👋 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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🔥 Daily Damage Report.
🌍 Global: Total confirmed cases ~3,272,000; Total deaths: ~233,000; Total recoveries: ~1,009,000. (Johns Hopkins University)
🇺🇸 U.S.: Total confirmed cases ~1,067,000; Total deaths: ~63,000; Total recoveries: ~126,000
💰 Markets: Dow 📉; S&P 500 📉; Nasdaq 📉
The White House social distancing guidelines will expire today. Trump, rejecting the idea of extended social distancing and mask-wearing as a “new normal” in America “with or without” a vaccine, said “I want to go back to where it was.” He continued: “Look, this thing will pass, and when it passes, that’ll be a great achievement,” despite no vaccine against the virus. “Again this is going away. This is going away. I think we’re gonna come up with vaccines and all, but this is going away. And when it’s gone, we’re going to be doing a lot of things.” (Associated Press)
Trump will travel to Arizona next week – though it’s not clear for what purpose. He said he “hopes” to have rallies again before the November election, citing “a tremendous pent up demand.” Trump also said he was considering making a trip to Ohio. (ABC News)
👑 Portrait of a president.
Trump and Kushner engage in revisionist history in boasting of success over coronavirus. “We did all the right moves,” Trump said. “The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story,” said Kushner. (New York Times)
Miscalculation at every level left the U.S. unequipped to fight the coronavirus. A shortfall in masks lays bare the blunders by hospitals, manufacturers, and the federal government. The Trump administration further weakened the safety net as it rejiggered the Health and Human Services Department’s main emergency-preparedness agency, prioritized other threats over pandemics, cut out groups such as one that focused on protective gear and removed a small planned budget to buy respirator masks for the national stockpile, according to former officials. (Wall Street Journal)
A tale of two summers: White House diverges from health experts over what’s to come. Trump and his top aides are contending with public health officials who paint a less optimistic picture of a return to life as Americans knew it. (NBC News)
1/ Another 3.8 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week. The number of first-time claims over the past six weeks total 30.3 million people – roughly 18.6% of the entire U.S. labor force – the highest since the Great Depression and far above the 10% peak reached in 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, however, are still waiting to receive unemployment benefits, which means the official unemployment tally is almost certainly an undercount. (CNN / CNBC / Washington Post / NPR / New York Times / New York Times / Bloomberg / NBC News / Wall Street Journal)
Worst economy in a decade. What’s next? The “worst in our lifetime.” U.S. gross domestic product declined in the first quarter, dragged down by the pandemic’s grip in March. Don’t even ask about this quarter. (New York Times)
The brands that could disappear because of coronavirus. (Washington Post)
2/ Trump claimed he’s done a “spectacular job” handling the coronavirus pandemic, despite more than 60,000 Americans dead, a million infected, and 30 million filing jobless claims. While economists warn of serious long-term damage to the economy, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office he’s anticipating a major rebound in the coming months and a “spectacular” 2021, saying “I think we can actually surpass where we were – I feel it.” He then added: “I think sometimes what I feel is better than what I think, unfortunately or fortunately.” (Associated Press)
3/ Trump erupted at his campaign manager after seeing polling data that showed him trailing Joe Biden in several swing states in the presidential race. “I am not fucking losing to Joe Biden,” Trump shouted at Brad Parscale during a conference call with his top political advisers last week after he was told he would have lost the Electoral College if the election had been held earlier this month. At one point, Trump threatened to sue Parscale. Trump’s aides had attempted to highlight the political cost of the coronavirus crisis and the unforced errors by Trump from his freewheeling press briefings after two polls – one from the Republican National Committee and another from the Trump campaign — both showed him trailing Biden in swing states. “I don’t believe the polls,” Trump said. “I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don’t think that they will put a man in who’s incompetent.” Trump also initially resisted the advice to curtail his daily coronavirus briefings, saying people “love” the briefings and think he is “fighting for them.” Trump later defended Parscale, tweeting: “Actually, he is doing a great job. I never shouted at him.” (Associated Press / CNN / Reuters / Washington Post / New York Times)
- Trump encouraged Sean Hannity to threaten the New York Times with legal action for reporting that Hannity had downplayed the threat of the coronavirus. As Trump’s re-election campaign was filing lawsuits against various local and national media outlets, Trump reportedly thought it was a good idea for Hannity to explore legal action against the Times for its critical coverage of how Fox News handled the coronavirus crisis. (Daily Beast)
4/ Trump claimed that China’s handling of the coronavirus is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November, adding he believed China wants Joe Biden to win to ease the pressure on U.S.-China trade relations. Trump provided no evidence for why China would deliberately mishandle an outbreak that killed more than 4,600 of its citizens, but said he was considering ways of punishing Beijing. “I can do a lot,” Trump said, without going into detail. He added: “There are many things I can do.” China, meanwhile, rejected Trump’s assertion, saying they had “no interest” in interfering in internal U.S. affairs. (Reuters / The Guardian / Bloomberg)
5/ The Trump administration pressured U.S. intelligence agencies to provide evidence supporting White House claims that the coronavirus outbreak originated in state-run laboratory accident in China. Trump – without offering any evidence – said he had reason to believe that the outbreak originated from a lab in China, saying “we should have the answer to that in the not-so-distant future.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, however, reported that intelligence agencies concur “with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.” The White House, meanwhile, have been exploring retaliatory measures against China, including suing for compensation, which would involve stripping China of “sovereign immunity” or cancelling debt obligations to China. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / CNBC / ABC News / The Guardian / Associated Press / Politico / Axios)
- 📌 Day 1196: Trump ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to find out whether China and the World Health Organization initially hid what they knew about the coronavirus pandemic as it emerged. The White House sent a specific “tasking” to the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency seeking information about the early days of the outbreak, specifically what the WHO knew about two research labs studying coronaviruses in Wuhan, China. The CIA received similar instructions. “Understanding the origins of the virus is important to help the world respond to this pandemic but also to inform rapid-response efforts to future infectious disease outbreaks,” a White House spokesperson said. (NBC News)
6/ Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested that it would be “doable” to have hundreds of millions of doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine ready by January “if things fall in the right place.” While the FDA has not approved a vaccine for the coronavirus and vaccine trials are still in the early phase – and U.S. health officials have repeatedly said it would take at least 12 to 18 months to produce a vaccine – Dr. Fauci confirmed that the Trump administration is working to speed development, testing, and review of any potential vaccine. The initiative, called Operation Warp Speed, would involve manufacturers of the best potential vaccine candidates ramping up production “at risk — proactively — start making it, assuming it’s going to work,” Fauci said. “And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully get to that timeline.” Trump, meanwhile, said “honestly […] I’m really in charge” of “fast track[ing] a vaccine like you’ve never seen before.” Trump added: “I’m not overpromising.” (NPR / CNBC / Washington Post / New York Times / CNN / The Hill)
📌 Day 1196: The Trump administration has been organizing a Manhattan Project-style effort to cut the time needed to develop a coronavirus vaccine, with a goal to have 100 million doses ready by year’s end. Called “Operation Warp Speed,” the program will pull together private pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and the military to try to cut the development time for a vaccine by eight months. Separately, a group calling themselves Scientists to Stop COVID-19 has acted as the go-between for pharmaceutical companies looking for a link to Trump administration decision makers. The group, comprised of chemical biologists, an immunobiologist, a neurobiologist, a chronobiologist, an oncologist, a gastroenterologist, an epidemiologist and a nuclear scientist, are working as an ad hoc review board for the research on the coronavirus, weeding out flawed studies before they reach policy makers. (Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal)
How long will a vaccine really take? The truth is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon. Clinical trials almost never succeed. We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before. Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years — more time than the public or the economy can tolerate social-distancing orders. (New York Times)
7/ Trump said Michael Flynn is “in the process of being exonerated” and will “come back bigger and better,” after newly unsealed FBI records noted an internal discussion about the FBI’s handling of the case. One of the pages unsealed by a federal judge is a handwritten note about the bureau’s interview with Flynn. “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Elsewhere, it says, “we have a case on Flynn + Russians.” The single page of handwritten notes is dated Jan. 24, 2017, which was the same day of Flynn’s White House FBI interview. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges that he lied to the FBI by falsely denying that he had conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the Trump transition. Flynn is now seeking to withdraw his guilty plea. Trump, meanwhile, argued his former national security adviser was victimized by “dirty, filthy cops at the top of the FBI,” saying “Look at what they did to the guy. I mean, he couldn’t have known too much [about] what was happening.” (CBS News / Politico / NBC News / NPR)
8/ Roger Stone is appealing his conviction and three-year prison sentence for seeking to impede congressional and FBI investigations into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. Stone’s lawyers filed the notice in federal court, appealing his prison sentence and a judge’s order denying Stone’s request for a new trial based on Stone’s accusations of jury bias. The FBI reportedly advised Stone’s legal team that they plan to delay his surrender date to begin his prison sentence by at least 30 days because of COVID-19. (Associated Press / Politico / ABC News)
9/ The head of the Trump’s Domestic Policy Council resigned and will leave the administration next month. Joe Grogan is the latest official to depart following the arrival of Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Grogan was considered an ally of Meadows’ predecessor, Mick Mulvaney. (Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg)
poll/ 67% of voters approved of states holding elections exclusively using mail-in voting rather than having people go in-person to the polls, while 33% disapprove. (The Hill)
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