More Republicans look to join the House ‘What coronavirus threat?’ caucus

Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s joined in that disregard for human life by many Republican lawmakers—and by many of the Republican candidates who hope to reclaim some ground in the House in 2020. That’s both because this is Trump’s party and because Republicans have long put their version of the economy (the economy of the rich and corporations) above the health and lives of working people.

Missouri’s Rep. Ann Wagner, for instance, went out on March 7 and, insisting on her knowledge of the situation—“We have had multiple, multiple briefings at the federal level for some time”—went on to assure the public, “As I said, this is, it's clear that the risk to our US public is low.” 

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Former Democrat Jeff Van Drew, who became a Republican over the impeachment of Donald Trump, also downplayed the threat, insisting that “This is not mass destruction. This is not 9-11. This is a terrible situation that has happened. But at the same time, we know that we deal with the flu every year.” That was on March 11. Van Drew is from New Jersey, which has now lost more than 16,000 people to COVID-19—more than five times the death toll of 9/11 as a whole.

Other congressional Republicans have postured against public health restrictions, like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who encouraged a church to hold services despite a police order not to do so. “Hold the services anyway, using common sense spacing, separation, etc. ... encourage elderly to stay home. But this kind of authoritarian nonsense must be challenged. #SicSemperTyrannis,” Roy tweeted. The church was in Virginia, far from Roy’s home state.

Wagner, Van Drew, and Roy are not alone in downplaying the threat or opposing public health restrictions—and if the Republican Party has its way, they’ll get a whole lot more company after November’s elections.

Company like Michelle Steel, challenging Rep. Harley Rouda in California’s 22nd Congressional District, who sounded a lot like Trump on March 22 when she said “hopefully the weather gets better this will all disappear.” At the end of April, she complained that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close crowded beaches was “a clear example of unnecessary government overreach,” unnecessary because “Orange County has been successful in flattening the curve.” At the time, Orange County had reported 2,400 COVID-19 cases. That number has risen to more than 50,000.

In South Carolina, Nancy Mace is challenging Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. On June 8, she said “Our health has not been adversely affected in the way we were told it was going to be. We should have opened up sooner.” COVID-19 cases had already started rising in South Carolina at that point, and would be over 1,000 new cases a day for most of the following two months.

In Texas, Sheriff Troy Nehls, who is competing against Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni for an open seat, has squawked loudly about mask rules, insisting “this government MANDATE from Harris County is unnecessary, unconstitutional, and unAmerican. It’s an unprecedented overreach which looks more like a communist dictatorship than a free Republic.” That was April 22. Texas, of course, went on to have a major spike.

Right now it’s impossible to pick apart how much Republicans downplay coronavirus and rail against restrictions aimed at slowing its spread because that’s what Donald Trump does, and how much it’s because they themselves, independently, think if they clap loud enough it will just go away. Either way, though, Republicans join Trump in owning the United States’ pandemic failures. And they must not get the power to make things even worse.

Republicans make it official with convention non-platform: They’re the Party of Trump

Last week, Democrats held a remarkably successful remote convention, showcasing the fights for racial justice, health care, and human decency. Coming up this week, the Republican National Convention will confirm that the Republican Party is a Donald Trump cult of personality. Of course the RNC won’t support racial justice or health care or human decency, but it’s also unlikely to showcase even the basic competence involved in putting on an innovative and watchable political convention during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s appropriate, since Trump is responsible for so much of the pandemic’s devastation in the United States.

Most of all, this RNC will showcase what the Republican Party is today: the Trump Party. Instead of a platform outlining the party’s policy agenda, Republicans are just signing on for blanket support of Trump. This is it: “be it RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” 

No, convention platforms are never directly translated into law, but that is nonetheless a stunning abdication of any attempt by the broader Republican Party to assert an agenda beyond Donald Trump’s passing whims.

The RNC speaker list also highlights Trump’s total ownership of the party. Trump himself will reportedly speak every night, and the rest of the speakers announced thus far—a fairly short list—are heavy on Trump family members and lackeys. This is how deep into the Trump family the lineup goes: Not just Don Jr., but girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. Not just Eric, but wife Lara. Even largely forgotten daughter Tiffany Trump will speak. Favorite daughter Ivanka is a given, despite the ethics conflict her alleged work in the White House presents—in that capacity, she isn’t supposed to engage in politics.

Since this is the Trump Party, though, ethics issues are not just being ignored but gleefully trampled. In addition to Ivanka’s appearance, Team Trump is violating the Hatch Act’s prohibition on using the government properties like the White House for political purposes, planning for Melania Trump to speak from the Rose Garden, which she just had redesigned in some very interesting timing, while Donald Trump speaks from the White House and fireworks are set off over the South Lawn. “Some of Mr. Trump’s aides privately scoff at the Hatch Act and say they take pride in violating its regulations,” The New York Times reports. The Hatch Act is, let’s be clear, not some kind of gentle guideline. It is a law. Which Trump aides are proud of breaking.

Other speakers will include South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem; Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (another significant ethics issue); Sens. Tim Scott, Rand Paul, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton, and Marsha Blackburn; Reps. Jim Jordan and Elise Stefanik; former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley; and former Florida attorney general and Trump impeachment lawyer Pam Bondi. The St. Louis couple who achieved notoriety for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters passing by their giant mansion in a gated community will be there, as will Andrew Pollack, the father of a Parkland shooting victim.

Ernst is notably the only Republican senator currently facing a tough race who is scheduled to speak at the RNC.

Trump mounts major offensive against Biden but it just shows how weak his case is

The Trump campaign is working hard to get inside former Vice President Joe Biden’s head on the day he accepts the Democratic presidential nomination. Biden is one of the many Democrats who live rent-free inside Trump’s head, so his campaign is hoping to return the favor with a campaign event outside Biden’s Scranton, Pennsylvania, birthplace and a digital ad campaign focusing on Biden’s son Hunter.

Trump plans a detailed anti-Biden speech in Scranton as part of the effort to win Pennsylvania, a state crucial to his 2016 Electoral College victory but one in which he trails in current polling. Biden’s birthplace already made an appearance in the Democratic National Convention, when Sen. Bob Casey cast Pennsylvania’s votes in the nominating roll call in front of it.

The Biden campaign dismissed Trump’s trolling, with a spokesman saying he “put the health of countless families across the Keystone State in danger and plunged the strong economy he inherited from the Obama-Biden Administration into a tailspin.” Now, “[t]his sideshow is a pathetic attempt to distract from the fact that Trump’s presidency stands for nothing but crises, lies, and division.”

The Trump campaign’s ad focused on Hunter Biden is part of a high seven-figure digital advertising buy that will include 96 hours straight of YouTube advertising time as well as major ad buys on sites like Fox News, The Washington Post, and the Daily Caller. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler tweeted about the campaign, writing that “the Trump campaign has taken over the @washingtonpost home page with ads that take you to a series of YouTube videos that make claims that we have fact-checked as false.” Not that the Post’s letting that stand in its way, apparently.

Attacks on Hunter Biden continue to be the Trump campaign’s way to try to make Joe Biden look corrupt—there was a whole impeachment around those efforts, you may recall—and to make Biden look weak on China. A Biden campaign spokesman responded with a reminder of some of the facts around Trump’s relationship with China: “Trump begged Xi to help him win re-election, drove American manufacturing into a recession, struck a weak trade deal with China that they are not even living up to, and even gave his explicit support for concentration camps there. That's precisely why China's officials are openly pulling for him to win re-election.”

Other Trump campaign digital ads will try to portray Biden as senile. 

Imagine if the Biden campaign thought all it had against Trump was his kids’ business dealings and his mental sharpness. That wouldn’t be a very strong case—and yet even on those fronts Trump has chosen for battle, the case against Trump would be far stronger than the case against Biden.

Senate Republicans worry that Trump’s racism will cost them in November

Donald Trump is tanking in the polls and threatening to take Senate Republicans down with him. That has some Republican senators wishing Trump would tone it down a little with the racism and the ranting. Sure, they’ve enabled him for three and a half years, but now the polls suggest it might have costs for them.

“He's good with the base,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune told CNN. “But all of the people who are going to decide in November are the people in the middle, and I think they want the President at a time like this ... to strike a more empathetic tone.” Trump shouldn’t be less racist because it’s the right thing to do—he should be less racist because he’s alienating voters he (and Senate Republicans) need in November.

To Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, “[i]t looks like something needs to be adjusted” on the Trump campaign. But talking about tactical campaign tweaks with reference to polling is, again, extremely different from condemning racism.

To Sen. Lindsey Graham, “[i]t's been a couple bad weeks, and structurally we got to up our game.”

What does that mean, though? Apparently, “I just think sort of the cultural wars, the Democrats are on the wrong side of that. But at the end of the day, I think a little more message discipline would help.”

What about Trump’s repeated use of the racist term “kung flu” for COVID-19? “Ask the president about that,” said Sen. Thom Tillis. “Every week you all try to get me into a running commentary on the President's comments about a variety of different things. I really don't have anything to add,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

These Republicans have been there for Trump at every turn, giving him their votes on issue after issue and unqualified judge after unqualified judge, and protecting him during the impeachment trial. Now they’re making it clear they don’t really care how racist he is. They just don’t want it to cost them anything.

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Lindsey Graham’s next big round of sucking up to Trump is coming in new Russia probe

Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump’s chief lapdogs in the Senate, will have sweeping subpoena power to try to belatedly exonerate Trump and incriminate the Obama administration in the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines to give Graham, who is the committee chair, that subpoena power while rejecting—also along partisan lines—Democrats’ efforts to get subpoena power as well.

Graham plans to subpoena Obama administration officials including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey. All part of the plan to delegitimize the investigation into what Russia did to help Trump win rather than investigating … what Russia did to help Trump win.

“I am very intent in making sure this never happens again,” Graham said. “This” is the investigation into Russian election interference, not the Russian election interference itself.

It’s not just Graham and the Judiciary Committee, either. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Ron Johnson, will also be investigating the Russia investigation, and, as an extra-partisan bonus, he’s investigating Hunter Biden, too. Because nothing says “this investigation is aimed at uncovering the truth about a very important issue, not attacking my political opponents” like waiting until years after the fact during an election year and following the lead of a president who was impeached for abusing power to create a scandal around the same figure you’re now “investigating.”

Trump had Park Police and National Guard troops violently clear a peaceful protest so he could get a photo op. His attorney general has lied about it and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has apologized for being party to it. But Senate Republicans—the same Senate Republicans who protected him during the impeachment trial—couldn’t care less. Neither do they care that a foreign nation attacked U.S. democracy four years ago. They just want to keep the truth from getting out and do whatever it takes to protect Trump from ever facing a consequence for anything. 

There’s a nationwide movement against police brutality and a global pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans, in large part because of Donald Trump’s refusal to admit it might be a problem. And Senate Republicans don’t care about anything but keeping Trump in power.

COVID-19 news: Trump, his polls in the toilet, wants to ‘reopen America’ before fixing past failures

No wonder Donald Trump is all over the place with his coronavirus response. (Everywhere but competence, that is—and that’s just beyond him.) His polling is looking baaaad. But he’s going in the opposite direction from what the poll indicates the public wants. Trump is trying to evade responsibility by putting the responsibility on the states, but “Most Americans disagree with the Trump administration’s position that the federal government is a backup to the states. The public seems to view this as a national crisis that requires a national response on par with the aggressive approach taken by the states,” Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said.

Trump wants to "reopen America" without the one thing necessary to do so safely. Namely, testing. CNN went in depth on the Trump administration’s early testing failures, about which a University of Florida expert said “What we needed was extremely aggressive leadership at the CDC level and at the national level to say, okay, these are all our plans... I don't think there was really a realization of the magnitude of the problem.” And now, without having fixed the problems that started early on, Trump wants to lift precautions “very, very, very, very soon.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is pushing back.

● Republican lawmakers have a message for Trump: Shut up. Turns out, those endless press briefings aren’t playing as well as he thinks they are, and that’s not just a Democrat’s opinion.

● Democrats demand answers to how a tax break benefiting Trump and Kushner got into coronavirus bill.

● At-risk janitors, housekeepers, other non-clinical hospital staffers “terrified” about coronavirus.

● D.C.'s hospitality and tourism authority announces $5 million in relief for undocumented workers. Hugely important move for a group that’s being left out of too much of the (already insufficient) assistance going to newly unemployed people.

● Trump is trying to kill the United States Postal Service as vote-by-mail becomes the best chance to save our democracy. Also on the vote-by-mail front, Georgia and Texas voting rights advocates go to court in the battle for absentee ballot access.

● Trump's White House is finally preparing for something: Beating back oversight of coronavirus relief. Impeachment provided a lot of practice and Trump’s lawyers are ready to go. Including, presumably, the one he’s trying to put in as inspector general for pandemic recovery.

● New Zealand shows us what a really 'good job,' and real leadership, looks like.

● Spurred by the coronavirus crisis, and Trump’s incompetence and corruption in dealing with it, California declares (rhetorical) independence from the undemocratic Trumpian States of America.

Trump’s White House is finally preparing for something: Beating back oversight of coronavirus relief

Coronavirus is going to give the Trump White House another opportunity to put into play the obstruction tactics it honed during the impeachment inquiry. There’s $2 trillion in economic stimulus, including a $500 billion relief fund for businesses, about which Trump told reporters “Look, I’ll be the oversight. I’ll be the oversight.” Which, no.

Trump then nominated a White House lawyer, i.e. someone who’s been selected for loyalty to Trump, as special inspector general for pandemic recovery. Brian Miller helped obstruct investigations into Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, and now Trump wants him to do the same for investigations into pandemic recovery funds, in the guise of an inspector general—someone who’s supposed to exercise oversight rather than defend against it.

House Democrats have already started asking for documents relating to Jared Kushner’s work on supply chains for personal protective equipment and ventilators. “We are troubled by reports that Mr. Kushner’s actions—and those of outside advisers he has assembled and tasked—may be ‘circumventing protocols that ensure all states’ requests are handled appropriately,’” Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney wrote. “We are particularly troubled that Mr. Kushner’s work may even involve ‘directing FEMA and HHS officials to prioritize specific requests from people who are able to get Kushner on the phone.’”

But while the Trump White House wasn’t prepared to fight coronavirus, it’s certainly prepared to fight attempts at congressional oversight, including subpoenas.

Much of the House oversight will be run through a special select committee Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last week, to be headed by Rep. Jim Clyburn. Expect it to involve a series of protracted legal battles as White House lawyers move to block any and all information. Can’t have the peons knowing what Prince Jared’s been doing, after all. Let alone the would-be king, Donald.

A few Republicans furrow their brows over Trump’s inspectors general purge

Donald Trump’s firing of two inspectors general and public attack on a third, amid reports that he plans a broader purge of inspectors general, is drawing bipartisan concern—for now, anyway. 

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is working on a letter asking Trump to explain his firing of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community IG who referred the Ukraine call whistleblower’s report to Congress, helping to trigger Trump’s impeachment. Of course, that right there is the explanation for Trump’s firing of Atkinson, so asking for information is kind of performative. Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins are backing Grassley’s letter—but we know that only one of those three people has any possibility of actually standing up to Trump rather than plastering on a furrowed brow and folding.

“It is our responsibility to confirm that there are clear, substantial reasons for removal,” a draft of Grassley’s letter viewed by The Washington Post says. Which there are! They’re just totally corrupt reasons. And since every Senate Republican but one has let Trump know that they will never put any teeth in their concerns about him, he can safely ignore this like he has every other attempt at congressional oversight.

Trump also fired the acting inspector general for the Pentagon just before he was to take a position heading the panel conducting oversight of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus. You know, the one where Trump claimed “I’ll be the oversight” amid concerns that he would use the money as a slush fund to reward allies.

Additionally, he publicly attacked Christi Grimm, the Health and Human Services inspector general who issued a coronavirus response report that didn’t make the Trump administration look great.

Democrats are drafting bills to strengthen oversight of coronavirus stimulus funds and to protect inspectors general from firing without “evidence-based good cause,” in addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s formation of a select committee to look into the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic by issuing subpoenas that will be ignored.

Donald Trump is a corrupt and lawless president and he intends to use this crisis to free himself further from accountability and oversight.

Stephanie Grisham out as White House press secretary. Don’t feel bad if you’re asking ‘who?’

Consider it the political version of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it really make a sound?” If a White House press secretary never gives a press briefing, did she really do the job? Yes, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is on her way out—or anyway, she’s headed back to the East Wing to serve as Melania Trump’s chief of staff.

As White House press secretary, Grisham spent her time going on Fox News or media outlets to the right of Fox. She put her name on statements claiming that impeachment was derailing legislative progress (when really Mitch McConnell’s Senate was derailing legislative progress) and calling for "retribution" against Rep. Adam Schiff. She was forced to backtrack after claiming that Obama aides left mean notes for the incoming Trump administration. She claimed that Donald Trump doesn't tell lies.

Grisham’s qualifications for the job included a history of retaliating against reporters for negative coverage and having lost previous jobs for plagiarism and cheating on expense reports.

Grisham is reportedly leaving the job as part of a shake-up by new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Names being floated to replace her include campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany; Defense Department spokeswoman Alyssa Farah may also be in line for a communications role. Except it’s not clear if the White House communications department will regain any relevance with Trump still taking the role of head spokesman and changing message on a whim.

Trump’s coronavirus response is a disaster—and Senate Republicans own Trump’s failures

U.S. coronavirus response has been … not the best. And that’s coming from the top, expert after expert says. While the career officials and scientists working on the issue throughout the government remain the same as in previous disease outbreaks, Donald Trump has set the conditions under which they’re working in important ways, through his emphasis on political messaging, his aides’ reluctance to give him news he doesn’t want to hear, and his own vast and sweeping ignorance.

From the moment COVID-19 started making news, Trump’s public statements have focused on the message that everything is fine. “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” told Sean Hannity on February 2. “But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we’re going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes.” Fast forward five weeks and around 580 cases in the United States and it’s clear that Trump did not “shut it down, yes.”

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Of course not every case of coronavirus in the U.S. is attributable to Trump’s failures. The disease was always going to spread—but there’s the big problem. It was always going to spread, and Trump was working against preparedness. Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance under President Barack Obama—including during the Ebola outbreak—told Vox that once Trump has declared victory for his response to any crisis, “if in reality the response is anything less than a great success, it’s very, very hard for the government to acknowledge that and adjust accordingly.”

Specifically, “President Trump’s insistence that the strategy of keeping the disease out of the country was succeeding really handicapped the rest of the response. Here’s why: It makes it harder for the government to plan for the moment the strategy stops working. That’s critical in this kind of situation,” Konyndyk said. “The whole point of an overseas containment strategy is to buy you time. It delays the arrival of an outbreak in a country, but it cannot ultimately stop it. You’re not, or you shouldn’t be, hoping that that will be all that you need to do.”

The White House response to the outbreak has also suffered from typical Trumpian management, with muddled lines of authority over the response and lots of infighting. “The boss has made it clear, he likes to see his people fight, and he wants the news to be good,” an “adviser to a senior health official involved in the coronavirus response” told Politico. “This is the world he’s made.”

Trump’s message to the public also poses dangers, as when, talking to Hannity again, Trump downplayed the fatality rate from COVID-19, saying that “we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better, just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work, some of them go to work, but they get better[.]” Talking about people with coronavirus going to work? Not helpful in slowing the spread of the disease, even though it was not expressed as a direct suggestion.

Trump is able to botch this so thoroughly in part because he has no serious pushback from his own party. Senate Republicans are not sending him a strong message that he needs to respond quickly and effectively—instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dragged his feet on adequate funding to fight the disease and used it as yet another excuse to attack Democrats. In early February, Sen. Tom Cotton spread a conspiracy theory when he suggested that COVID-19 could have come from a “superlaboratory.” And, of course, every Republican senator other than Mitt Romney owns every damn thing Trump does after voting to acquit him in his impeachment trial.