July 16, 2020

The White House launched a coordinated campaign last weekend to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and it doesn't appear to have gone well. Key Trump allies in Congress quickly defended Fauci, and by Wednesday, when the White House wanted to be talking about unilaterally weakening environmental laws, it spent much of the day trying to disavow an op-ed in which Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro savaged Fauci.

White House officials, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, insisted Trump did not approve the op-ed, and Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a photo of himself sitting next to Fauci at at coronavirus task force meeting. Trump himself said "we're all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci," and Navarro "shouldn't be doing that." Fauci told The Atlantic he was baffled by the "bizarre" White House attacks on him, adding: "I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself."

"But there's little doubt that Navarro's broadside reflected — and appealed to — the president's own frustration with Fauci," the Los Angeles Times reports, quoting an administration official who said of Navarro's op-ed, "not only was he authorized by Trump, he was encouraged." Meadows pushed back, telling the Times that "President Trump did not approve Peter Navarro's op-ed" and "this anonymous source is providing false information" to "deceive your readers."

Meadows is genuinely unhappy with Navarro, White House officials told The Washington Post, especially since the White House had denied Navarro's request to publish the op-ed. At the same time, the Post notes, "Navarro's op-ed in some way echoed Trump's comments during a Fox News interview last week."

That the White House is attacking its own top infectious disease expert has already entered the zeitgeist. The Late Show and The Daily Show both created mock Fauci attack ads, and the anti-Trump Lincoln Project released an earnest ad Wednesday to pointedly remind voters that Fauci has been working to save America under six presidents.

"One White House official said the administration was attempting to de-escalate the situation with Fauci in the days ahead, a tacit admission that efforts to tarnish his credibility had backfired," the Post reports. "But both allies and critics of the Trump administration fear the White House's attempts to move on from ill-advised attacks against an epidemiologist during a pandemic could be upended with a presidential tweet." Peter Weber

5:51 a.m.

President Trump flew into Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday night to hold a rally in the state's 2nd Congressional District, which has its own single Electoral College vote and also abuts western Iowa, a state where he is essentially tied with Democrat Joe Biden. Trump spoke for about 47 minutes at Eppley Airfield. "A reporter estimated that more than 6,000 people attended the rally," the Omaha World-Herald reports. "Law enforcement and campaign sources estimated the crowd above 10,000. Trump said the crowd was 29,000."

Trump's speech went fine. The aftermath, not so much.

Fox News correspondent Jeff Paul posted some video from 90 minutes after the rally ended, pegging the temperature outside at about 32 degrees, freezing.

"The event itself seemed poorly planned from the beginning," Paige Godden reports at Iowa Starting Line. The parking lots were full, the busses for the 3.5-mile ride to the rally venue intermittent, and the lines long everywhere. People were still waiting to get in even after Trump started speaking, Godden writes. "Some started shouting for the line to move faster, and some began saying they needed to use the restroom and threatened to relieve themselves while waiting in line." Read more at Iowa Starting Line. Peter Weber

5:00 a.m.

"Guys, we are just one week away from Election Day," Jimmy Fallon said on Tuesday's Tonight Show. "I can't believe it's that soon — I mean, it feels like the last four years have just really flown by." Actually, "seven days is still a lot of time: If you get in line to vote now, there's a really good chance you'll make it to the front by Nov. 3," he joked. "Over 65 million have already voted, and thanks to the Supreme Court, almost three million of those will be counted."

President Trump and Joe Biden are flying around the country, but especially Trump. "Usually the only people who travel this much are salesmen and fugitives," Fallon said. "I'm not sure Trump's rallies are really moving the needle. It's hard to convince voters you deserve a second term when your speech has 42 mentions of the word 'plague.'"

Yes, "the biggest news in the election is the coronavirus, and things are only getting plague-ier," Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show. Things are especially dire in swing states, where Trump's COVID-19 approval ratings are slipping and people are mad about "his super-spreader rallies," he added. "Apparently, voters are not responding to his campaign's closing message: Let the maskless man spit on you!" He cut together Biden and Trump making their very different "closing arguments to the American voters."

With a week until voting ends, "I feel like I'm waiting for the results of a biopsy right now — that's the mood I'm in," Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "Donald Trump's doing his best to keep the COVID going. He had three rallies today, he's got two more tomorrow, despite the fact that at his rallies in Minnesota last month, each one of those rallies was the site of a virus outbreak," state officials determined. "I remember the good old days when the only disease we worried about Donald Trump spreading was syphilis," he joked. But at least former President Barak Obama, stumping for Biden, "seems to be having fun with this"

"Often on this show, we mock Donald Trump for going off the rails while speaking, but Obama proved today it can happen to the best of us," James Corden said at The Late Late Show. Except his entire band got the Popeye reference that went over Corden's head, and you can watch that — plus a pretty solid Trump-Amish joke — below. Peter Weber

2:59 a.m.

The Senate adjourned Monday night until the week after the Nov. 3 election, officially ending all hopes of COVID-19 economic relief legislation being passed before voting ends, and probably much longer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had made clear he did not want to vote on a roughly $2 trillion package being negotiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and, on behalf of President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump had sent mixed messages, but tended toward enthusiasm for an expensive package. Pelosi threw in the towel Tuesday.

"For a long time now, congressional Democrats have laid out a strategic plan to crush the virus," Pelosi said in a letter to House Democrats. "The White House and Mitch McConnell have resisted, and on Sunday, Mark Meadows told us why saying 'We're not going to control the pandemic.'" The White House, she added, "has failed miserably — not by accident, but by decision" — and while the House will "continue to put pen to paper" on legislation, "the president's words only have meaning if he can get Mitch McConnell to take his hand off the pause button."

The president's words on Tuesday were to accuse Pelosi of being "interested in bailing out badly-run, crime-ridden Democrat cities and states," not "helping the people," and promising: "After the election, we will get the best stimulus package you have ever seen." U.S. stock indexes dropped markedly again Tuesday on fading hopes for a financial stimulus and rapidly rising COVID-19 infections. Peter Weber

1:59 a.m.

The Russian government on Tuesday imposed a nationwide mask mandate, after more than 114,000 coronavirus cases were recorded in the country over the last seven days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had been avoiding having to take such a measure, instead leaving it up to regional leaders, The New York Times reports, but the government is trying to curb the spread of the virus amid a second wave. There have been more than 1.5 million confirmed cases in Russia, and 26,000 deaths.

Under the mandate, people must wear masks on public transportation, in taxis, elevators, and parking garages, and in any public place where more than 50 people can gather. The government did not say how this order will be enforced, the Times notes. Rospotrebnadzor, the federal health watchdog agency, is also asking Russia's regional governors to order restaurants and entertainment venues close their doors by 11 p.m.

On Tuesday, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, entered self-quarantine after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The coronavirus has swept through Russia's lower house of parliament, with its speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, telling Putin on Monday that 91 of the assembly's 450 representatives have or had the virus, and 38 are now hospitalized because of it, the Times reports. Catherine Garcia

1:59 a.m.

With a week before the final day of voting in the 2020 election, President Trump is holding up to several rallies a day, serving up "an all-you-can-eat buffet of new messages and content," Alex Thompson writes at Politico. (Democratic nominee Joe Biden, he notes, "has been so focused and undeviating that his closing message is quite literally his opening message.") A new line Trump has added to his rally routine is about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), commonly known as AOC. Specifically, Trump keeps asking if Ocasio-Cortez went to college.

"Did she go to college?" Trump asked in Wisconsin on Tuesday. "Tell me, did she, because I don't know. I don't know her background, but it is not heavy into the environment."

This was the second day in a row Trump has tried out this line, and people aren't quite sure why. If he is trying to taunt or belittle her, Ocasio-Cortez doesn't seem to care. Instead, she turned Trump's "classist and disgusting" slight back at him.

Trump is said to know his base, heavy on white people who didn't attend college, better than the pundits, so presumably he thinks this plays well politically. But if he is going to win, he needs to win back some of the suburban women who have dumped him. He had a new pitch for them, too, on Tuesday.

Trump is also telling his tightly packed, largely maskless rallies he will get rid of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but sometimes it just doesn't come out right. Peter Weber

1:20 a.m.

Australian scientists working to map the seafloor around the northern Great Barrier Reef made a major discovery earlier this month, finding a 1,600-foot-tall detached coral reef.

This is the first newfound reef in 120 years, NBC News reports. It is taller than the Empire State Building and almost a mile wide at its base. The reef is off the coast of North Queensland, and researchers from the Schmidt Ocean Institute first observed it on Oct. 20. On Sunday, an underwater robot was dispatched to take measurements and explore the reef. The institute's co-founder, Wendy Schmidt, said in a statement that this "unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean."

Marine geologist Robin Beaman, who is leading the expedition, said the team is "surprised and elated by what we have found." They will continue to explore the area until Nov. 17, and the underwater imagery being captured and mapping data being collected will help people understand this new reef's role within the Great Barrier Reef. Catherine Garcia

1:03 a.m.

A Virginia judge ruled late Tuesday that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has the authority to remove a 60-foot-high statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond, the state capital. The Lee statue is the only one left standing, after the other monuments were either removed, modified, or torn down. A group of Richmond residents had sued to stop Northam from removing the Lee statue in June, arguing that would "degrade" their neighborhood and lower their property values, NPR News reports. The plaintiffs are expected to appeal.

"We are one step closer to a more equitable and honest Virginia," Northam tweeted after the ruling was handed down. The statue of Lee, the top Confederate general in the Civil War, was erected in 1890; Richmond is the former capital of the Confederacy. Peter Weber

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