👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ Trump’s re-election campaign sued the New York Times for libel over a 2019 opinion article, accusing the newspaper of intentionally publishing a false story about a “quid pro quo” between Russian officials and Trump’s 2016 campaign. The suit alleges that the Times “has engaged in a systematic pattern of bias” against Trump by falsely reporting “as fact a conspiracy with Russia” with the “intentional purpose” of damaging Trump’s chances for reelection. Trump’s campaign argues that the op-ed conclusion “is false” and that the Times published the essay “knowing it would misinform and mislead its own readers.” To win the lawsuit, however, the Trump campaign will have to prove that the Times knew in March 2019 that the op-ed was false because of what was later confirmed in the Mueller report, which was published in April 2019. (CNBC / Reuters / Mediate / New York Times)
2/ Trump appointed Mike Pence to coordinate his administration’s response to the coronavirus, saying his administration has the situation under control and is “ready to adapt” if the disease spreads. Trump maintained that the risk to the U.S. from the deadly coronavirus “remains very low” and that “We’re very, very ready for this.” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar added that “Our containment strategy has been working.” Trump also said the U.S. is “rapidly developing a vaccine.” The statement was immediately contradicted by Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said a vaccine won’t be ready for more than a year. Trump also contradicted federal health officials warning that the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. was “inevitable,” saying “I don’t think it’s inevitable.” (New York Times / Politico / NBC News / NPR / CNBC / CNN / Axios / CBS News / The Guardian / Associated Press / Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal)
3/ During the press conference, the CDC confirmed the first possible “community spread” of the coronavirus in Northern California by a patient who did not travel to a foreign country or have contact with another confirmed case. “At this point, the patient’s exposure is unknown,” a CDC statement said. “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States.” The CDC said the “The case was detected through the U.S. public health system and picked up by astute clinicians.” The individual is a resident of Solano County and is receiving medical care in Sacramento County. (Washington Post / New York Times / CNBC / NBC News)
4/ Trump is reportedly “furious” about the stock market’s slide after health officials warned that the coronavirus is “likely” to continue to spread and that the American public should “prepare for the expectation that this is going to be bad.” Trump has cautioned aides against forecasting the impact of the virus over fears that stocks could fall further. Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested that investor take advantage of the market slump by “buying these dips” because “The virus story is not going to last forever.” A top official at the FDA, however, said that “For all intents and purposes, I think it’s fair to say we are on the cusp of the pandemic.” The FDA is looking for alternative sourcing and manufacturing of medical devices and key drugs given the shutdown in China. Earlier in the day, Trump accused news organizations of “doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets,” misspelling the name of the virus. In 2018, the White House eliminated the position on the National Security Council dedicated to coordinating pandemic responses. (Washington Post / CNBC / Bloomberg)
5/ Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for $8.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus – more than three times the $2.5 billion requested by the White House. Schumer’s request includes $1.5 billion for the CDC, $1 billion for vaccine development, the allocation of $3 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, $2 billion for reimbursements to state and local health departments, and $1 billion for the USAID’s Emergency Reserve Fund. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a $2 billion spending bill was likely insufficient and instead suggested a package of around $4 billion. For comparison, Congress appropriated $5.4 billion for Ebola in 2015 and $7 billion for the H1N1 virus in 2009. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Trump administration’s $2.5 billion request “meager” and “anemic.” (CBS News / Washington Post / Associated Press / The Hill)
- 📌 Day 1132: The Trump administration asked Congress to approve $2.5 billion in emergency spending to address the coronavirus. Half of the money is new funding, while the rest will be reallocated from other spending, including $535 million from funds to combat Ebola. More than $1 billion would go toward creating a coronavirus vaccine. Rep. Nita Lowey, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the request “woefully insufficient to protect Americans from the deadly coronavirus outbreak,” criticizing the administration for trying to “raid” money from other public health accounts. Separately, Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in October would cut the CDC budget by almost 16%, and the Health and Human Services budget by almost 10%. (Washington Post / Politico / New York Times / CNN / Reuters / NBC News / CNBC)
6/ A federal appeals court ruled that the Trump administration can withhold law enforcement grant money from so-called sanctuary cities and states that don’t cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement. Seven states and New York City sued the U.S. government after the Justice Department said in 2017 that it would withhold funds from states and municipalities that don’t provide immigration enforcement officials with access to jails or provide notice when an undocumented migrant is scheduled to be released from jail. The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means the Trump administration can withhold millions of dollars in federal law enforcement grants. (Associated Press / Axios)
📌 Day 200: Chicago is suing the Trump administration for threatening to withhold public money from so-called sanctuary cities. In July, Jeff Sessions announced that the DOJ will only provide grants to cities that allow the Department of Homeland Security access to local jails and to provide 48 hours’ notice before releasing anyone wanted for immigration violations. Chicago claims that it already complies with the federal law and the new conditions are unconstitutional. (CNN / The Guardian / Associated Press)
📌 Day 300: A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration can’t withhold money from “sanctuary cities” for refusing to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration. Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department have argued that cities should hold foreign detainees until Immigration and Customs Enforcement can pick them up. (The Hill)
7/ Lawmakers criticized the Pentagon’s decision to divert $3.8 billion from the defense budget to pay for Trump’s border wall, saying the move circumvented Congress’ authority and “undercuts any argument about the need for resources within the Department of Defense.” The House Armed Services Committee warned Defense Secretary Mark Esper that “Congress alone has the constitutional authority to determine how the nation spends its defense dollars.” Rep. Mac Thornberry, the committee’s top Republican, said Congress could place greater restrictions on the Pentagon’s ability to move money around to meet military needs in the future. (CNN / Associated Press / New York Times)
8/ Trump said India will purchase $3 billion worth of military equipment from U.S. weapons manufacturers. India is buying 24 SeaHawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin worth $2.6 billion and plans to place another order for six Apache helicopters. Trump also said he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement,” which could include a free trade agreement. Trump added that he is “optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries.” (Reuters)
9/ The White House hired a college senior to be one of the top officials in the Presidential Personnel Office. Jason Bacon is 23 years old and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree at George Washington University. Bacon will be the PPO’s director of operations, where he will oversee paperwork and assist with vetting new White House personnel. (Politico)
10/ The director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement suppressed guidance from the agency’s engineers when it overhauled a well-drilling safety rule. Scott Angelle instructed an engineer to delete language from decision memos – intended to show how rules develop through a reasoned decision-making process – that would contradict guidance from BSEE engineers. Angelle personally ordered an engineer to strip a note that agency staffers wanted “no change to the testing frequency” of critical safety equipment and that the staff “does not agree with industry” that an industry-crafted protocol for managing well pressure was sufficient in all situations. The original memos also noted that staffers had argued for “no change to the testing frequency” of blowout preventers — mechanical devices that failed on the Deepwater Horizon. (Wall Street Journal)
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