March 27, 2017

On Monday, President Trump is unveiling a new office, headed by senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, that will attempt to draw on the business world to revamp the federal bureaucracy, potentially by privatizing some government roles. The White House Office of American Innovation has been meeting informally twice a week and reaching out to top business leaders since shortly after Trump's inauguration, and Kushner's list of targets is ambitious: overhauling the Veterans Affairs Department, modernizing the IT infrastructure of every federal agency, transforming workforce training programs, and tackling America's heroin and opioid problem, among other goals.

"Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants," The Washington Post says, "the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind, and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements." Kushner, a 36-year-old former real estate and media executive, will add the role of innovation SWAT team leader to his already substantial portfolio, which includes acting as a key adviser on foreign and domestic policy and White House personnel, and point man on relations with Mexico, China, Canada, and the Middle East.

The innovation office includes White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, strategic initiatives adviser Chris Liddell, technology adviser Reed Cordish, deputy national security adviser and economic adviser Dina Powell, and Domestic Policy Council director Andrew Bremberg. Kushner will report directly to Trump, and he describes the council as a non-ideological innovation factory, with a focus on technology and data. "We should have excellence in government," Kushner told The Washington Post, adding a novel twist to the idea that the government serves the public. "The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens." Peter Weber

7:08 a.m.

The Supreme Court will reveal Thursday morning whether Congress, New York state prosecutors, and ultimately the American public will be able to see what's in the tax documents President Trump has worked so hard to keep secret. But on Wednesday night, the White House finally addressed another, lower-profile accounting of Trump's finances, his annual financial disclosure report, that was supposed to be handed in more than a week ago. The filing, required under federal ethics rules, is the only official document publicly detailing Trump's personal finances.

A White House official told The New York Times that Trump had requested an extension because the report was "complicated" and Trump has "been focused on addressing the coronavirus crisis and other matters." This is Trump's second coronavirus extension: The partial disclosure of his assets, debts, and family business performance was actually due in May, but all White House employees had been given a 45-day extension, until June 29, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vice President Mike Pence filed his disclosure report by that deadline.

Trump's delay follows conversations between ethics officials and his representatives over a draft of the disclosure report, people briefed on the matter tell the Times. The Office of Government Ethics and Trump Organization declined requests for comment on the filing. Peter Weber

5:44 a.m.

It turns out "closing schools was a lot easier than reopening them" during the coronavirus pandemic, Myah Ward and Renuka Rayasam note at Politico. But Johns Hopkins University — which has made checking COVID-19 infection and death data easy with its coronavirus map — is trying to help, launching another site Thursday to help Americans track how different states plan to reopen schools this fall, plus guidelines from health and education agencies and organizations.

According to this new education tracker, run by the Johns Hopkins eSchool+ Initiative, 43 states and territories have released plans for reopening their schools. The site reviews each plan based on 12 criteria, including coronavirus protection measures, academics, and choices offered to students, teachers, and staff.

The goal of the tracker is to give parents, teachers, staff, school district leaders, and policymakers one place where they can access and compare reopening plans, Annette Anderson, deputy director of JHU's Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, tells Politico. "At the end of the day, it's about trying to make sure that when we reopen, that the reopening benefits all." Peter Weber

4:33 a.m.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department said late Wednesday that actress Naya Rivera is missing and the subject of a search at Lake Piru, northwest of Los Angeles. Rivera, 33, rented a pontoon boat at the reservoir Wednesday afternoon and her 4-year-old son was found alone in the boat, asleep and wearing his life jacket. Rivera's wallet and ID were also in the boat. The son, who got back in the boat after a swim with his mother, "is in good health," said Capt. Eric Buschow of the sheriff's department. The search, suspended Wednesday night, will continue Thursday with divers and air units.

Rivera played Santana, a cheerleader, on 113 episodes of the TV musical comedy Glee, and dated Glee co-star Mark Salling, who killed himself in 2018 after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. The son is from her marriage to actor Ryan Dorsey. Peter Weber

3:56 a.m.

Lisa Kudrow was Conan O'Brien's socially distant guest on Wednesday's Conan, and he asked her whether the eagerly anticipated Friends reunion was still going to happen after a coronavirus delay. "We have something on the books for us to do it, you know, at some point in August," Kudrow said. "And we'll see. I mean, we're all still waiting for guidelines for shooting things." O'Brien immediately came up with a plan to spoil the reunion, and Kudrow added some suggestions to make it an absolute abomination for fans.

"I'm good at thinking of ideas that ruin things," O'Brien said. "That would be a great prank, a great prank on America." Because that's what America needs right now: a great prank. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:30 a.m.

Texas reported a record 98 confirmed COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and 9,979 new cases, just shy of Tuesday's record 10,028 cases. Austin is turning its convention center, more famous for hosting South by Southwest, into a field hospital. In Houston, hospitals took in 3,851 coronavirus patients on Tuesday, and a growing number of people are dying at home before the paramedics even arrive, ProPublica and NBC News reported Wednesday, citing Houston Fire Department data.

"The uptick in the number of people dying before they can even reach a hospital in Houston draws parallels to what happened in New York City in March and April," ProPublica and NBC News report. "These increases also echo those reported during outbreaks in Detroit and Boston, when the number of people dying at home jumped as coronavirus cases surged."

"In Houston, doctors who knew the situation in New York are saying that what's happening there looks like what happened in New York in early April," New York Times science reporter Donald MacNeil said on The Daily podcast over the weekend. "Not as many dying yet, but with people on oxygen and on ventilators they may find themselves in the situation where they have to park refrigerated trucks behind hospitals to hold the bodies, as they did in New York."

"It's certainly not as bad as it was in New York City," Dr. Hilary Fairbrother, a Houston emergency medicine doctor, told NBC News. "We are not at that point. That being said, everybody wants to prevent us getting to that point."

Houston has also benefited from New York's experience, Dr. Diana Fide, a Houston emergency room doctor and president of the Texas Medical Association, told Politico. "We did learn a lot going through things in March and April. We learned so much from problems in Washington State and New York." Even with more knowledge and stockpiled ventilators and protective equipment, she added, burnout is a real risk

"The fear is that nobody really knows what the trajectory is," reports New York Times correspondent Sheri Fink from Houston Methodist Hospital, the city's largest. "You can have models, but models only can do so much. It really, really depends on human behavior — whether they stay home more, whether they wear masks. And then there could just be mysteries that we don't even understand about how this virus passes. And those numbers for now, they just keep rising." Peter Weber

1:26 a.m.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov on Wednesday said reports that Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan are a "downright lie," and "no concrete evidence has been presented" to prove the allegations.

The New York Times first reported on the alleged plot in late June. During a virtual discussion with the Center for the National Interest, a think tank in Washington, Antonov said the intelligence sources behind the report are "trying to create an impression that our country is an enemy of the United States."

He also had sharp words for the U.S. government's decision to withdraw from multilateral arms control treaties, saying this left U.S.-Russia relations in a "deplorable state." His country, Antonov added, is "deeply concerned about the United States actions leading to the collapse of strategic stability."

While it's not known if President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have spoken since the Russian bounty story broke, Antonov did reveal that they had five phone calls in late March and April, all of them positive. "Unfortunately, it is not always possible to implement in practice the constructive tone of the presidents' talks," he added. Catherine Garcia

1:18 a.m.

President Trump on Wednesday criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, then he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threatened to withhold federal funds from schools that don't fully reopen in the fall. "The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families," Trump tweeted. Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday afternoon the CDC will issue new guidelines.

"Well, the president said today, we just don't want the guidance to be too tough," Pence said at a coronavirus task force briefing. "That's the reason why next week, the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward."

There are good social, economic, and societal reasons to send kids back to school — the American Academy of Pediatrics "strongly" advises a return to in-school learning — but only if districts can reasonably minimize the risks for children, teachers, and staff. The steps to make schools adequately safe will cost an extra $1.8 million for an average school district, according to one analysis, and it's not clear Trump and Congress will offer any financial help.

State and local agencies, which fund more than 90 percent of K-12 education, are facing hard choices, as are teachers and parents weighing the risks and benefits of returning or sending their kids into classrooms amid a deadly, in many cases out-of-control coronavirus outbreak. Trump appearing to force federal scientists to water down their guidance probably won't help those decisions.

"Stop making public education a political issue," said Leslie Boggs, National PTA president.

For Trump, getting kids back in school is "about the economy, and it's about his re-election," Politico reports. As Trump's team sees it, children in school means "parents can more easily return to work and juice the economy — something even the president's allies consider a necessity for Trump to win re-election. And with Trump's sagging poll numbers against presumptive 2020 rival Joe Biden, aides also hope the campaign for in-person schooling will play well with the female and suburban voters the president needs to remain in office."

That last gamble is pretty high-stakes, and it's hard to imagine it paying off if the headlines this fall are about schools closing down again as COVID-19 rampages through suburban schools. Peter Weber

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