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Trump news: President smears vaccine whistleblower as coronavirus shutdown sees US unemployment claims soar to 36m

President claims testing is 'overrated' and demands allies investigate Obama as global death toll tops 300,000

Joe Sommerlad,Alex Woodward
Thursday 14 May 2020 18:54
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Donald Trump claims that coronavirus has 'very little effect on young people'.mp4

Donald Trump lashed out at Dr Rick Bright, who blew the whistle on the president’s efforts to promote an unproven anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a remedy for coronavirus, ahead of his appearance before Congress on Thursday as the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits because of the shutdown climbed to 36m.

Those developments followed the president calling on the states to reopen their schools as soon as possible as part of lockdown-ending measures, contradicting the advice of top expert Dr Anthony Fauci on the highly dubious basis that coronavirus has “very little impact on young people”.

His remarks following more than 1.4m cases of Covid-19 and a death toll of more than 84,500 and as New York and 14 other states began investigating the possible outbreak of a coronavirus-related illness impacting children, some fatally.

The global death toll reached more than 300,000 on Thursday, with deaths in the US accounting for nearly a third of that towering figure.

After his whistle-blower complaint revealed the administration's attempts to dismiss warnings and award lucrative pharmaceutical contracts to White House connections, Dr Bright's testimony warned Americans that a "window" for an effective response against the pandemic is beginning to close as he urged Congress and the administration to lead with science and adapt a national testing strategy as nearly every state begins to ease quarantine efforts.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has dismissed allegations in the complaint, and the president claims he doesn't know Dr Bright, who was charged with the relatively important task of vaccine development, though the president called him a "disgruntled employee".

The president meanwhile stopped in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for another White House-sponsored campaign stop in which he attacked his political rival Joe Biden, talked about "globalists" and claimed "it's a beautiful thing to see" health workers "running into death just like soldiers running into bullets".

He also claimed that coronavirus testing "is, frankly, overrated" while also claiming that the US has the best testing "in the world".

The president told a workers at a medical supply distribution centre: "When you test, you have a case. When you test you find something is wrong with people. If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases."

He also called on his Republican ally Senator Lindsey Graham to call Barack Obama to testify in his fishing-expedition "Obamagate" conspiracy. The senator said "that would open up a can of worms".

"I think it would be a bad precedent to compel a former president to come before the Congress," he said. "For a variety of reasons, I don't think that's a good idea."

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in the US and the Donald Trump administration's response to it.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 09:45
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Trump calls for schools to reopen and rebukes Dr Fauci

Donald Trump has called on the states to reopen their schools as soon as possible as part of lockdown-ending measures, contradicting the advice of top expert Dr Anthony Fauci on the highly dubious basis that coronavirus has “very little impact on young people”.

“I think they should open the schools, absolutely. I think they should,” the president told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “Our country’s got to get back and it’s got to get back as soon as possible. And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.”

 Dr Fauci had urged caution in his testimony before the Senate on Tuesday, although he made clear that he believes reopening decisions will likely differ from one region to the next.

"We don't know everything about this virus and we really better be pretty careful, particularly when it comes to children," he said.

But the good doctor also cautioned that "the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far."

Dr Fauci later clarified that he was not implying students should be barred from returning to class until a Covid-19 vaccine is developed.

But his comments were nonetheless seized on by conservative commentators, as well as the president.

"To me, it's not an acceptable answer," Trump said in the Cabinet Room on Wednesday, going on to accuse the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of wanting "to play all sides of the equation".

Here are the Cuomo Brothers to field that one for us:

Trump also used yesterday's press session to deflect a question on the pursuit of his long-withheld tax returns, their fate currently in the hands of the Supreme Court.

"You have a situation where a president has to be able to focus on this," he said, appealing for a let-up on the issue.

John T Bennett has this report.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 10:00
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States investigating new coronavirus-related disease targeting children

Trump’s ill-timed remarks came with the US suffering 1.4m cases of Covid-19 and a death toll of more than 84,500 and as New York and 14 other states began investigating the possible outbreak of a new corona-related illness attacking children.

The new sickness could be linked to Kawasaki disease ⁠– a rare inflammatory condition that often impacts children aged five years or younger ⁠– and toxic shock syndrome, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said during his daily press briefing on Wednesday.

New York has discovered 102 cases in children that show symptoms similar to the rare disease and are now looking to see if there is a connection with Covid-19.

 

The condition provokes an inflammatory response in the body’s immune system, prompting blood vessels to swell. Symptoms include a fever, rash, red eyes and lips and redness on the palms and soles of the feet. 

Here’s Danielle Zoellner on this alarming new development.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 10:20
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President attacks Joe Biden over Michael Flynn probe denial

Back to Trump, who also used his Cabinet Room press session on Wednesday to accuse Joe Biden of lying over his denial of foreknowledge about the Michael Flynn scandal, which saw the president's first national security adviser removed from office in 2017 after just 24 days having admitted to lying to the FBI over his contacts with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Attorney general William Barr has since moved to have the criminal case against the disgraced general dropped but the presiding judge tasked with hearing the matter seems in no rush to oblige.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 10:40
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Republicans ramp up 'Obamagate' controversy with document dump

Biden, former FBI director James Comey, ex-CIA director John Brennan and more than a dozen other Obama administration officials all sought the "unmasking" of a person who was on the other end of wiretapped phone calls with the aforementioned Kislyak between December 2016 and early January 2017, key Republican senators alleged on Wednesday as they unleashed a deluge of questionable paperwork on the matter.

That man would ultimately turn out to be General Flynn, of course.

The accusation that the preceding administration was out to thwart Trump before his inauguration had even taken place is seemingly part of a larger plan among GOP legislators to lean into the president's "Obamagate" conspiracy theory, which maintains that his predecessor and top intelligence chiefs worked to entrap incoming officials in legal controversy to kneecap the new presidency from the start.

Another man joining in with this Mad Hatter's tea party is Trump's former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who here says Obama "weaponised the highest levels of goverment to spy" on his former patient and concludes, melodramatically: "Every Deep State traitor deserves to be brough to justice for their heinous actions."

Griffin Connolly has the latest on this exhausting business.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 11:00
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Steve Mnuchin says country will reopen 'slowly' as states drop stay-at-home orders

Trump’s treasury secretary told Fox News yesterday the economy will be reopened slowly but cautioned that waiting too long risked severe economic damage.

"We're going to slowly open the economy," he said. "But there is also a risk that we wait too long, there is a risk of destroying the US economy and the health impact that that creates."

Mnuchin said he expected the second quarter to be "pretty bad" but if the economy is reopened safely then subsequent quarters will be better and next year "we'll be back to having a great economy."

Democrats in the House of Representatives are meanwhile proposing a $3trn (£2.4trn)-plus coronavirus relief package, which would more than double Congress' financial response to the economic toll of the virus.

But Mnuchin said the legislation, which includes nearly $1trn (818bn) in assistance for state and local governments and could be voted on this week, is "very partisan."

"This is not in the spirit of anything that's been bipartisan, and I can't see that moving forward in its current framework in any event," he said.

Mnuchin said the Trump administration was open to spending more money in the future but "we're not in a rush to do that this week or next week. We're going to take our time."

Trump himself said earlier on Wednesday that new relief package was dead on arrival.

Meanwhile, the governors of states like Minnesota, Maryland and Wyoming are preparing to let stay-at-home orders expire - while urging people not to abuse the privilege as they make a cautious return to restaurants and bars - as Los Angeles County prepares to reopen its beaches.

They’re right to preach a gradual return to normality and should be prepared for lockdown measures to be reinstated should a second wave of infectious spread. 

Just look at Texas, which has just reported 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the fifth day in a row. Governor Greg Abbott allowed some local businesses to reopen on 1 May but may now have to think again.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 11:20
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Federal Reserve chairman warns of economic hit ‘without modern precedent’

With the US unemployment rate currently at 14.7 per cent because of the coronavirus, Fed chief Jerome Powell - a regular Twitter target of Trump - yesterday gave his assessment on the economy to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

"There is a growing sense that the recovery will come more slowly than we would like, but it will come and that may mean that it is necessary for us to do more," he told the video conference.

Powell cautioned that numerous bankruptcies among small businesses and extended unemployment for many people remain a serious risk. "We ought to do what we can to avoid these outcomes," he said.

Additional rescue aid from government spending or tax policies, though costly, would be "worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery," he added, remarks placing him at odds with the likes of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who insists there is “no urgency” in agreeing a new bailout like Pelosi’s new $3trn package.

"We know that long periods of unemployment leave a shadow… We also know that waves of bankruptcies can weigh on economic activity for years," Powell continued.

"Now, when we are facing the biggest shock that the economy has had in modern times, is, for me, not the time to prioritise considerations like that.

"I do think that we can come back to them fairly quickly, which is to say a few years down the road when the economy is well and truly recovered, or at least recovering."

Powell said the Fed would "continue to use our tools to their fullest" until the viral outbreak subsides but gave no hint of what its next steps might be.

He repeated his previous warnings that the Fed can lend money to solvent companies to help carry them through the crisis but that a longer downturn would likely bankrupt some previously healthy companies without more help from the government.

The chairman meanwhile underscored some of the painful consequences of the recession. Among people who had been working in February, nearly 40 per cent of households earning less than $40,000 (£33,000) a year lost a job in March, he said.

Secretary Mnuchin used his interview with Martha MacCallum yesterday to firefight those comments: 

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 11:40
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Coronavirus whistleblower to warn Congress US facing 'darkest winter in modern history'

The US will face "unprecedented illness and fatalities" from Covid-19 without a dramatically ramped-up supply of protective medical gear and a science-based response to the pandemic, according to prepared congressional testimony from a federal scientist who filed an explosive whistleblower complaint alleging dangerous, systemic dysfunction and cronyism within Trump's administration.

Dr Rick Bright, who says he was removed from his position leading a key federal health agency after sounding the alarm over a controversial anti-malaria drug pushed by the president, is expected to testify to Congress today following the release of an 89-page whistleblower report that chronicles his clashes with administration officials.

His report alleges pressure from White House officials to award lucrative medical contracts to the president's allies and details through emails and other statements how officials frequently downplayed and dismissed the dangers both the spread of Covid-19 and unproven drugs being pushed to treat it.

He says officials launched a "baseless smear campaign" against him and made "demonstrably false allegations about his performance in an attempt to justify what was clearly a retaliatory demotion" following his opposition to the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

Alex Woodward has this report.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 12:00
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Biden leads Trump nationally but not in battleground states, poll shows

Andrew Naughtie has the latest polling news from this strangest of election cycles, in which neither candidate can leave their home to campaign in person.

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 12:20
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Public approval of Trump's handling of coronavirus slumps another five points in new survey

Speaking of polls, the president will not like this one...

Joe Sommerlad14 May 2020 12:40

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