‘Wartime President’ Donald Trump: Dear America, You’re on your own

Over two weeks ago, Donald Trump embraced the idea of being a "wartime president." Yet more than two months into an unprecedented attack on our country, Trump continues to push the nation ever deeper into the hole he dug through his punishing ineptitude. All the while, the so-called “wartime president” has inexplicably refused to employ the powers uniquely vested in him as president to help the country claw its way back out. Far from leading, Trump has ensured the coronavirus will wreak "vicious" (to borrow his term), extensive, and prolonged damage on the nation he pretends to lead in front TV cameras every day.  

First and foremost, Trump still has not issued a national stay-at-home order. Even Trump's de facto coronavirus spokesperson, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, seems baffled by the inaction as the U.S. now dominates the world in confirmed coronavirus cases and our hospitals buckle under a crush of patients requiring critical care. “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” Fauci told CNN Thursday of a national directive from the president. 

On Sunday, Trump did extend voluntary social distancing guidelines through the end of April. But Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker explained on MSNBC Thursday that Trump was largely backed into a corner on the issue. Since about half the states had already implemented statewide stay-at-home orders at the time, Trump came to the "realization" that he couldn't "overrule the governors." It's classic lead-from-behind posturing. Trying to get the nation back to work would have just made Trump look weak, so he caved. 

Nonetheless, Trump still spent the week dithering on whether GOP governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida—widely viewed as an emerging hotspot with an extremely vulnerable retiree population—should implement a statewide directive. DeSantis finally did issue that order Wednesday, specifically saying he took Trump's extension of the national guidelines as "a signal" that "it’s a very serious situation." In other words, DeSantis used an action Trump was forced into taking as cover for finally issuing a directive he should have given weeks ago when spring break revelers started flooding Florida's beaches. Yet in the mold of Trump, DeSantis left giant holes in the statewide directive—still excluding beaches (though many counties have acted on their own) and religious services. Still, by week's end, nearly 40 states had issued statewide stay-at-home orders of some kind. Naturally, all the remaining holdouts were headed by Republican governors.

But what is made glaringly obvious by the hodgepodge of varying statewide directives amid the nation’s most massive public health emergency in a century is the chasmal lack of leadership coming from the nation's chief executive. Trump's extraordinary failure started with testing—which continues to be in short supply to this day and is presently dooming the capacity of rural states to contain the virus just like it kneecapped New York at the outset. Every day the federal government continues in its failure to make efficient testing widely available, the country is paying the price in lost lives and extended economic fallout. There is simply no way to contain a virus when you can’t track where it is. 

Next Trump has failed a million times over to provide the proper medical equipment needed so badly by hospitals across the country, with the shortage presently being felt most acutely in New York. Medical workers have been forced to protest for this life-saving medical gear even as Trump simultaneously accused them of stealing the materials this week. Trump has also refused to use the power of the federal government to centralize both the production and distribution of this material, which has left states and counties bidding against each other—and even the federal government—to obtain the precious resources. 

“It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo explained at a press conference this week. "And then FEMA gets involved and FEMA starts bidding. And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50," Cuomo added of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

But the bidding war is just one of an exponential number of insurmountable hurdles states have confronted in getting the equipment they need. Some materials are arriving in unusable condition, such as rotten masks or broken ventilators (which are extraordinarily complex, parts-intensive machines). The distribution of materials is also entirely inequitable and based on preferential treatment rather than who needs the resources and when. In theory, since the apex of the crisis is staggered for states across the country, the nation should be able to pool resources to deploy on an as-needed basis around the nation. Instead, a state like Florida has gotten the full complement of materials its governor requested from the federal government because Trump considers the state "so important for his reelection," as one White House official put it. Meanwhile, Trump has publicly questioned whether New York really needed as many ventilators as Gov. Cuomo estimated and then turned around and blamed Cuomo for not having enough to begin with. "They should've had more ventilators," Trump said Friday, refusing to reassure New Yorkers they would get the ventilators they so desperately need. Trump’s latest coronavirus czar Jared Kushner also said Thursday that the federal government finally made a shipment of much-needed N95 masks to New York after Trump heard “from friends” there that the city was running low on critical supplies. Not the governor, not the hospitals, “friends.”  Trump has also singled out certain governors for abuse and derision. "Don't call the woman in Michigan," Trump told Vice President Mike Pence last week of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who had dared to suggest the state needed more help from the federal government.

Finally, there's the matter of national messaging, which Trump has personally screwed six ways to Sunday. Friday, Trump provided yet another perfect example of his bungling when he announced new CDC guidelines urging people nationwide to wear nonsurgical masks when they're out in public. Moments later Trump stressed that the guidelines were strictly voluntary and he would likely ignore them personally. 

"It's voluntary, you don't have to do it," Trump said. "I don't think I'm going to be doing it."

Frankly, trying to sum up the massive deficit of coherent leadership from the White House and the president himself at this most urgent moment in our history is nearly impossible. Team Trump hasn't just consistently failed the American people, it has undoubtedly and irrevocably made matters worse. More Americans will die. More Americans will suffer profound financial hardship. More Americans will never see a loved one again. 

New York-based disaster preparedness Dr. Irwin Redlener was almost speechless Friday while trying to explain the scale of the ineptitude we are witnessing. "I can't understand why we got so incompetent," said Dr. Redlener, whose son works as an ER doctor in New York and has already lost colleagues close to him. Redlener said he had been reviewing the impeachment articles that were passed by the House and acquitted by the Senate. "They seem naive compared to the incompetence we're seeing in this pandemic crisis, it's shocking," he said, adding, "it did not need to be like this."

No, it did not. Competence matters. Government matters. Public service matters. Integrity matters. Humanity matters. Life matters. 

Trump doesn't value a single one of those things as they relate to anyone but himself. Not one. Our country will be paying the price exacted by his hideousness for years if not decades to come, not to mention the incalculable toll on each and every one of us individually. 

Early last year, two top Trump officials said threat of a deadly pandemic kept them up at night

Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that "nobody" could have possibly foreseen the potential for a deadly plague sweeping across the globe. "Nobody knew there'd be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion," Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden on March 19. "Nobody has ever seen anything like this before."

Actually, anyone who was a student of history had seen something like this before. In fact, two of Trump's top administration officials foreshadowed exactly this type of disaster in their public remarks at the BioDefense Summit in April 2019.

"The thing that people ask: 'What keeps you most up at night in the biodefense world?' Pandemic flu, of course," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to CNN. "I think everyone in this room probably shares that concern." (Seems Trump wasn't in the room.)

Tim Morrison, then senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense on the White House National Security Council (NSC), told the gathering he had reviewed a book about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 in order to prepare his remarks. 

"When people ask me what am I really worried about, it's always the thing we're not thinking about," Morrison said. The Spanish flu outbreak, he noted, killed "more people than any other outbreak of disease in human history" in terms of raw numbers. Issues "like that" were what kept him up at night, Morrison added. (Seems Trump was sleeping soundly.)  

Morrison resigned from the NSC last October, just before testifying at the House impeachment hearings about Trump's desire for Ukraine to announce a politically advantageous investigation before he would release U.S. aid to the country. 

At least once a day nearly every day, we find out that Trump either ignored or entirely debilitated some early-warning signal about the potential for a horrifying pandemic to take hold in the U.S. Friday we learned that some of Trump's top officials were indeed concerned about such a fate—he just ignored them or pushed them out of his administration. We also discovered that last fall Trump defunded an early-warning program for pandemics just a couple months before the first reports of the novel coronavirus started coming out of China. Twofer. 

Senate Republicans have no excuse for their piss-poor coronavirus response. No excuse whatsoever

As the U.S. death toll due to the novel coronavirus climbs, congressional Republicans want to make sure they aren't left holding the bag for the federal government's piss-poor response in the early days of the burgeoning crisis. This week, GOP lawmakers have been trying out a new excuse: impeachment. That's right—that moment when 52 of 53 Senate Republicans voted to acquit Donald Trump, ensuring he would be at the helm right as the country was facing a burgeoning public health crisis unlike any seen in decades.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave their new excuse a test run on Tuesday during an interview with a conservative radio host, arguing impeachment had "diverted the attention of the government.” Later Tuesday, Trump himself shot that idea down, saying, “I don't think I would have done any better had I not been impeached." But after being singularly responsible for voting to keep the most incompetent president in history in charge of the federal response to a pandemic, Senate Republicans are pretty desperate to pin the blame on Democrats. 

“It’s unfortunate that during the early days of a global pandemic, the Senate was paralyzed by a partisan impeachment trial,” Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told Politico in a deeply reported piece on the congressional response. A GOP aide added, “The entire executive branch was consumed by impeachment, and it totally distracted Congress, too.” But for impeachment, the aide said, there would have been "a lot more public oversight to scrutinize all of this.”

So on one hand, Republicans are pinning the blame on Democrats for being the only party responsible enough to hold Trump accountable for trying to extort a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 elections. On the other hand, Republicans want the public to believe the party that has spent the last decade obsessed with stripping some 20 million Americans of health care access was suddenly going to take a keen and pointed interest in, well, health care.

Of course, when Republicans had the chance to feign interest in the issue, they didn’t. Here’s what happened: On Jan. 24, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held an all-Senators briefing on the novel coronavirus. It was poorly attended, with only about 14 senators present according to Politico. But that was the briefing that first kicked off an urgent round of stock sell-offs by several GOP senators and a Democratic one. Nonetheless, the bipartisan statement following the briefing from U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Patty Murray of Washington, Jim Risch of Idaho, and Bob Menendez of New Jersey was rather bland, saying they were "monitoring the outbreak" and thanking administration officials for the briefing. "The safety of U.S. citizens here domestically, as well as in China and other affected countries, is our first priority," read the statement. "We will continue to work closely with administration officials to ensure the United States is prepared to respond.”

That's about the level of urgency one might expect from any bipartisan statement. But it was Senate Democrats who picked up from there. On Jan. 26, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged the federal government to declare the novel coronavirus a public health emergency in order to free up $85 million previously allocated funds to battle infection diseases. 

“Should the outbreak get worse they’re going to need immediate access to critical federal funds that at present they can’t access,” Schumer told reporters at his Manhattan office. At that point, just four cases had been confirmed in the U.S. after the first positive test had been confirmed in Washington State on Jan. 20. “We aren’t here to propel panic or stoke fear, but to rather keep a good proactive effort by the CDC from going on interrupted,” Schumer said.

Two days later, Washington Sens. Murray and Maria Cantwell sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar requesting continued updates on the nation's capacity to respond to the highly infectious disease.

“We write to express concern about the rapidly evolving 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), to urge your continued robust and scientifically driven response to the situation, and to assess whether any additional resources or action by Congress are needed at this time,” Murray and Cantwell wrote. “A quick and effective response to the 2019-nCoV requires public health officials around the world work together to share reliable information about the disease and insight into steps taken to prevent, diagnose, and treat it appropriately.”

It was also Democrats that pushed for an emergency supplemental funding bill to combat the virus at a private briefing on the matter with Sec. Azar on Feb. 5—the day Senate Republicans ultimately voted to acquit Trump on charges that he had abused his power and obstructed Congress. After leaving that closed-door meeting, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut was apoplectic about the nonchalance of Trump officials. “[T]hey aren’t taking this seriously enough,” he tweeted. “Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now.” 

The first sign the Trump administration might be taking the novel coronavirus seriously originally came on Jan. 31, when the White House issued a ban on travelers from China and declared the public health emergency Schumer had been pushing for.

However, Trump spent the entirety of the next month downplaying the threat. At a Feb. 10 campaign rally, Trump declared, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away." He mocked "Cryin' Chuck Schumer" on Feb. 25 for urging Trump to ask for more than $2.5 billion for an initial supplemental to respond to the novel coronavirus. On Feb. 26, Trump predicted at a White House briefing that in a couple of days the number of coronavirus cases in the nation would be "down to close to zero," adding, "that’s a pretty good job we’ve done." Mission accomplished. 

The only thing Trump was really focused on after Senate Republicans voted to clear him in early February was a complete and total purge of nonloyalists in his administration and getting back to his beloved campaign rallies. 

On Feb. 13, Trump tweeted, "We want bad people out of our government!”

On Feb. 21, the Washington Post reported, "President Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal, a post-impeachment escalation that administration officials say reflects a new phase of a campaign of retribution and restructuring ahead of the November election."

Trump tapped Johnny McEntee, a 29-year-old personal aide and former body man to the president, to run that operation. Top officials at the Defense Department and White House National Security Council were forced out. The White House was also combing through people at the Justice and State Departments. No mention in the article of the novel coronavirus or elevating people with solid expertise and time-tested credentials in certain aspects of governing. Trump was laser-focused on beefing up his administration with the lard of loyalists. He needed more sycophantic “yes” men, people who would feed his emaciated ego. That was Trump’s main focus in February as he started eyeing his reelection campaign.

Throughout February, the main thing that became clear both in public and private was that most top Trump officials exhibited a distinct lack of urgency about the coming pandemic. In addition, with very few exceptions, Senate Republicans weren't using any leverage to get Trump to act. Almost to a person, Senate Republicans continued to be dismissive about the threat, especially in their public statements. 

Meanwhile, starting in late January, Senate Democrats started sounding the alarm bells both behind closed doors and publicly. Some of the most vocal among them were Sens. Schumer, Murray, Murphy, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was also running for president and pushed hardest on the issue among the remaining Democrats in the race.

Even by March 10, when Trump went to huddle with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, he was still selling the American people a bill of goods about the catastrophe ahead. The novel coronavirus would simply "go away, just stay calm," Trump told reporters, adding, "it's really working out. And a lot of good things are going to happen." Senate Republicans just smiled along, giddily grinning ear to ear as Trump minimized the threat. For his part, McConnell announced he would simply step aside and let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi negotiate the first major coronavirus relief package directly with the White House. 

By the time Pelosi had finished those painstaking negotiations and passed the relief bill through her chamber on Saturday, March 14, McConnell was nowhere to be found. He had recessed the Senate and skipped town for a long weekend away. Ultimately, the Senate would delay passing the bill—intended in part to help struggling Americans through dire financial times—for another four days.

When it comes to packing the federal courts, McConnell and Trump have no shame—and no principles

Focusing on the long-term—especially about matters of governmental and political process—isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do in the middle of a pandemic. However, Republicans never seem to think it’s the wrong time to push every button made available to them in their quest to gain as much power as possible. No matter what constitutional or historical norms they have to trample on, Donald Trump and his party are determined to create a conservative judiciary at the federal level that will endure for a quarter-century or more.

Let’s start, however, with what’s going on in 2020. Moscow Mitch—Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that is—has been doing things the Founders likely never envisioned when they wrote our Constitution. He, along with allies, have been making calls to aging conservative jurists on the federal courts, reminding them that the clock is ticking—on Trump’s time in the White House, on the Republicans’ hold on the Senate, and, most appropriately given his embrace of the nickname “Grim Reaper,” on their very lives. McConnell has been urging them to all retire ASAP so that he and The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote can put as many young whipper-snappers as possible into lifetime seats on the federal bench, seats they’ll hold long past a Sasha Obama presidency.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recently called McConnell out on this blatant manipulation of the process: “Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts.”

As The New York Times notes, some progressives have made statements urging justices to stay in their positions so that Trump can’t appoint their successors, but McConnell has achieved a new low by targeting individual judges and asking them to retire. This ask is a nasty one, on par with greedy heirs rooting for wealthy relatives to die sometime before 2010 came to an end ... just so they could dodge the temporarily-repealed estate tax.

McConnell here is repeating, in private, sentiments that members of his party such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley publicly expressed in the run-up to the 2018 midterms: “If you are thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday. If we have a Democrat Senate, you’re never going to get the kind of people that are strict constructionists.”

For anyone confused, “strict constructionists”—i.e., conservative judges who claim that all they do is look to the plain text of the Constitution when making their rulings—is really just a fancy term Republicans use in public to give a more objective veneer to their preferred judicial approach, which almost always—coincidentally, of course—comes down on the side of the powerful. In other words, characterizing conservative judges as strict constructionists sounds less political than saying that they are right-wing ideologues who vote just like Rush Limbaugh would—even though the latter is the truth.

Republicans are being quite systematic about this whole affair. Their efforts are supported by a private organization called the Article III Project, named after the part of the Constitution that establishes lifetime tenure for federal judges, subject to impeachment and removal if they fail to live up to the standard of “good behaviour” laid down therein. This group exists to “fight for the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees.”

The helpful folks over at A3P—that’s their clever moniker—want to clear out as many existing judges as possible. They’ve identified 90 who were appointed by a previous Republican president and who, based on their age and how many years they’ve served, either qualify or will qualify by year’s end for something called senior status.

According to the court system’s rules, those who take senior status now rather than outright retire allow Trump to put another, younger conservative in their place just as if they had retired. But judges on senior status get to keep drawing their full salary, hire clerks, and hear a reduced caseload. If this sounds bananas to you, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s the best of both worlds for those senior judges and for Republican leaders who want to increase their imprint on the judiciary. Thanks to A3P’s work, McConnell has a long list of people to target and a very attractive offer to make them.

McConnell and Trump have made a great effort to, in the senator’s words, “leave no vacancy behind.” They have placed 51 judges onto the U.S. Court of Appeals in Trump’s first three years (and 191 federal judges overall, as well as two on the Supreme Court), compared to 55 in Barack Obama’s entire eight years in office, and 62 during George W. Bush’s presidency. Trump has now named more than one-quarter of all sitting U.S. Appeals Court justices.

A good chunk of those new appellate judges—more than one out of three—took a spot previously held by a Democratic-appointed justice, thus shifting the bench hard to the right. Particularly noteworthy is the contrast between the diversity of the judges Obama appointed—only 31% of whom were white men, compared to 67% for Trump. For reference, somewhere around 40-45% of lawyers are white males, and white males constitute around 30% of the overall U.S. population, according to census data.

The New York Times conducted an in-depth analysis earlier this month of these Trump judges and found that they differ “significantly” from those nominated by either Obama or G.W. Bush. Regarding their activities prior to being nominated by Trump, they had been “more openly engaged in causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion.” They were also more likely to have been political appointees and made political donations. Even more alarming has been their impact after taking up their new positions:

When ruling on cases, they have been notably more likely than other Republican appointees to disagree with peers selected by Democratic presidents, and more likely to agree with those Republican appointees, suggesting they are more consistently conservative. Among the dozen or so judges that most fit the pattern, The Times found, are three Mr. Trump has signaled were on his Supreme Court shortlist.

While the appellate courts favor consensus and disagreement remains relatively rare — there were 125 instances when a Trump appointee wrote the majority opinion or dissent in a split decision — the new judges have ruled on disputed cases across a range of contentious issues, including abortion, immigration, L.G.B.T. rights and lobbying requirements, the examination shows.

Sen. McConnell has long been clear about the level of importance he places on reshaping the federal judiciary. "There are over 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation, and among the most important—in fact, I would argue, the most important—confirmations we have are lifetime appointments to the judiciary," McConnell told NPR. "Obviously, this is my top priority."

McConnell’s success in placing conservative judges on the federal bench during Trump’s tenure is a direct result of his actions in the final two years of Obama’s presidency. After Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015, they basically just stopped approving his nominees. The Brookings Institution noted the “unprecedentedly miniscule number of confirmations” that were carried out in those two years under McConnell’s leadership. That’s why there were 103 open seats on the federal bench for Trump to fill when he was inaugurated.

Without question, the most important of those openings was on the Supreme Court. McConnell ensured that seat remained open for almost a full year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia by denying a hearing, let alone a vote, to President Obama’s nominee, U.S. District Court Chief Justice Merrick Garland. Garland was a moderate about whom Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch had said in 2010: “I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of (Senate) votes. And I will do my best to help him get them.” However, Hatch did not keep his word in 2016. Oh, and during the Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, he pretended like the Garland nomination never happened. That’s what you call a double back-flip worth of bullshit.

Additionally, Garland was 63 years old when Obama nominated him, so his age itself served as a kind of compromise when compared to, for example, the nomination of 43-year-old Clarence Thomas by George H.W. Bush to a lifetime seat on the highest court back in 1992.

The way McConnell and Co. abused the established process when they essentially ignored a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court also qualifies as unprecedented, despite widely debunked Republican protestations to the contrary. As The New York Times editorial board wrote shortly after the 2016 election, the seat in which Justice Neil Gorsuch now sits is a “stolen seat.” Encouraging a mass wave of retirements in order to give Trump an even more outsized imprint on the federal judiciary would, if it succeeds, represent another form of theft.

All of this—from the blocking of Garland to the personalized arm-twisting aimed at getting judges to give up their seats in the coming months before it’s too late—reflects a level of cynicism and rejection of principle that has defined the contemporary Republican Party going back to even before Trump took it over. Principles? To Republicans, those are for suckers, i.e. Democrats.

Our Constitution’s authors were, generally speaking, not naive. They didn’t trust easily—they created the Electoral College because they didn’t trust the people to directly elect our president. However, the Framers failed to anticipate how the rules they wrote into the Constitution might be abused. They likely did not imagine that the Senate’s charge to provide “advice and consent,” as laid out in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, would lead to the kind of treatment with which the nomination of Judge Garland was met. The Framers never planned for Mitch McConnell.

Because of what he has done, Democrats are faced with a choice if and when they retake the White House and the Senate. Do they act in kind, and similarly game the system? Or do they take the high road, which would allow Republicans to hold on to their ill-gotten gains in the judicial branch? Keep in minds they all too often use those gains to further tighten their grip on power through judicial rulings on, for example, matters like voting rights or gerrymandering.

There’s only one way out of that dilemma: namely, to fundamentally alter the process so that it could not be gamed so easily. We need to get rid of lifetime tenure for federal judges, from the Supreme Court right on down the line. There are many different proposals out there, most of which focus on term limits for the highest court, but McConnell’s most recent actions make clear that such limits are necessary at lower levels as well. I haven’t seen polling done on term limits for all federal judges, but Supreme Court term limits are quite popular, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents all expressing similar levels of support.

To be sure, it would not be easy to implement such changes, as they would require a constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, such changes are necessary because any process that is based on principles, for example the idea that life tenure for justices is necessary to ensure that they'll be independent and removed from politics, will be abused by Republicans who have no principles at all.

Our democratic system must be governed by processes that prevent abuse by the unprincipled. As I’ve written before, Republicans seem to be taking their cues from young adult fiction of all places, leaning on the values of Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort—derived from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who has inspired everyone on the right from Hitler to today’s white nationalists (even if they all get him wrong, but that’s another story): “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly wrote that McConnell’s recent “outreach” to aging Republican judges indicates that he is “running scared” because “he is aware that his party will soon be out of power.” I rarely hope that McConnell is right about anything.

This time, however, Moscow Mitch and I are completely on the same page.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Trump obliterates Republican excuse for his abysmal coronavirus response

President Donald Trump actually made at least one true statement during Tuesday’s White House briefing on the novel coronavirus. When it comes to the way he handled the administration’s response, he wasn’t affected one bit by impeachment. “I don't think I would have done any better had I not been impeached,” Trump told reporters, when asked whether the impeachment process impeded his response.

Trump’s response basically destroyed one of Republican lawmakers’ favorite new talking points. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a conservative radio host on Tuesday that impeachment had "diverted the attention of the government.” It was nothing if not an admission that Trump and GOP lawmakers totally fumbled the ball on this public health disaster. If anyone thought they were really doing a great job, Republicans would be cooing about how wonderfully they’ve managed the response. The real question is, why did Senate Republicans vote to keep the ever-incompetent Trump in charge when they very clearly had a sense of the calamity that lay ahead for the country?

Of course, Trump is delusional enough to think he’s been just great. “Did it divert my attention?” Trump said during the White House briefing. “I think I'm getting A-pluses for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, okay? It was a hoax.” Trump said he may have thought about impeachment, but added, “I don't think I would have done any better had I not been impeached, okay?”

Trump isn’t getting A-pluses.

Impeachment wasn’t a hoax.

But he was constitutionally incapable of mounting an aggressive, coordinated response to this crisis. So—ding ding ding!—impeachment or no impeachment, Trump wouldn’t have done any better. Correct.

Senate Republicans knew the country was facing disaster yet still voted to keep Trump in office

After a week during which the nation began to watch the coronavirus horrors we have seen play out in other countries finally make their way into our own hospitals, it's worth remembering the active role Senate Republicans played in getting us here. During the critical early handling of the virus here in the U.S., senators from both parties had a window into what was to come—well before the virus had even made the radar of most Americans. 

But instead of focusing on preparing for a potential pandemic in the making, Senate Republicans were busy staging a sham no-witness impeachment trial for Donald Trump so they could ultimately vote to acquit him, ensuring that Trump would be at the helm as the nation faced the greatest public health crisis in a century. That trial began on Jan. 16 and concluded on Feb. 5 with Trump's acquittal. But that critical three-week period also included early warning signs that U.S. senators, in particular, were privy to. As one U.S. official told The Washington Post about the intelligence reporting shared with both Trump officials and members of Congress in January, "Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were -- they just couldn't get him to do anything about it. ... The system was blinking red."

On Jan. 20, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus here in the U.S., a Washington man who had recently returned from visiting Wuhan, China, the city where the disease had first taken hold.

On Jan. 24, the Senate Health and Foreign Relations Committees hosted a private, all-senators briefing on the coronavirus with Trump health officials, including the CDC director and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That date has gained some notoriety in the past week as reports emerged that four U.S. senators began dumping stock shortly after that briefing. In fact, one of them, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, reported her first stock sale on that very day. GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma sold at least $180,000 in stocks on Jan. 27.

But the most glaring case was Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina unloading up to $1.7 million in stocks on Feb. 13 after getting access to all the latest intelligence on the virus as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Burr was also briefed on Feb. 12 by government health experts about overall national preparedness and how an epidemic might impact the U.S. In fact, there's no question Burr was alarmed by what he was hearing because he ultimately relayed a very stark assessment of the catastrophe ahead during a private meeting with wealthy constituents in late February.

Bottom line: Republican senators were getting a window into the calamity the U.S. might be facing in just a couple of months’ time. GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa put out a statement on Feb. 4 saying the panel he heads, the Senate Finance Committee which oversees the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), had just been briefed by the National Security office within HHS.

“The coronavirus doesn’t appear to pose any imminent threat to Americans who have not recently traveled to the Hubei province of China," he said in a statement, downplaying the threat. “For now, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control have the resources needed to prevent any significant contagion from spreading into the United States. If more resources are needed, Congress stands at the ready."

The following day, Feb. 5, Grassley and 51 of his Republican colleagues voted to clear Trump of wrongdoing and keep him in office—every GOP senator except Mitt Romney of Utah.

They knew. They voted to keep Trump in charge. They own it. Never forget.

White House halts participation in congressional coronavirus hearings

The White House has told Congress that it's simply too busy to spare the time to testify at any coronavirus hearings, at least until the end of March, according to Roll Call. “While the Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government approach to stopping the spread of COVID-19, it is counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in response efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement Wednesday. 

Apparently, "whole-of-government" doesn't include Congress in the view of the White House. The blackout approach to information sharing with Congress was outlined in a memo obtained by Roll Call. “We remain respectful of the essential role of Congress in this effort and we look forward to working with Congress closely as we all rise to meet this challenge,” the memo read.

Frankly, it's hard to believe anyone in the West Wing even bothered to write that line. The Trump administration has made it crystal clear that it views Congress's "essential role" as entirely subservient to that of the executive branch. In everything from basic congressional oversight to the impeachment inquiry to the most threatening public health epidemic in a century, the Trump administration has spiked cooperating with Congress at every turn. 

The only difference this time around is that the White House isn't exclusively stiff-arming House Democrats. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was forced to cancel a hearing Wednesday that lawmakers had arranged to livestream publicly. Lawmakers had lined up witnesses from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

That hearing has been postponed indefinitely while the White House continues the "whole-of-government" response it adopted several days ago after Donald Trump finally realized his delusional world was no match for a highly contagious virus that threatens to kill nearly 1% of the people who get it or more, depending on available care for the most critical cases.

A day after mocking self-distancing, Trump-supporting ‘evangelical’ leader closes Liberty University

Nothing says Christian hypocrisy like evangelical figurehead Jerry Falwell Jr. His Liberty University has a large online student body but is also home to around 15,000 students on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus. On Friday, Falwell Jr. was talking to Fox & Friends, where he downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and the need to close Liberty’s campus. His appearance on the show included Falwell’s speculation that all of the “hype” around the coronavirus was some kind of Democratic Party plot against Trump. Well, life comes at you fast, and Falwell is now closing the campus, according to HuffPo:

“We originally believed it was safest to return our students following their spring break instead of having them return following greater exposure opportunities from leaving them in different parts of the country for longer periods. But, the Governor’s recent decision to limit certain gatherings has left us no practical choice because we have so many classes of more than 100 students.” 

Falwell didn’t feel this way over the weekend, when he wasn’t acting very Christ-like toward his online detractors.

Well, not exactly, Jerry. Falwell Jr.’s appearance on Fox & Friends was something to watch, including his explanation of how landowners should have more rights than others, and his allegation that the coronavirus alerts being sent out by everyone except Fox News and Donald Trump were a lot of bunk, saying: “It’s just strange to me how people are over-reacting. The H1N1 virus of 2009 killed 17,000 people. it was the flu, also I think. And there was not the same hype. You just didn’t see it on the news 24/7. It makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that. It’s a, you know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work, so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.” He then spouted a theory that North Korea got “together with China” and created this as a conspiracy to … destroy their own economy?

Well, conspiracy or not, hoax or not, it seems like even Falwell Jr. serves to lose a little of the very money that has been driving the unforgivable Trump and Republican response to this global emergency.

Trump too personally wounded by Pelosi to negotiate with her on coronavirus stimulus deal

After accusing Democrats of falsely hyping the coronavirus to hurt him, Donald Trump is now in need of Democratic votes for an economic stimulus package for the country. Indeed, GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the Senate would simply step aside and let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi negotiate a deal directly with the White House.

Unfortunately, Trump, master deal maker and negotiator savant, won't be involved in those talks, instead Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will take the lead. According to NBC reporter Eamon Javers, Trump feels too personally wounded by impeachment and other interactions with Pelosi to get in a room with her and pound out a plan to help the country weather the coronavirus. "It doesn't seem like that would end well," Javers said of the thinking of White House aides about trying to get Trump and Pelosi together.

"What the White House would say is, that's Pelosi's fault," Javers explained, "because she ripped up his speech, she's been tough on him, she impeached him and therefore the president has every right to not want to be in a room with her."

So to review: Trump blamed Democrats for stoking concerns over the coronavirus; the stock market crashed because the coronavirus is a real thing; now Trump needs Democrats to dig himself out of a hole after he promised the virus was a nothingburger; but Trump's a little too fragile and spiteful to sit across the table from Pelosi in order to make a deal to help steer the nation through this global public health crisis.

That doesn't sound like someone who should be running the country, that sounds like someone who should be having a pretty epic time out until such time as he can play nice again with the other children.

Here’s the clip

YouTube Video

 

Republican leader puts out racist coronavirus tweet and gets demolished in the process

In lieu of doing their jobs to protect the American public, Republican Party officials are working very intensely to misinform the public, while also blaming China for COVID-19. One of the top GOP officials today is Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. You might remember his grotesque displays of fealty during the impeachment inquiry and trial of Donald Trump. If you know anything about Rep. McCarthy, you know that he will tow whatever party line Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump think up for him. And since the GOP’s brand these days is “Being racist assholes,” McCarthy decided on Monday to help out with the public health effort by tweeting out the government’s CDC.gov url along with this thinly veiled racist statement: “Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus can be found on one, regularly-updated website:”

Fellow Californian and Democratic Rep. Katie Porter was justifiably pissed off at the leading GOP stooge.

Will stop spread of coronavirus: � washing your hands � staying home if you�re sick Won�t stop spread of coronavirus: � racism � xenophobia Delete this tweet, @GOPLeader. https://t.co/hd6VX3RuHo

— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) March 10, 2020

The Trump administration and the Republican Party, having stripped down and rolled back Obama-era development of our CDC, and specifically our infectious disease research and response, is now trying to use the age-old defense that they shouldn’t be in trouble because it’s someone else who “started it.” Unfortunately, they have a racist base who will likely eat up this xenophobic handling of a public health crisis. But the Republican base is a minority in our country, and the majority of people know Rep. McCarthy is a craven prick. And the responses to his lack of leadership were fast and furious.

As one responder to McCarthy’s racism explains: this is just the same playbook we’ve seen out of these incompetent grifters for years now.

Racism is the GOP Trump card. Calling it a hoax didn�t work because people keep dying. Blaming it on Obama never got off the ground. We�re now at stage three: xenophobia.#CPACcoronavirus

— Chris Alexander (@hoos30) March 10, 2020

And here are some simple facts: 

w00f

— Liz Garbus (@lizgarbus) March 10, 2020

Our government is super racist: also they really suck at keeping US safe and prosperous.

— David Rothschild (@DavMicRot) March 10, 2020

Your swastika is showing � �

— ImpeachmentForDummies (@Canadiancentri2) March 10, 2020

Of course, maybe Kevin misspoke?

Kevin, you misspelled #CPACVirus also known as #TrumpVirus. Get your facts straight you racist asshole.

— Comfortably Numb (@YGalanter) March 10, 2020

Of course, here’s a side note reminder:

Vote for @KimMangone and dump treasonous �Steve� McCarthy! pic.twitter.com/RmSoPXT7kR

— Medusa (@MedusaSeesYou) March 10, 2020

And finally, the tragically comic reality of it all.

I live in the US. Is there a website for the American coronavirus? In particular is there info on the Republicans quarantined and potentially spreading it? pic.twitter.com/JSjWXiaVvU

— Rob Jackson (@muh_thoughts) March 10, 2020

And an honest piece of advice for the GOP Leader.

You're a racist, a coward, and a sycophant. Resign.

— Dr. Jack Brown (@DrGJackBrown) March 10, 2020