- 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)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.