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GOP senator gives activists grim 2020 assessment amid fears over holding Senate

“Here’s the reality: The state of Georgia is in play,” Perdue said Monday, according to an audio recording of a call with “Women for Trump” obtained by CNN. “The Democrats have made it that way.”

The stark warning from a GOP senator — who is not considered among the most vulnerable Republicans this election cycle — illustrates the fear among Republicans that Democrats’ chances of taking back the Senate continue to grow.

Already facing the prospect of defending the Senate with an unpopular Republican president in an election cycle with more seats to defend than to target, Republicans are up against a bevy of well-funded Democratic challengers and are now navigating a public health and economic crisis that has injected deep uncertainty into the national political landscape.

Indeed, the political environment for GOP senators has only become more challenging in the past few months. Republican incumbents in Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina always knew they would face a tough path to reelection. Now Republicans in more conservative states — Georgia, Iowa, Montana and even Kansas — have realized the same.

In January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided not to run for the open seat in Kansas, leaving behind a divisive primary field, including the polarizing conservative Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State who lost to Democrat Laura Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race. Weeks later, Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia announced his insurgent campaign for the seat that GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler was just appointed to fill. In March, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock announced he’d run for Senate in Montana, instantly putting the seat held by GOP Sen. Steve Daines on the map.

Republicans are particularly concerned that the intraparty battles in Kansas and Georgia, two states Trump carried in 2016, could make it easier for Democrats to gain the three seats they need to take back the Senate if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency since the vice president breaks a 50-50 tie.

Behind the scenes, GOP senators are trying to instill fear into their base and mobilize their loyal voters into action, Republican sources say. On the private Monday call, Perdue told the GOP activists that the 2020 elections would be a “turning point for America.”

‘Our wake-up call in Georgia’

The Georgia senator laid out an apocalyptic view in the eyes of Republicans if Democrats take back the Senate, warning they would seek to make Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico states, try to abolish the Electoral College, add four justices to the Supreme Court and create a “single-party system.”

“We have had our wake-up call in Georgia,” Perdue said, detailing the state’s recent electoral history of increasingly tight races. Perdue said he needs to win “twice the number of votes” than he did in his 2014 campaign to keep his seat due to the influx of new Democrats in Georgia. “The demographic moves against us. But we can still win this if we get out and make sure that all of our voters vote. That’s what this comes down to.”

Ginger Howard, a Georgia committeewoman for the Republican Party, responded that Perdue’s analysis was “very sobering.”

“It’s hard to hear,” she said on the call. “The truth hurts sometimes — and we need to know that because we’ve got to work doubly hard.”

Asked for comment about the call, Perdue spokeswoman Casey Black said: “From day one, our campaign has known that this will be a competitive race. With his strong record of proven results in the US Senate, we are confident that Georgia voters will re-elect David Perdue this November.” Howard didn’t respond to an inquiry seeking comment.

Perdue’s assessment is striking in part because both parties view his race as less competitive than the other Senate race in Georgia, a special election to fill the seat of the retired Sen. Johnny Isakson. In that race, candidates of all parties will be on the ballot in November — and whoever takes a majority of the vote will win the seat outright; otherwise there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.

With Loeffler and Collins engaged in a ferocious and personal fight, Republican leaders are worried that it will only boost the chances of Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a Democrat who raised $1.5 million in the first quarter.

The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. annual commemorative service in January at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
In a recent interview, Warnock attacked Loeffler, who has faced questions over stock trades in her portfolio made before the market took a nosedive, the subject of a new pro-Collins super PAC ad.

“Right now, Georgia has a senator, who when she received the news about the coronavirus pandemic, seemed to be more focused on sheltering her own investments than she was in making sure that those who were sheltering in have the protections that they need,” said Warnock.

Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Loeffler, disputed Warnock’s allegation, saying she has put “people — not politics –first” during the coronavirus crisis.

“While Mr. Warnock is parroting baseless accusations from the radical left, Sen. Loeffler is working around the clock to deliver relief to Georgians impacted by Covid-19,” Lawson said.

Presidential influence

Republicans in Washington are worried that their incumbent senators are not getting the recognition they deserve for backing emergency rescue legislation to prop up the faltering economy, including hundreds of billions of dollars for small businesses, hospitals, workers and the unemployed. Instead, their governors are generally receiving the lion’s share of the credit for implementing the states’ response.

What’s more: Republicans need Trump to steady his handling of the pandemic, given that many of their electoral prospects will depend on his performance at the polls.
How Trump lost the public on coronavirus

Whit Ayres, a prominent GOP pollster, said it will be a “challenge for Republican senators to run very far ahead of the President” given the deeply polarized electorate.

“That means the President’s standing in each of these states is every bit as important or more important than the senator’s standing,” Ayres said.

On the private call, Perdue made clear his affinity for Trump and gushed about the President’s handling of the crisis.

“I really think that President Trump is a person of destiny,” Perdue said when asked how Trump’s response to the pandemic “helped save lives.”

Several Democrats, including former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico and former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, are vying for the chance to take on Perdue. But the Republican senator boasts a huge fundraising advantage with over $9 million on hand and an easier path to reelection than at least seven other GOP incumbents, according to political handicappers.

Looking at Kansas and the rest of the country

But the challenges for Republicans extend well outside of that race. In the first quarter of the year, Republicans in seven other Senate races — in Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, Georgia and Montana — were outraised by Democratic challengers.

In Kansas, a state which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier raised nearly $2.4 million, much more than any of her potential Republican challengers, in the first quarter of the year. The race has become one of the biggest headaches for Republicans, in large part because of the divisive primary.

State GOP chair Mike Kuckelman has urged two candidates to drop out of the race, which could give Rep. Roger Marshall a better chance to defeat Kobach and plumbing-business owner Bob Hamilton, whose late entrance has upended the race.

“As we’ve said for months, this is a two-man race,” said Eric Pahls, Marshall’s campaign manager. “The last thing Kobach wants is a one-on-one race with Dr. Marshall. While we can’t control what others do, we can keep working harder than anyone and focusing on what has worked for us: talking with Kansans about what matters to them.”

Danedri Herbert, Kobach’s spokeswoman said that Hamilton’s entry into the race “probably helps” their campaign. “Now moderate Republicans have two people to choose from — Hamilton and Roger Marshall,” she said.

A person with knowledge of Hamilton’s plans said that Kobach’s failure to win in the governor’s race in 2018, coupled with conservatives who are actively fighting Marshall’s candidacy, gives the businessman the best chance to win. Hamilton has the resources to partially fund his own campaign.

“Our candidacy puts a lot of fears to rest if he’s the nominee,” the source said.

President Donald Trump waves after speaking alongside then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in July 2017.

Republican leaders in Washington don’t want to spend money in Kansas, but fear they may have to if the race appears to be slipping away.

On Tuesday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it would reserve more than $30 million in fall advertising for four states Trump won in 2016: Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa and Montana. Republicans have two offensive opportunities — in deep red Alabama and Michigan, where Sen. Gary Peters was outraised by challenger John James last quarter.

But the money race so far has benefited the Democrats. And even in those where it hasn’t, like in Iowa — a state Trump won by over nine points in 2016 — outside groups have made sure to keep it competitive. Two rival super PACs — the Senate Leadership Fund and Senate Majority PAC — have announced they’d set aside over $25 million dollars to advertise this fall in Iowa.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has realized the threat of losing the Senate, reserving ads starting in June, earlier than the past cycle, with at least $31 million reserved for the cycle in seven states, an amount that is certain to grow. The Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has already reserved $67 million in six key states, more than double its initial amount in 2018. It already has spent roughly $2 million against Collins in Georgia.

Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, has likewise reserved over $69 million in fall advertising time.

“We do have a competitive situation in the Senate,” McConnell said on Wednesday, noting on Fox News radio that 23 Republican and only a dozen Democrats are up for reelection. “So yes, we’re on defense—and we’ve got competitive races all over the place.”

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Powell: Unsealed FBI Handwritten Notes And Emails Reveal Agents Plotted Perjury Trap On Flynn

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan unsealed four pages of stunning FBI emails and handwritten notes Wednesday, regarding former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, which allegedly reveal the retired three star general was targeted by senior FBI officials for prosecution, stated Flynn’s defense attorney Sidney Powell. Those notes and emails revealed that the retired three-star general appeared to be set up for a perjury trap by the senior members of the bureau and agents charged with investigating the now-debunked allegations that President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, said Sidney Powell, the defense lawyer representing Flynn.

Moreover, the Department of Justice release 11 more pages of documents Wednesday afternoon, according to Powell.

“What is especially terrifying is that without the integrity of Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Attorney Jensen, we still would not have this clear exculpatory information as Mr. Van Grack and the prosecutors have opposed every request we have made,” said Powell.

It appears, based on the notes and emails that the Department of Justice was determined at the time to prosecute Flynn, regardless of what they found, Powell said.

“The FBI pre-planned a deliberate attack on Gen. Flynn and willfully chose to ignore mention of Section 1001 in the interview despite full knowledge of that practice,” Powell said in a statement. “The FBI planned it as a perjury trap at best and in so doing put it in writing stating ‘what is our goal? Truth/ Admission or to get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”

The documents, reviewed and obtained by, reveal that senior FBI officials discussed strategies for targeting and setting up Flynn, prior to interviewing him at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017. It was that interview at the White House with former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and FBI Special Agent Joe Pientka that led Flynn, now 61, to plead guilty after months of pressure by prosecutors, financial strain and threats to prosecute his son.

Powell filed a motion earlier this year to withdraw Flynn’s guilty plea and to dismiss his case for egregious government misconduct. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017, under duress by government prosecutors, to lying to investigators about his conversations with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak about sanctions on Russia. This January, however, he withdrew his guilty plea in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. He stated that he was “innocent of this crime” and was coerced by the FBI and prosecutors under threats that would charge his son with a crime. He filed to withdraw his guilty plea after DOJ prosecutors went back on their word and asked the judge to sentence Flynn to up to six months in prison, accusing him of not cooperating in another case against his former partner. Then prosecutors backtracked and said probation would be fine but by then Powell, his attorney, had already filed to withdraw his guilty plea.

The documents reveal that prior to the interview with Flynn in January, 2017 the FBI had already come to the conclusion that Flynn was guilty and beyond that the officials were working together to see how best to corner the 33-year military veteran and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The bureau deliberately chose not to show him the evidence of his phone conversation to help him in his recollection of events, which is standard procedure. Even stranger, the agents that interviewed Flynn later admitted that they didn’t believe he lied during the interview with them.

Powell told this reporter last week that the documents produced by the government are “stunning Brady evidence’ proving Flynn was deliberately set up and framed by corrupt agents at the top of the FBI to target President Trump.

She noted earlier this week in her motion that the evidence “also defeats any argument that the interview of Mr. Flynn on January 24 was material to any ‘investigation.’ The government has deliberately suppressed this evidence from the inception of this prosecution—knowing there was no crime by Mr. Flynn.”

Powell told this reporter Wednesday that the order by Sullivan to unseal the documents in Exhibit 3 in the supplement to Flynn’s motion to dismiss for egregious government conduct is exposing the truth to the public. She said it’s “easy to see that he was set up and that Mr. Flynn was the insurance policy for the FBI.” Powell’s reference to the ‘insurance policy,’ is based on one of the thousands of texts exchanged by former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and her then-lover former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok.

In an Aug. 15, 2016, text from Strzok to Page he states, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s (former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before 40.”

The new documents were turned over to Powell, by U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea. They were discovered after an extensive review by the attorneys appointed by U.S. Attorney General William Barr to review Flynn’s case, which includes U.S. Attorney of St. Louis, Jeff Jensen.

In one of the emails dated Jan. 23, 2017, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who at the time was having an affair with Strzok and who worked closely with him on the case discussed the charges the bureau would bring on Flynn before the actual interview at the White House took place. Those email exchanges were prepared for former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by the DOJ for lying multiple times to investigators with DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office.

Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump for his conduct, revealed during an interview with Nicolle Wallace last year that he sent the FBI agents to interview Flynn at the White House under circumstances he would have never done to another administration.

“I probably wouldn’t have done or maybe gotten away with in a more organized investigation, a more organized administration,” Comey said. “In the George W. Bush administration … or the Obama administration, two men that all of us, perhaps, have increased appreciation for over the last two years.”

In the Jan 23, email Page asks Strzok the day before he interviews Flynn at the White House:

“I have a question for you. Could the admonition re 1001 be given at the beginning at the interview? Or does it have to come following a statement which agents believe to be false? Does the policy speak to that? (I feel bad that I don’t know this but I don’t remember ever having to do this! Plus I’ve only charged it once in the context of lying to a federal probation officer). It seems to be if the former, then it would be an easy way to just casually slip that in.

“Of course as you know sir, federal law makes it a crime to…”

Strzok’s response: I haven’t read the policy lately, but if I recall correctly, you can say it at any time. I’m 90 percent sure about that, but I can check in the am.

In the motion filed earlier this week, Powell stated “since August 2016 at the latest, partisan FBI and DOJ leaders conspired to destroy Mr. Flynn. These documents show in their own handwriting and emails that they intended either to create an offense they could prosecute or at least get him fired. Then came the incredible malfeasance of Mr. Van Grack’s and the SCO’s prosecution despite their knowledge there was no crime by Mr. Flynn.”

Attached to the email is handwritten notes regarding Flynn that are stunning on their face. It is lists of how the agents will guide him in an effort to get him to trip up on his answers during their questioning and what charges they could bring against him.

“If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide,” state the handwritten notes. “Or if he initially lies, then we present him (not legible) & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it.”

The next two points reveal that the agents were concerned about how their interview with Flynn would be perceived saying “if we’re seen as playing games, WH (White House) will be furious.”

“Protect our institution by not playing games,” the last point on the first half of the hand written notes state.

From the handwritten note:


  • interview
  • I agreed yesterday that we shouldn’t show Flynn (redacted) if he didn’t admit
  • I thought @ it last night, I believe we should rethink this
  • What is (not legible) ? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?
  • we regularly show subjects evidence, with the goal of getting them to admit their wrongdoing
  • I don’t see how getting someone to admit their wrongdoing is going easy on him
  • If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide
  • Or if he initially lies, then we present him (not legible) & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it
  • If we’re seen as playing games, WH will be furious
  • Protect our institution by not playing games

(Left column)

  • we have case on Flynn & Russians
  • Our goal is to (not legible)
  • Our goal is to determine if Mike Flynn is going to tell the truth or if he lies @ relationship w/ Russians
  • can quote (redacted)
  • Shouldn’t (redacted

Review (not legible) stand alone

It appears evident from an email from former FBI agent Strzok, who interviewed Flynn at the White House to then FBI General Counsel James Baker, who is no longer with the FBI and was himself under investigation for leaking alleged national security information to the media.

The email was a series of questions to prepare McCabe for his phone conversation with Flynn on the day the agents went to interview him at the White House. These questions would be questions that Flynn may ask McCabe before sending the agents over to interview  him.

Email from Peter Strzok, cc’d to FBI General Counsel James Baker: (January 24, 2017)

I’m sure he’s thought through these, but for DD’s (referencing Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) consideration about how to answer in advance of his call with Flynn:

Am I in trouble?

Am I the subject of an investigation?

Is it a criminal investigation?

Is it an espionage investigation? Do I need an attorney? Do I need to tell Priebus? The President?

Will you tell Priebus? The President? Will you tell the WH what I tell you?

What happens to the information/who will you tell what I tell you? Will you need to interview other people?

Will our interview be released publically? Will the substance of our interview be released?

How long will this take (depends on his cooperation – I’d plan 45 minutes)? Can we do this over the phone?

I can explain all this right now, I did this, this, this [do you shut him down? Hear him out? Conduct the interview if he starts talking? Do you want another agent/witness standing by in case he starts doing this?]


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Unemployed workers face choice between safety and money as states reopen

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to come out with specific guidance on how different businesses, schools and other establishments can safely begin to reopen, but that has not yet been released even as states start lifting their stay-at-home orders.

Still, that forthcoming federal guidance assumes states that are reopening have an adequate supply of protective equipment and are simultaneously ramping up coronavirus testing capacity — both of which are still lagging.

In the meantime, a number of states have released their own proposals to reopen the economy including how to keep employees safe. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released a plan this week advising everyone to wear a non-medical mask while in public and requiring employers to provide accommodations for employees with Covid-19 symptoms. The state also issued emergency rules ensuring workers are not in danger of losing unemployment insurance eligibility for refusing to return to work in demonstrably unsafe working conditions.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also laid out a phased reopening approach that he says will include protections for workers, though it is unclear what that will entail.

But labor advocates argue that such a piecemeal approach, though better than nothing, is insufficient and harder to enforce. Some business groups have also asked for specific guidance from federal and state governments, with Business Roundtable CEO Josh Bolten noting Wednesday that “public confidence will be undermined and the speed of reopening will be dramatically slowed if we’re all doing different things.”

“These states that are reopening early, they don’t have some plan, really, to keep people safe,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. “They’re just kind of mostly going on hope that they’ve flattened the curve and that everyone’s going to be okay.”

With more states moving closer to reopening by the day, union officials and Democratic lawmakers are calling on Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to immediately issue federal safety guidelines that help protect workers.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who leads the nation’s largest labor organization, released a list of demands in an 11-page letter to Scalia this week asking him to issue emergency standards to require employers to implement workplace infection control plans. Among other things, he asked the DOL to require employer recording and reporting of worker Covid-19 infections and deaths and to protect workers from employer retaliation for protecting themselves and their coworkers.

The DOL did not respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democrats are also calling for action. Twenty-nine lawmakers wrote to Scalia on Wednesday to demand enforceable guidance and warn that a failure to do so would imperil not only the workers’ health but the public’s health overall.

“Employers need clear guidance on what they should do to ensure safe workplaces,” the lawmakers wrote. “And workers across the country have been waiting for your leadership.”

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NYT reports Dem, activist rebellion budding over Reade allegation

Perhaps the Joe Biden campaign’s mischaracterization of their reporting did more damage than first thought. The New York Times follows up the Tara Reade story with news that activist women’s groups and key Democratic officials have not remained entirely silent about the allegation of sexual assault. Over the last three weeks, those groups have pressed Joe Biden to speak out and deal with Reade’s allegations, and they have held their fire after being promised action.

Now, however, they’re tired of getting strung along — and may soon make their unhappiness public:

Finally, several of the women’s groups prepared a public letter that praised Mr. Biden’s work as an “outspoken champion for survivors of sexual violence” but also pushed him to address the allegation from Tara Reade, a former aide who worked in Mr. Biden’s Senate office in the early 1990s. …

Then Mr. Biden’s team heard about the advocates’ effort. According to people involved in the discussions, the group put the letter on hold as it began pressuring Biden advisers to push the candidate to make a statement himself before the end of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Along with liberal organizers, they urged him to acknowledge the importance of survivors and the need for systemic change around issues of sexism and assault.

Nearly two weeks later, Mr. Biden and his campaign have yet to make that statement, and the advocates have not released their letter. The Biden campaign has said little publicly beyond saying that women deserve to be heard and insisting that the allegation is not true; privately, Biden advisers have circulated talking points urging supporters to deny that the incident occurred.

As two more women have come forward to corroborate part of Ms. Reade’s allegation, the Biden campaign is facing attacks from the right and increasing pressure from the left to address the issue. And liberal activists find themselves in a tense standoff with a candidate they want to support but who they say has made little attempt to show leadership on an issue that resonates deeply with their party’s base.

Biden’s surrogates are getting tired of the presumptive nominee hiding while they get peppered with questions about Reade’s allegations. That seems notable in itself:

Already, the allegation against Mr. Biden has caused top female allies — including several widely considered to be vice-presidential prospects, like Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — to face questioning about whether they stand with Mr. Biden after the allegation. Privately, some female Democrats are growing frustrated with being put in the position of answering for Mr. Biden when he has remained silent, and male progressive leaders, even outspoken allies in combating sexual assault, have not been pressured to address this point.

You mean … they’re tired of being treated like Republicans? This is a common media practice when a GOP official does or says something arguably outrageous — they ask every other Republican to either defend or condemn it. It happens with less frequency when dealing with Democrats, and we actually have a very recent example: Biden’s repeated ranting about Donald Trump aiming to postpone the election. It’s sheer nonsense, a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked, but James Clyburn and Bernie Sanders have amplified it. And yet no one is asking these surrogates, or any other high-ranking Democrats, to explain whether they condemn the conspiracy-theory-mongering of their party’s presumptive nominee and other leadership officials.

If this is leaking out to the New York Times and if the Gray Lady is reporting it, then this must be reaching critical mass behind the scenes. The nonsense talking points asking other Democrats to imply Reade is a liar might have been the last straw, especially after the Times cut the legs out from under that strategy this morning. If the women’s groups release that letter demanding Biden answer for himself rather than having campaign officials and surrogates do it for him, that won’t leave him with much political cover.

So why hasn’t Biden addressed the allegation? The most likely reason is that the allegation is so graphic, specific, and horrid that Biden will have no choice but to issue a flat-out denial and leave the conclusion that Reade is lying. There isn’t any room for a Chris Matthews-style “her allegation is credible” admission because Matthews’ peccadilloes were far more minor — flirtatious comments in inappropriate settings that put underlings in uncomfortable positions. It’s far easier to cop to that then to come up with a way to present Reade as credible while denying that he stuck his fingers inside her genitalia without her permission. Biden will have to deny it and insist that Reade can’t be trusted, which will leave those activist groups in perhaps an even worse position than before.

For that reason, I’m skeptical that those activists really will push it any farther than this. This is probably as close as they get to attempting to force Biden out into the open. If Biden publicly calls Reade a liar — which is his only tenable political and legal option — then these groups will have to decide whether they prioritize their cause over their partisan ambitions. We got an answer to that over twenty years ago when Bill Clinton was president, and I suspect the answer hasn’t changed since then, either.

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Trump downplays need for testing in another whiplash contradiction

On Wednesday, he downplayed the edict and mused that maybe blanket testing wasn’t necessary as states move to reopen.

“You’ll see some astonishing numbers — I don’t know that all of that’s even necessary,” Trump said of nationwide testing efforts during an event at the White House. “You have some governors that love the tests, you have others that like doing it a different way, an old-fashioned way, with some testing.”

The comments — contradicting his own administration’s previous guidance and rebutting the expertise of health officials — were the latest in a string of confusing steps that appear to pit Trump against his own advice as he pivots to a post-pandemic American revival.

While never meant as compulsory measures, the various playbooks offered by the administration on how to safely return to normal have been flouted by Trump and his team in some settings even as they encourage their use in others.

The administration said Americans should wear face coverings in public — but Trump insisted he wouldn’t be caught dead in one and his deputy, Vice President Mike Pence, even visited a clinic bare-faced.
Federal recommendations said states should only begin reopening when they see a 14-day “downward trajectory” in coronavirus cases — but even places where cases are increasing are doing a “great job” in lifting restrictions, according to the President.

The same guidelines indicate non-essential travel should be limited until another sustained period of declining cases passes — but Trump says he’s going to Arizona next week and hopes to visit Ohio shortly.

The dissonance between the official guidelines and the presidential messaging has confused some governors and, at certain moments, obscured the administration’s own intended storyline. As Trump looks ahead to his reelection in November, aides say he is intent on salvaging a cratering economy and insistent on projecting victory but cautious at being blamed should coronavirus surge again — a conflicting mindset that has led to a similarly conflicting public stance.

At the same time, Trump and his senior advisers — including his son-in-law Jared Kushner — continue to chafe at not getting enough credit for their efforts in combating the coronavirus. Kushner has privately expressed frustration in recent days that he and the administration overall aren’t getting enough credit for their efforts regarding the outbreak, two people aware of his comments told CNN.

With a new set of guidelines being finalized on how to reopen certain types of establishments, such as restaurants and schools, the White House will face another opportunity to streamline how it thinks America should return to normal. The new recommendations come after major business groups urged the administration to offer uniform guidance to states on how to reopen the types of places that have been shuttered during the pandemic.

While the White House issued a three-phase blueprint for reopening states earlier this month, it did not contain specific recommendations like altering floor plans or reducing capacity inside establishments where social distancing was once impossible. Already, Trump has faced intense lobbying from industry groups who want to have a say in what the White House recommends, fearful the new guidelines could further affect their bottom lines.

The CDC has drafted guidance that includes recommendations like limiting seating capacity in restaurants. But even before the new guidelines are issued, it’s clear Trump is envisioning a reopening that looks more akin to pre-pandemic life.

“I had one restaurant owner come up to me and said, ‘Sir, you know I’m going to be opening up, but if I distance too much I have 50% of the restaurant I had,’ ” Trump said during a meeting with industry leaders on Wednesday. “And I said, ‘You’ll also have a worse atmosphere.’ “

“We want it to be the way it was,” he said.

Unsteady guidance

Even the social distancing guidelines offered by the White House more than a month ago have been unsteadily adhered to by the President, who still regularly meets with staff and visitors in person at the White House, often without 6 feet of separation. While he is tested weekly, and those who interact with him are tested before meetings, he has hardly sought to model the behaviors his administration has recommended for other Americans during the pandemic.

The current guidelines, Pence said on Wednesday during a meeting in the Oval Office, are “very much incorporated in the guidance that we’re giving states to open up America again.”

But confusing matters, Trump chimed in to explain the current guidelines will be “fading out” as states begin to reopen.

“I am very much in favor of what they’re doing,” Trump said of governors who are opening businesses. “They’re getting it going.”

Still, right now it does not appear that any state meets the vague, advisory White House guidelines that call for a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period” before any opening. When presenting the guidelines, the administration wasn’t clear whether a state required 14 consistent days of decrease, or whether a single day of increased cases would force a state to begin the 14-day period over, even if the overall line is trending down.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced a plan this week that would allow restaurants, movie theaters and malls to begin readmitting customers at a quarter capacity as long as they enforce social distancing guidelines. The stay-at-home order he enacted a month ago will also expire. But cases in the state have not been steadily decreasing over the past 14-days, according to figures from the state’s Department of State Health Services.

Nevertheless, Trump congratulated Abbott on Twitter this week, writing he was doing a “great job” in beginning his state’s phased reopening. He similarly encouraged Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on his efforts to reopen portions of his state, even as case counts there have increased on certain days. The state reported 708 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the highest figure the state has reported in the past three days. Overall, however, the state’s daily case counts have trended down since earlier in the month.

But Trump offered a bullish projection on the state’s plans to reopen, which DeSantis planned to unveil in more detail on Wednesday. “He’s going to be opening up large portions and, ultimately, pretty quickly, because he’s got great numbers,” Trump said.

Trump is eager for states to begin lifting stay-at-home orders as dire economic news floods in. More bleak numbers arrived Wednesday when the government said US GDP contracted by a 4.8% annualized rate during the first quarter. It was the US economy’s worst quarter since late 2008. Trump has encouraged protesters in states seeking to “liberate” themselves from stay-at-home orders and this week Attorney General William Barr told federal prosecutors across the country to be on guard for overbearing state and local coronavirus measures.

Members of Trump’s task force have been more vocal in advising states to adhere to the federal guidelines.

“Hopefully everyone does it according to the Guidelines for Opening America, which were very carefully designed and which I played a role in making very conservative and very careful,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said during a conversation with the Economic Club of Washington on Tuesday.

Fauci and other members of Trump’s task force have said repeatedly that increasing testing will be paramount to any reopening efforts and laid out a plan this week that places most of the onus on individual states and the private sector for increasing capacity.

Trump has bristled recently when questioned on the testing shortfalls, which he insists have been remedied. He has told reporters they should be more favorable in their coverage of the testing issue — a sentiment that others in the White House have echoed.

More credit?

Kushner in particular has said the public-private sector mobilization on supplies that he helped spearhead hasn’t gotten enough credit, nor have the efforts to ramp up ventilator production. Despite rarely appearing on television, Kushner has sat down with Fox News twice this week to tout the White House’s efforts. A person close to Kushner said his appearances were encouraged by the President, who noted he knows the subject matter well.

On Fox News Wednesday, Kushner described how the federal government “rose to the challenge” and was “a great success story.” When he was pressed on testing levels, Kushner said the question shouldn’t be why did it take so long, but “how did we do this so quickly?”

“What’s really happened, it’s really extraordinary,” he added. His father-in-law seemed to note his frustration. In the Oval Office a few hours later, he called Kushner “a genius.”

Still, the self-congratulations haven’t necessarily led to any greater clarity on how states should reopen. Even Trump’s application of pressure on governors has not been consistent. Last week, after Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced a plan allowing businesses like nail salons and bowling alleys to reopen, Trump initially told him on a telephone call he supported the plan.

But after members of Trump’s coronavirus task force — principally Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator — cautioned that Georgia’s reopening plans were not in keeping with the federal guidelines Trump had unveiled a few day earlier, he reversed course and stated publicly he disagreed “strongly” with the plans.

Trump, speaking during a news conference, said specifically the plans “are in violation of the phase one guidelines.” Later, he said he would intervene in other states’ reopening plans only if he saw “something totally egregious.”

The comply-if-you-want attitude has also governed Trump’s approach toward face masks, which were initially discouraged by his administration but later recommended as a way for asymptomatic people with coronavirus to avoid spreading it.

When he initially read out the new recommendations from the CDC, Trump immediately declared he wouldn’t wear one himself, saying it was impossible to imagine greeting world leaders in the Oval Office with his face covered.

Pence appeared to adopt the same attitude on Tuesday when he visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which has required all visitors to wear a mask since April 13.

Despite his staff being made aware of the policy ahead of time, and having masks offered to him and his team when they arrived, Pence toured the facility bare-faced — a striking contrast in photos when every other person in the building, including administration officials, was seen with their face covered.

Aides recognized afterward that the point of the visit — to showcase research efforts on convalescent plasma — were overshadowed by the mask controversy. But it wasn’t the first time Pence found himself without a mask when others were covering their noses and mouths. When he visited Colorado last week, he was greeted on the tarmac by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who was wearing a cloth mask with the state’s logo printed on it.

In explaining himself, Pence said he is tested regularly for coronavirus and was adhering to the CDC guidelines, which say masks help prevent people who have the disease from spreading it. And he proclaimed a desire to look clinic workers “in the eye and say thank you,” though masks do not generally obscure the eyes.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

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Taiwan’s Coronavirus Moment — And Delicate Balancing Act : NPR

People line up for temperature checks at the Xinyi District Health Center in Taipei on April 14.

Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

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People line up for temperature checks at the Xinyi District Health Center in Taipei on April 14.

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Taiwan’s handling of COVID-19 has won plaudits around the world, creating a historic public relations opportunity for the diplomatically isolated island.

Whether that leads to a higher profile on the international stage or a flare-up in tensions with Beijing — which regards Taiwan as Chinese territory — will depend on how the two sides play their cards at this pivotal moment, experts say.

Taiwan sees a chance to highlight its autonomy from China, and to push to increase its participation in international bodies it’s been frozen out of, including the World Health Organization. That isn’t going over well in Beijing, under pressure at home and abroad for its own handling of the virus.

Taiwan has so far confirmed 429 cases of COVID-19 and just six deaths — despite its proximity and links to China, where the novel coronavirus outbreak first appeared. Its approach to mitigating the spread of the disease — including quick imposition of travel bans and quarantines — has been well documented.

Taiwan’s relative success so far has put it in an unfamiliar position.

“Usually when Taiwan gets on international news, there is either a crisis in the Taiwan Straits or a natural disaster,” says Alexander Huang, a political scientist at Taipei’s Tamkang University. “This is a rare opportunity for Taiwan.”

The government is seizing it, trumpeting its coronavirus experience and publicly offering international assistance. The Foreign Ministry even highlighted the fact that Taiwan’s professional baseball season is under way at a time when virtually all other live sports are suspended worldwide.

The pandemic has also cast a spotlight Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation. Only 15 countries recognize it, and Taiwan is barred from many international bodies, including the WHO, the global agency charged with leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yen Wen Kuo, a player with Taiwan’s Rakuten Monkeys baseball team, hits a single in a game with the Fubon Guardians at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium on Tuesday in Taipei. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has highlighted the fact that Taiwan’s professional baseball season is under way at a time when virtually all other live sports are suspended worldwide.

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Yen Wen Kuo, a player with Taiwan’s Rakuten Monkeys baseball team, hits a single in a game with the Fubon Guardians at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium on Tuesday in Taipei. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has highlighted the fact that Taiwan’s professional baseball season is under way at a time when virtually all other live sports are suspended worldwide.

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But given Taiwan’s success in handling the pandemic and the lessons it may offer the world, international pressure has mounted on the WHO to allow Taiwan to take part in its annual meeting, the World Health Assembly, next month. The United States, Japan and others have expressed their support publicly. In recent years, Taiwan hasn’t even been allowed to attend the assembly as an observer.

China allowed the island to attend between 2009 and 2016, when Taiwan’s president was Ma Ying-jeou, a leader deemed more China-friendly than current President Tsai Ing-wen. Beijing has since objected to Taiwan’s participation, wary of Tsai, a member of the traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China’s ruling Communist Party has vowed to unite Taiwan politically with the mainland — by force, if necessary.

Analysts say Beijing is even less inclined than usual to give ground now to Tsai, who was re-elected in January amid an upsurge in anti-China sentiment, spurred by months of street protests in neighboring Hong Kong.

“I don’t think the mainland is now in a mood to make concessions to her,” says Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (center) arrives at a ceremony to unveil Taiwan’s Cyber Security Investigation Office on April 24. Tsai was re-elected in January amid an upsurge in anti-China sentiment, spurred by months of street protests in neighboring Hong Kong.

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (center) arrives at a ceremony to unveil Taiwan’s Cyber Security Investigation Office on April 24. Tsai was re-elected in January amid an upsurge in anti-China sentiment, spurred by months of street protests in neighboring Hong Kong.

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Recent U.S. support for Taiwan is particularly irksome to Beijing, he says. In late March, President Trump signed a bill that supports Taiwan’s international relations and its efforts to strengthen ties with other countries. On Monday, Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare Shih-Chung Chen held a video conference with Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to discuss COVID-19, among other issues.

“When Washington pushes this hard, it only makes things less likely to happen,” says Wu, adding that Taiwan’s “road to the international space comes through Beijing, not through Washington.”

More broadly, the positive international attention that Taiwan has received comes at a time when Beijing is feeling particularly vulnerable.

“I would say the leadership is profoundly on edge,” says Evan Medeiros, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “They’re not out of the woods on COVID-19, they’re facing historic lows in economic growth, and doubtless there continues to be criticism of how the Communist Party handled the outbreak.”

Beijing’s efforts to build goodwill abroad through donations of medical equipment — sometimes called “mask diplomacy” — have also backfired in some cases. There have also been reports of Chinese diplomats brazenly trying to compel aid recipients to praise China.

People wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus as they shop at a market in Taipei in April.

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People wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus as they shop at a market in Taipei in April.

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All of that may look like a win for Taiwan — but actually elevates the risks it faces.

“History tells you that some of the most precarious moments for international politics in East Asia are when the Chinese are on edge and they feel as if an external actor is using their domestic weakness as an opportunity to make gains,” says Medeiros, now a professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University.

Taiwan’s leadership needs to tread a fine line, while keeping the virus in check, to make the most of the opportunity, analysts say.

“The immediate goal is to emerge from this crisis as a country that is recognized as having been on the side of the angels,” says Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan expert at Davidson College. “But at the same time, they don’t want to do it in such a way that it generates more pressure on Taiwan from China.”

It doesn’t help that Taiwan’s biggest benefactor and bulwark against China — the United States — is deeply mired in its own coronavirus crisis, and the rest of East Asia is also focused on the disease.

China has increased military maneuvers around the island during the pandemic, and may sense opportunity as the gaze of others is fixed on problems at home.

“Honestly, I’m as worried at this moment as I have ever been,” says Rigger.

A crisis in the Taiwan Strait is a real possibility this year, warns Fudan University’s Wu — especially if, in her second four-year term, which begins on May 20, Tsai adopts a stance that Beijing perceives as provocative.

“I think that that will force the mainland to respond in a substantive way,” he says.

For now, though, Taiwan is riding high. There is rare bipartisan agreement on the island that it has handled the coronavirus well. And the experience has engendered something else as well: a sense of pride.

“To many people in Taiwan, that demonstrates to them that we as a nation, we are doing a good job,” says Lai I-chung, a former foreign policy official for the DPP and director of foreign policy studies at the Taiwan Thinktank.

“So that has actually brought a renewed confidence among the citizens in Taiwan, that we don’t have to have self-pity,” he says. “We are as capable as anybody else.”

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U.S. congressional Democrats push for coronavirus medical supply czar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats on Wednesday proposed a bill that would require a U.S. coronavirus supply czar to oversee critical medical supplies, while the top Senate Republican doubled down on demands for business protections.

FILE PHOTO: Spring flowers are in full bloom in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives unveiled companion bills requiring the Pentagon to name a civilian officer to oversee the nation’s supply and production of medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

Limited supplies of masks, gloves and testing materials have been blamed for hampering the United States’ response to a pandemic that has now killed more than 58,000 Americans.

The proposals also call for a comprehensive testing plan and a blueprint for scaling up production of an eventual vaccine for the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Democrats, frustrated by what they view as Republican President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to seize control of the supply chain for personal protective equipment and testing, want the legislation to be part of Congress’s next coronavirus relief package.

House and Senate Democrats are also pushing for additional funding for state and local governments facing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, with spending estimates of $500 billion for states alone.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, in a teleconference with mayors, said Democrats will unveil proposals for helping states and municipalities in coming days and talked about “revenue sharing” as an instrument for delivering the aid.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the way forward on coronavirus legislation would depend on Democrats’ willingness to agree to protect businesses and others from COVID-related litigation.

“We’re going to insist on this reform, which is not related to money, as a condition for going forward,” McConnell told Fox News Radio.

Democrats dismiss liability protection as a step that could weaken protections for workers.

“Especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this. So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.

Lawmakers grappled with the prospects of new legislation as U.S. states moved to reopen the economy amid reports of supply and testing shortages that health experts warn could lead to a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

Pelosi also named a slate of Democrats to a new House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, while promising effective scrutiny of the administration’s handling of trillions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding allocated by Congress.

She said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy had been invited to name Republican members to the panel. But McCarthy blasted Pelosi’s announcement in a statement that accused Democrats of pursuing an “impeachment 2.0 with a partisan and unnecessary oversight committee.”

The proposed legislation would also require the administration to produce weekly national assessments of equipment supplies, identify available stockpiles and industries capable of filling orders, post state requests for assistance and establish an inspector general to oversee implementation.

Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis

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Live Updates: F.D.A. Plans to Announce Emergency Use of Coronavirus Drug

The F.D.A. plans to announce the emergency use of a virus treatment after a trial showed shortened recovery time.

The F.D.A. plans to issue as early as Wednesday an emergency use authorization for remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug that is being tested in treating patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to a senior administration official.

A federal trial has shown that treatment with remdesivir can speed recovery in patients infected with the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Wednesday. Eventually the drug, made by Gilead Sciences, could become the first approved treatment for Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

An emergency authorization by the F.D.A. is not the same as a formal drug approval by the agency. When the federal government declares a public health emergency, the F.D.A. can approve certain drugs or tests to address the emergency if there are no other alternatives. That is the case with the coronavirus, since no drugs have been proven to be effective against the virus.

Earlier on Wednesday, Gilead had announced that the company was “aware of positive data” from the federal trial. Trading in the company’s stock was halted before the market opened, and the glimmer of good news drove stocks higher, despite poor economic data.

In a news briefing at the White House, President Trump and Dr. Fauci hailed the early results of the federal trial, holding out hope that the drug could help very ill patients recover more quickly.

“It is a very important proof of concept, because what it has proved is that a drug can block this virus,” Dr. Fauci said. “This is very optimistic.”

The trial enrolled 1,063 patients who were given remdesivir or a placebo, according to N.I.A.I.D. The time to recovery averaged 11 days among those who got the drug, compared with 15 days for those who got the placebo.

Dr. Fauci cautioned that the results of the study still need to be properly peer reviewed, but he expressed optimism that remdesivir could become “the standard of care” for patients with Covid-19.

“Certainly it’s positive, it’s a very positive event,” Mr. Trump said. In the past, he has hailed remdesivir as a potential “game changer,” despite spotty evidence.

But the disclosure of trial results in a political setting, before peer review or publication, is very unusual, said Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who has conducted dozens of clinical trials.

“Where are the data?” he asked. Scientists will need to see figures on harms associated with the drug in order to assess its benefits, he added.

“This is too important to be handled in such a sloppy fashion,” Dr. Nissen said.

Dr. Michele Barry, an infectious disease expert at Stanford University, said she had faith in Dr. Fauci’s assessment. Still, she added, “It is unusual to call a drug the ‘standard of care’ until peer review of data and publication, and before studies have shown benefit in mortality.”

Another study, conducted in China and published in the Lancet, questioned the value of the drug for treatment of severely ill patients but left open the possibility that it might be useful for others. The research was incomplete, however, because not enough participants could be enrolled.

That study found no benefit to the drug, compared to placebo.

“Unfortunately, our trial found that while safe and adequately tolerated, remdesivir did not provide significant benefits over placebo,” said the lead investigator of the new study, Dr. Bin Cao of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University in Beijing.

“This is not the outcome we hoped for,” he added.

America’s growth streak is over: The economy shrank 4.8 percent, and the worst is yet to come.

The pandemic has officially snapped the U.S. economic growth streak.

The questions now are how extensive the damage will be — and how long the country will take to recover.

U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy, fell at a 4.8 percent annual rate in the first quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That is the first decline since 2014 and the worst quarterly contraction since 2008, when the country was in a deep recession.

Things will get much worse. Widespread layoffs and business closings didn’t happen until late March, or the very end of the last quarter, in most of the country. Economists expect figures from the current quarter, which will capture the effects of the shutdown more fully, to show that G.D.P. contracted at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.

“They’re going to be the worst in our lifetime,” Dan North, the chief economist for the credit insurance company Euler Hermes North America, said of the second-quarter figures. “They’re going to be the worst in the post-World War II era.”

The larger question is what happens afterward. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said this week that he expected the economy to “really bounce back” this summer as states lift stay-at-home orders and trillions of dollars in federal emergency spending reaches businesses and households.

Most independent economists are much less optimistic. The Congressional Budget Office last week released projections indicating that the economy would begin growing again in the second half of the year, but that the G.D.P. would not return to its prepandemic level until 2022 at the earliest.

Despite the grim report on Wednesday, Wall Street was set for a gain after a rally in global stocks. Futures for the S&P 500 got a lift after signs that a drug being tested as a possible treatment could be showing progress.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday pledged to do what it could to insulate the economy as lockdowns took a severe toll on economic growth. The central bank said that it would keep interest rates near zero until a recovery was well underway.

Stocks rallied on Wednesday, boosted by indications that a drug being tested as a possible treatment could be showing progress, as investors pinned their hopes on the gradual reopening of the world’s major economies.

The S&P 500 gained nearly 3 percent, while shares in Europe were also sharply higher.

The rally came despite data that showed the U.S. economy shrank by the most since 2008 in the first quarter of the year. Earnings reports from Volkswagen, Samsung, Airbus, Boeing and other giant businesses were also grim.

But investors have been shaking off bad news on the economy for weeks as they focus on progress on efforts to contain the pandemic. A steady climb has lifted the S&P 500 by nearly 30 percent since its March 23 low. With nearly half that gain coming in April, the month is on track to be the best for stocks since 1974, according to data from Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices.

The trading on Wednesday had all the hallmarks of a rally fueled by hopes of a return to normal, with shares of airlines and cruise operators — both industries that are dependent on the end of restrictions and the return of travelers — among the best performing stocks in the S&P 500. Oil producers also rallied as the price of crude oil surged.

A rally in the stocks of large technology companies, which have an outsize impact on the overall market, also helped. Alphabet rose nearly 9 percent the day after it reported quarterly results that were better than expected, and Facebook was more than 6 percent higher.

Oil prices surged, with gains picking up steam after a weekly report on crude oil stockpiles showed they increased by less than expected. Investors have been worried about a glut of crude as demand for energy plunges, along with storage capacity in the United States. On Wednesday, West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rose more than 24 percent to $15.37 a barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was trading at a little under $23 a barrel, up about 11 percent.

Trump declared meatpacking plants ‘critical infrastructure,’ but how they would stay open remains unclear.

Mr. Trump’s declaration on Tuesday that meatpacking plants were “critical infrastructure” that should be kept open during the pandemic sent a powerful signal that protecting the nation’s food supply was a federal priority.

But exactly how the executive order would keep plants running, even in the middle of outbreaks that have sickened thousands of workers and turned the facilities into hot spots, was unclear.

“This is more symbolism than substance,” said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “He’s opening the door for the executive branch to take some far more specific actions vis-à-vis the meat plants, but the order itself doesn’t do anything.”

While the order does not explicitly mandate that plants stay open, it could allow the Department of Agriculture to potentially force meat companies to fulfill orders from retailers, effectively keeping them in some capacity.

Lobbyists for the meat industry said the executive order, which invoked the Defense Production Act, was significant because it created federal guidelines for the steps plants needed to take to prevent the virus from spreading. Until now, meat plants have been forced to close based on a patchwork of regulations from local and state health departments. The meat industry has warned that closures could threaten the U.S. supply of beef, pork and other products.

“It’s now a partnership between federal agencies and state and local officials to ensure everything is done to keep workers safe,” said Julie Anna Potts, the chief executive of the North American Meat Institute, a trade group for beef, pork and turkey packers and producers.

Still, the order does not address some critical questions, such as whether the plants should test all their workers for the virus before reopening. Some plants have reopened without widespread testing.

A network of conservative leaders, donors and organizations has started a legal onslaught against state and local restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They are pushing to allow churches to hold services, businesses to reopen and people to be able to visit with family and friends.

The group has been emboldened in recent days by increasing signs of support from a powerful ally: the Justice Department.

Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they backed the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.

The Justice Department this week delivered the clearest show of support yet when Attorney General William P. Barr issued a memorandum directing two of his department’s top lawyers to lead an effort with other federal agencies to monitor state and local policies “and, if necessary, take action to correct” those that “could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

Though the Justice Department has so far weighed in formally on only one case — a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, Miss. — the new directive reinforced the message that court challenges to state and local restrictions by Mr. Trump’s allies could get a favorable viewing, and potential support, from the administration.

Deaths have been mounting at a nursing home for veterans in western Massachusetts, where at least 68 residents have died after contracting the virus, making it one of the deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the country.

To date, 82 residents and 81 employees of the facility have tested positive.

Employees at the 247-bed, state-managed Holyoke Soldiers’ Home have described the facility as unprepared for the wave of cases that emerged in March. They said infected patients were left on crowded wards, exposing dozens of vulnerable veterans.

Lethal outbreaks of the virus have ravaged nursing homes across the nation. The virus is known to be more deadly to aging, immune-compromised people; small, confined settings like nursing homes, where workers frequently move from one room to the next, are particularly vulnerable to spreading infection.

The outbreak in Holyoke became public at the end of March, after Alex Morse, the mayor, received an anonymous letter from a staff member describing “horrific circumstances.” Within days, the facility’s superintendent had been placed on administrative leave, and the National Guard was deployed to assist with testing.

Since then, because military honors are unavailable, flags in the state have been lowered to half-staff in memory of veterans lost in Holyoke and at a soldiers’ home in Chelsea, Mass.

It has been 100 days since a 35-year-old man went to an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County, Wash., with a four-day history of cough and fever and tested positive for the coronavirus.

Residents in most states — along with more than half of the world — have been ordered to shelter in their homes in hopes of slowing the spread of the highly contagious virus and to try to keep hospital systems from being overwhelmed.

A woman who gave birth on a ventilator dies of the virus while in prison.

A woman from South Dakota who gave birth while on a ventilator died in federal custody on Tuesday after contracting the virus.

Andrea Circle Bear, 30, of Eagle Butte, S.D., appears to be the first female inmate in the United States to die in custody after contracting the virus, according to data from the Bureau of Prisons. She had recently begun serving a 26-month sentence for maintaining a drug-involved residence on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, the agency said in a news release.

Ms. Circle Bear was transferred on March 20 from a local jail in Winner City, S.D., to Federal Medical Center Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, and immediately placed in quarantine. Just over a week later, on March 28, she was admitted to a hospital over concerns about her pregnancy and sent home the same day.

Ms. Circle Bear was readmitted on March 31 when she started experiencing a fever, dry cough and other possible symptoms of the coronavirus, and she was confirmed to have Covid-19 three days later, on April 4. By then she had already been placed on a ventilator and given birth to her son via cesarean section.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national criminal justice advocacy organization, has called for an investigation into Ms. Circle Bear’s death and questioned why she was imprisoned in the first place.

“Not every prison death is avoidable, but Andrea Circle Bear’s certainly seems to have been — she simply should not have been in a federal prison under these circumstances,” Kevin Ring, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Her death is a national disgrace, and I hope it is a wake-up call.”

Ms. Circle Bear is one of 30 inmates who is confirmed to have died from the virus while in custody, according to Bureau of Prison data.

Pelosi names Democrats to special coronavirus investigative committee.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi named six House Democrats on Wednesday to sit on a newly created select committee that will scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

Among them are three senior Democrats who lead House committees: Representative Maxine Waters of California, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee; Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, the chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee; and Representative Nydia M. Velázquez of New York, the chairwoman of the Small Business Committee.

Ms. Pelosi also selected three more junior members based on their areas of expertise. Representative Bill Foster, Democrat of Illinois, is a former scientist. Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey is a former National Security Council staff member with extensive national security experience. And Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland was a constitutional law professor before joining the House.

“We must make sure that the historic investment of taxpayer dollars made in the CARES Act is being used wisely and efficiently to help those in need, not be exploited by profiteers and price-gougers,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement, referring to the $2.2 trillion stimulus measure.

The speaker had already announced that she would place Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking Democrat and one of her top deputies, at the helm of the panel. It is expected to begin working in the weeks to come, and it will be given wide leeway to scrutinize all aspects of the federal response, from the fulfillment of the stimulus to the Trump administration’s struggle to ramp up virus testing.

Five slots on the committee are reserved for Republicans, who have yet to name their members.

As Pence defends his maskless visit to the Mayo Clinic, some former patients also criticize the institution.

Vice President Mike Pence defended his decision to not to wear a face mask while touring a building at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Tuesday, saying he was regularly tested for the virus and was following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, even if he was violating the clinic’s policy.

While critics lashed out at Mr. Pence, the head of the coronavirus task force, former Mayo Clinic patients and their family members pointed to the institution they had long held in high esteem for permitting the vice president to flout the rules.

Kenneth Rinzler, a lawyer who had open-heart surgery at the clinic in 2010, wrote in a letter to the president of the institution that he was “beyond shocked” to see Mr. Pence in the building without a mask “and violating every basic tenet of social distancing.”

Susie Watson, the wife of a former bone marrow transplant patient at the clinic, was equally alarmed and wrote to the Mayo Clinic asking why its administrators did not insist that Mr. Pence wear a mask.

“It really makes us wonder about your judgment,” she wrote in an email that she shared with The Times. “Wearing a mask should not be voluntary at Mayo. This is seriously upsetting, not to mention a huge public relations mistake for all the nation to see.”

Ms. Watson also said she considered it “their error as much as Pence’s.”

A spokeswoman for the vice president did not respond on Wednesday to a request for comment. Mr. Pence defended his decision on Tuesday.

As schools across the country consider when they might reopen and what that could look like, the American Federation of Teachers, one of two national teachers’ unions, said it would release a plan on Wednesday outlining the conditions that they expect to be met before schools reopen.

The vision is more cautious than the one expressed in recent days by the president, who on Monday told governors in a call that they should “maybe get going on it.”

Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, said the plan offered “a stark contrast to the conflicting guidance, bluster and lies of the Trump administration.”

The union is asking for school buildings to remain closed until local cases have declined for 14 consecutive days with adequate testing. It says that when schools open, they should be prepared to screen for fevers, set up hand-washing stations at entry points, place individuals with suspected cases in isolation rooms and provide staff members with protective equipment.

The plan floats the possibility of voluntary summer programs, smaller class sizes of 12 to 15 students and schedules of partial days or weeks to maintain social distancing, with after-school programs for families that need more hours of child care.

The union is also asking for schools to halt formal evaluations of teachers’ work until more established procedures for both in-person and remote learning are in place.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York lashed out at Hasidic residents of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Tuesday night after personally overseeing the police’s dispersal of a crowd gathered for the funeral of a rabbi, Chaim Mertz, who died of the virus.

On Twitter, the mayor “the Jewish community, and all communities” that violating social-distancing guidelines could lead to summonses or arrests. The police commissioner said that 12 summonses were issued, including four for refusal to disperse.

At his briefing on Wednesday, the mayor said the funeral was “by far the largest gathering in any community of New York City of any kind that I had heard of or seen directly or on video since the beginning of this crisis, and it’s just not allowable.”

New York’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities have been hit especially hard by the virus, and Hasidic residents’ tendency to congregate in large groups has been cited as part of the cause.

But some Jewish leaders criticized the mayor for seeming to single out one community and accused him of applying a double standard, pointing out that Mr. de Blasio’s diatribe on Tuesday came hours after New Yorkers clustered in crowds to watch a flyover by the Blue Angels fighter-jet squadron.

Mr. de Blasio offered a limited apology on Wednesday, but he said he would not tolerate violations of social-distancing guidelines.

“If I see it in any other community, I’ll call that out equally,” he said. “If in my emotion I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that, that was not my intention. But I also want to be clear: I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying I want to deal with it very, very aggressively.”

At his daily briefing, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said that 330 more people had died, a third consecutive day at a flat rate, bringing the state’s official tally to 17,968. But the number of new hospital admissions for the virus increased slightly for the first time in 12 days.

New Jersey reported 329 new virus deaths — almost equal to New York’s, though it is more than twice as populous. The total number of deaths in New Jersey stands at 6,770.

Mr. Cuomo said he was issuing an order allowing elective surgeries to resume in 35 counties that had been affected less severely by the virus. New York City and the five counties closest to the city were not among them.

Top restaurateurs seek $120 billion in federal aid.

A group of prominent independent restaurant owners is asking Congress for a $120 billion stabilization fund to prevent thousands of restaurants across the country from closing after huge and protracted losses stemming from the pandemic.

“We are fighting to give restaurants a fighting chance,” said José Andrés, a Washington-based chef and philanthropist who has been at the forefront of lobbying for his industry, which has accounted for about 60 percent of all American job losses in March, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. The group formed after a vast majority of independent operators were unable to take part in a federal program to aid small businesses.

Under that program, businesses will be forgiven if their employees are paid over the eight-week period after the loan is made. But that is difficult for bars and restaurants, many of which were ordered to close. Once reopened, many restaurants will be unable to comply with social-distancing rules and run at full capacity.

“How do I make money if I have to bring back all my staff doing less volume and less sales?” Nina Compton, the owner of Compère Lapin in New Orleans, said during a conference call on Wednesday. “We need support; we need stabilization.”

The Navy delays a decision on restoring the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt and expands an investigation.

The acting secretary of the Navy on Wednesday ordered a wider investigation into the events aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, apparently shelving for now a recommendation by the Navy’s top admiral to restore Capt. Brett E. Crozier to command the virus-stricken warship.

“I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review,” the acting secretary, James E. McPherson, said in a statement.

Mr. McPherson said he was directing the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael M. Gilday, to conduct a follow-up investigation, expanding a preliminary review that the Navy completed and presented last week to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.

Mr. McPherson’s announcement came days after Admiral Gilday recommended reinstating Captain Crozier. But Mr. Esper, who initially said he would leave the process largely in the hands of the military chain of command, delayed endorsing the findings until he said he could review the Navy’s investigation.

Follow updates on the pandemic from our team of international correspondents.

Sweden forged its own path while countries around it shut down, and Russia extended its lockdown despite having relatively few confirmed cases.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Ellen Barry, Alan Blinder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Audra D.S. Burch, Ben Casselman, Michael Cooper, Michael Corkery, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Gold, Dana Goldstein, Jenny Gross, Amy Harmon, Christine Hauser, Josh Katz, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer, Denise Lu, Rick Rojas, Margot Sanger-Katz, Marc Santora, Eric Schmitt, Jennifer Steinhauer, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Linda Villarosa, Kenneth P. Vogel and Noah Weiland.

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Dr. Fauci Says Remdesivir Trial Shows Drug Has Promise as FDA Plans to Announce Emergency Use

Early results from a U.S.-government-run study of Gilead Science’s experimental drug remdesivir has demonstrated a sign of hope for COVID-19 treatment.

“What it has proven is a drug can block this virus,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said Wednesday while speaking to reporters at the White House.

Fauci’s remarks come just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to announce emergency use authorization of the antiviral drug, which is being tested to treat patients with novel coronavirus, as early as Wednesday, according to a report by The New York Times.

“As part of the FDA’s commitment to expediting the development and availability of potential COVID-19 treatments, the agency has been engaged in sustained and ongoing discussions with Gilead Sciences regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate,” FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum told CNBC.

Currently, remdesivir has not been licensed or approved anywhere globally.

Vials of the antiviral drug remdesivir pictured during a press conference at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, Germany earlier this month.

Also on Wednesday, Gilead announced preliminary results of its own coronavirus drug trial that showed 50 percent of patients treated in both a five-day dosage and 10-day dosage of remdesivir showed improvement. More than half of the 371 patients were discharged from the hospital within two weeks.

A news release issued by the company said it was “aware of positive data emerging from” the NIAID’s study but did not disclose the results. The study from the institute may provide stronger findings than Gilead’s study because of its placebo comparison group.

Fauci called the study of the experimental drug the “first truly high-powered randomized placebo-controlled trial.”

Fauci said the median recovery time for patients treated with remdesivir was 11 days, compared with the 15 days for patients in the placebo group. This data has showed a “clear-cut positive effect in diminishing time to recover.”

However, there are no proven treatments for COVID-19 at this time. The pandemic has infected more than 1 million people in the United States.

Remdesivir was developed as a possible treatment to fight the Ebola outbreak but showed no promise in clinical trials in Africa. Last week, The Lancet published discouraging results from a study conducted in Wuhan, China that found that the experimental drug did not provide significant benefits over the placebo.

The benefit of the ongoing study conducted by the NIAID is their sample size. Being able to test remdesivir on patients when infected cases were peaking, the federal study enrolled over 800 patients, compared with the 237 patients in the Chinese trial.

Dr. Fauci said trial overseen by his agency has indicated a shortened recovery time by a third, but cautioned the optimistic results still need to be peer-reviewed.