March 19, 2020

President Trump won't budge on labeling the COVID-19 coronavirus the "Chinese virus," apparently even to the point of altering his own White House notes.

After Trump's White House briefing on Thursday, during which he called the novel coronavirus "the Chinese virus" within 45 seconds of taking the podium, The Washington Post's Jabin Botsford shared a photo showing that the notes Trump was reading from in one section included "corona virus" crossed out to be replaced with "Chinese virus," presumably by Trump himself.

Trump has repeatedly doubled down on labeling of the coronavirus the "Chinese virus" because it originated in Wuhan, even as the World Health Organization has urged against attaching "locations or ethnicity to the disease," saying that "this is not a 'Wuhan Virus,' 'Chinese Virus' or 'Asian Virus'" and "the official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization."

New York Magazine's Josh Barro argued Thursday the photo of Trump's notes showed that "they're using the term 'the coronavirus' internally like everyone else and are throwing this up publicly because they would rather have an argument about political correctness than discuss the response itself." Brendan Morrow

12:13 p.m.

The Trump administration is planning to block Chinese passenger carriers from flying into the United States, Reuters reports.

The U.S. Department of Transportation made this announcement on Wednesday, saying China is still "unable" to say when it will "allow U.S. carriers to reinstate scheduled passenger flights."

As The New York Times explains, China has essentially stopped U.S. airlines from being able to resume service to the country; in March, China's regulators "limited foreign carriers to one flight per week based on the flight schedules they had in place earlier that month," the Times writes, but "all three American airlines that fly between China and the United States had stopped service to the country by then because of the coronavirus pandemic." As a result, the Transportation Department says, China "effectively precludes U.S. carriers from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to China."

Given this, the Transportation Department said it's required "to restore a competitive balance" by taking this action. Delta Air Lines, which is seeking to resume flights to China, on Wednesday expressed support for the administration's announcement, saying, "we support and appreciate the U.S. government's actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness."

The ban is reportedly set to go into effect on June 16, though the Transportation Department says that should China "adjust its policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers," it's "fully prepared to revisit the action." Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

Yes, the Senate is still talking about former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to kick off the committee's hearings on the FBI's probe into Russian investigation in the 2016 election. Rosenstein oversaw the investigation, but noted that he wouldn't have okayed at least one part of it based on the information he has today.

Rosenstein signed off on four FISA warrants, which allow the surveillance of foreign agents, back in 2017 in the early days of the FBI investigation. One of those was for the surveillance of Carter Page, who was an aide to then-candidate Donald Trump. But as an inspector general report found after Mueller's report came out, the FBI's application to surveil Page had several errors; the IG did conclude the FISA error didn't affect the outcome of the investigation.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned Rosenstein on his approval on Wednesday, asking "if you knew then what you knew now, would you have signed the warrant application?" "No I would not," Rosenstein quickly responded. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:05 a.m.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that active-duty U.S. military forces should only be deployed in a domestic law enforcement role "as a matter of last resort" and "in the most urgent dire of situations." In his view, the protests against brutality taking place across the country do not meet that criteria. "We are not in one of those situations right now," Esper said.

Therefore, he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act — which allows the president to deploy troops to suppress civil disorder — despite President Trump's threats to do so. Esper said he has always believed the National Guard, which has been supplementing local police in some states, "is best suited for providing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations."

Politico previously reported Pentagon officials were uneasy about the possibility the military could play a role in quelling the protests, and Esper seems to be distancing himself from Trump's rhetoric since he came under fire for walking with the president through Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., after federal police forcibly cleared peaceful protesters from the area. Esper claims he wasn't aware of plans to clear the park. Tim O'Donnell

10:28 a.m.

Pope Francis has spoken out about the "tragic" death of George Floyd and "disturbing" unrest throughout the United States.

The pope on Wednesday commented from the Vatican on the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, in police custody and the subsequent outrage and demonstrations his killing sparked.

"Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd," Francis said, CNN reports. "My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life."

The pope said he is praying for Floyd and for "all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism" and added, "let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn," per The Washington Post.

The comments from the pope came following more than a week of protests, and Francis said that "we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating." CNN's Vatican analyst John Allen observed that for Francis to reference the name of a specific person like he did Floyd in his weekly prayer is "relatively rare." Brendan Morrow

10:25 a.m.

President Trump would like you to know he was never hiding, just doing some routine maintenance.

On Friday, reports indicated that Trump was herded to the White House's underground bunker while police cracked down on protesters on Washington, D.C.'s streets. But as Trump told Fox News radio on Wednesday, he was actually only down there to "inspect" the bunker.

"I was there for a tiny, short little period of time," Trump claimed, saying it was "more for an inspection." This is apparently something Trump has done before, specifically "two and a half times." Trump did not clarify what a half visit entails.

On Monday, Trump, reportedly upset by the spreading idea that he was hiding in the bunker, directed law enforcement to use tear gas to clear peaceful protesters outside the White House so he could walk across the street for a photo op at St. John's Church. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:19 a.m.

Police officers in Mount Vernon, New York, allegedly participated in a rash of misconduct, secretly recorded telephone tapes obtained by Gothamist/WNYC reveal.

In one of the secretly recorded phone conversations, a Mount Vernon police officer, John Campo, accused a colleague, Camilo Antonini, of framing innocent civilians, while apparently giving preferential treatment to favored city drug dealers. Campo also alleged officers planted drugs, illegally entered homes, and fabricated search warrants in some cases. He said he brought the concerns to two different commissioners, who referred him to the FBI, but Campo ultimately decided not to cooperate because he didn't want to wear a wire or take a polygraph test.

Another officer who was secretly recorded, Avion Lee, said there was one incident where she and her colleagues were on patrol when they approached a young man who took off running. The officers pursued him, and when Lee caught up to them, the officers had badly beaten the man. When they took him to jail, the officers allegedly concocted a story that they'd seen him participate in drug transaction, so that it didn't look like brutality. Prosecutors dropped the case against the man the next day.

The phone conservations were recorded by Marushea Bovell, a 12-year veteran of the police department in the city just north of the Bronx. Bovell has reported alleged corruption to higher-ups, including to Westchester County's District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, but "nothing happened," so he decided the "only option left is to let the public know." Read more at Gothamist. Tim O'Donnell

9:47 a.m.

As the search for a coronavirus vaccine continues, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is feeling "cautiously" optimistic.

"Given that the body can make a good response against coronavirus, we feel cautiously optimistic that if we mimic safely natural infection with our vaccine, we will be able to induce a response in a person that would be equivalent to the response that natural infection induces," Fauci explained on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Fauci, a member of President Trump's coronavirus task force, was optimistic that several COVID-19 vaccine candidates will be shown as effective in "a reasonable period of time" and pointed to the promising early data from Moderna, per the Journal, though he added that a major unanswered question is for how long any eventual vaccine might provide protection from the coronavirus.

"What is a big unknown is what the durability of that protection is," he said. "Is it going to be a year, two years or even maybe, unfortunately, six months or less?" If it provides protection for a fairly short period, he said this might lead to a "secondary problem" in trying to get enough doses out.

Speaking to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Fauci on Tuesday reiterated he's "cautiously optimistic" about getting a vaccine and pointed to the administration's hope of having a few hundred million doses available by the beginning of 2021, per CNN, though some experts have cast doubt on this incredibly tight timeline. But while he's feeling hopeful about the progress, Fauci also noted this week that there's "never a guarantee, ever, that you're going to get an effective vaccine." Brendan Morrow

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