- The Trump Administration is extending social distancing guidelines to April 30, President Donald Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden on Sunday.
- The announcement comes a week after Trump announced that he wanted to reopen the country by April 12; now, he says that date will likely be around the peak of deaths in the United States.
- Earlier in the day, Doctor Anthony Fauci said that a potential 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die of the coronavirus.
- Trump then said while that number is “horrible,” if his Administration can ensure that number doesn’t reach the millions, it will “altogether have done a very good job.”
Trump Extends Social Distancing Guidelines to April 30
As President Donald Trump’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” social distancing guidelines were set to expire, Trump announced on Sunday that he would be extending those guidelines until April 30.
Trump’s announcement from the White House Rose Garden comes after Trump last week said he wants to see a significant portion of the country return by Easter (April 12). As of yesterday, Trump now says the death rate is expected to peak in two weeks., or right around the Easter holiday.
“The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” he said, “so, I’ll say it again: the peak, the highest point of death rates—remember this—is likely to hit in two weeks. Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all.”
Trump’s announcement also comes after he sent a letter to governors on Thursday in which he announced he would be releasing new social distancing guidelines. Notably, in that letter, he said, “We will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.”
Trump said those classifications could help states make decisions about “maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures.”
Trump’s comments and actions last week worried many public health experts, who argued that returning to normal by April 12th wasn’t feasible. Even one of Trump’s top medical advisors, Doctor Anthony Fauci, tried to walk back Trump’s Easter’s timeline by saying that Trump was “flexible” on that date.
Despite criticism and concern, Trump had said he would consult with his Administration’s medical experts. On Sunday, Fauci said he and Coronavirus Task Force Doctor Deborah Birx originally approached Trump and asked for the deadline extension. Reportedly, they told Trump that if those guidelines expired, even more people would die.
“I guess we got to do it,” Fauci said Trump told him and Birx after looking over the data.
Fauci Says Coronavirus Could Kill 100K-200K Americans
Earlier in the day, Fauci spoke with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the union. In that interview, Fauci warned that the outbreak is likely to keep pushing hospitals to their limit.
Tapper also asked Fauci how many millions of people he expects to contract the virus, and while Fauci gave his current predictions, he also warned against making such predictions because of how easily they could change.
“I’ve never seen a model of the diseases that I’ve dealt with in which the worst-case scenario actually came out,” Fauci said. “They always overshoot, so when you use numbers like a million, a million and a half, two million, that almost certainly is off the chart. Now, it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely. So it’s difficult to present.”
“I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100- and 200,000 cases,” he continued, “but I don’t want to be held to that… We’re going to have millions of cases, but I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target that you can so easily be wrong and mislead people.”
At his announcement yesterday, Trump then referred to those numbers, mentioning the prediction that 1.6 to 2.2 million people could die if there were no intervention efforts at all.
“Think of the number, potentially 2.2 million people if we did nothing,” Trump said. “If we didn’t do the distancing, if we didn’t do all of the things that we’re doing.”
Trump then called the current prediction of even 100,000 deaths “horrible” but said, if the death count stays between 100,000 to 200,000 people, “we altogether have done a very good job.”
When Will the Outbreak Ease?
At his announcement, there was concern that Trump might try to continue to push potentially easing restrictions by region or by county. After being asked by a reporter if he would do this, Trump said no, saying that it wouldn’t be good and that he was listening to Fauci and Birx, who weren’t comfortable with the idea.
Prompted by another question, Trump called his original goal of Easter “aspirational.”He did, however, give a bit of a timeline as to when he thinks the coronavirus outbreak could die down.
“We can expect that by June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery,” he said. “A lot of great things will be happening.”
Monday morning, Trump continued to reinforce the idea that he will be listening to health experts like Fauci and Birx.
“I’ll use my head and I’ll make a decision but I’m going to rely on experts,” he said on Fox & Friends. “Anthony and Deborah have been doing this for many years, and I’m going to rely on them.”
Also Monday morning, Dr. Birx spoke with NBC, where she explained more of the basis for that 100- to 200,000 deaths prediction
“If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities. We don’t even want that,” she said.
“The best-case scenario would be 100 percent of Americans doing precisely what is required,” she added, “but we’re not sure… that all of America is responding in a uniform way to protect one another, so we also have to factor that in.”
Regarding when the outbreak may begin to die down, Birx said that is still too early to know. She said health experts must still wait for more data to come in, also saying that she and others would be looking at that data over the next month to try to answer that question.
Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week
Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.
Voting Bill Set for Floor
Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.
The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.
While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.
The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.
Pathway for Filibuster Reform
Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed.
That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.
It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.
As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.
Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)
McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024
The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.
McConnell Doubles Down
During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”
McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.
The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.
McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.
Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).
Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.
“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.
Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.
The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”
With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)
Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico
The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.
Texas Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.
Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.
While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.
Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.
During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.
The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.
Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.
While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”
Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.
Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months.
Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.
The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.
During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”