February 28, 2020

Donald Trump Jr. on Friday suggested Democrats are hoping the coronavirus kills millions of Americans, prompting one Democratic congressman to essentially threaten to physically fight him.

Trump Jr. spoke to Fox & Friends on Friday and asserted that Democrats are using the coronavirus crisis to try to hurt President Trump, claiming they "seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump's streak of winning." He added this is a "new level of sickness."

Not long after, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) appeared on MSNBC and certainly agreed with that last part, though not in the way Trump Jr. meant. When asked about Trump Jr.'s comment, Garamendi warned, "He should not be near me when he says that. There would be a serious altercation. That is just totally outrageous."

Later, Garamendi again said, "Don Jr. had better not get any place close to me. It would not be a healthy situation." He also clarified that Democrats are not, in fact, wishing for millions of deaths. Brendan Morrow

5:27 p.m.

President Trump on Saturday announced multiple executive actions intended to extend economic aid, as Congress remains in a stalemate over the next coronavirus relief package. The measures will likely face legal challenges, however, as Trump attempts to bypass the legislative policy-making process.

The president said during a press conference at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, that, via executive order, he would unilaterally renew expanded unemployment benefits, hold off student loan payments, and extend a moratorium on evictions. Additionally, Trump said the action authorizes the Treasury Department to defer payroll taxes for Americans making less than $100,000 per year. He suggested he may extend the deferral if he's re-elected in November and ultimately terminate the tax, although his stance on the matter is at odds with both parties in Congress.

The extended unemployment boost under Trump's order would have an additional $400/week go to individuals who lost their job because of the pandemic, landing between the previous $600/week figure and the $200/week plan discussed by Republicans lawmakers.

Trump did not participate directly in negotiations with congressional leaders in recent days, according to The Associated Press, and, in addition to the legal ambiguity, "Trump's embrace of executive actions to sidestep Congress runs in sharp contrast to his criticism of former President Barack Obama's use of executive orders on a more limited basis."

Read more at Bloomberg and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

3:16 p.m.

Intelligence officials have had a difficult time briefing President Trump on matters throughout his presidency, The New York Times reports. He reportedly often loses interest, unless the subject is heavy on economics or could intrigue other wealthy people, which tended to concern the intelligence community.

In the latter scenario, one former senior administration official told The New York Times, Trump would "show off about some of the stuff he thought was cool," like the capabilities of different weapons system to billionaires. "These were super rich guys who wouldn't give him the time of day before he became president," the former official said. "He'd use that stuff as currency he had that they didn't, not understanding the implications."

What's more, Trump also filled his President's Intelligence Advisory Board with wealthy businesspeople, who would occasionally make briefers uncomfortable, one intelligence official said, because their questions sometimes "were related to their business dealings." Read more about the culture clash between Trump and the intelligence community at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

1:30 p.m.

The Mid-American Conference postponed all fall sports Saturday due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision makes the MAC the first FBS conference to forego a football season this year.

MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said "there are simply too many unknowns for us to put our student-athletes in situations that are not clearly understood." But it seems that financial costs were also a concern, especially since many of the schools would lose revenue from already-canceled games against major conference teams.

The league isn't giving up all hope of seeing its student-athletes get back on the field, though. The conference is looking into ways to move the affected sports — which also include men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, field hockey, and women's volleyball — to the spring, and ESPN has reportedly said it's open to fitting televised games into its broadcast schedule next year.

It's unclear how the mid-major conference's move will affect the rest of the college football landscape, since most FBS conferences are opting to go ahead with modified schedules bereft of non-conference games, and the so-called Power Five Conferences (ACC, Big 10, SEC, PAC-12, and Big 12) have a lot more money at stake. But players have at least raised the possibility that they'd be willing to sit out the season if they aren't satisfied with health and safety protocols. The MAC's decision could put pressure on the other conferences to bolster their plans, if not call off the season outright. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

12:58 p.m.

Florida and Arizona have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic this summer, but the two Sun Belt states appear to be entering a stage of relief.

Arizona saw its test positivity rate fall below the crucial 10 percent threshold for the first time in months, signaling that a return to more intense lockdown measures has begun to pay off.

Florida, meanwhile, saw improvement across the board, although it's positivity rate remains above 10 percent. Daily fatality figures are still high, as well, but appear to be on a downward trend from last week. Tim O'Donnell

12:38 p.m.

President Trump's fondness for Mt. Rushmore is well known, so it's likely South Dakota Kristi Noem (R) scored some bonus points with the gift she gave the president when he came to her state to give an Independence Day speech in front of the monument in July.

Noem spoke highly of Trump when introducing him before the speech, comparing him to former President Theodore Roosevelt and describing him as a leader who "brave the dangers of the arena." In private, The New York Times reports, the flattery went a little further when Noem apparently greeted Trump with a four-foot replica of Mt. Rushmore, with a twist. In addition to the four U.S. presidents whose faces are actually carved into the mountainside — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Roosevelt — the replica reportedly included Trump's likeness. Trump, after all, had previously told Noem it was his dream to have his face up there.

Eventually, per the Times, word circulated around the Trump administration that Noem was ingratiating herself with Trump, leading to suspicions that she was seeking to supplant Vice President Mike Pence as his running mate in November. Noem reportedly flew to Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks later to meet with Pence and reportedly made it clear she was not after his job. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

11:28 a.m.

The emergence of Susan Rice, a former national security adviser in the Obama administration, as a leading candidate to become former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate has led to a renewed focus on the 2012 attacks against U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of 11 people, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stephens. Rice, though, called the criticism of her role in the aftermath of the event a "political distraction" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Rice did express regret about agreeing to represent the Obama administration on news shows where she announced that the attacks were part of a spontaneous protest in response to an anti-Muslim video. The information relayed turned out to be inaccurate, and the attacks were premeditated. Rice told The Atlantic her mother warned about going on the shows, especially since then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined, but said she ultimately accepted the task because she consider herself a "team player." Now, she says, she wishes she had listened to her mother's advice and has since learned that tragedies like Benghazi almost always get politicized.

But she isn't too bothered by the efforts of people like Fox News host Tucker Carlson to amplify her role in the event. Rice noted there has been "no investigation, no outrage, not a boo out of Congressional Republicans" over the Pensacola air base shooting that left three Americans dead or the four American service members who were killed in a terrorist attack in Niger, both under President Trump's watch. She also doesn't think focusing on Benghazi in 2020, when more than 150,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, makes much sense. "They're going to talk about Benghazi?" she said. "I say fine, let them." Read Rice's full interview at The Atlantic. Tim O'Donnell

10:59 a.m.

President Trump's allies are growing worried about his re-election chances, Politico reports, with one Republican close to the White House comparing the situation to the 1993 film Groundhog Day. "You think it's better, then it's not," the official told Politico.

One incident that probably won't allay their concerns is a recent phone conversation between Trump and GOP megadonor and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, per Politico. Adelson reportedly called Trump last week to discuss the coronavirus relief bill and the economy, but Trump eventually turned the conversation to the campaign and asked Adelson why he wasn't doing more to help, three people with direct knowledge of the call told Politico.

One of the sources said it became clear Trump wasn't aware of the extent to which Adelson — whom Politico describes as a financial linchpin who has donated tens of millions of dollars to pro-Trump efforts — has poured in resources for the president. Adelson reportedly didn't fire back at Trump, and his allies say it's unclear if the phone call will dissuade him from working to bolster Trump's campaign during the home stretch. But Republican Party officials were reportedly alarmed by the incident and rushed to smooth things over. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

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