- President Trump tweeted a picture of himself in a mask on Monday, calling it “patriotic,” a move that came as a surprise to many after months of him refusing to wear a mask and denigrating those who do.
- Several sources told CNN that the president decided to promote mask-wearing in his tweet because he is falling in the polls, largely over his response to the coronavirus.
- In a similar vein, Trump also announced Monday that he would bring back the daily coronavirus briefings and repeatedly cited the high ratings as a reason for doing so.
- While his support of masks could be influential, concerns over his stance linger, especially after he was seen without a mask at a fundraiser in his Washington, D.C. hotel just hours after posting his tweet.
Trump’s Mask Reversal
In a shocking reversal, President Donald Trump tweeted a picture of himself Monday that showed him wearing a mask, calling the action “patriotic.”
“We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance,” he wrote. “There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”
The tweet appeared to mark a significant change on the part of the president. For months Trump has refused to wear a mask and made fun of others for doing so. As a result, he has been accused of leading and amplifying the politicization of wearing face masks, despite sweeping recommendations from nearly all health experts.
However, just hours after his tweet, the president was seen without a mask at a fundraiser at his hotel in Washington, D.C.
Currently, it is unclear why Trump made such a drastic change of course on an issue he has consistently sought to undermine, even as the U.S. has continued to see enormous coronavirus spikes and repeatedly broken its new case record over the last few weeks.
Per the John Hopkins coronavirus case tracker, by Tuesday morning, the U.S. had reported 3,832,714 confirmed cases and 141,118 deaths. Cases are now officially increasing in 44 states, according to the New York Times.
One possible reason for the president’s change of heart could be due to the fact that as the virus has surged, more and more Republican leaders have started to break ranks from Trump on the issue.
Last week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey imposed a short-term mask mandate on her state. On Monday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves extended his state’s mask mandate so that it now covers almost half of all residents.
Those are only a few examples, and in general, the narrative around masks is changing.
Mask for Ratings
Still, there is also another possibility when it comes to why Trump changed his tune.
On Monday, CNN, citing several anonymous sources, reported that Trump’s shift “was primarily motivated by floundering poll numbers.”
“It wasn’t until a meeting with campaign aides at the White House last week, where aides bluntly told him even internal numbers showed Americans didn’t approve of his response,” the outlet continuned.
“Trump’s advisers also linked wearing a mask to political success, a key argument as Trump’s poll numbers were low and coronavirus remained a top concern for voters. Wearing a mask, the advisers suggested, was an easy step that’s well-received by the vast majority of Americans.”
While access to the aforementioned internal polls is limited, recent public polls also demonstrate the same general information.
Several polls published over the weekend showed that Trump’s pandemic response is hurting his re-election chances.
According to an ABC poll, 64% of Americans surveyed do not trust Trump on coronavirus and only 38% now approve of his response— which is down from 46% in late May.
Separately a Washington Post-ABC News poll also found that Biden is now leading Trump by 55% to 40% among registered voters— up from 10% in May. The Post also reported that the drop in Trump’s approval is related to a “decline in how Americans judge his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.’
“There has been a net drop of 28 points in his approval margin since March as the president has repeatedly contradicted or ignored health experts in his administration and in the states, stoked confusion about the importance of wearing masks and at times appeared indifferent to the crisis even as conditions in many parts of the country were worsening,” it continued.
While a Fox News survey of registered voters found that Biden was leading by a lot less than the Post-ABC poll—with just 8%— it still had similar findings, with the outlet reporting that the coronavirus “is the top issue to voters, over half of them disapprove of how President Trump’s handling it, and they increasingly trust Joe Biden to do a better job on it.”
Trump Reinstates Coronavirus Briefings
This idea that Trump was only promoting a mask as a PR or approval rating stunt could also be supported by the fact that he is planning to bring back daily coronavirus briefings.
In his announcement Monday, the president started off by focusing on ratings and how many people had watched the briefings.
“We had very successful briefings,” he said. “I was doing them and we had a lot of people watching. Record numbers watching. In the history of cable television, there’s never been anything like it.”
Even when he did argue that the briefings had a utility to “get information out to the public,” he still made sure to hit on the number of views again, adding, “A lot of people will be watching and that’s a good thing.”
However, Trump’s decision to revive the controversial briefings is somewhat confusing. That’s because part of the reason he stopped holding them in the first place was due to the fact polls showed that they were hurting him politically.
In addition to receiving criticism for frequently sharing false information at the briefings, many also accused Trump of using the events as a campaign rally. To that point, the move also comes right after he announced that he would stay off the campaign trail and stop holding rallies for now because of a worsening coronavirus situation.
As for the masks, even if it is just a political stunt, experts have said that it could have a huge impact.
“Trump’s new stance could put mask mandates in the same category as laws about seat belts, motorcycle helmets or secondhand smoke — safety measures that, while unpopular at first, eventually won acceptance,” Bloomberg reported Monday.
Catherine Sanderson, the chair of the psychology department at Amherst College in Massachusetts, explained to the outlet that “major social changes can be triggered even if just 25% of the population adopts them at first.” In order for that to be true, however, the changes have to be prompted by people with “genuine influence.”
“If Trump had done this two months ago, more people would have lived,” Sanderson said. “But this is better late than never, especially if it gives GOP governors tacit permission to require masks in their red states.”
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Supreme Court Rules High School Football Coach Can Pray on Field
All of our rights are “hanging in the balance,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion.
Court’s Conservatives Break With 60 Years of History
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field at the end of games.
Joseph Kennedy, who was hired at Bremerton High School in Washington State in 2008, kneeled at the 50-yard line after games for years and prayed. He was often joined by some of his players, as well as others from the opposing team.
In 2015, the school asked him not to pray if it interfered with his duties or involved students.
Shortly after, Kennedy was placed on paid administrative leave, and after a school official recommended that his contract not be renewed for the 2016 season he did not reapply for the position.
Kennedy sued the school, eventually appealing the case to the Supreme Court.
The justices voted 6 to 3, with the liberal justices dissenting.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance,” he added.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion.
“Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection,” she said.
“In doing so, the court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”
The defense in the case argued that the public nature of Kennedy’s prayers put pressure on students to join him, and that he was acting in his capacity as a public employee, not a private citizen.
Kennedy’s lawyers contended that such an all-encompassing definition of his job duties denied him his right to self-expression on school grounds.
“This is just so awesome,” Kennedy said in a statement following the decision. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys … I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”
Religious Liberty or Separation of Church and State?
Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot organize or promote prayer in public schools, and it has since generally abided by that jurisprudence.
But the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has been increasingly protective of religious expression, especially after the confirmation of three conservative Trump-appointed judges.
Reactions to the ruling were mostly split between liberals who saw the separation of church and state being dissolved and conservatives who hailed it as a victory for religious liberty.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which represented the Bremerton school district, said in a statement that the ruling “gutted decades of established law that protected students’ religious freedom.”
“If Coach Kennedy were named Coach Akbar and he had brought a prayer blanket to the 50 yard line to pray after a game,” one Twitter user said, “I’ve got a 401(k) that says this illegitimate, Christofascist SCOTUS rules 6-3 against him.”
“The people defending former Coach Kennedy’s right to kneel on the field after the game to pray – are the ones condemning Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel on the field to protest police brutality against Black Americans,” another user wrote.
Others, like Republican Congressmember Ronny Jackson and former Secretary of State for the Trump administration Mike Pompeo, celebrated the ruling for protecting religious freedom and upholding what they called the right to pray.
“I am excited to build on this victory and continue securing our inalienable right to religious freedom,” Pompeo wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
Rep. Schiff Urges DOJ to Investigate Trump for Election Crimes: “There’s Enough Evidence”
“When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate,” the congressman said.
Schiff Says DOJ Should Launch Inquiry
Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.) told Rogue Rocket that he believes there is “certainly […] enough evidence for the Justice Department to open an investigation” into possible election crimes committed by former President Donald Trump.
Schiff, who took the lead in questioning witnesses testifying before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Tuesday, said that it will be up to the DOJ to determine whether “they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal activity, but added that an investigation must first be launched.
“Donald Trump should be treated like any other citizen,” the congressman said, noting that a federal judge in California has already ruled that Trump and his allies “likely” engaged in multiple federal criminal acts. “When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate.”
“One of the concerns I have is it’s a year and a half since these events. And while […] there’s an investigation going on in Fulton County by the district attorney, I don’t see a federal grand jury convened in Atlanta looking into this, and I think it’s fair to ask why,” Schiff continued, referencing the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.
“Normally, the Justice Department doesn’t wait for Congress to go first. They pursue evidence and they have the subpoena power. They’re often much more agile than the Congress. And I think it’s important that it not just be the lower-level people who broke into the Capitol that day and committed those acts of violence who are under the microscope,” he continued. “I think anyone who engaged in criminal activity trying to overturn the election where there’s evidence that they may have engaged in criminal acts should be investigated.”
Schiff Takes Aim at DOJ’s Handling of Committee Subpoenas
Schiff also expressed frustration with how the DOJ has handled referrals the committee has made for former Trump officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify before the panel.
“We have referred four people for criminal prosecution who have obstructed our investigation. The Justice Department has only moved forward with two of them,” he stated. “That’s not as powerful an incentive as we would like. The law requires the Justice Department to present these cases to the grand jury when we refer them, and by only referring half of them, it sends a very mixed message about whether congressional subpoenas need to be complied with.”
As far as why the congressman thought the DOJ has chosen to operate in this manner in regards to the Jan. 6 panel’s investigation, he said he believes “the leadership of the department is being very cautious.”
“I think that they want to make sure that the department avoids controversy if possible, doesn’t do anything that could even be perceived as being political,” Schiff continued. “And while I appreciate that sentiment […] at the same time, the rule of law has to be applied equally to everyone. If you’re so averse, […] it means that you’re giving effectively a pass or immunity to people who may have broken the law. That, too, is a political decision, and I think it’s the wrong decision.”
On the Note of Democracy
Schiff emphasized the importance of the American people working together to protect democracy in the fallout of the insurrection.
“I really think it’s going to require a national movement of people to step up to preserve our democracy. This is not something that I think Congress can do alone. We’re going to try to protect those institutions, but Republicans are fighting this tooth and nail,” he asserted. “It’s difficult to get through a Senate where Mitch McConnell can filibuster things.”
“We don’t have the luxury of despair when it comes to what we’re seeing around us. We have the obligation to do what generations did before us, and that is defend our democracy,” the congressman continued. “We had to go to war in World War II to defend our democracy from the threat of fascism. You know, we’re not called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices. We see the bravery of people in Ukraine putting their lives on the line to defend their country, their sovereignty, their democracy. Thank God we’re not asked to do that.”
“So what we have to do is, by comparison, so much easier. But it does require us to step up, to be involved, to rally around local elections officials who are doing their jobs, who are facing death threats, and to protect them and to push back against efforts around the country to pass laws to make it easier for big liars to overturn future elections.”
“We are not passengers in all of this, unable to affect the course of our country. We can, you know, grab the rudder and steer this country in the direction that we want.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Senate Passes Bill to Help Veterans Suffering From Burn Pit Exposure
For Biden, who believes his son Beau may have died from brain cancer caused by burn pits, the issue is personal.
Veterans to Get Better Healthcare
The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday to pass a bill that would widely expand healthcare resources and benefits to veterans who were exposed to burn pits while deployed overseas.
Until about 2010, the Defense Department used burn pits to dispose of trash from military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, dumping things like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and medical waste into pits and burning them with jet fuel.
Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated a link between exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by the pits and health problems such as respiratory ailments and rare cancers. The DoD has estimated that nearly 3.5 million veterans may have inhaled enough smoke to suffer from related health problems.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs resisted calls to recognize the link between exposure and illness, arguing it had not been scientifically proven and depriving many veterans of disability benefits and medical reimbursements.
Over the past year, however, the VA relented, awarding presumptive benefit status to veterans exposed to burn pits, but it only applied to those who were diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of their service.
The latest bill would add 23 conditions to the list of what the VA covers, including hypertension. It also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing, and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal research on toxic exposure.
The bill will travel to the House of Representatives next, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to push it through quickly. Then it will arrive at the White House for final approval.
An Emotional Cause for Many
Ahead of a House vote on an earlier version of the bill in March, comedian John Stewart publically slammed Congress for taking so long to act.
“They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘We want to do it. We want to support the veterans. But we want to do it the right way. We want to be responsible,’” he said. “You know what would have been nice? If they had been responsible 20 years ago and hadn’t spent trillions of dollars on overseas adventures.”
“They could have been responsible in the seventies when they banned this kind of thing in the United States,” he continued. “You want to do it here? Let’s dig a giant fucking pit, 10 acres long, and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s going to cause some health problems.”
For President Biden, the issue is personal. He has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the fact the long-awaited benefits could soon arrive for those impacted.
“The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God,” he said during a speech on Thursday.
A 2020 member survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins.
Although burn pits have largely been scaled down, the DoD has not officially banned them, and at least nine were still in operation in April 2019.