👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
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1/ The U.S. could see 100,000 to 200,000 coronavirus deaths even “if we do things almost perfectly.” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said “no state, no metro area will be spared from the virus” and the projections by Dr. Anthony Fauci that U.S. deaths could range from 1.6 million to 2.2 million is a worst case scenario if the country did “nothing” to contain the outbreak. Birx added that “we’re not sure all of America is responding in a uniform way.” Dr. Fauci, meanwhile, warned that the COVID-19 outbreak is still on track to overwhelm hospitals and kill tens of thousands of Americans, even with action to slow the spread. (NBC News / TODAY / Bloomberg / ABC News / NPR)
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 rise to more than 755,000 globally; U.S. cases pass 150,000, more than 2,500 dead. (Wall Street Journal)
The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine – malaria drugs championed by Trump – saying there are no available alternatives and the “known and potential” benefits of the product outweigh the risks. There are only a few, small anecdotal studies showing a possible benefit of the drugs to relieve the acute respiratory symptoms of COVID-19. Nevertheless, millions of doses will be distributed to hospitals across the country to try to slow the disease. (Politico / Washington Post / Bloomberg)
FEMA sent refrigerated trucks to New York City to serve as temporary morgues as nearly more than 790 people have died in the city from the coronavirus. (Politico)
2/ Trump raised the idea of issuing an “enforceable” quarantine of New York, New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut only to back away from it hours later. Instead, the CDC issued a travel advisory calling on residents of the tri-state to avoid “non-essential domestic travel” for the next two weeks to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Dr. Fauci later clarified that Trump settled on the advisory after “very intensive discussions” at the White House. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, called the quarantine idea a “declaration of war on states” that would crash financial markets and results in legal challenges, saying “A lockdown is what they did in Wuhan, China, and we’re not in China.” (NBC News / Vox / CNN / New York Times / Wall Street Journal /Bloomberg / CNBC / Axios)
3/ Trump blamed hospitals for the shortage of masks and ventilators, suggesting that hospitals were “hoarding” ventilators and that states were requesting equipment despite not needing it. Trump, noting the sudden increase in need for masks, questioned “How do you go from 10 to 20 [thousand masks per week] to 300,000? Ten [thousand] to 20,000 masks, to 300,000 — even though this is different? Something is going on […] Are they going out the back door?” (Washington Post)
In at least 10 government reports from 2003 to 2015, federal officials predicted the U.S. would experience a shortage of ventilators and other medical supplies if it faced a large-scale infectious disease outbreak. (CNN)
Trump administration officials declined an offer for congressional coronavirus funding on February 5. The officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, said they “didn’t need emergency funding, that they would be able to handle it within existing appropriations,” Sen. Chris Murphy recalled. Murphy said the funding he and other congressional leaders wanted to allocate in February would have paid for essential preventative measures, including hiring local screening and testing staff, researching a vaccine and treatments, and the stockpiling of needed medical supplies. (Yahoo News)
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her state is not getting the health and safety equipment needed because contractors are sending their products to the federal government, implying that the order came from the Trump administration. On Friday, Trump said he had instructed Pence not to call governors who have not been “appreciative” enough of his efforts on coronavirus. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said, adding: “Don’t call the woman in Michigan.” (WWJ 950 / Crain’s Detroit Business / CNN / Associated Press / USA Today)
4/ The Trump administration donated more than 35,000 pounds of “masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials” to China the same day the World Health Organization warned about “the limited stock of PPE (personal protective equipment).” The first known case of coronavirus case in U.S. was confirmed by the CDC on January 21, 2020. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the donation to China on February 7. (CNN)
5/ Trump bragged about the ratings of his coronavirus task force briefings, tweeting that the rise in ratings is driving the media “CRAZY” while suggesting that the viewership is fueling discussions in the media about ending the practice of broadcasting them live. Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets touting the high television ratings while selectively citing an article that compared them to “The Bachelor” and “Monday Night Football.” News outlets have struggled with how to cover Trump’s coronavirus press briefings live because Trump “has repeatedly delivered information that doctors and public health officials have called ill informed, misleading, or downright wrong.” (Vox / Axios / Vanity Fair / CNN)
6/ Trump extended federal social distancing guidelines until at least April 30 – a reversal from last week when Trump said he planned to relax restrictions by Easter. Trump said all Americans must continue to stay home when possible and avoid gatherings of 10 or more people for at least another month. “By June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery,” Trump said. “We think by June 1, a lot of great things will be happening.” Trump claimed his earlier predictions of an April 12 “reopening” of the country was simply “aspirational” and was not meant to be an actual timeline. Dr. Anthony Fauci called the extension of social distancing guidelines a “wise and prudent decision.” (New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News / CNBC / Business Insider / CNN / NBC News)
7/ Trump believes the inspector general overseeing the $500 billion relief fund will first need his permission to make reports to Congress. In a signing statement, released hours after Trump signed the bill, Trump suggested he can gag the inspector general and can decide what information the inspector general could share with Congress. (New York Times / CNBC)
8/ The EPA stopped enforcing environmental regulations because of the coronavirus pandemic. The relaxation of environmental rules allow power plants, factories, and other facilities discretion in deciding whether or not they think the coronavirus will prevent them from meeting legal requirements on air and water pollution and hazardous waste management. The EPA will not be fining companies for violating certain requirements during this time. The new directive will remain in place indefinitely. (New York Times / Vox / Business Insider)
9/ The Justice Department is investigating a series of stock transactions made by lawmakers leading up to the coronavirus-related market crash and if the trades were based on confidential briefings they received. The inquiry is still in its early stages and is being conducted in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The FBI has already reached out to one lawmaker — Sen. Richard Burr — with requests for information about his trades. The investigation hinges on whether lawmakers sought to profit from information they obtained from non-public briefings about the coronavirus pandemic. One of Burr’s attorneys said Burr “welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate.” (CNN / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)
- 📌Day 1156: At least four senators sold off millions of dollars’ worth of stocks just before the market dropped amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic. Sens. Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler sold off more than a million dollars each in stocks after attending private, senators-only briefings about the severity of the impending coronavirus crisis. Burr, who serves as the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had been receiving daily updates from the intelligence community on threats to the U.S., including the coronavirus, before dumped up to $1.56 million on Feb. 13 – days after he wrote an op-ed for Fox News arguing that the U.S. is “better prepared than ever before” when it comes to facing public health threats like COVID-19. Loeffler, who is married to the chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, and her husband sold up to $3.1 million in jointly owned stocks starting on Jan. 24 – the same day the Senate Health Committee, on which she sits, briefed senators briefing about the coronavirus. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also a member of the intelligence committee, and her husband sold up to $6 million worth of stock in Jan. and Feb. And, Sen. James Inhofe sold as much as $400,000 in January. Burr said he has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sale. (ProPublica / Daily Beast / NPR / NBC News / Axios / New York Times / Atlanta Journal-Constitution / The Guardian / Washington Post / The Hill / Reuters)
10/ The Department of Defense is isolating some of its senior military commanders, as well as nuclear and special operations forces, in case they’re needed in the event of a sudden security crisis. A U.S. military official at NORAD said they are “isolating specific command personnel involved in critical mission areas” in order to “ensure we remain capable of defending the homeland despite the pandemic.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper has also put a hold on all military movements for 60 days, which impacts some 90,000 troops worldwide. (CNN)
- The Pentagon ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of combat in Iraq. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, however, has warned that a campaign to destroy an Iranian-backed militia group could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran. (New York Times)
👑 Portrait of a President.
The contrarian coronavirus theory that informed the Trump administration. Trump, who at one point called the coronavirus pandemic an “invisible enemy” and said it made him a “wartime President,” has in recent days questioned its seriousness, tweeting, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” (New Yorker)
The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to COVID-19. Aggressive screening might have helped contain the coronavirus in the United States. But technical flaws, regulatory hurdles and lapses in leadership let it spread undetected for weeks. (New York Times)
The missing six weeks: How Trump failed the biggest test of his life. Trump was aware of the danger from the coronavirus – but a lack of leadership has created an emergency of epic proportions. (The Guardian)
As Trump invokes presidential powers to fight the coronavirus, he sows confusion along the way. The unprecedented push as has Trump has ramped up efforts to show he is using some of his broadest powers as commander in chief has also been plagued by growing confusion about how far his authorities actually extend and how much he is willing to use them. (Washington Post)
Trump: I’m doing a great job fighting the coronavirus, and 100,000 of you will die. “Only in the world of Trumpian dumbfuckery could anyone brighter than a toaster oven think 100,000 avoidable deaths is a win.” (Daily Beast)
Fact Check: Donald Trump denied saying what he publicly said last week. (CNN)
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