The Ransom Demands

America Held Hostage, continued — As Mitch McConnell begrudgingly acknowledges that yeah, maybe there ought to be another pandemic relief bill, he and Trump declare what they will demand of us in exchange for letting us live.

One, Trump wants to block any funds for testing and contact tracing.

The Trump administration is trying to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill, people involved in the talks said Saturday.

The administration is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad, the people said. …

… One person involved in the talks said Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but that certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely. Some White House officials believe they have already approved billions of dollars in assistance for testing and that some of that money remains unspent.

You’ve probably seen the news stories about people waiting in their cars for hours to get a test, and that it takes so many days to get results that the tests are nearly worthless. If there is unspent money for tests lying around somewhere, somebody might want to point to where it is. I suspect there isn’t, unless Jared Kushner is sitting on it somehow.

If you haven’t already read it, do take a look at Inside Trump’s Failure: The Rush to Abandon Leadership Role on the Virus in the New York Times. It’s long, but it does point out a few things that weren’t already obvious. And when you put that together with Mary Trump’s book — I’m nearly halfway through now — the terrible ineptitude that is Donald Trump sorta kinda makes sense. Here is now the Times article begins:

Each morning at 8 as the coronavirus crisis was raging in April, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, convened a small group of aides to steer the administration through what had become a public health, economic and political disaster.

Seated around Mr. Meadows’s conference table and on a couch in his office down the hall from the Oval Office, they saw their immediate role as practical problem solvers. Produce more ventilators. Find more personal protective equipment. Provide more testing.

But their ultimate goal was to shift responsibility for leading the fight against the pandemic from the White House to the states. They referred to this as “state authority handoff,” and it was at the heart of what would become at once a catastrophic policy blunder and an attempt to escape blame for a crisis that had engulfed the country — perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations.

Over a critical period beginning in mid-April, President Trump and his team convinced themselves that the outbreak was fading, that they had given state governments all the resources they needed to contain its remaining “embers” and that it was time to ease up on the lockdown.

Put that together with Trump’s worldview, as explained by Mary Trump, that nothing bad must ever be Donald Trump’s fault, and for that reason he refuses to accept any sort of responsibility for anything, unless it is an obvious success. Trump and his sycophants viewed the pandemic as a big mess that could turn out badly, so their first priority was to not take responsibility for it. And in Trump’s mind, this whole mess now belongs to the states, and it’s not his problem.

If he were to approve more funds for testing and contact tracing, that would amount to an admission that he hasn’t already done enough. You see the conflict.

Two, Donald Trump wants a payroll tax cut in the package.

Trump is again demanding a payroll tax cut. He and some allies view the policy as an effective way to stimulate the economy and quickly give workers a boost.

“High-ranking White House officials have told me that we will not sign a phase four deal without a payroll tax cut,” Stephen Moore, a White House economic adviser, said in an interview Thursday. “I have talked to several high-level people in the White House who said the president will not sign [the legislation] if it does not include a payroll tax cut. …

…The payroll tax is the 7.65 percent tax that is taken out of workers’ paychecks and goes to fund the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. President Barack Obama at one point temporarily reduced the tax, but Trump wants to eliminate it entirely for some period of time.

Not even all Republicans are on board with this, considering that it would increase the price tag on the relief package and would also only help workers who are, you know, working. If you aren’t getting a paycheck, meh. And, of course, such a cut would put Social Security and Medicare in potential jeopardy, especially if it lasts for very long. But then Mitch McConnell might see that as a plus.

Three, McConnell insists on liability protections for schools and businesses that reopen. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it his red line: liability protection for schools, businesses and other entities that reopen amid the pandemic must be part of any new coronavirus relief package.

No new relief will pass the Senate without it, he’s said repeatedly.

For decades the Republican Party has tried to chip away at our Seventh Amendment right to take personal injury suits to court, so this is just part of a long-standing pattern.

Four, Republicans want cheap relief.

Republicans will want a smaller bill than the Democrats call for. House Dems passed a $3 trillion package in the middle of May that’s been sitting on Mitch’s slush pile. (“Slush pile” is a book publishing term for manuscripts people have sent to editors that never get read and end up in a pile, gathering dust. I used to work with an editor who used a slush pile as a doorstop.) Mitch wants to cap any new relief bill at $1 trillion.

The $600 in additional unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of July may be continued, but Mitch wants the amount cut back to $200 to $400 each week.

Trump Still Counting on the Virus to Just Disappear

I take it that Trump gave a totally unhinged interview to Chris Wallace today on Fox News.

Talking Points Memo:

When Wallace confronted Trump regarding his predictions about the coronavirus “disappearing” someday, Trump replied that he’ll be “right eventually.”

When asked about his administration’s recent efforts to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci — which include an unnamed White House official sending a memo to news outlets last week criticizing Fauci’s past comments on the coronavirus that later turned out to be inaccurate — Trump first replied that “we’re not” before repeating his line that although the nation’s top infectious disease expert has “made some mistakes,” he has a “very good relationship” with Fauci.

After Trump went on to call Fauci “a little bit of an alarmist,” the President argued that he will be “right eventually” about his previous claim that the coronavirus will “disappear” despite surging cases of the coronavirus throughout the country.

This is from the New York Times:

The president made a litany of false claims about his administration’s handling of the virus, despite evidence that key officials and public health experts advising the president made crucial missteps and played down the spread of the disease this spring. In the interview, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the United States had “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world” from the virus.

“That’s not true, sir,” Mr. Wallace said.

“Do you have the numbers, please?” Mr. Trump said. “Because I heard we had the best mortality rate.”

The United States has the eighth-worst fatality rate among reported coronavirus cases in the world, and the death rate per 100,000 people — 42.83 — ranks it third-worst, according to data on the countries most affected by the coronavirus compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Trump said that by increasing testing, his administration was “creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, ‘Oh, we have more cases.’”

Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the coronavirus case rate in other countries was lower than in the United States because those nations did not engage in testing. When Mr. Wallace pointed out a low case rate across the European Union, the president suggested it was possible that those countries “don’t test.” And when Mr. Wallace pointed out that the death rate in the United States was rising, Mr. Trump replied by blaming China.

“Excuse me, it’s all too much, it shouldn’t be one case,” Mr. Trump said. “It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape. They should’ve never let it out. But it is what it is. Take a look at Europe, take a look at the numbers in Europe. And by the way, they’re having cases.”

Mr. Trump called Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, an “alarmist” who provided faulty information in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know that he’s a leaker,” Mr. Trump said during the interview. “He’s a little bit of an alarmist. That’s OK. A little bit of an alarmist.”

Mr. Trump said that Dr. Fauci had been against his decision to close the borders to travelers from China in January. That is misleading: While Dr. Fauci initially opposed the idea on the grounds that a ban would prevent medical professionals from traveling to hard-hit areas, he supported the decision by the time it was made.

Mr. Trump also said Dr. Fauci had been against Americans wearing masks. Dr. Fauci has said he does not regret urging Americans not to wear masks in the early days of the pandemic, citing a severe shortage of protective gear for medical professionals at the time.

Mr. Trump said he doubted whether Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was correct in predicting that the pandemic would be worse this fall. “I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said. “And I don’t think he knows.”

He said public health experts and the World Health Organization “got a lot wrong” early on, including a theory that the virus would abate as the weather warmed — one that Mr. Trump himself had promoted repeatedly. Then the president reiterated his earlier claim, unsupported by science, that the virus would suddenly cease one day. “It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right,” Mr. Trump said. “Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”

Trump also said equally unhinged things about election polls and the Black Lives Matter protests; it’s worth reading the article.

The New York Times article cited above, “Inside Trump’s Failure,” paints Dr. Deborah Birx as something of an enabler for Trump’s recklessness. She was the only infectious disease expert allowed to sit on on the group meeting with Mark Meadows every morning. She kept giving Trump assurances that the virus was coming under control. The problem is that her calculations were based on a belief that social distancing restrictions would continue. Trump heard “under control” and said Good; it’s over; let’s open the economy up now.

Dr. Fauci, on the other hand, was calling people around the country and hearing horror stories about what they were facing, leading him to suspect that the numbers Dr. Birx was looking at weren’t telling the whole story. So he was an alarmist, urging more caution. But Birx was the one they listened to.