POLITICO Playbook: Trump drags the White House into his media feuds
FIFTY-TWO THOUSAND, FOUR-HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE Americans died from the coronavirus as of Saturday. At least. Which means that, by now -- 81 days since the first recorded death -- we’re close to losing more of our countrymen to this virus than we did in Vietnam.
FAR BE IT FOR US TO DIVINE what’s in anyone’s head or heart, but let’s take a look at the publicly available evidence to try to understand what’s consuming the White House right now.
-- THE ADMINISTRATION seems to have extensively participated in a piece in the NEW YORK POST about the president’s inability to carve out time for lunch because he works too hard. MARK MEADOWS, the president’s chief of staff, gave what appears to be his first on-the-record interview for the piece, where he said this: “I can tell you that the biggest concern I have as a new chief of staff is making sure he gets some time to get a quick bite to eat.”
WAIT A SECOND. That’s his “biggest concern”?
THE FIRST GRAF OF THIS N.Y. POST piece is this: “President Trump’s schedule is so packed amid the coronavirus crisis that he sometimes skips lunch, his aides told The Post — refuting a report that the commander in chief spends his days obsessing over TV coverage and eating fries.” So, the White House was seeking to push back on this great KATIE ROGERS/ANNIE KARNI piece in the NYT, which was, in part, about how TRUMP is fixated on media coverage.
BUT, YA KNOW, WHEN YOU participate in a piece aiming to knock down the narrative that you’re obsessed with media coverage, you’re showing you are … obsessed with media coverage!
-- THE PRESIDENT spent much of the weekend tweeting about his distaste for the national press corps. On Saturday and Sunday alone, TRUMP sent tweets about the Wall Street Journal editorial board; he said the media had it wrong -- “corrupt & sick!” -- when it said he was speaking to DEBORAH BIRX during a news conference; he explained his reasoning for not having news conferences anymore; he suggested Democrats and the media were in cahoots for quoting him saying the virus was a hoax; he called the Washington Post “slime balls”; he said reports that HHS Secretary ALEX AZAR was on the brink of losing his job were fake -- twice; he tweeted three times about the NYT story he later pushed back on in the N.Y. Post; and he tweeted three times about Fox News. And, Noble/Nobel-gate.
-- IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS pandemic, with people dying, the WHITE HOUSE attempted to rearrange the seats in the White House briefing room, and when CNN’s KAITLAN COLLINS wouldn’t move, the administration threatened that the Secret Service would force her to. Of course, she never did.
EVERY WHITE HOUSE has plenty of beefs with the D.C. press corps, some justified, many of them not. This president uses a bazooka when a fly swatter would do. And in the midst of a widespread national tragedy, he is so occupied by these gripes, and so concerned with settling scores, that he has oriented the White House in that direction. Even with thousands of people dying by the day.
ICYMI … AS OF NOW, THE WHITE HOUSE BRIEFING is going to be less frequent. The White House is going to try to get TRUMP on camera in meetings with governors and corporate CEOs, an administration official said.
HILL HAPPENINGS … HOUSE DEMOCRATS have a conference call this afternoon at 4 p.m., and another later this week. The House majority will discuss the way forward -- as always. Expect Speaker NANCY PELOSI to continue the public-facing posture she’s maintained in recent weeks.
-- ALSO ANTICIPATE Republicans to continue to push Dem leadership to bring Congress back to D.C. Republicans have made the argument that Congress should be as essential as medical workers or other fields, and expect that to continue as April turns to May.
NEW … PELOSI endorsed JOE BIDEN. The three-minute video
GRIM … FT: “Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported,” by John Burn-Murdoch, Valentina Romei and Chris Giles in London: “The death toll from coronavirus may be almost 60 percent higher than reported in official counts, according to an FT analysis of overall fatalities during the pandemic in 14 countries.
“Mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods. If the same level of under-reporting observed in these countries was happening worldwide, the global Covid-19 death toll would rise from the current official total of 201,000 to as high as 318,000.”
Good Monday morning. JOIN US: We’ll be interviewing Michigan Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER at 9:30 a.m. Watch
CLICKER: Bruce Mehlman of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas has a new cheat sheet out on the four areas of oversight to watch, including health care, China, the economy and government preparedness. The road map
MARKETS TODAY … WSJ: “Stocks Jump as Some Coronavirus Lockdowns Ease,” by Xie Yu and Anna Isaac: “Global stocks rose Monday as investors anticipated new rounds of stimulus from central banks and more countries took steps to reopen their economies from coronavirus lockdowns. European markets climbed in early trading as national governments, including Italy and Spain, signaled that they could loosen restrictions in the coming weeks. The pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 climbed 1.8%. Futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7%.”
THE LATEST ON AZAR … DAN DIAMOND: “Trump rejects reports of Azar firing, says health secretary ‘doing an excellent job’”: “President Donald Trump on Sunday dismissed news reports that White House officials are weighing a plan to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, insisting that his health secretary is ‘doing an excellent job.’ ‘Reports that H.H.S. Secretary @AlexAzar is going to be ‘fired’ by me are Fake News,’ Trump tweeted. ‘The Lamestream Media knows this, but they are desperate to create the perception of chaos & havoc in the minds of the public. They never even called to ask.’
“The tweet -- which was swiftly retweeted by Azar himself -- came less than a day after POLITICO and the Wall Street Journal first reported on Saturday night that White House officials were weighing a plan to replace Azar. Other news outlets, including CNN and the Washington Post, confirmed the story. Trump also spent much of Sunday attacking news outlets, including the New York Times and Fox News, for their coverage of his presidency.
“White House officials have been frustrated with Azar’s management style after clashes with his deputies. Some have blamed him for months for fumbling the handling of the coronavirus crisis, including the rollout of coronavirus testing across February. But they have worried about replacing the HHS secretary in the middle of a global pandemic.” POLITICO
DEEP DIVE -- “Backlash grows as pandemic relief stumbles,” by Kyle Cheney and Sarah Ferris: “Congress’ mad dash to shovel nearly $3 trillion into the economy and rescue failing industries met little resistance as the coronavirus crisis overwhelmed communities across the country. But now the hangover has set in.
“The sprawling CARES Act, and its similarly rushed companion bills, has fueled rising angst for lawmakers. They’ve been bombarded with complaints about breakdowns in the small business lending program, loopholes that have allowed large companies to snatch cash meant for smaller operations and administrative failures that have delayed stimulus checks to struggling American households.
“Hospitals, lawmakers say, are competing with each other and the federal government for life-saving equipment for their employees, and coronavirus testing is still hard to access in many parts of the country, despite Congress’ efforts. And it’s all occurring without the oversight operations meant to confront these problems as they arise. …
“Here’s look at the growing list of breakdowns in the rescue effort: Small businesses get sideswiped … Hospitals ‘utterly perplexed’ … Ivy League gets shredded … IRS under pressure … Farmers fear aid will run dry … Telehealth troubles … Airlines stunned as some grants turn into loans … Oversight left in the dust.” This article was reported in collaboration with Zach Warmbrodt, Susannah Luthi, John Hendel, Ryan McCrimmon, Michael Stratford, Brian Faler and Brianna Gurciullo.
-- “Schumer to introduce legislation preventing Trump from signing stimulus checks,” by Marianne LeVine
WHERE YOUR TAX MONEY IS GOING … NYT: “Large, Troubled Companies Got Bailout Money in Small-Business Loan Program,” by Jessica Silver-Greenberg, David Enrich, Jesse Drucker and Stacy Cowley: “A company in Georgia paid $6.5 million to resolve a Justice Department investigation — and, two weeks later, received a $10 million federally backed loan to help it survive the coronavirus crisis.
“Another company, AutoWeb, disclosed last week that it had paid its chief executive $1.7 million in 2019 -- a week after it received $1.4 million from the same loan program. And Intellinetics, a software company in Ohio, got $838,700 from the government program -- and then agreed, the following week, to spend at least $300,000 to purchase a rival firm.”
WSJ EDITORIAL BOARD: “Ruth’s Chris Political Backlash”: “Politicians shut down the economy, denying business customers and revenue, without a plan to finance the shutdown. Then they rushed to set up programs with vague rules that businesses used in good faith, and now the politicians punish the businesses for following the rules that politicians established.
“Ruth’s Chris and Shake Shack were the first targets, but Treasury is showing that anyone is vulnerable if the media singles you out. All of this bodes ill for the economic recovery, as politicians blame business for their own coronavirus mistakes.”
THE IRAN DEAL IS DEAD … LONG LIVE THE IRAN DEAL! … NYT’S DAVID SANGER: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is preparing a legal argument that the United States remains a participant in the Iran nuclear accord that President Trump has renounced, part of an intricate strategy to pressure the United Nations Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Tehran or see far more stringent sanctions reimposed on the country.”
ON THE GROUND -- “In Wisconsin, protesters attack stay-at-home orders as unnecessary — or a government cabal,” by WaPo’s Holly Bailey in Madison, Wis.: “Like other protests here and in other states in recent days, attendees defied the advice of health-care professionals, who have urged social distancing. They stood shoulder to shoulder, many without masks or face coverings that officials say could prevent the spread of the coronavirus. …
“The rally highlighted the growing political rift over how and when states should reopen businesses in the wake of the coronavirus and covid-19, the disease it causes, a contagion that has infected more than 950,000 Americans and killed over 54,000. Elected officials have imposed the restrictions to protect the population from a virus for which there is no vaccine.” WaPo
-- WAPO: “Covid-19 is ravaging one of the country’s wealthiest black counties,” by Rachel Chason, Ovetta Wiggins and John Harden: “The intensive care unit at Inova Alexandria Hospital has empty beds, and doctors are prepared for a rush of coronavirus patients that has yet to hit the largely white suburb.
“A dozen miles away at Adventist HealthCare Fort Washington Hospital Center, the ICU is full, and employees treat coronavirus patients in medical tents in the parking lot. Paramedics across Prince George’s County are summoned daily to help people struggling to breathe, and funeral home directors are searching for more places to store bodies.
“Prince George’s, one of the nation’s wealthiest majority-black counties, has reported the most coronavirus infections and some of the highest death tolls in the Washington region. In the hardest-hit neighborhoods, African American and Latino residents make up more than 70 percent of households. The grim statistics mirror data showing black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be infected with the novel coronavirus and more likely to die of it.
“Officials say the pandemic has hit the county of 900,000 especially hard because many residents are front-line workers exposed daily to the virus, and Prince Georgians disproportionately suffer from underlying health conditions that make the virus more deadly.” WaPo
TRUMP’S MONDAY -- The president will participate in a video teleconference on the coronavirus response and economic revival with governors in the Situation Room at 2 p.m. He will meet with industry executives on the Covid-19 response at 4 p.m. The coronavirus task force will hold a press conference at 5 p.m.
RYAN LIZZA: “Big-government conservatives mount takeover of GOP”: “The two most notable politicians crafting stimulus policy for Trump to sign are Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Before the coronavirus crisis, both senators had taken stabs at articulating a new kind of policy populism for the GOP that was self-consciously anti-libertarian, skeptical of big business, and more comfortable with big government.
“When the economy started crashing in March, Rubio, the chairman of the Small Business Committee, helped dream up the massive Paycheck Protection Program, which has the government shoveling hundreds of billions of dollars out the door every month. Hawley, who is only 40 years old and was elected in 2018, wanted — and wants — something even more expansive: a program that would pay businesses to keep their workers on the payrolls.” POLITICO
-- “Coronavirus Means the Era of Big Government Is…Back,” by WSJ’s Gerald Seib and John McCormick: “History shows that big national shocks have a way of changing the role of government in lasting ways—and any shock as big as the coronavirus pandemic inevitably will alter political life and philosophies in America.
“The crisis has been not just a public-health emergency requiring a sweeping response, but also the cause of the most searing economic pain since the Great Depression, summoning forth a multi-trillion-dollar government intervention into the economy.
“Much of today’s new government activism will recede over time along with the virus. Yet conversations with a broad cross-section of political figures suggest there is little reason to expect a return to what had been the status quo on federal spending, or the prevailing attitude toward the proper role of government.” WSJ
KJU: NOT DEAD, S.K. SAYS … NYT’S CHOE SANG-HUN in Seoul: “South Korea is confident that there is no basis to the recent swirl of rumors that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is gravely ill, the South’s chief policymaker on the North said in comments reported on Monday.
“‘Our government has enough information-gathering capabilities to say confidently that there is nothing unusual’ about Mr. Kim’s health, Kim Yeon-chul, South Korea’s unification minister, said during a forum on Sunday. Video footage of his comments was made available on Monday.”
BACKSTORY … THE NEW YORKER’S CHARLES DUHIGG: “Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not”: “The initial coronavirus outbreaks in New York City emerged at roughly the same time as those in Seattle. But the cities’ experiences with the disease have markedly differed. By the second week of April, Washington State had roughly one recorded fatality per fourteen thousand residents. New York’s rate of death was nearly six times higher.”
MEDIAWATCH … MSNBC’s @davidgura: “The Washington Post is hiring ‘temperature assistants,’ ‘individuals to help us ensure that we are maintaining the health and safety of our workplace by temperature screening employee’s [sic] and visitors as they enter the work environment.’” The announcement
NYT’S BEN SMITH: “Anna Wintour Made Condé Nast the Embodiment of Boomer Excess. Can It Change to Meet This Crisis?”
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TRANSITIONS -- Marisol Samayoa is now deputy comms director and Hispanic media adviser for Mark Kelly’s Senate campaign in Arizona. She previously was deputy national press secretary for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign. … Casey Clemmons is now Michigan campaign director for Organizing Together 2020. He previously was Iowa deputy state director for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jon Fasman, Washington correspondent for The Economist. What he’s been reading: “I’m reading Jacques Barzun’s ‘From Dawn To Decadence.’ It’s one of those books I always wanted to read but could never quite find the time. Now time has found us all.” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is 51 … Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) is 73 … Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) is 71 … James Risen, The Intercept’s senior national security correspondent … West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is 69 … Bruce Mehlman (h/t David Castagnetti) … Mary-Kate Fisher … WaPo columnist Dana Milbank is 52 … Hannah Kim … James Prussing … Lee Whack Jr. … POLITICO’s Carla Marinucci and Aubree Weaver … Weesie Vieira Thelen … Doug Rediker of International Capital Strategies … Joe Ricca (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … WaPo’s Reed Albergotti … Erica (Elliott) Richardson … Anna Soellner of Reddit … Michael Crittenden of Mercury Public Affairs is 41 … Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute … Max Everett, VP and CIO at the Republican National Convention’s Committee on Arrangements (h/t Ed Cash) … Sonia Holman … Bloomberg’s Mike Shepard … BP’s Downey Magallanes … Brandon Dillon … Sean Dugan, VP for federal affairs at America's Health Insurance Plans …
… Mansoor Abdul Khadir, 50-state strategy director for the DNC … Alexandra De Luca, comms director for Barbara Bollier’s Kansas Senate campaign … Alexsandra Sanford, CEO of GZERO Media … Facebook’s Shannon Mattingly … Cygnal’s Chris Kratzer (h/t Brent Buchanan) … Norberto Salinas of Intel … Dan Gerstein, president of Gotham Ghostwriters … David Hudson of the Motion Picture Association … Christina Reynolds, VP of comms at EMILY’s List (h/t Jon Haber) … EMILY’s List’s Callie Fines and Julia Hooks … Jenn Cervella of Civis Analytics … Jessica Ruby of Trilogy Interactive … Dan Lindner … Lee Brenner … Seth Mnookin … Adam Dickter … Connor Walsh, founder and managing director at Build Digital … Mebus Behrle of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute … Lauren Camera of U.S. News & World Report … photojournalist Bryan Denton … Alicia “Lisa” Shepard … Wayne Laugesen … Jamie Citron … Wisconsin state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts … Emily Hogin … Molly Magarik … Will Brown of the U.S. Travel Association