Coronavirus US live: Trump attacks Obama and the media as death toll nears 90,000

Rove criticized for accusing Obama of ‘political drive-by shooting’

Karl Rove, a former senior adviser to George W Bush, lashed out against Barack Obama after the former president implicitly criticized Trump in a virtual commencement address.

Aaron Rupar
(@atrupar)

“It is so unseemly for a former president to take the virtual commencement ceremony for a series of historically black colleges and universities and turn it into a political drive-by shooting” — Karl Rove on Obama’s commencement speech in which he indirectly criticized Trump pic.twitter.com/stZamQFhgF

May 18, 2020

“It is so unseemly for a former president to take the virtual commencement ceremony for a series of historically black colleges and universities and turn it into a political drive-by shooting,” Rove said.

Delivering an address to HBCU graduates this weekend, Obama said, “More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

But Rove’s comment immediately sparked backlash from critics, who were quick to point to some of the most controversial aspects of the Republican strategist’s record.

Yashar Ali 🐘
(@yashar)

Karl Rove engineered a push poll during the 2000 SC primary that asked voters if they would be less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had an illegitimate black child. He knew this attack would work because the McCain’s 9-year-old daughter Bridget was from Bangladesh https://t.co/xTwYSuK92d

May 18, 2020

Others noted that Obama’s comments pale in comparison to Trump’s claims about his predecessor.

John Haltiwanger
(@jchaltiwanger)

Trump spent years perpetuating a racist conspiracy theory about Obama’s place of birth. But apparently it’s “unseemly” when Obama highlights the reality of the current situation: the Trump admin. bungled its response to this pandemic. Thousands are dead. Millions are unemployed. https://t.co/f7d5pqLCJc

May 18, 2020

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo claimed it was “not possible” the state department inspector general’s firing was an act of political retaliation because he didn’t know he was being investigated.

“It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the president rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on,” Pompeo told the Washington Post.

“Because I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it. I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them. So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story.”

However, according to Politico, state department officials were recently briefed on the conclusions of the inspector general’s investigation into Pompeo’s decision to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, and the secretary refused to sit for an interview.

Lauren Gambino

For weeks, Joe Biden has been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice urging the homebound presidential candidate to get out of his basement.

On Monday, Biden moved out of the basement to a sunny room upstairs with views of his lush backyard in full bloom to address the AAPI Victory Fund virtual summit.

The shot was well-framed and the connection was clear – marked improvements from a recent virtual rally that was riddled with technical glitches.

But as he began his remarks, a gaggle of Canadian geese that have taken up residence on his property began honking. Biden warned that this might happen and did not pause when their honking grew louder.

Lauren Gambino
(@laurenegambino)

Biden’s livestream with AAPI Victory Fund has been interrupted by the Canadian geese that gather on his property. Biden warned this might happen and keeps talking over their honking.

May 18, 2020

There were some technical difficulties; though on this occasion, they were not Biden’s fault. The former vice president was not feted with introductory remarks after the speaker, Dilawar Syed, was unable to connect properly. And at one point, as Biden spoke, a cell phone rang.

But if he was irritated, Biden didn’t show it. He assailed Trump for his administration’s handling of the virus that he described as a series of “denials, delays and distraction, many of which were nakedly xenophobic.”

Trump has sought to make China a theme of the 2020 presidential campaign by hammering Biden in a series of dark attack ads tying the former vice president to Beijing. Biden has responded in kind, in an escalating war of words that has alarmed some Asian Americans who say the rhetoric from both campaigns could further inflame anti-Asian xenophobia.

In his remarks, Biden spoke directly to the Asian American community, which has faced a wave of attacks and even violence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first identified in Wuhan, China.

Biden accused Trump of stoking racial grievance and said the Asian American community deserved better than a president who “never, ever misses an opportunity to stoke innuendo, to fan the flames of hate.”

“This is unconscionable what he’s doing and it strikes at the very heart of this country,” Biden said, adding that Trump’s rhetoric was “especially despicable” given the sacrifices many Asian Americans are making as frontline and essential workers in the fight against the coronavirus.

It should be noted that Republican senator Chuck Grassley’s letter to Trump demanding an explanation for the removal of state department inspector general Steve Lenick does not outline any consequences if the president does not comply.

Trump has already ignored a similar letter from senators demanding an explanation for why intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson was ousted from his role.

Chris Murphy
(@ChrisMurphyCT)

I’ve got a bill to do this. https://t.co/qYKgITjTIj

May 18, 2020

In response to Grassley’s letter, Democratic senator Chris Murphy noted he has drafted legislation to guarantee inspectors general a seven-year term in office. The bill stipulates the oversight officials would only be able to be removed early for “permanent incapacity, inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance, or conviction of a felony or conduct involving moral turpitude.”

“We simply cannot allow President Trump to weaponize independent oversight positions in his administration to reward his friends, punish his political enemies, and cover up wrongdoing,” Murphy said last month.

The Republican chair of the Senate finance committee has sent Trump a letter demanding an explanation for his removal of the state department inspector general.

In the letter, senator Chuck Grassley noted lawmakers from both parties have similarly expressed concern about the recent removal of intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson.

The Iowa Republican asked Trump to provide a written explanation for Steve Lenick’s removal by June 1 and respond to lawmakers’ letter about Atkinson “as soon as possible.”

“As mentioned in previous letters, Congress’s intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act,” Grassley wrote.

“IGs are intended to be equal opportunity investigators and are designed to combat waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct without regard to political affiliation. They are the ultimate swamp drainers,” Grassley continued.

“Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community, and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports.”

Trump appeared “highly focused” on Barack Obama during this past weekend at Camp David, according to CNN.

CNN reports:


Trump headed into the weekend appearing convinced his predecessor committed a crime worthy of investigation — despite being unable to name the crime or provide any evidence for it. By Sunday, he emerged prepared to wage wholesale political war with the last person who held his office. …

As he huddled in the mountainside retreat’s rustic cabins with a roster of Republican lawmakers — many of whom forged national profiles defending Trump during his impeachment proceedings — Trump discussed ways to advance the baseless conspiracy about the former president, the person said.

Attorney general William Barr said today that he did not expect the investigation into the handling of the Russia probe to result in a criminal investigation of Obama or Biden.

Despite that comment from a senior member of his own administration, Trump seems unwilling to abandon the #Obamagate conspiracy theory, which former CIA analyst Ned Price described as “a hashtag in search of a scandal.”

Health and human services secretary Alex Azar lashed out against Peter Navarro this morning, after the White House trade adviser critcized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its handling of the pandemic.

Aaron Rupar
(@atrupar)

Wow. Alex Azar characterizes comments that his White House colleague Peter Navarro made criticizing the CDC as “inaccurate and inappropriate.” pic.twitter.com/l2uN1o8qem

May 18, 2020

Azar said Navarro’s comments on “Meet the Press” yesterday were “inaccurate and inappropriate.” Azar acknowledged CDC’s early error in developing a coronavirus test, but he argued that mistake had not signficantly hampered the US response to the virus.

In contrast, Navarro said yesterday that the CDC had “let the country down.” “Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space — really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro said. “Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy they had a bad test and that set us back.”

Navarro’s comments come as tensions between the White House and the CDC are reportedly escalating.

CNN reports:


In particular, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the President’s coronavirus task force, has become increasingly critical of the CDC, making clear in recent meetings that she is more than frustrated with the agency, according to two senior administration officials. Specifically, Birx believes the way the CDC gathers data on the coronavirus is antiquated, causing inaccurate and delayed numbers on both virus cases and deaths.

Birx has expressed her agitation during recent task force meetings, where at least one conversation between her and CDC Director Robert Redfield has grown heated, according to a source close to the task force. Birx and Redfield have known each other for decades, due to their work on HIV research together. And while Birx defended Redfield to their peers earlier this year over the CDC’s faulty test kits, her tone toward him has shifted dramatically in recent weeks, according to multiple officials and a source close to the task force.

The Guardian’s Kenya Evelyn recaps New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing:

New Yorkers received more than $9bin in unemployment benefits, Cuomo announced at his latest briefing on the state’s response to coronavirus.

Daily cases continue their downward trend, as the governor reported 106 deaths Sunday – the lowest total in several weeks. But Cuomo noted that $9.2bn in unemployment benefits have been paid out to more than two million New Yorkers, a sobering fact underscoring the virus’ lingering economic effect.

State officials acknowledged some residents have yet to be paid, but Cuomo argued the challenge is stamping out fraud to protect taxpayer money.

“Suzy Smith is really a computer terminal in some other country,” he quipped of potential fraudulent filings, before noting he’d likely face backlash for the remark.

Cuomo continued to push back at questions regarding the state’s early response to the coronavirus outbreak in nursing homes, contending the facilities are a top priority. He announced 35,000 tests had been reserved just for nursing homes.

New York state is also requiring facility personnel to get tested twice a week, as the governor said the state would have to “ramp up from about 25,000 tests to 90,000 tests a day”.

The governor had been criticized for previously allowing patients back to nursing homes after they tested positive for Covid-19 after more than 5,000 residents died since 1 March. That policy was reversed 10 May.

Andrew Cuomo
(@NYGovCuomo)

NEW: Western New York will begin Phase 1 of reopening tomorrow.

They will have all the contact tracers needed in place.

May 18, 2020

In the presser, the governor also announced that western New York, which includes Buffalo, will begin phase 1 of reopening this week. State officials were able to identify more than 525 contact tracers to aid in the effort. Still, Cuomo cautioned businesses and state leaders to follow the science.

“This is not a subject that is a political subject, or where political opinions really matter,” he said. “I don’t even care about your personal opinion, this is about facts and science and data.”

Cuomo added that he had been “encouraging major sports team to plan reopening without fans, but the games can be televised,” telling reporters he’d want to watch the Buffalo Bills.

That’s the only NFL team whose reopening Cuomo would be able to affect, however. Both the New York Giants and Jets play at MetLife Stadium, located in New Jersey.

Updated

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Moderna’s coroanvirus vaccine showed promising results in its first human safety tests. The results sparked hope that the vaccine could be more widely distributed in the next several months, as several companies race to develop an effective vaccine.
  • Attorney general William Barr said he does not expect the investigation of the Russia inquiry to lead to a criminal investigation of Barack Obama or Joe Biden. Barr’s comment comes as the president continues to push his baseless claim that the former president and former vice-president broke the law in connection to the Russia investigation.
  • The state department inspector general had been investigating Mike Pompeo’s controversial decision to approve Saudi arms sales last year, according to the Democratic chair of the House foreign affairs committee. Reports had already emerged that Steve Linick, who was dismissed on Friday, was investigating the secretary of state for allegedly making a department staffer run personal errands for him and his wife.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated

Politico has more details on the state department inspector general’s reported investigation into secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s controversial decision to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year.

Politico reports:


A congressional aide said State Department officials were recently briefed about [Steve] Linick’s conclusions in his investigation of the Saudi arms sales, and that Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the inspector general’s office. State Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

News of the investigation comes after reports indicated Pompeo, who pushed for Linick’s ouster, was also being investigated for making a department staffer run personal errands for him and his wife.

The Trump campaign has launched an “investigative website” to highlight some of Joe Biden’s verbal slips on the campaign trail.

The website is entitled “Truth Over Facts,” a reference to when Biden accidentally said during the Iowa State Fair, “We choose truth over facts.” (He likely meant to say, “We choose truth over lies.”)

“The American people deserve to know the truth behind Joe Biden’s delirious and nonsensical claims on the campaign trail,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said in a statement.

“When he’s mangling the text of the Declaration of Independence or calling someone a ‘lying, dog-faced pony soldier,’ is he really speaking a language that only he and a select group of others understand?”

The president’s reelection campaign has launched a series of attacks against Biden in recent weeks, as Trump struggles to find a positive message to voters with the pandemic wreaking havoc on Americans’ health and finances.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo claimed the fired inspector general was undermining the work of the department, although he does not appear to have offered any evidence to support that allegation.

Carol Morello
(@CMorelloWP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in interview fired inspector general “wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to” and was “trying to undermine what it was that we were trying to do.”

May 18, 2020

Pompeo said state department Steve Linick, who was dismissed on Friday night, was “trying to undermine what it was that we were trying to do.”

The cabinet memeber’s comments come as the Democratic chair of the House foreign affairs committee has said he believed Linick was fired for investigating Pompeo’s approval of arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, despite congressional opposition.

The White House has denied any claim of political retaliation against Linick.

Barr says he does not expect criminal investigation of Obama or Biden

Attorney general William Barr said he did not expect the investigation of the handling of the Russian probe to lead to a criminal investigation of Barack Obama or Joe Biden.

Barr said of federal prosecutor John Durham’s investigation, “I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man.”

Barr’s comments come as the presient has pushed the baseless claim that the former president and former vice president broke the law in connection to the Russia investigation.

Trump has promoted this theory with the hashtag #Obamagate on Twitter, which former CIA analyst Ned Price has called “a hashtag in search of a scandal.”

Updated

The Democratic chair of the House foreign affairs committee said the state department inspector general may have been fired because of his investigation into Mike Pompeo approving Saudi arms sales.

“I have learned that there may be another reason for [Steve] Linick’s firing,” congressman Eliot Engel told the Washington Post.

“His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”

Engel added, “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.”

Engel said he wanted a full accounting of what Linick uncovered as he investigated the secretary of state’s decision to approve the arms sales despite congressional opposition.

The state department inspector general was reportedly also investigating secretary of state Mike Pompeo for his decision to approve Saudi arms sales last year.

According to NBC News, state department inspector general Steve Linick was looking into Pompeo’s decision to approve billions of dollars of arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, despite congressional opposition. Linick was fired Friday night, making him one of several inspector generals to be dismissed recently.

Josh Lederman
(@JoshNBCNews)

JUST IN – 2 sources confirm to me that State Dept IG Linick was also investigating use of emergency declaration last year to sell arms to Saudis over objections of Congress

May 18, 2020

Reports had already emerged that Linick was investigating Pompeo for allegedly using a state department staffer to run errands for him and his wife.

Linick’s dismissal has raised concerns about potential political retaliation for the investigation, considering Pompeo reportedly urged Trump to oust the inspector general.

Trump lashed out against Republican senator Mitt Romney over Twitter, mocking the former presidential candidate for losing to Barack Obama.

“Loser!” Trump wrote in the tweet, which included a video recapping Romney’s 2012 loss to Obama, who has also attracted the president’s ire this morning.

Trump’s tweet attacking Romney comes two days after the Utah Republican sent his own viral tweet that described the recent firings of multiple inspectors general as a “threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”

Senator Mitt Romney
(@SenatorRomney)

The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so

without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.

May 16, 2020

Updated

The AFL-CIO, the largest US federation of union, has filed a court petition demanding an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from coronavirus.

The president has been applauding states that have started reopening their economies, even though those states have not met federal guidelines on how to reopen safely.

The hasty reopenings have sparked concerns that workers could be exposed to the virus, putting them at a heightened risk of becoming severely ill.

“It’s truly a sad day in America when working people must sue the organization tasked with protecting our health and safety,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement.

“But we’ve been left no choice. Millions are infected and nearly 90,000 have died, so it’s beyond urgent that action is taken to protect workers who risk our lives daily to respond to this public health emergency. If the Trump administration refuses to act, we must compel them to.”

Republicans have been pushing to include liability protections for employers in the next coronavirus relief package, but Democrats have expressed concern that those protections could leave workers’ health at risk.

Tom McCarthy

Interviews with longtime Trump supporters in Pennsylvania indicate the extraordinary durability of backing for the president among his base, despite widespread criticism of his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Few people understand the terrible cost of the coronavirus like Lee Snover, a Republican party chair in one of the key swing counties that could determine whether Donald Trump is reelected as president in November.

Snover, who helped deliver an upset victory for Trump in 2016 in Northampton county, Pennsylvania, lost her father to the virus this spring. Her husband fell critically ill, too, spending 17 days in an intensive care unit before recovering. Her mother, a cancer survivor, was also in intensive care for eight days before emerging.

“It spread through my entire family,” Snover said.

Trump stands accused of driving up the coronavirus death toll by downplaying the public health threat and urging the country to “reopen” too quickly. But Snover does not see the president as having failed her family.

“I don’t think people give him enough credit,” she said. “If you think about what a businessman he was, and how much he loved that booming economy, do you know how hard it was for him to shut the country down? That was hard. So I give him credit for that.”

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