👋 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/ The Trump administration claimed that the coronavirus outbreak was “contained” even as the number of U.S. cases have surpassed 250 – more than double since Monday – and test kits remain in short supply. Federal officials initially said nearly 1 million tests were expected to be available by the end of this week. While the CDC has refused to share how many people have been tested for COVID-19, a survey of public health agencies in every state could only verify 1,895 Americans who had been tested for the virus. About 10% of them tested positive. In California – population 40 million – has the capacity to test about 7,400 people through the weekend. About 1,250 Californians were possibly exposed to coronavirus on a cruise ship – 21 people have tested positive for coronavirus out of the 46 tested so far – and there are more than 9,000 people in California who recently returned from countries experiencing severe outbreaks. California, however, has only tested 516 people for COVID-19 to date. Nevertheless, Kellyanne Conway told reporters that “It is being contained,” challenging a reporter who suggested it isn’t. “Are you a doctor aware of it not being contained?” Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, echoed Conway, saying the outbreak “looks relatively contained.” (Bloomberg / The Atlantic / Los Angeles Times / Washington Post)
100,000 people have been infected worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
15 people in the U.S. have died from coronavirus.
At least 44 people in New York state test positive for coronavirus – up from 23 yesterday. A 5th person tested positive for coronavirus in New York City.
The virus has been reported in 20 new states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
2/ Trump abruptly canceled – then rescheduled – a planned trip to CDC headquarters in Atlanta. Trump said the trip was scrapped because of a suspected coronavirus case at the CDC itself. The White House, however, said the visit was canceled because “the president does not want to interfere with the CDC’s mission to protect the health and welfare of their people and the agency.” The report of an infection at CDC turned out to be negative and the trip was rescheduled. CDC staffers learned about potential coronavirus case at the agency only after Trump mentioned it to reporters. Trump is slated to go to Atlanta after touring tornado damage in Tennessee and before heading to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. (Politico / New York Times / Associated Press / NBC News)
3/ Trump signed an $8.3 billion emergency funding package to combat the rising number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. The bill provides a total of $7.7 billion in new discretionary spending and authorizes an additional $490 million in mandatory spending through Medicare. “You have to be calm,” Trump said at the White House. “It will go away.” (Bloomberg / Politico / BBC / The Guardian)
4/ White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the Trump administration is considering “timely and targeted” relief to help workers and businesses economically vulnerable to the outbreak. Kudlow insisted that the U.S. economy is “fundamentally sound,” but Trump administration officials have considered deferring taxes for sectors most affected by the outbreak, including the hospitality, cruise, travel and airline industries. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said “what we’re seeing is a drop off in domestic travel […] It has a 9/11-like feel.” More than 1,000 planes have been taken out of service worldwide and airline stocks have fallen 28% since the coronavirus outbreak began. Global airlines stand to lose $113 billion in sales. Meanwhile at a Fox News town hall, Trump said he “likes” that “people are now staying in the United States, spending their money in the US […] They’re sort of enforced doing that.” (Washington Post / Axios / Wall Street Journal / The Hill / CNN / Vox)
- The University of Washington moved its 50,000 students to online classes. (New York Times)
5/ The Trump administration plans to collect DNA samples from undocumented immigrants held in U.S. detention facilities. Under the new rule, the Department of Homeland Security can collect DNA samples from non-U.S. citizens who are detained for criminal offenses in federal facilities. The samples would be put into a database operated by the FBI for federal, state, and local authorities to use to identify and locate violent criminals who are in the country illegally. Officials said the collection effort will fully enforce the 2015 DNA Fingerprint Act, which requires taking DNA samples from anyone arrested, facing charges or convicted — and from any non-U.S. citizens “who are detained under the authority of the United States.” The Department of Homeland Security, however, asked for an exemption from the law during the Obama administration, saying it did not have the manpower to gather the samples. (Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NBC News)
6/ The Trump Organization charged the Secret Service $157,000 more than was previously known and billed taxpayers for rooms at his clubs at much higher rates than the company claimed. Newly obtained documents show Trump’s company charged the Secret Service more than $628,000 since he took office in 2017. The full scope of the Trump Organization’s business relationship with the Trump administration is still unknown because the only publicly available records are mostly from 2017 and 2018 — the rest are still hidden. The new documents show charges for 177 additional nightly room rentals in 2017, 2018, and 2019 at a rate of $396.15 per night per room. They also reveal that Trump charged the Secret Service $17,000 per month to rent a cottage near Trump’s in Bedminster, NJ. There is no requirement that presidents charge the Secret Service for using space on their properties, and most presidents have provided space for free. (Washington Post / Public Citizen)
- 📌 Day 1114: The Trump Organization charged Trump’s Secret Service rates as high as $650 a night and $17,000 a month for a cottage at his properties to protect him. The disclosures contradict Eric Trump’s own statements that “If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free.” At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, the Secret Service was charged the $650 rate dozens of times in 2017, and a different rate – $396.15 – dozens more times in 2018. At the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, the Secret Service was charged $17,000 a month to use a cottage in 2017. The Trump Organization also billed the government for days when Trump wasn’t there. The full extent of the Secret Service’s payments to Trump’s company is not known. (Washington Post)
7/ House Democrats asked a federal appeals court to reconsider enforcing a congressional subpoena for Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn. Last week, an appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the House may not ask judges to force the White House to make McGahn available for testimony. Today, House lawyers argued that blocking lawmakers from suing to obtain information from the executive branch would leave Congress with little choice but to “direct its sergeant at arms to arrest current and former high-level executive branch officials for failing to respond to subpoenas.” (Politico / Washington Post)
- 📌 Day 1135: A federal appeals court ruled that former White House counsel Donald McGahn does not have to comply with a subpoena seeking his testimony. The House wanted McGahn to answer questions related to possible efforts by Trump to obstruct Robert Mueller’s investigation. (Politico / CNBC / New York Times)
8/ The deputy White House communications director resigned. Adam Kennedy will leave his position to go work in the private sector at the end of the month. He was one of the few remaining original Trump White House staffers. (Bloomberg / Politico)
- More than a third of all Senate-confirmed civilian positions at the Department of Defense are now vacant or filled by temporary officials – a new high for the Trump administration. (Politico)
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