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Trump Admits to Downplaying COVID-19 in Bombshell Audio From Bob Woodward Interviews

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  • In a series of interviews with well-known journalist Bob Woodward, conducted between Dec. 2019 to July 2020, Donald Trump admitted to downplaying the threat of COVID-19.
  • “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in a March 19 interview. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
  • In addition to outrage over the newly-released audio, many have also criticized Woodward for not releasing the tapes sooner, arguing that they could have saved lives. 
  • Woodward has defended himself by saying he was unable to verify the information from Trump until May and that he waited to publish the interviews as a complete picture so that they would have a greater impact. 

Trump Admits to Downplaying Virus in Audio Tapes

Newly-released audio between President Donald Trump and veteran reporter Bob Woodward has become a major flashpoint over the last 24 hours, particularly because that audio showcases Trump admitting to publicly downplaying the threat of COVID-19.

“To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in a recorded interview from March 19. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.” 

Woodward conducted that interview and 17 others between Dec. 5, 2019, and July 21, 2020, as part of research for his new book Rage, set to release on Sept. 15. The audio of those interviews was made public Wednesday after several major media outlets obtained copies of the book. 

While Trump and Woodward also discussed subjects like the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Trump’s relationships with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, the most damning material made public thus far has related to Trump’s comments surrounding the pandemic. 

“It’s also more deadly than your — you know, even your strenuous flus,” Trump said to Woodward on Feb. 7. “You know, people don’t realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?” 

“This is more deadly,” he added. “This is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.”

Despite those then-private (but still on-the-record) comments to Woodward, in late February, Trump was still comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu. 

“People die from the flu, and this is very unusual,” Trump said at a press conference. “And it is a little bit different, but in some ways, it’s easier, and in some ways, it’s a little bit tougher. But we have it so well under control.”

“I mean, view this the same as the flu. When somebody sneezes, I mean, I’d try and bail out as much as possible.

“It’s a little like the regular  flu that we have flu shots for,” Trump also said. 

In the March 19 interview, Trump also notes:“Now, it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob,” Trump said. “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just older [people]. Young people too, plenty of young people.” 

In an April interview, Trump told Woodward that the virus was “so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”

Those comments also come despite the fact that Trump repeatedly and publicly assured Ameircans that the virus would soon go away.

“It’s going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month,” Trump said on March 31, “and if not, it hopefully will be soon after that.”

Reaction to Woodward Audio

The reaction to the audio has been strong, both from those criticizing the president and those defending him. 

“Donald Trump knew,” Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden said. “He lied to us for months. And while a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. It was a life or death betrayal of the American people.”

“…this is not just dereliction of duty by @POTUS,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Ca.) said. “Trump repeatedly lied to the American people and that resulted in preventable deaths. This is reckless homicide.”

“Mass preventable death,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hi.) echoed.

Many conservative and Republican figures, however, largely defended Trump, though some, such as Ben Shapiro, did offer a partial rebuke of Trump’s language.

“I am still waiting to hear what Democrats say they would have done differently on covid other than not say such dumb things (which is a thing, but not the main thing in fighting covid, as it turns out),” the commentator said.

On Fox News Wednesday night, Sean Hannity went even further by asserting that Trump had not lied to the American people.

“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: President Trump has never misled or distorted the truth about this deadly truth. No, he acted faster than anyone else,” Hannity said. 

In a similar statement, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Wednesday as the news broke, “The president never downplayed the virus.” Still, Trump’s own answer from the March 19 interview directly contradicts this.

Why Didn’t Woodward Release the Audio Sooner?

The outrage surrounding Trump wasn’t the only major reaction from Wednesday. Many people also wondered why it took so long for Woodward to release the interviews. 

As the day went on, frustration directed at Woodward continued to mount, with many claiming that this information could have saved lives if it had came out earlier. 

Even Thursday morning, Trump asked, “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives?”

“Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Woodward explained his decision, telling the outlet that he didn’t immediately publish that information because he didn’t know what Trump’s source of information was.

“The biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true,” Woodward noted.

In fact, according to The Post, “In February, what Trump told Woodward seemed hard to make sense of…. back then, Woodward said, there was no panic over the virus; even toward the final days of that month, Anthony S. Fauci was publicly assuring Americans there was no need to change their daily habits.”

Woodward also said that it wasn’t until May when he learned that the information had come from a high-level intelligence briefing back in January. But, of course, that’s May. This audio didn’t come out until September, so the question persisted: Why wait until now?

To that end, Woodward told The Post that his purpose isn’t to write daily stories but to give his audience the big picture, one that he believes might have a greater impact. Instead of rushing small bits of information, Woodward said he wanted to deliver “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

At a White House event on Wednesday, Trump responded to the criticism after a reporter asked him, “Did you mislead the public by saying that you downplayed the coronavirus and that you repeatedly did that in order to reduce panic? Did you mislead the public?”

“Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so,” Trump said. “The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic, as you say, and certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength. We want to show strength as a nation.” 

Still, many have argued that informing the American public of the dangers of COVID-19 when those dangers are known is not simply spreading bad news; rather, they have said it is about telling people about the severity of the situation so that they can properly protect themselves. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (New York Post)

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Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access

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  • The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
  • Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
  • Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.

Georgia House Approves Election Bill

Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.

The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:

  • Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
  • Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
  • Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
  • Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
  • Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
  • Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
  • Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
  • Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
  • Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
  • Limit early voting hours on weekends.

The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.

Arguments For And Against The Bill

The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.

But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.

Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.

Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.

Next Steps

As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.

From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.

Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.

See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)

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Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment

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  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
  • Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
  • Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
  • In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.

Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her 

A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

The news comes just days after another staffer, Lindsey Boylan, published a Medium essay accusing Cuomo of years of misconduct, including uncomfortable comments and an unwanted kiss.

In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.

Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”

Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.

She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.

Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”

She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress. 

Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear. 

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Others Back Bennett’s Account 

Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction. 

Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.

Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.

Cuomo Calls for Investigation

Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”

His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.

That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.” 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.

On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (CBS News)

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House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination

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  • The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
  • Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
  • The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.

House Approves Equality Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places. 

The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers. 

Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.

But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.

A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.

Support and Opposition

Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.

“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”

However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.

Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.

Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.

Shift in Public Opinion

Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.

“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”

Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.

A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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