump’s financial records, which could yield a politically explosive decision as the presidential campaign enters high gear.

The justices may not return to the bench in October, the start of their next term, if the virus is still a threat, as several of them are in the demographic group thought to be most at risk: Six members of the court are 65 or older.

While the Supreme Court went remote, the top House Republicans on Monday urged caution on new rules proposed by Democrats to allow committees to meet virtually and House members to vote by proxy from outside of Washington.

The Senate, after weeks of sporadic meetings and curtailed operations, returned for the first time in a month to restart the process of confirming federal judges and Trump administration nominees, with new social distancing and other health precautions in place.

The governor of California said on Monday that some stores could reopen on Friday, and that individual counties, if they desired, could relax restrictions further as long as they took precautions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said the businesses, including clothing stores, bookstores, florists and sporting goods stores, would be allowed to reopen with modifications. The manufacturing businesses that supply these shops would also be permitted to reopen.

The announcement was a cautious but serious step toward removing some of the most severe restrictions that California had placed on everyday life. Dozens of states — led largely by those with Republican governors — have undone restrictions issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is a very positive sign, and it’s happened only for one reason,” Mr. Newsom said at a news conference. “The data says it can happen.”

Mr. Newsom and the state’s top health official, Dr. Sonia Angell, sounded optimistic, trumpeting the state’s testing capabilities — about 30,000 a day — and its stable number of daily hospitalizations.

Store owners will be allowed to open for pickup on Friday only if they alter their workplaces, and they must enforce social distancing. Mr. Newsom added that more details about the required modifications would be released on Thursday.

The governor also said that if local health officials and county governments certify that they are ready to reopen further, they will be able to open restaurants and other hospitality-sector businesses, with modifications. The counties will have to submit plans to the state health agency.

Prime ministers, a king, a prince and Madonna all chipped in to an $8 billion pot to fund a coronavirus vaccine.

Mr. Trump skipped the chance to contribute, with officials in his administration noting that the United States was pouring billions of dollars into its own research efforts.

During a three-hour fund-raising conference on Monday organized by the European Union and conducted over video link, representatives from around the world — from Japan to Canada, Australia to Norway — took turns announcing their countries’ contributions to fund laboratories that have promising leads in developing and producing a vaccine. For Romania, it was $200,000. For Canada, $850 million.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union that spearheaded the initiative, said the money would be spent over the next two years. The goal is to deliver universal and affordable access to medication to fight Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The multilateral effort stood in sharp contrast to the solo road the United States was on as scientists scrambled to develop a vaccine.

In Washington on Monday, senior Trump administration officials did not explain the U.S. absence at the European-organized conference. Instead, they pointed to American contributions to vaccine efforts worldwide and noted that the government had spent $2.6 billion on vaccine research and development through an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York listed seven requirements that each of the state’s 10 regions would need to meet before restrictions could be eased:

  • At least 30 percent of I.C.U. beds available.

  • At least 30 virus tests per 1,000 residents per month.

Some areas, including central New York and the sparsely populated North Country region of the state, were already meeting five of the seven requirements, Mr. Cuomo said.

New York City is meeting only three: Hospital deaths and new hospitalizations are declining steadily, and the city is conducting the appropriate number of tests each month.

The governor reported 226 more deaths in the state — the lowest one-day figure since March 28 and down more than 70 percent from early April, when nearly 800 people per day were dying. The number of hospitalized patients and new admissions to hospitals also continued to fall, though much more gradually than they had increased.

In New Jersey, all public and private schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Gov. Philip D. Murphy announced on Twitter on Monday, a week after saying there was “a chance” they would reopen. His decision followed similar steps by New York and Pennsylvania.

The cruise giant Carnival Corporation said on Monday that it planned to reopen cruising on eight of its ships before the end of the summer.

Carnival has canceled service on some of its lines through September, but it said it was planning to offer cruises from ports in Galveston, Texas; Miami; and Port Canaveral, Fla., as early as Aug. 1. Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line, has more than 100 ships across its various brands.

Carnival has been at the center of the pandemic since the beginning, when it was widely blamed for a series of major outbreaks that spread the disease across the world. Last week, Congress began investigating the company’s handling of the virus, asking it to turn over internal communications related to the pandemic.

In its statement on Monday, Carnival said all North American cruises set to depart between June 27 and July 31 would be canceled.

“We will use this additional time to continue to engage experts, government officials and stakeholders on additional protocols and procedures to protect the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we serve,” the company said.

Three people have been charged with murder in the shooting death of a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Mich., after a dispute with a customer whose daughter was not wearing a mask in the store as required under a state order.

The Genesee County prosecutor, David Leyton, on Monday announced first-degree murder and weapons charges against the customer, along with her husband and son, who is accused of shooting the security guard, Calvin Munerlyn, on Friday afternoon.

According to the prosecutor, after Mr. Munerlyn told the customer, Sharmel Teague, that her daughter needed to wear a mask inside the store, Ms. Teague yelled and spat at him, prompting the security guard to tell her to leave and instructing a cashier not to serve her.

Ms. Teague left the store and called her husband, Larry Teague, who returned to the store with her son, Ramonyea Travon Bishop, according to Mr. Layton. Mr. Bishop is accused of then shooting Mr. Munerlyn in the head.

Ms. Teague has been arrested, while Mr. Teague and Mr. Bishop are being sought by the police, according to the prosecutor.

The shooting comes at a time when wearing a face mask — or refusing to — has become a flash point.

In Holly, Mich., the police are looking for a man who wiped his nose and face on a Dollar Tree store clerk’s shirt on Saturday after she advised him that all customers must wear a mask inside the store.

Researchers at two Harvard-affiliated hospitals are adapting a form of gene therapy to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine, which they expect to test in people later this year, they announced on Monday.

Their work uses a method already present in gene therapy for two inherited diseases, including a form of blindness: A harmless virus serves as a vector, or carrier, to bring DNA into the patient’s cells. In this case, the DNA should instruct the cells to make a coronavirus protein that would stimulate the immune system to fight future infections.

So far, the researchers have studied the vaccine candidates only in mice. But two of seven promising versions are already being readied for studies in humans. The research is one of at least 90 vaccine projects speeding ahead around the world.

Like other vaccine projects, this one is focusing on the so-called spike on the coronavirus, which the virus uses to grab onto cells and invade them. In theory, if the immune system can be trained to make antibodies to block the spike, the virus will not be able to establish an infection.

One advantage of this approach, if it proves safe and effective, is that many drug and biotech companies already produce the type of vector it relies on. That means production could be scaled up quickly. As with other vaccine projects, much is still unknown, including the possibility that the vaccine could actually make the disease worse.

They did not treat patients, but Wayne Edwards, Derik Braswell and Priscilla Carrow held some of the most vital jobs at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens.

By April 12, they were all dead.

The pandemic has taken an undisputed toll on doctors, nurses and other front-line health care workers. But it has also ravaged the often invisible army of nonmedical workers in hospitals, many of whom have fallen ill or died with little public recognition of their roles.

The victims included the security guards watching over emergency rooms. They were the chefs who cooked food for patients. They assigned hospital beds and checked patients’ medical records. They greeted visitors and answered phones. They mopped the hallways and took out the garbage.

“You know how people clap for health workers at 7 o’clock? It’s mainly for the nurses and doctors. I get it. But people are not seeing the other parts of the hospital,” said Eneida Becote, whose husband died last month after working for two decades as a patient transporter.

The Food and Drug Administration announced on Monday that companies selling coronavirus antibody tests must submit data proving accuracy within the next 10 days or face removal from the market.

The antibody tests are an effort to detect whether a person had been infected with the virus, but results have been widely varied and little is known about whether those who became ill will develop immunity — and if so, for how long. Government and health officials have hoped that antibody tests would be a critical tool to help determine when it would be safe to lift stay-at-home restrictions and reopen businesses.

Since mid-March, the agency has permitted dozens of manufacturers to sell the tests without providing evidence that they are accurate. Many are wildly off the mark.

The F.D.A.’s action came after a report by more than 50 scientists, which found that only three out of 14 antibody tests gave consistently reliable results, and that even the best had flaws. An evaluation by the National Institutes of Health also found “a concerning number” of commercial tests that were performing poorly, the agency said.

The vice president, Tim Bray, wrote in a blog post that his last day at the company was on Friday. He criticized a number of recent firings by Amazon, including that of an employee in a Staten Island warehouse, Christian Smalls, who had led a protest in March calling for the company to provide workers with more protections. Mr. Smalls’s firing has drawn the scrutiny of New York State’s attorney general.

Mr. Bray also criticized the firing last month of two Amazon employees, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, who circulated a petition on internal email lists in March calling for Amazon to expand sick leave, hazard pay and child care for warehouse workers.

Mr. Bray, who had worked for the company for more than five years, called the fired workers whistle-blowers and said that firing them was “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The intelligence agencies sought on Monday to back Mr. Trump’s assertions that he was given only minimal warnings about the threat of the coronavirus early in the year, singling out their own lapses without noting that around the same time, scientists, public health officials and national security officials were sounding alarms.

Mr. Trump was first briefed by intelligence agencies about the novel coronavirus on Jan. 23, said Susan Miller, the spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But she acknowledged that the initial briefing downplayed its threat. Mr. Trump was “told that the good news was the virus did not appear that deadly,” Ms. Miller said. As the world painfully learned, that assessment was wrong.

Ms. Miller’s statement came after weeks of Mr. Trump and administration officials railing at what they have called inaccurate accounts in the news media that intelligence agencies put multiple warnings about the virus in the president’s daily intelligence briefing. On Sunday, Mr. Trump said the intelligence agencies in January had told him the virus was “not a big deal.”

Though information about the virus in late January was imperfect, the warnings from other officials were stark enough to prompt the Trump administration to decide by the end of January to restrict travel from China.

Some intelligence officials have said that the pandemic’s spread had never been fundamentally an intelligence issue and that the warnings of scientists had always been far more important. When the warnings that intelligence agencies did give to officials were combined with what public health and biodefense officials were learning, a clearer picture of a global threat emerged early.

By focusing on what Mr. Trump was told in January, administration officials are also able to distract from the timeline of events in February. It was during that month that critical missteps by the Trump administration led to wasted time and delays in responding to the crisis.

At least 12 countries began easing restrictions on public life on Monday, as the world tried to figure out how to placate restless populations tired of being inside and reboot stalled economies without creating opportunities for the virus to re-emerge.

The steps, which include reopening schools and allowing airports to begin domestic service, offer the rest of the world a preview of how areas that have managed to blunt the toll might work toward resuming their pre-pandemic lives. They also serve as test cases for whether the countries can maintain their positive momentum through the reopenings, or if the desire for normalcy could place more people at risk.

Most of the countries easing their restrictions are in Europe, including Italy, one of the places where the virus hit earliest and hardest, leaving more than 29,000 dead. The country plans to reopen some airports to passengers.

In Lebanon, bars and restaurants will reopen, while Poland plans to allow patrons to return to hotels, museums and shops.

India allowed businesses, local transportation and activities like weddings to resume in areas with few or no known infections. Wedding ceremonies with fewer than 50 guests will be permitted and self-employed workers like maids and plumbers can return to work.

Mr. Trump accused the Chinese government of making a “horrible mistake” in its virus response and of then orchestrating a cover-up that allowed the pathogen to spread.

“They tried to cover it, they tried to put it out. It’s like a fire,” Mr. Trump said on Sunday night during a virtual town hall on Fox News. “You know, it’s really like trying to put out a fire. They couldn’t put out the fire.”

“We’re going to be giving a very strong report as to exactly what we think happened,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think it will be very conclusive.”

It is not just the Trump administration that has been increasingly critical of China. The Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent for Europe, Steven Erlanger, reports that a backlash against Beijing is building across the globe, creating a deeply polarizing battle of narratives and setting back China’s ambition to fill the leadership vacuum left by the United States.

China has denied that the virus originated in a laboratory.

Stocks on Wall Street slid on Monday, following a drop in Europe and Asia, as investors remained on edge about the severity of the economic downturn.

The S&P 500 fell about 1 percent at the start of trading, putting it on track for its third straight decline.

Investors have been contending with two diverging ideas lately. Encouraged by the progress made in combating the pandemic, and hopeful that economies will begin to reopen soon, they bid stocks sharply higher in April. But evidence of the damage to employment, corporate profits and the broader economy continues to roll in.

On Monday, the focus was on the risks, with sentiment hurt by rising tensions between the United States and China.

Shares of the big U.S. airlines — Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines — were also sharply lower after Warren Buffett on Saturday said he had dumped his stakes in the companies. Because of the pandemic’s impact on travel, “the airline business — and I may be wrong, and I hope I’m wrong — but I think it, it changed in a very major way,” he said.

In some global markets, the drop was partly a catch up to trading on Friday. Stocks in France and Germany, which had been closed Friday, fell more than 3 percent. But the FTSE 100 in Britain, which did trade on Friday, was only slightly lower.

From the early days of the Trump administration, Stephen Miller, the president’s chief adviser on immigration, has repeatedly tried to use an obscure law designed to protect the nation from diseases overseas as a way to tighten the borders.

The question was, which disease?

Mr. Miller pushed for invoking the president’s broad public health powers in 2019, when an outbreak of mumps spread through immigration detention facilities in six states. He tried again that year when Border Patrol stations were hit with the flu.

When vast caravans of migrants surged toward the border in 2018, Mr. Miller looked for evidence that they carried illnesses. He asked for updates on American communities that received migrants to see if new disease was spreading there.

In 2018, dozens of migrants became seriously ill in federal custody, and two under the age of 10 died within three weeks of each other. While many viewed the incidents as resulting from negligence on the part of the border authorities, Mr. Miller instead argued that they supported his argument that the president should use his public health powers to justify sealing the borders.

On some occasions, Mr. Miller and the president, who also embraced these ideas, were talked down by cabinet secretaries and lawyers who argued that the public health situation at the time did not provide sufficient legal basis for such a proclamation.

That changed with the arrival of the pandemic.

Within days of the confirmation of the first case in the United States, the White House shut American land borders to nonessential travel, closing the door to almost all migrants, including children and teenagers who arrived at the border with no parent or other adult guardian. Other international travel restrictions were introduced, as well as a pause on green card processing at American consular offices, which Mr. Miller told conservative allies in a recent private phone call was only the first step in a broader plan to restrict legal immigration.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Brooks Barnes, Julian Barnes, Alan Blinder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Caitlin Dickerson, Reid J. Epstein, Nicholas Fandos, Denise Grady, Nicole Hong, Sheila Kaplan, Dan Levin, Adam Liptak, Patricia Mazzei, Sarah Mervosh, David Montgomery, Heather Murphy, Matt Richtel, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, David Sanger, Marc Santora, Dionne Searcey, Michael D. Shear, Eileen Sullivan, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Tracey Tully and Neil Vigdor.

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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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