July 21, 2020

An official from President Trump's campaign was called out live on the air by one CNN anchor for "doing a real disservice" to Americans.

CNN's Brianna Keilar spoke to Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh on Tuesday afternoon in what turned out to be quite a heated conversation. Early on she blasted him for "lying" about the national stockpile and went on to describe the administration's "failure" on COVID-19 testing.

Keilar continued to fact-check Murtaugh throughout the conversation, which went even more off the rails after the topic turned to hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug Trump has pushed as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

"It kills people, Tim," Keilar told Murtaugh.

But as Murtaugh defended hydroxychloroquine and wondered "how dangerous could it possibly be," Keilar grew more frustrated and eventually ended the discussion after telling Murtaugh he's doing "a real disservice to the health of Americans."

"Tim, we are done with this conversation," Keilar said. "I think that you're just really confusing the situation, and it does no service to anyone's health."

Without so much as a commercial break, Keilar immediately turned to an expert on the subject, Dr. James Phillips, to respond to what viewers heard from Murtaugh and to clarify that hydroxychloroquine hasn't been proven to be safe or effective in treating COVID-19 and that it can lead to "serious" illness.

"What was just recently said was irresponsible, and being said for political reasons, and I completely disagree with it," Phillips said. Brendan Morrow

10:42 a.m.

Jared Kushner's coronavirus task force volunteers in charge of procuring personal protective equipment, such as masks, for virus hot spots were instructed were instructed to prioritize requests from President Trump's friends and supporters, Max Kennedy Jr., one of the volunteers, told The New Yorker.

Kennedy, the 26-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, said the group had to pay special attention to Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who he said was "particularly aggressive" in demanding masks be shipped to a hospital she favored.

Per The New Yorker, Kennedy — who in April sent an anonymous complaint to Congress detailing what he described as an incompetent White House response to the pandemic — also said the volunteers were told to direct millions of dollars worth of supplies to five pre-selected distributors, and he alleges he was instructed by one of the political appointees who directed the task force to create a model altering the projected number of COVID-19 fatalities because experts' models were "too severe." Kennedy, who has experience working at investment and consulting firms and was planning to take the LSATs, said he declined the assignment, explaining he knew nothing about disease modeling.

But beyond the specific complaints, Kennedy was concerned by the administration's over-reliance on volunteers like himself, which he believed was an attempt by the White House to sidestep government experts. "It was such a mismatch of personnel," he said. Read more at The New Yorker. Tim O'Donnell

10:23 a.m.

Ellen DeGeneres is pledging to begin a "new chapter" at her show.

DeGeneres on Monday returned with the first episode of her talk show's new season, getting started by addressing the allegations that have emerged of a toxic work environment there. A BuzzFeed News report described "racism, fear, and intimidation" employees have allegedly experienced at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, while a second BuzzFeed report said that "sexual harassment and misconduct by top executive producers runs rampant" at the show.

"I learned that things happened here that never should have happened," DeGeneres said on Monday. "I take that very seriously, and I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected."

DeGeneres went on to say "I take responsibility for what happens at my show," and she promised that after having "a lot of conversations" about her workplace over the past few weeks, "We have made the necessary changes, and today, we are starting a new chapter." An investigation into the workplace environment at the show was opened in July, and in August, three top producers were ousted.

DeGeneres also addressed claims that "I am not who I appear to be on TV," namely the idea that, off the air, she is not "the kind lady" she is on her show.

"The truth is, I am that person that you see on TV," DeGeneres said. "I am also a lot of other things. Sometimes I get sad. I get mad. I get anxious. I get frustrated. I get impatient. And I am working on all of that. I am a work in progress." Brendan Morrow

10:18 a.m.

President Trump is seemingly just making things up about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dying wish.

Ginsburg died Friday after a long career fighting for gender equality, capped off with decades as the most prominent member of the Supreme Court's liberal wing. The timing of her death leaves room for Trump to appoint a conservative justice to replace her — something Ginsburg was acutely aware of even as she was dying.

In the days before her death, Ginsburg told her granddaughter that "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." But in his now-weekly appearance on Fox & Friends on Monday, Trump suggested, with no evidence, that Ginsburg's wish wasn't real. "I don't know that she said that," Trump said, asking if it was written by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Trump's comments received criticism from Never Trump conservative Bill Kristol, who tweeted that "It's one thing to say you're not going to honor Justice Ginsburg's dying wish. It's another thing, as Trump does here, to accuse RBG's granddaughter, Clara Spera, of lying about her grandmother."

Trump also told Fox & Friends he would announce his nominee to replace Ginsburg on Friday or Saturday, a week after Ginsburg's death. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:57 a.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new guidance has acknowledged that COVID-19 can spread through the air, CNN reports.

The CDC's website as of Friday says that "airborne viruses, including COVID-19, are among the most contagious and easily spread" and that the coronavirus commonly spreads "through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols."

The CDC's latest guidance also says, "It is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes)."

The guidance from the CDC, CNN notes, previously described COVID-19 as mainly spreading through "respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks" and within six feet. In the new guidance, when listing ways to protect oneself from COVID-19, in addition to steps such as social distancing and wearing a mask, the CDC also now says to "use air purifiers to help reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces."

The Washington Post notes that "scientists and public health experts have warned of mounting evidence that the novel coronavirus is airborne" for months, and University of Colorado at Boulder chemistry professor Jose-Luis Jimenez told the Post this acknowledgement from the CDC as a "major change."

"This is a good thing," Jimenez told the Post, "if we can reduce transmission because more people understand how it is spreading and know what to do to stop it."

Additionally, University of Maryland professor Donald Milton told CNN it's a "major improvement," adding, "I'm very encouraged to see that the CDC is paying attention and moving with the science. The evidence is accumulating." Brendan Morrow

7:22 a.m.

A sizable anti-abortion minority of U.S. voters are excited at the prospect of a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court striking down or effectively neutering Roe v. Wade, but the Affordable Care Act is in much more imminent danger after the death Friday of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 10 in a lawsuit by Texas and other conservative states, backed by the Trump administration, arguing that the entire ACA should be struck down because the GOP-controlled Congress zeroed out the individual mandate to buy insurance in 2017. The lawsuit "was largely shrugged off" when it was filed two years ago, Politico notes, but it has now "been validated by Republican-appointed justices in lower courts, and ObamaCare will have one less ally on the conservative-dominated bench when the Supreme Court considers the law's fate this fall."

"Conventional wisdom had held that Chief Justice John Roberts would likely join with the court's liberals to save the ACA once again," Axios reports. "But if President Trump is able to fill Ginsburg's former seat, Roberts' vote alone wouldn't be enough to do the trick, and the law — or big sections of it — is more likely to be struck down." Most at risk are the law's protections for pre-existing conditions, according to legal scholars following the litigation. But everything is on the table, including Medicaid expansion, coverage for people up to age 26 on their parents' insurance plans, and no-cost preventative care.

"A broad ruling against the entire ACA still requires some logical leaps," Axios notes. But "a lawsuit that once seemed like a long shot now has a much more reasonable chance at success — and that means 20 million people's health coverage really could be in the balance." Trump and congressional Republicans tried and narrowly failed to replace the ACA in 2017, and Trump has yet to release his frequently teased newer health care plan. Peter Weber

5:11 a.m.

President Trump gave approval Saturday for a deal in which China's ByteDance would partner with Oracle and Walmart to create a U.S. TikTok spinoff that would satisfy his security demands. ByteDance said Monday it wanted to clarify some "groundless rumors" about the deal, asserting that the Beijing company would control 80 percent of a wholly owned subsidiary, TikTok Global, after a public offering. Oracle would own a 12.5 percent stake and Walmart the other 7.5 percent.

U.S. backers of the deal argue that because U.S. investors own 41 percent of ByteDance, the 20 percent owned by Walmart and Oracle would give U.S. investors and companies a majority stake in the TikTok Global. Oracle and Walmart also said Americans would hold four of the five seats on the board of directors. ByteDance said Monday that one seat would go to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon but the other four would stay with current directors, including ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming.

Another "rumor" ByteDance sought to shoot down was Trump's assertion that the Chinese company would pay the U.S. $5 billion to create an education fund to teach American children "the real history of our country." ByteDance said the $5 billion figure was just an estimate of federal taxes it would pay over several years if its new subsidiary proved successful. Trump has said he wanted the buyers to pay the White House "key money" for facilitating the deal, but White House lawyers said that would violate the law.

ByteDance also said it will retain full control of TikTok's prized algorithms and source code, and Oracle can review the code for security threats but only in controlled locations. Trump's Aughst executive order giving ByteDance 90 days to sell to a U.S. company cited concerns that the personal data of Americans could be passed on to China's government. A senior Trump campaign official tells The Wall Street Journal that TikTok's Washington lobbyists had argued to Trump's campaign that banning a social media juggernaut with 100 million users, "including many who are of voting age and live in battleground states such as Florida," would be bad politics. Peter Weber

3:22 a.m.

There isn't really anything to agree or disagree with in a campaign ad Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted over the weekend, nothing to actually fight over. But it does win points for brevity, clocking in at 10 seconds, 5 of which is Biden saying he approves the message. The other 5 seconds is President Trump marveling that he might lose to Biden.

Trump also makes what Biden spins into a promise — and if so, it's not one Trump will keep. As The Week's Bonnie Kristian argued, you're (understandably) delusional if you think "that if Trump loses in November, he will, in some sense, go away." Peter Weber

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