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Care home that refused free tests now a virus hotspot

By Matthew Brown and Amy Beth Hanson | Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — It was meant to be a last line of defense to protect the most vulnerable as the coronavirus spread across the United States: Montana officials offered free testing in May for staff and residents at assisted living and long-term care facilities.

But not all of them followed through, according to state data, including a facility in Billings, Montana’s largest city, that cares for people with dementia and other memory problems. The virus has infected almost every resident there and killed eight since July 6, accounting for almost a quarter of Montana’s 34 confirmed deaths. Thirty-six employees also have tested positive.

While Montana’s rates of confirmed infections and deaths are much lower than other parts of the country, the outbreak at Canyon Creek Memory Care illustrates that even the most simple and common-sense preventive measures have sometimes gone unused during the pandemic, allowing the virus to sweep through elderly care facilities with devastating results.

“I don’t see that there’s good justification for just not testing. You’re operating in the dark,” said Chris Laxton, executive director of the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, which represents more than 50,000 long-term care professionals.

Nursing homes became the first places with fatal outbreaks in the U.S. Six of Montana’s earliest deaths were tied to infections acquired at another nursing home, but the state initially avoided the widespread early outbreaks seen elsewhere in the nation.

Canyon Creek was among 45 of 289 assisted living and long-term care facilities that initially declined Montana’s call for testing.

“My impression is that the facilities believed they had all protocols in place to keep their residents safe, were doing everything possible, and there was no need (to test) because of so few cases in their area,” said Rose Hughes, executive director of the Montana Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities.

Canyon Creek’s operator, Koelsch Communities of Olympia, Washington, hasn’t directly said why it turned down free testing at the facility, which has seen 55 positive cases among the 59 people who lived there when the deaths began. The company says it declined to test residents after three with symptoms in April and May were put in quarantine but tested negative.

The first positive cases — a staff member and a resident — were discovered in late June, just days after Gov. Steve Bullock lifted some restrictions on care facilities. As the outbreak escalated, the Democrat issued a statewide emergency rule that made testing of staff and residents a condition for facilities to receive visitors.

Koelsch Communities, which operates in eight states, has confirmed cases in at least 13 of its 39 facilities and had reported 11 deaths in other places prior to the Montana outbreak. Five of the deaths happened in late June at El Rio Memory Care in Modesto.

Company spokesman Chase Salyers said those living at Canyon Creek who aren’t infected are kept separate and that testing of staff and residents will continue.

Older people and those with preexisting conditions are more vulnerable to the respiratory virus. According to a tally by The Associated Press, more than 58,000 COVID-19 deaths have involved nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That is over 40% of the nation’s more than 135,000 deaths.

There are no federal testing requirements, and rules differ widely among states.

To be effective, testing needs to occur before an outbreak, include residents and staff, and be repeated periodically because staff come and go, said Albert Munanga, an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington’s nursing school and regional health director for Era Living retirement communities.

Pam Donovan, whose father is a Canyon Creek resident, said “the jury’s still out” on whether the facility should have done testing earlier and whether it would have helped.

Richard Donovan, a retired sheriff’s deputy and coroner, initially tested negative in early July when the outbreak began but developed symptoms days later and was taken to a hospital Thursday, Pam Donovan said. His test came back positive Friday, she said.

Donovan said the only plausible reason to decline free testing would be the difficulty swabbing residents with dementia.

“That’s the only thing I can think of, putting myself in their shoes,” she said. “I don’t know if they’ll ever say what their reason was.”

Administrators at some Montana facilities that declined the testing in May and June said the invasive nasal procedure would frighten dementia patients or make them uncomfortable. They noted their communities had few cases at that point, and they were disinfecting surfaces, washing hands and wearing masks. Some weren’t allowing visitors.

Ashley Samples, administrator at Bee Hive Homes in Columbia Falls, said a concern was false positives.

“I think if there was a more sure way to do it, I think we absolutely would have,” she said.

Bee Hive’s facilities are still on lockdown, staff have their temperatures taken and wear masks, and visits happen through open windows, Samples said.

Hyalite Country Care Assisted Living in Bozeman initially decided not to test residents, partly based on the state’s low infection numbers. Owner LeAnn Bunn said she’s now reconsidering.

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Graham warns efforts to undercut Fauci are “not going to be productive”

Washington — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of President Trump, defended Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday amid efforts by top White House officials to discredit him, warning attempts to undercut Fauci would be unproductive.

During a press conference in Columbia, South Carolina, Graham told reporters he has “all the respect in the world for Dr. Fauci,” the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

“I think any effort to undermine him is not going to be productive, quite frankly,” the senator said.

Graham said the nation does not have “a Dr. Fauci problem” and instead needs “to be focusing on doing things that get us to where we need to go.”

“Getting in a contest with Dr. Fauci about whether he was right or wrong doesn’t move the ball forward,” the South Carolina senator said.

Graham’s defense of Fauci comes as tensions between him and senior White House officials have spilled into public view as Fauci has issued blunt warnings about the state of the coronavirus crisis, which is worsening in most states.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CBS News that Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on.”

“Now Fauci is saying that a falling mortality rate doesn’t matter, when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening,” Navarro said. “So when you ask me if I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is only with caution.”

In addition to Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci, Dan Scavino, White House deputy chief of staff for communications, shared a cartoon on social media Sunday that mocked Fauci and suggested his recommendations to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus are drowning the economy. The image depicts Fauci as “Dr. Faucet” turned to “extra cold” and spewing demands for schools to remain closed and lockdowns to stay in place.

“Sorry, Dr. Faucet!” Scavino wrote in a post accompanying the cartoon. “At least you know if I’m going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it’s done publicly — and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks. See you tomorrow!”

While President Trump has lauded the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and said the declining mortality rate demonstrates the success in responding to the crisis, Fauci warned last week during a Facebook Live with Alabama Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat, that “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower death rate.”

Fauci has also rejected the suggestion that the U.S. is doing better than other countries in its response to the coronavirus, instead telling FiveThirtyEight’s podcast that “when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great.”

Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday he has a “very good relationship with Fauci” but doesn’t agree with him at all times.

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Republicans are breaking from Trump’s coronavirus talking points

Some of the most direct splits with the administration have come on the issue of testing, which, while markedly improved since the earliest days of the U.S. outbreak, is still not where experts say it needs to be, with delays in test results sometimes stretching a week or more in some areas.

Trump’s former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney panned the administration’s testing abilities in an op-ed on Monday, calling the struggles his family encountered when trying to get tested and the wait time for results afterward “simply inexcusable.”

Mulvaney’s editorial urged Congress to focus on combating the virus itself rather than homing in on just fiscal stimulus measures in its next rescue package, as he acknowledged that dissent on coronavirus isn’t “popular to talk about in some Republican circles.”

Tuesday morning the pile-on continued as “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade acknowledged a “huge testing issue,” as well as a growing scarcity of personal protective equipment as virus cases surge once more.

“What he can do, what the president can do, and what his administration can do is make sure those aren’t an issue. I mean it’s been four or five months. It should not be an issue,” Kilmeade said.

In a visit to a South Carolina hospital later in the day, Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies on the Hill, said a lack of timely testing was one of the key issues raised during his visit.

“We just don’t have enough testing in real time for the population as a whole,” he said, suggesting the White House could invoke the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce testing supplies or incentivize pool testing.

“I would advise the task force to do whatever they can to ramp up the components of testing,” Graham urged, noting that for kids to return safely to school as soon as next month, “you’re going to need more testing — not less.”

The White House has continued to defend the administration’s testing capabilities, with Trump again calling America the “best in the world” at testing and reiterating his belief that testing is a “double-edged sword.”

But even Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services assistant secretary tapped by the White House to be its testing czar, said over the weekend that commercial labs, which conduct much of the nation’s testing apart from point-of-care tests, were experiencing delays in test results.

“We need to decrease the time to turn around those results, and we have a number of efforts,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The split between Trump and his allies on testing follows an earlier break on the issue of wearing masks. After weeks of pleas from Republicans for Americans to wear masks as virus cases in the South and West first began to spike, and unsubtle suggestions that the president could set a positive example by donning a mask, Trump himself finally relented and wore one in public for the first time over the weekend.

In Florida, where the state shattered a daily case record over the weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis adopted a more somber tone on Monday as he addressed residents’ fears over the virus, including over whether students should return to school in the fall as his state is planning.

“I know many Floridians are filled with apprehension as they wonder, you know, what does this mean. What do these trends mean for our health, for our families, and for our jobs? How long is this going to go on for? What’s going to happen with things like kids being in school?” he said at a press conference.

“I hear you, and I along with our federal partners, our local leaders, and our great medical community, we’re working nonstop to be able to respond to this crisis,” he continued, urging Floridians not to be “swept up in fear.”

DeSantis also acknowledged testing problems, explaining that the state needed “faster results.”

Texas, another Sun Belt hotspot, made waves when it moved to roll back reopening measures across the state, closing bars and restricting other businesses seen as contributing to rising cases. And after rejecting calls to issue a mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott initially granted local leaders greater authority to issue their own before ordering face coverings be worn in most of the state.

When Houston’s Democratic mayor canceled the Texas GOP’s in-person convention last week, the move drew criticism from the party and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. But Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a freshman lawmaker seen by some as a rising star in the party, applauded the decision and called it a “prudent move for public health.”

Even so, the GOP is pressing forward with plans to hold its nominating convention in a little over a month in Jacksonville, Fla. The New York Times reported Tuesday that officials have decided to move three days’ worth of events — including Trump’s marquee nomination speech — out of an arena into outdoor venues, a change made after consulting with the president and other political advisers Monday night.

The decision comes as Republican lawmakers have exhibited skepticism about attending the event, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans have announced they will skip it altogether.

And in spite of what has turned into an aggressive push from the White House for schools across the country to reopen in the fall, complete with threats to choke off federal funding for districts that don’t comply with orders, some of the largest districts in the country have spurned the administration on in-person instruction.

Even some Republican school chiefs and traditionally GOP-leaning groups like the Chamber of Commerce have expressed pause about the White House’s pressure campaign, while some rank-and-file lawmakers have been hesitant to echo Trump’s demand for in-classroom schooling for all.

“We don’t want a reemergence, we don’t want young people getting sick or bringing it home to their parents, or the teachers, some of whom are upwards in their age risk who could also be at further risk of contracting the disease,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said Tuesday in an interview on Fox News.

“Yes, I want kids to go back to school, but if and only if, and I say that with capital letters, it is safe,” Smith argued.

In the meantime, Trump has taken aim at health officials including Fauci, who has become a household name throughout the pandemic for his bluntness when it comes to the severity of the outbreak.

Last week Trump denounced the CDC’s guidelines for reopening schools, calling it “very expensive & tough” as well as “impractical” and causing Vice President Mike Pence to announce that the agency would issue additional, clarifying recommendations soon.

On Monday morning, the president retweeted messages from former game show personality Chuck Woolery complaining that “everyone is lying” about the virus, naming the CDC, Democrats, the media, and “our Doctors” in particular.

The indirect criticism came a day after the White House reportedly told multiple news outlets that several of its officials were “concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things,” and provided a lengthy list of statements the widely respected immunologist made in the early days of the outbreak that could appear damaging in retrospect.

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Stephanopoulos Urges Schiff To Impeach Trump Over Stone Pardon

Uber liberal George Stephanopoulos urged Rep. Adam Schiff to try to impeach President Trump again, saying in an interview with the California Democrat and gadfly that he seems to have grounds to do so.

Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, appeared Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” once again playing the old saw of Trump and Russia. During the interview,  Stephanopoulos, a former top adviser and press secretary for President Bill Clinton turned TV anchor, quoted Founding Father James Madison’s speech from the 1788 Constitutional Convention in an effort to sway Schiff to impeach Trump for commuting Roger Stone’s sentence.

“If the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him, they can remove him if found guilty,” Stephanopoulos quoted from Madison. Then he asked Schiff: “Is this an impeachable offense?”

“Stephanopoulos also referenced a quote from Schiff’s colleague Hakeem Jeffries claiming that ‘the President and Stone can still be indicted once Donald Trump leaves office” before asking Schiff “should Joe Biden ask his Attorney General to take that step if he indeed does become president?’” NewsBusters reported.

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The anchor then asked Schiff if Democrat Joe Biden should “ask his attorney general to take that step if he indeed does become president?”

Schiff was noncommittal., but once again said Trump’s actions were worse than President Richard Nixon during Watergate. He claimed Trump “urged the Russians to hack Hillary’s e-mails,” although that’s been proven false and nothing more than a joke Trump made in 2016 during a campaign rally.

Schiff also asserted that Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia to steal the election, even though a two-year investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller found no wrongdoing.

“According to Schiff, what Trump did was actually worse than any actions Nixon took because ‘the Republicans at that time would not have stood for this and Nixon understood that.’ Schiff contrasted the Republicans of the Watergate era with the Republicans of today, who ‘won’t defend the rule of law,’” NewsBusters reported. “As the segment continued, Schiff mentioned that he warned Republicans during the impeachment process that ‘the damage he could do between now and Election Day could be severe’ if he was not removed from office. At this point, Schiff blamed Trump for the deaths of 130,000 Americans because of coronavirus.”

Stephanopoulos sat silently as Schiff’s spun his web of lies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later appeared on the same show and parroted Schiff’s Trump-Russia conspiracy theories.

“Just as I have said to the President with him, all roads lead to Putin. He will not—he will not – I don’t know what the Russians have on the President politically, personally, financially, or whatever it is,” Pelosi said in reference to a New York Times report quoting anonymous officials who claimed Trump ignored intelligence that Russia was paying the Taliban to kill American troops. “Because the President wants to ignore any allegation against Russia. As I’ve said to him in that meeting when I’m pointing to him in a blue suit, ‘with you Mr. President, all roads lead to Putin.’”


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Russia Hoax Update: Graham Will Call Sally Yates To Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham said Tuesday his committee is going to call former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify before this July.

It is imperative that Yates testify and it’s more imperative that the senators ask her the right questions to hold those in the government accountable for the false FBI investigation against President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration.

Graham made the announcement on Twitter, in his new live social media show ‘lunch with Lindsey.’

Former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, who was spied on by the FBI and falsely accused in news stories of being an asset of the Russian government praised Graham’s announcement and decision to call Yates to testify.

On Twitter, Page said “essential new leadership and indispensable oversight, now emerging from the Washington swamp.” Page would know. The expert on energy and Russia has been at the center of the former Russia hoax investigation after it was discovered by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that the FBI falsified documents to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to spy on him.

Remember this opinion piece Yates wrote from The Washington Post last year? There’s so many questions that need to be answered.

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Geoffrey Berman’s Senate Testimony Is Full of Distressing Details

What’s the latest in the sewer that is the United States Department of Justice, you ask. Well, the federal government can kill people again—deliberately, that is, and not out of incompetence and neglect—something that I know we’ve all missed over the past two decades.

So there’s that. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday released the full transcript of the testimony it took last week from Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who was forced out clumsily by William Barr, the White House’s personal-injury lawyer. From his opening statement—indeed, from the way he held Barr’s feet to the fire over his departure from that job—Berman clearly demonstrated that he has no use for the kind of vandalism being conducted at DOJ. His testimony fills in a lot of the details, and the details are distressing as all hell. As it turns out, the folks at Camp Runamuck are worse villains when they’re trying to finesse things than they are when they’re using the meat-ax on institutions. Berman’s account of his dismissal is high-larious.

I searched my personal phone records for the time period between the 7:21 p.m. call and the date of his—and about 9:10, which was the time of his press release, I could find no calls on the number that I gave him to contact me from either the Attorney General or anyone on his staff. I could not search the records from my work cell phone because that was turned off soon after I was fired on Saturday. But I know that there was no email, text message, or voicemail on either my personal phone or my work phone between my conversation with the Attorney General in the afternoon of the 19th and the release of the Attorney General’s press release, the evening of the 19th.

Q: Mr. Berman, what was your reaction to the 9 p.m. press release?
A: Well, in that press release, what he outlined, which was that Craig Carpenito would come in as acting U.S. attorney, someone from outside of the office, immediately was exactly what I thought was going to happen had I resigned based on my conversation with the Attorney General the afternoon of Friday. And let me just say that the appointment of Craig Carpenito or anyone from outside of the Southern District of New York as an acting U.S. attorney and bypassing Audrey Strauss, the universally respected deputy of the United States Attorney’s Office, was something that would cause a disruption and delay in our investigations. I’m not questioning Carpenito’s honesty or integrity, but all of these events were irregular and unexplained and raised serious concerns for me. Firing me and then bypassing my deputy Audrey Strauss to place Carpenito in charge of the office would have caused significant disruption and delay in the investigations the office was handling.

Which was, of course, the point. But Berman carefully danced around any questions regarding Barr’s motivations in firing him, refusing to speculate on why Barr might want to remove someone overseeing the investigations of the president* whom Barr is breaking rocks with his head in order to protect. It was left to White House lawn ornament Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, to provide the comic relief that is so necessary to dismal accountings like this one.

Mr. Gaetz: Why are you so concerned — when you say an outsider, you define an outsider as any person that does not work in the office of the Southern District, right?

Mr. Berman: An outsider I would define as anyone who is not the logical and normal successor, which would be the deputy United States attorney.

Mr. Gaetz: So any person other than the one person who is your handpicked deputy is an outsider, pursuant to your definition? There is only one person who’s an insider, every other human on the Planet Earth is an outsider.

No Martians Need Apply.

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ACLU Demands DOJ Name Special Prosecutor to Investigate Lafayette Square : NPR

President Trump and his advisers, including Attorney General William Barr, walk through Lafayette Square on June 1 after it was cleared of protesters. Trump then posed for photos holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Patrick Semansky/AP

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Patrick Semansky/AP

President Trump and his advisers, including Attorney General William Barr, walk through Lafayette Square on June 1 after it was cleared of protesters. Trump then posed for photos holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Civil liberties advocates are urging Attorney General William Barr to name a special prosecutor to investigate possible violations of protesters’ rights during the June 1 crackdown in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., NPR has learned.

Federal officers deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and smoke canisters to scatter the mostly peaceful group of demonstrators, clearing the way for President Trump to pose for pictures in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The crowd had been kneeling, praying and chanting, “I can’t breathe,” some of the last words of George Floyd, the man killed by police after his arrest in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death on May 25 sparked the national protest movement about the treatment of Blacks by law enforcement.

In a new letter, the American Civil Liberties Union argues Barr has a conflict of interest in overseeing any investigation, given his role in issuing an order to federal law enforcement to clear the square and disperse the crowd.

Barr has since told interviewers he did not order the use of force. The attorney general also said he didn’t consider President Trump’s decision to walk across the square a “political act.”

Barr and Trump have sought to frame the efforts of authorities as a curb on violence by anarchists; Trump ordered a number of domestic security agencies to guard statues and monuments because of what the president called the peril they face from radicals.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec echoed that message Monday with what she called another warning to protesters who might deface or tear down statues in the midst of the demonstrations about police violence.

Answers sought from independent officer

The ACLU argues someone else besides Barr must preside to achieve a full and independent investigation into the clearing of Lafayette Square.

“Given the inherent conflict of interest present, appointment of an outside prosecutor is needed to ensure impartiality of any investigation and, if warranted, of any prosecution of any criminal acts committed by members of the executive branch,” wrote Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU.

The ACLU said the federal action in the square violated protesters’ First Amendment rights to assemble and Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

The civil liberties group said other statutes could come into play as well, including a federal law that bars conspiracies to injure or intimidate people exercising their constitutional rights and another statute that prohibits interfering with people engaged in lawful speech or peaceful assembly.

Special prosecutors rare but not unprecedented

Any Justice Department decision to appoint a special counsel would be unusual but not unprecedented.

In recent years, former FBI Director Robert Mueller investigated Russia’s attack on the 2016 election. Earlier, in the Obama administration, the ACLU demanded then-Attorney General Eric Holder name a special counsel to examine mistreatment and torture of terrorism suspects.

The legal trigger for ordering such an investigation involves a basis for a criminal probe; the presence of a conflict of interest by existing prosecutors; and clear public interest.

The ACLU letter pointed out that the Justice Department has launched criminal cases against protesters around the country for removing Confederate statues and throwing incendiary devices, painting protesters as “instigators” who deserve to spend decades in prison.

“Responsibility for the violent events of June 1 may extend to the very highest levels of the federal government, including to the attorney general of the United States,” the ACLU said. “The country deserves to have these outstanding questions addressed and those responsible for the attacks on our civil rights and liberties that occurred on June 1, 2020, must be held accountable.”

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China and Iran negotiate major accord in face of Trump’s maximum pressure

Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged in a parliamentary session that his government is, “with confidence and conviction,” in negotiations with China over a 25-year strategic partnership that could involve about $400 billion in Chinese investment through various sectors of the Iranian economy. An outline of the accord’s details surfaced in an 18-page leaked document online, whose provenance is unclear though it roughly aligns with mooted plans previously announced by the Iranian government. According to the New York Times, a version of the document dated in June that its reporters obtained is a draft of a pending agreement with China.

The pact between the two countries would be far-reaching: It would increase intelligence sharing and security cooperation, including in possible missions in Syria and Iraq. It would also see Chinese companies expand their footprints in Iranian railroads, ports and telecommunications, while securing for Beijing a steady and discounted Iranian oil supply for the next quarter-century. China would develop free-trade zones in strategic locations in Iran, further binding the country into Beijing’s sprawling Belt and Road global trade and development initiative.

Even though it has been in the works since 2016, before Trump was elected, the timing of this potential agreement is conspicuous. It’s a reminder of how unlikely it was that Trump could cajole Tehran to sit down for new negotiations after scrapping U.S. commitments to the nuclear deal, a diplomatic agreement that was years in the making and involved the efforts of major powers, including China. Now, with their economy in tatters, the Iranians are seeking a lifeline from Beijing. And Chinese officials, given their own tussle with Washington, seem willing to take the risk.

“At a time when the United States is reeling from recession and the coronavirus, and increasingly isolated internationally, Beijing senses American weakness,” wrote Times reporters Farnaz Fassihi and Steven Lee Myers. “The draft agreement with Iran shows that unlike most countries, China feels it is in a position to defy the United States, powerful enough to withstand American penalties, as it has in the trade war waged by President Trump.”

It is unclear when an actual deal will get pushed through. When asked about it by reporters last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian offered a customarily anodyne response. “China and Iran enjoy traditional friendship, and the two sides have been in communication on the development of bilateral relations,” he said. “We stand ready to work with Iran to steadily advance practical cooperation.”

China is also playing a key role at the U.N. Security Council in blocking the Trump administration’s efforts to extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire later this year. Last month, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, rebuffed U.S. attempts to use the terms of the nuclear deal to reimpose the weapons ban, scolding the Trump administration for not holding up its end of the bargain in the first place.

Some analysts abroad saw hypocrisy in Tehran’s courtship of Beijing. “An Iranian regime whose revolutionary identity is premised on countering U.S. imperialism and Islamophobia is about to ratify its total economic and strategic dependency on a Chinese government that keeps over 1 million Muslims in re-education camps,” tweeted Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Within Iran, the matter is hardly settled. It will require a vote in a parliament now dominated by hard-liners who are already furious with President Hassan Rouhani over both his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the failure of the nuclear deal. Rouhani’s signature diplomatic triumph has effectively turned to ash, with his country’s economy asphyxiated by U.S. sanctions once more and the prospect of an opening to the West seemingly dashed.

But Iran’s turn toward countries like Russia and China has raised concerns about the inequitable price it may have to pay. Last month, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned in a speech of the country’s current leadership discussing a monumental pact “away from the eyes of the Iranian nation.” Some critics, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty’s Golnaz Esfandiari, likened the proposed deal to “the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay between Persia and tsarist Russia, under which the Persians ceded control of territory in the South Caucasus.”

Zarif said there was “nothing secret” about the ongoing negotiations, and media outlets linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — an occasional political adversary of Rouhani and Zarif — seemed to back the diplomatic process. “However, neither Zarif nor IRGC mouthpieces openly admitted why the Islamic Republic is compelled to orient itself toward China,” wrote Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “In the face of the U.S. administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, the Islamic Republic is turning toward China to secure its survival.”

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27 Best Bars in America 2020

What makes a bar an Esquire Best Bar?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot, and I tend to dodge it, mainly because it’s so hard to answer in a satisfying and meaningful way. My canned reply is something like: a place that you love so much you can’t wait to experience it all over again.

If I’m being honest, I found that answer cliché—like a Yelp review presented by the Hallmark Channel. I masked a cringe every time I said it. But fuck if this pandemic hasn’t made that sentiment so true.


A trade secret: While we spend most of the year going to bars to compile this list, a flurry of reporting happens in the spring, right before our deadline, because (a) it’s a great time to travel and drink and (b) writers never turn in stories early.

But this March, as the trees began to bloom and the country started to hibernate, I squeezed in one last reporting trip to Los Angeles and had one final drink at a bar before the Great Quarantine. It was at the Prince in L.A.’s Koreatown, a place that made this year’s list not only because of its horseshoe bar, red banquettes, and cocktails and Korean fried chicken—what a killer combo!—but also because I just had to share this old-school, slightly weird, still sort of under-the-radar experience with my friend Amanda. Even though she’s lived in L.A. for years, she’d never been. Best Bars are places you need your best pals to know about.

When I returned home to New York, my favorite watering holes had started to close, with messages like “Stay Safe, See You Soon!” hastily taped to their doors. Many transitioned into makeshift to-go operations, and that’s where my saccharine “What makes a bar a Best Bar?” reasoning became honest fact. Could I make a semi-decent daiquiri at home? Yes, but it wouldn’t be as transcendent as the one I picked up from the window at Brooklyn’s Leyenda (Best Bars, 2016). Do I like martinis at home? Yes, but not as much as I like martinis at home delivered by Mister Paradise (Best Bars, 2019). And I can’t come close to making the bacon-y Benton’s Old Fashioned that was handed to me in a paper bag outside of PDT (Best Bars, 2008). Even though these establishments weren’t open in the traditional, save-me-a-stool sense, I still had to experience them. I craved their effort. Their hospitality. The love they put into operating during a pandemic just to help their employees get by. (And it felt good to send a little love their way, too.)

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So my canned answer to what makes a bar an Esquire Best Bar? A place you just can’t wait to experience again? It’s still my answer. Except now I really mean it. Whether they’re open or not so open, we hope you’ll fall in love with this year’s best bars, and all past (and future) places in our ever-growing hall of fame, when you can. —Kevin Sintumuang

Editor’s note: As of July 14, fifteen of the bars on this list are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. We hope they’re able to open safely in some form when the time is right. Please check directly with the bar for updates. Cheers.

There are two kinds of people: those who plan for the full moon and those who are only reminded of its existence after its arrival. Kathryn DiMenichi and Holli Medley are the former. They’re the owners of Cardinal. And it’s closed for full moons. Juxtapose the idiosyncratic operators and the “speakeasy in a food court” vibe, and for ATLiens it’s all part of the beautiful cacophony that imbues the city, a quality that’s hard to articulate but easy to feel. 1039 Grant Street SE, Suite B40 —Stephen Satterfield

Follow the music to the middle of an industrial block and you’ll find an unlikely pebbled courtyard, with metal chairs and tables, shaded by a few large trees. People are on dates, or working on laptops, sipping coffee or beer or a black manhattan, all depending on the time of day. Public Records is a bar/café, record store, and music venue, with a killer sound system in each, but it all seems like one cohesive space designed to make you feel a bit cooler and more creative than when you first walked in. 233 Butler Street —K. S.

& Sons is almost stubborn in the singularity of its vision—that American ham is every bit as worthwhile as the more globally revered prosciuttos and pata negras. Yes, it is a wine-and-American-ham bar. Co-owner André Hueston Mack is one of the best sommeliers of his generation and the first African American to win the title of Best Young Sommelier in America. The wine list is also all American and full of exquisite vintages. The result is a twenty-person cocktail hour with a seriously consummate host. 447 Rogers Avenue —S. S.

Rarely does a wine bar successfully mix casual comfort with a nerdy passion for fermented grapes and a bumping soundtrack. But Graft, the uptown Charleston wineshop-meets-bar by Femi Oyediran and Miles White, achieves that righteous blend. All the good vibes are here, inspired by Man Night, a living-room hang the buddies hosted with their friends. You can jam to Talking Heads while chatting with the co-owners about their favorite big, bad Sangiovese. 700 King Street, Suite B —Osayi Endolyn

If tiki bars are fantasy, then the Bamboo Room, tucked within Three Dots and a Dash, is the fantasy within the fantasy—a rarefied, rum-fueled fever dream presided over by barman Kevin Beary. When you order a daiquiri, a coupe filled with shaved ice arrives and in goes the cocktail, dissolving the fluff like magic. All nights should end with a meander through a rum list of funky finds. 435 North Clark Street —K. S.

To drink at Kumiko is to witness a personal journey into bartender Julia Momose’s Japanese heritage. One cocktail explores the Japanese purple sweet potato; another is a nod to curry rice. All are revelatory, but none so much as the spirit-free drinks like the umeboshi swizzle and the coconut fizz, a light take on the Piña Colada—you won’t miss the booze. 630 West Lake Street —K. S.

The very existence of a bar devoted to vodka feels like a rebuke to all the bartenders who’ve scoffed at the spirit. But this Cincy spot takes the defiance a step further, offering shots of vodka infused with (among other things) mangoes, peanut brittle, and supermarket candy. (Don’t worry, purists. There’s also beet and horseradish.) You could say the bar started as a window. Owner Sarah Dworak first made her mark selling handmade pierogies out of an actual hole in the wall, and that enterprise expanded into Wódka Bar, whose food menu abounds with comforting Eastern European drinking snacks like kielbasa and smoked herring. The vodka menu (no surprise) ventures far and wide, allowing you plenty of leeway to compare and contrast bottles from Poland and Ukraine and Ireland and Brazil. 1200 Main Street —Jeff Gordinier

That’s Elvis Costello, kid, and that’s Joe Strummer. Willie Nelson’s over there, and Johnny Cash is nearby. We’re talking about pictures of these musical renegades, mind you, but their spirits imbue every inch of the place. Happy Dog is a rock ‘n’ roll bar to its bones, with vinyl booths, Christmas lights, a no-bullshit beer list, and mics already set up for any ragged busker who’s brave or drunk enough to climb onstage. You can order hot dogs topped with craziness like peanut butter, SpaghettiOs, and Froot Loops. We’d steer you toward the “alien” relish, which glows a radioactive shade of green. 5801 Detroit Avenue —J. G.

I was staring at a paper wheel that looked like a scrap of Ouija board. The wheel had words on it: bitter, potent, fruity, tropical, etc. Instead of ordering from a cocktail menu, I was instructed to select my desired mood (I went with relax) and a range of flavors (I went with umami and ginger) from this wheel. The bartender would then conjure something for me to drink. I figured this was all some sort of gimmick until I tasted my cocktail, which had been made with gin, lime, and a pho syrup—yes, the Vietnamese soup. It was absurdly delicious, and it was then I decided the Spotted Owl is a next-wave mystic temple of cocktailing. 710 Jefferson Avenue —J. G.

The first words I saw on the menu when I took my seat at Law Bird over the winter: “Start with a $5 Mini Martini.” I instantly felt at home. But there aren’t many homes in which you’ll find a five-buck martini better than this one, deftly balanced in 50/50 style with Roku gin, two white vermouths (Comoz and Miro), and olive and lemon bitters. The cocktail list slowly reveals itself to be one of the most creative in the country, but the bartenders are modest and Midwestern about it. Home, sweet home. 740 South High Street —J. G.

For many, the first memory of a bar is likely Episode IV’s cantina scene—who didn’t want to hang out there? That would explain the constant lines outside Oga’s Cantina, a part of the Star Wars theme park, Galaxy’s Edge. But it is worth the wait to have that proto–bar fantasy fulfilled. There are smoking drinks in neon colors, a starship pilot turned DJ, and—who knows?—Han Solo might just slide in next to you. 351 South Studio Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Florida —Adrienne Westenfeld

“I loafe and invite my soul,” Walt Whitman once wrote. “I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” You could describe the hazy, lazy vibe at the Spotty Dog the same way, only the customers are likely to be leaning and loafing with Whitman himself: The wooden bar runs right alongside the shelves of a bookstore. If you enjoy nursing a beer with no other company than a novel, this is your place. 440 Warren Street —J. G.

Martha Hoover is a force of nature in the Midwestern food movement, but her larkish, low-lit Bar One Fourteen feels more like a lyric poem than a mission statement. Conceived with the help of indie rocker Vess Ruhtenberg, a veteran of bands like the Lemonheads, this bar is essentially a state-of-the-art listening sanctuary. The record collection (vinyl only) is the stuff of High Fidelity fever dreams, and a recent cocktail list—from the bartending duo of Daimien Weems and Corey Ewing—took its inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Some bars help you shut off your brain, but this bar feeds it. 114 East Forty-ninth Street —J. G.

The 1946 soda fountain Brent’s Drugs radiates a cheerful Happy Days energy during the day, but those who prefer manhattans to milkshakes show up at night, when the stools are stacked and the lights low. First-timers will have to trust the rumors—that if they let themselves in the unlocked door and tiptoe back, past the booths, and push aside a heavy curtain, they’ll find a speakeasy in full swing. 655 Duling Avenue —Beth Ann Fennelly

It’s easy to lose time at this DTLA hi-fi joint. Dropping in at 3:00 p.m. on a Friday, I ordered coffee and kombucha, only to be captivated by the turntables and Line Magnetic tube amp power. What esoteric ’80s electronica album will come on next? Afternoon soon melted into evening and I downshifted into cocktails and wine and Japanese rice whiskey. Tokyo has known the potency of the combination of a hushed room, whiskey, and a killer sound system for years now. We’re thrilled the concept has finally arrived stateside with In Sheep’s Clothing. 710 East Fourth Place —K. S.

In a town that has no shortage of hidden time warps, the Prince feels like a genuinely cool secret, even though it’s been around since 1927 and has operated in its current iteration since 1991: a late-night Koreatown haunt where you can get killer Korean fried chicken and deftly made cocktails. As you sit in one of the round, red banquettes, or sip an ice-cold Hite at the horseshoe bar, you will wonder: Where have you been all of my life? 3198 West Seventh Street —K. S.

As I left Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, which just happens to be located behind a purple adult emporium, a man said to me, “Don’t you love this place? They welcome drunks and hipsters.” Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but proprietor Amy Dee Richardson’s honky-tonk is that special kind of bar where you can get a Frito Pie and a High Life at noon, but also a damn good old-fashioned served on a big rock, and take in a stellar musical lineup at night that rivals those of spots in downtown Nashville. Yep, I love this place. 102 East Palestine Avenue —K. S.

Deep in Little Havana is chef Michelle Bernstein and barman Julio Cabrera’s homage to 1950s Santiago de Cuba. Cabrera is the keeper of the cantinero tradition, the hospitable, well-groomed style of bartending that originated in Cuba. It’s the real deal here at Cafe La Trova, with focused drinks that go beyond the mojito (although they make an excellent one). Try the Presidente; it will put in doubt your loyalty to the manhattan. 971 SW Eighth Street —K. S.

With a wrap-around bar, starlight ceiling, and mod furniture, Mama Tried is like an idealized ’70s Las Vegas bar that crash-landed in downtown Miami. While manufactured dives can drip in irony, this place gets the delightful scuzzy details just right. Bonus to the cheap beers and cigarette machine: excellent cocktails. 207 NE First Street —K. S.

The design? Luxe terrarium bunker. The location? Tucked beneath Korean steakhouse Cote. The vibe? Exotic, classy, and unabashedly fun. And the cocktails match, thanks to the creative effort of head bartender Sondre Kasin. Try the artisanal Red Bull vodka made with a homemade energy drink and Champagne. 16 West Twenty-second Street —K. S.

Sometimes you need to be discreet. In fact, sometimes you want to meet someone in a dark, plush corner of an Ian Schrager hotel bar that’s eleven floors above Times Square. That kind of discreet. You want the rendezvous to feel as dressed up and hassle-free as a Roxy Music song, so you decide on 701West, where Michelin-starred chef John Fraser is cooking the bar snacks and where sips like the Jasmine French (via beverage director Amy Racine) sound as if they could be James Bond characters. Don’t ask and we won’t tell. 701 Seventh Avenue, Eleventh Floor —J. G.

Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, the partners behind the beloved Via Carota, know that details matter, and Bar Pisellino is a veritable shrine to those details. Amber-hued and humming all day long, it is not an Italian bar as much as it is an eccentrically romantic fantasia of what you imagine a bar in Italy could be. If Sophia Loren suddenly walked in, you would not be shocked. 52 Grove Street —J. G.

If I were to design the perfect central-California wine bar, I would put it outside, so that drinkers could soak in the West Coast sunshine, swing in a hammock, order some empanadas and a platter of mezes and a bottle of Grüner Veltliner, and drink and eat at tiled picnic tables under an awning in the backyard. I don’t have to dream that up, though, because Tipple & Ramble already exists. 315 North Montgomery Street —J. G.

Upstairs from Philly’s beloved Abyssinia, an Ethiopian restaurant, Fiume feels like a studio-apartment punk-rock pop-up even though it has been in operation for two decades. Last call comes when the bartender bangs a cymbal hanging from the ceiling. (“I’ve got a mallet for it,” he’ll tell you.) Chairs are tattered and scattered. One sign warns you that “the customer is always wrong.” Another says, “Cash only, baby.” But watch how that bartender peels fresh citrus, grabs you a chilled glass, painstakingly eyeballs the ingredients in your Ortolan. This is a bar where people care—even if they act like they don’t. 229 South Forty-fifth Street —J. G.

To get an idea of the ambition of the drinks at Friday Saturday Sunday, ask bartender Paul MacDonald to explain the cocktails he makes based on the Fibonacci sequence. They are mysteriously round yet angular. And delicious. But this place is far from precious—it’s always friendly, and hopping. You’ll run into someone you know any second now. 261 South Twenty-first Street —K. S.

The dark, dim bar Martuni’s is a San Francisco institution where everyone is welcome. The green neon outline of a familiar cocktail glass draws you in for one thing: a martini—large, strong, ice-cold gin or vodka? Lemon twist or olive? Dirty or extra dirty? You won’t be judged for your preference. Stay for the piano bar in the back, which on any given night is packed with locals singing loudly, joyfully in unison. 4 Valencia Street —Omar Mamoon

If you have ever daydreamed about converting your place of habitation into a drinking establishment, consider Bottlehouse, the incarnation of your wish. It’s an actual house in the middle of the yoga-mom magnet that is Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Sit by the window, or out on the patio when the sun deigns to show up. The beverage list goes beyond wine and ventures knowingly into ciders, vermouths, sherries, and Pacific Northwest beers. You live here now, so you have time to try them all. 1416 Thirty-fourth Avenue —J. G.

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Supreme Court clears way for resumption of federal executions

Terre Haute, Indiana — A divided Supreme Court early Tuesday cleared the way for the resumption of executions of federal inmates, removing a hold placed hours earlier by a trial judge. But it was unclear when the first federal execution in 17 years would be carried out.

Daniel Lewis Lee had been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT Monday. But a court order preventing Lee’s execution, issued Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, remained in place.

A federal appeals court in Washington late Monday refused the administration’s plea to step in, before the Supreme Court acted by a 5-4 vote. Still, Lee’s lawyers said the execution could not go forward after midnight under federal regulations.

1997 photo shows Daniel Lewis Lee.

Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP

With conservatives in the majority, the high court said in an unsigned opinion that the prisoners’ “executions may proceed as planned.” The four liberal justices dissented.

Two more executions are scheduled this week: Wesley Ira Purkey on Wednesday and Dustin Lee Honken on Friday.

A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.

The Bureau of Prisons had continued with preparations for Lee’s execution even as lower courts paused the proceedings.

Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, has had access to social visitors, has visited with his spiritual adviser and has been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. He’s been under constant staff supervision. The witnesses for Lee are expected to include three family members, his lawyers and spiritual adviser.

He was convicted with another man, Chevie Kehoe, in Arkansas in 1999 of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

Prosecutors said the slayings happened during a robbery meant to help fund the founding of a white supremacist “Aryan Peoples Republic” in the Pacific Northwest, according to Agence France-Presse. Prosecutors said wanted to steal guns they intended to sell to generate funds. Lee’s lawyers say he’s since renounced his white supremacist beliefs.

Kehoe received three life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution, said, “The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol.”

The federal appeals court in Chicago had separately lifted an injunction on Sunday that had been put in place last week after some members of the victims’ family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend. The family on Monday appealed to the Supreme Court, which also denied the family’s claims.

The decision to move forward with the execution — and two others scheduled later in the week — during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and is ravaging prisons nationwide drew scrutiny from civil rights groups as well as family of Lee’s victims.

Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency for political gain. The developments are also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Anti-death penalty protesters began gathering in Terre Haute on Monday. Organizer Abraham Bonowitz drove a van through the city with a sign emblazoned on the side of a trailer that read “Stop executions now!”

Because of coronavirus concerns, Bonowitz said his group, Death Penalty Action, wasn’t encouraging others to show up. No more than a few dozen protesters were expected to join him.

“It’s symbolic,” Bonowitz said about the protests. “We are just here to say that this is wrong.”

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department has a duty to carry out the sentences imposed by the courts, including the death penalty, and to bring a sense of closure to the victims and those in the communities where the killings happened.

But relatives of those killed by Lee strongly oppose that idea. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that it was being done on their behalf.

“For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” said relative Monica Veillette.

The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the exploding number of coronavirus cases behind bars. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.

Barr said he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk.” The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

But on Sunday, the Justice Department disclosed that a staff member involved in preparing for the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said he had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialized team sent to handle the execution.

The three men scheduled to be executed this week had also been given execution dates when Barr announced the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain.

Executions on the federal level have been rare and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 – most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

The attorney general said last July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume.