- While touting his administration’s success in curbing the coronavirus, President Trump said Wednesday that he will not extend social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday.
- At least 30 states have already begun to ease restrictions or plan on doing so by the end of the week, despite the fact that the majority of states do not meet the threshold for reopening under existing White House recommendations.
- Many public health experts warn that it is too soon for states to open back up, noting that on Wednesday the U.S. reported over 60,000 deaths and 1 million confirmed cases.
Trump Touts Accomplishments as Guidelines Expire
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he will not extend the federal coronavirus social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday, despite the growing number of confirmed cases and deaths.
The guidelines encouraged Americans to stay home, limit travel, and avoid large gatherings. They were originally set to last for 15 days but were later extended until April 30.
“We think we really have crossed a big boundary, and much better days are ahead,” Trump said Wednesday while speaking at an event with industry executives. “And I often say I see the light at the end of the tunnel, very strongly.”
Trump also repeatedly touted his successes in combatting the virus, at times seemingly speaking as though the pandemic was almost over.
“We did all the right moves,” he added. “If we didn’t do what we did, you would have had a million people die, maybe more, maybe two million people die.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, also echoed that optimistic sentiment while speaking on Fox & Friends Wednesday.
“We’re on the other side of the medical aspect of this, and I think that we’ve achieved all the different milestones that are needed,” Kushner said. “The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story. And I think that that’s really, you know, what needs to be told.”
However, all evidence seems to currently be pointing in the opposite direction.
Trump and Kushner’s respective remarks came on the same day that the U.S. reported over 60,000 deaths from coronavirus. That staggering number, reached in just eight weeks, is now more than the roughly 58,000 Americans killed over the course of two decades in the Vietnam War.
The number of U.S. deaths has reached an amount it was not expected to hit until August, per projections the White House had accepted. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now predicts that the death toll, which data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates is already undercounted as is, will reach 73,000 by August.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. officially reached more than one million confirmed coronavirus cases. Americans now make up nearly one-third of all confirmed cases worldwide.
Despite these jarring milestones, the president repeatedly reiterated his belief that there is no longer a need for federal distancing guidelines.
“They’ll be fading out because now the governors are doing it,” Trump said of the guidelines, firmly placing the onus on the states. “We’ve encouraged the more than 30 states that have taken steps to resume economic activity already.”
The administration also said that the now-defunct guidelines were incorporated into recommendations given to states for easing restrictions and reopening their economies released by the White House two weeks ago.
Experts Worry as States Reopen
But many of the 30 states that have already begun the process of reopening or are planning to do so by the end of this week do not even meet those recommendations.
Among other things, the guidance given to states by the Trump administration includes two key benchmarks that states are encouraged to meet before easing restrictions: increased testing capabilities and a downward trajectory of positive cases.
However, numerous experts and studies have warned that the majority of states have not met either of those thresholds, despite the fact that by this weekend, most states will have at least partially reopened.
According to recent data from the University of Missouri, 25 states and the District of Columbia still have too high a percentage of people testing positive to meet the administration’s criteria for easing restrictions.
Separately, researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute also calculated that only two states, Rhode Island and West Virginia, are conducting enough tests to reopen under the White House guidance.
While the U.S. has significantly increased testing capabilities, with 5.8 million tests conducted as of Wednesday, many health experts say the country needs to be conducting as many as 5 million tests a day for the economy to be safely reopened.
Trump, for his part, has called that recommendation unnecessary and a “media trap.” This week, he said he would help states test at least 2% of their populations each month— a mere fraction of what experts say is needed.
Additionally, a recent study from the Dartmouth Atlas Project found that the virus is spreading quickly in some of the states that have the most expansive and ambitious plans to ease restrictions.
“Five of the top 50 growth rate areas are in Texas, a state that’s pulling back on physical distancing. Two of the highest top 50 growth rate areas are in Georgia,” the study’s leader Dr. Elliott Fisher told CBS.
Georgia has already opened hair salons, restaurants, outdoor spaces, and entertainment centers like bowling allies. Texas’ planned reopenings, which are almost identical to that of Georgia but even more broad, are set to begin Friday.
“The concern is that without adequate testing, we will have to wait for people to report sick in order to detect that the epidemic is surging again,” Fisher said.
“We are very likely to see new or continuing outbreaks in these regions unless we maintain high levels of physical distancing as we do the opening up, which we are not ready to do yet by any stretch of the imagination.”
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (NPR) (Time)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”