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

Opinion
1:32 p.m.

Minneapolis residents won't get to vote this fall on a ballot measure to eliminate their city charter's mandatory ratio of police officers to population. Nixing that proportional requirement is one step in dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, a plan that gained majority support on the city council after George Floyd was killed during an MPD arrest in May.

The ballot measure delay was imposed Wednesday by the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which argued council members pushing for an overhaul haven't adequately explained what they'll do next. "The council says, 'Trust us. We'll figure it out after this is approved. Trust us,'" said the commission's chair, Barry Clegg. "Well, I don't. ... We need more time to fill in these blanks so voters can make a decision based on an actual specific plan and not the promise of one."

Clegg's demand is reasonable. The best modern example we have of unmaking an entire police department is from Camden, New Jersey. The new department there has had some remarkable successes. It also hired back most of the old department's officers and now has more officers overall. Minneapolis residents should know what they're voting for: What, exactly, will change in the new "Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention"? How is this not the same cops by a different name? How will violence actually be prevented?

Black Minneapolitans particularly deserve answers to these questions, and some have for weeks raised objections to the city council's move toward sweeping changes without acceptably elaborating its alternative. Activist Raeisha Williams, for example, supports major MPD reforms but called the council's haste "grotesque" if it cuts back on emergency response services "when they had nothing else in place for who was going to protect the community the right way."

This local skepticism was reflected in a national Gallup poll released Wednesday. Black Americans mostly oppose defunding the police: 61 percent said they want police presence in their area to stay the same, and 20 percent want more policing. The problem isn't necessarily how many police there are but how they're policing. Black communities can be subject to over- and under-policing at once: too much harassment over petty concerns while frightening, violent crime goes unsolved. A rushed plan, heavy on symbolism, will be ill-equipped to address this paradox. Bonnie Kristian

1:29 p.m.

The governor of Ohio has tested positive for COVID-19 just before he was to meet with President Trump.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Thursday took a COVID-19 test "as part of the standard protocol" to meet with President Trump at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, as the president visits the state, and the result came back positive, the governor's office said. DeWine, who will return home to quarantine for two weeks, said he isn't showing any symptoms.

DeWine is the second governor in the United States to test positive for COVID-19 after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), Axios notes.

Additionally, CNN's Jeremy Diamond observes that this is another instance in which the White House's testing protocol prevented Trump from being exposed to the coronavirus. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) recently tested positive for COVID-19 at the White House after he had been set to travel with Trump to Texas. Brendan Morrow

12:58 p.m.

Testing accessibility has always been a problem when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. And even as that has improved, a slow turnaround rate has often made test results useless.

That's why some researchers and public health experts are starting to emphasize rapid result coronavirus tests even if they're less accurate than the time-intensive PCR tests, The New York Times reports. Their logic? "Even if you miss somebody on Day 1, If you test them repeatedly, the argument is, you'll catch them the next time around," said Omai Garner, director of clinical microbiology in the UCLA Health System.

The experts who back an emphasis on quicker tests cite the failure of long-term tests to stem coronavirus spread throughout the U.S. "If you had asked me this a couple months ago, I would have said we just need to be doing the PCR tests," said Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California. But, she added, it's now "kitchen sink time, even if the tests are imperfect."

Still, PCR coronavirus tests rely on laboratory procedures to generate their results, and even quick-result tests require "specialized machines that are neither cheap nor easy to produce in bulk," the Times writes. But antigen tests, which identify a protein in the coronavirus, could be performed at any doctor's office or even at home, and could be mass-produced to cost just a few dollars each. Some companies are focused on developing these low-cost tests and ramping up their production until a vaccine is found.

Read more about the testing transformation at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:40 p.m.

The attorney general of New York has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday announced she has filed a lawsuit against the NRA "to dissolve the organization in entirety for years of self-dealing and illegal conduct," alleging the pro-gun group is "fraught with fraud and abuse" and that senior leadership diverted millions of dollars "into their own pockets."

Four defendants are named in the lawsuit, including Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who James described as the "central figure behind this scheme." James has accused the defendants of failing "to follow numerous state and federal laws, which contributed to the loss of more than $64 million in just three years." They allegedly put millions of dollars from the non-profit organization to personal use, including for "lavish" trips.

James also accused the NRA of "awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty."

The New York attorney general had been investigating the NRA for 18 months. The attorney general of Washington, D.C. on Thursday also announced a lawsuit against the NRA Foundation for alleged misuse of charitable funds.

President Trump on Thursday decried James' lawsuit as "terrible," recommending the NRA "move to Texas and live a very good and beautiful life." Brendan Morrow

Opinion
12:10 p.m.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is "against the Bible," President Trump told Geraldo Rivera at the 17:30-mark of a radio interview Thursday morning. "That may be a little harsh," Rivera responded. "Well, okay, take a version of it," Trump replied. "The people that control him totally are. It may be a little harsh for him, but he's gonna have no control."

This "against the Bible" line seems to be a new phrase for Trump, his latest rhetorical trial balloon. I've found no example of him using it, on Twitter or off, before the three times he said it this week. The first was Sunday in a tele-rally with Pennsylvania supporters, where Trump described Biden as being against guns, fracking, the Bible, and God himself, a list from which he selected fracking as being the "big factor" to discuss at greater length. He used the phrase again in a Fox Business interview Tuesday in nearly identical context, then repeated it to Rivera.

Trump never explained what being "against the Bible" means. As many reactions have noted, Biden is Catholic and Trump, a professed Presbyterian, is visibly clueless about Christianity. But in speaking, presumably, to white evangelicals whose support he has lately been losing, I think Trump intends two meanings at once.

The first is that a Biden administration will be unfriendly to conservative Christians. Trump's playing to fears that, though Biden personally is religious and a comparative moderate among this year's Democratic contenders, the younger Democrats who'll run his White House will hail from the party's leftmost wing. They'll be "against the Bible," Trump is saying, in the sense of viewing traditional religious practice as an obstacle to the progressive future they were elected to create.

The second sense, if I'm right, suggests someone with more evangelical background than Trump advised him on use of this phrase. I grew up in evangelical churches, and to say something or someone is "against the Bible" can be an interpretive statement, a shorthand for, "against God's message in Scripture as we rightly understand it." But notice that simply tossing off a charge of "against the Bible" doesn't do any interpretative work: There's no explanation, no citation of chapter and verse. It relies on the assumption that speaker and listener both know that right interpretation already. It is, in other words, another Trump attempt to tell evangelicals he's one of them — when he very clearly is not. Bonnie Kristian

11:55 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has a scathing accusation for Republicans as they continue to work out a coronavirus relief bill.

It's been a week since the last CARES Act expired, leaving unemployed Americans without boosted benefits as Democrats try to push Republicans toward extending the $600/week bonus that's been in place since early in the pandemic. But Pelosi isn't hopeful Republicans will come around, telling CNBC on Thursday that "perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn." The GOP, Pelosi continued, has been too focused on "how much and how long and how targeted" the next wave of relief will be instead of just passing it quickly.

Republicans have upped their unemployment offer to $400/week, but Democrats remain firm on the $600 boost the House passed a while ago. Democrats also want to extend hazard pay to essential workers while Republicans focus on keeping the cost of the bill down. Both parties remain united on extending another stimulus check to Americans, but remain divided on a host of other issues. As Pelosi colorfully put it during a Thursday press conference, "the light at the end of a tunnel might be the freight train of the virus coming at us." Kathryn Krawczyk

Opinion
11:33 a.m.

Since the coronavirus economic crisis struck in March, tens of millions of American workers have filed for unemployment. But we haven't been able to tell how many of those filings were repeats — until now.

The California Policy Lab recently published a fine-grained analysis of their state's unemployment figures. The initial surge of unemployment claims were new, of course, but since then a larger and larger share have come from repeat filings. New claims have been stable since May at roughly the same level as the worst week of the Great Recession in 2008:

Accounting for multiple filings, fully 32 percent (or 6.23 million people) of the California workforce has applied for unemployment since March. As of the week ending July 11, the most recent one for which data is available, about 17 percent of California workers were actually paid some unemployment benefits.

Now, unemployment claims have declined considerably from their peak in May, but absent action from Congress, improvement is likely to stall, or even go into reverse. Because Republicans in Congress allowed the expansion of unemployment benefits to lapse, the average payment has declined by nearly two-thirds, from $914 to $314. That will suck billions of dollars of spending out of the state, destroying jobs dependent on the consumption of people on unemployment.

California is the largest state and surely roughly representative of what is happening elsewhere. We see that the United States is mired in a full-blown depression, and unless President Trump and Senate Republicans do something, it will get much worse. Ryan Cooper

See More Speed Reads