Today’s biggest breaking news came at the president’s briefing this evening. Allegedly about the coronavirus, the briefing began with Trump announcing he was cancelling the Republican National Convention, which was scheduled to be held in Jacksonville, Florida from August 24-27.
Just last month, on June 11, Trump moved the hoopla part of the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, where Governor Roy Cooper refused to promise he could have a fully filled arena for his acceptance speech. Because the Republican National Committee was under contract with Charlotte, it maintained it would hold some business meetings in the city, but it cut from the convention in either place a meeting to create a 2020 platform. Trump decided to run on the 2016 platform, underscoring that, for him, the election is about the man in charge, not policies.
Trump said “the timing is not right” to hold the convention, referring to coronavirus, which is spiking in Florida. Today the state reported 173 deaths, the largest single day loss in the state so far. Florida has had a staggering 10,000 new infections almost every day for the last two weeks. As numbers spike there and elsewhere, primarily in the South and West, experts worry that we are approaching a point at which it will be impossible to stop the spread of Covid-19. We have had more than 4 million infections and more than 140,000 deaths, including 3,000 since Tuesday. We are on track to lose more than 200,000 Americans to coronavirus before November 1. Yesterday, more than 150 public health experts wrote an open letter to Trump, Congress, and the state governors begging them to “shut it down now, and start over.”
Nonetheless, Trump continues to demand that schools reopen, saying today that if they don’t, money should go from the public schools to parents to send their children elsewhere. This would divert money from public to private schools, a plan Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advocates. Advisors noted that Trump was paying close attention to leading Republicans backing out of the convention, and was worried attendance would be thin. Cancelling because of the pandemic let him stake out a leadership position on an issue where polling shows Americans think he has failed.
Trump also said that he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin today, but did not discuss intelligence reports that say Putin has been paying Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan to kill U.S. and allied troops.
The RNC’s inability to pull off either a platform or a convention this year does not look good. One convention official told CNN the Jacksonville event was “a multimillion dollar debacle” and that the money it cost could have gone to fighting coronavirus.
The Republicans looked incompetent today in another way as they failed to reach an agreement on a new coronavirus package. They rejected the Democrats’ bill, passed two months ago, but have apparently been unable since then to come up with any deal within their own conference (they have not included any Democrats in the negotiations). They were supposed to roll out their bill today, but are now hoping to have something ready to show Democrats by Monday. Unemployment benefits for 30 million Americans, expanded by an early coronavirus bill, expire next week, so the Republicans are under pressure. But Senators up for reelection want a generous bill, while others hate the idea of spending money on social welfare programs.
Today the administration took some legal hits. A federal judge ruled that the government had sent Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen back to prison from home confinement to stop him from publishing a tell-all book in September; and the inspector general of the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, announced he will investigate the federal use of force in Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon. At the request of congressional Democrats from Oregon, he will examine the orders the federal officers received, their use of chemical agents (tear gas), and reports that they were improperly detaining protesters.
Both the Cohen case and the federal deployment were overseen by Attorney General William Barr, who is apparently using the Justice Department to advance the president’s political interests. Barr is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on July 28 about his attempts both to reduce the sentencing guidelines for Trump’s friend Roger Stone and to dismiss the case against Trump adviser Michael Flynn. He will likely also be asked about his firing of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, as well as others. It is worth noting that Barr won confirmation in his position thanks to Republican Senators, who have not opposed his actions.
They have, though, voted to pass the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, including a provision in it to rename military bases that currently carry the names of Confederate generals. The bill authorizes almost $737 billion (yes, that’s a “B”) in military spending for the year. It passed by a veto-proof majority, which gives Trump an excuse not to try to kill the bill, but it is nonetheless a blow over one of his signature fights.
Trump lost another fight today, as Major League Baseball reopened with the Washington Nationals playing the New York Yankees on their home field. Before the game, every player and every coach in the playing area held up a black banner that stretched along the first base and third base lines, then took a knee on the grass in silence, in honor of Black Lives Matter. Then Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is the trusted face of coronavirus advice and thus has angered the not-so-trusted president, threw out the first pitch. (It was so far off base that one wit noted on Twitter: “He clearly doesn’t want anyone to catch anything.”)
And the sexism of today’s Republican Party also took a hit today, as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) rose to a point of personal privilege in the House and replied to the actions of Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL), who stopped her on the steps of the Capitol Monday to call her “disgusting,” “crazy,” “out of [her] mind,” and “dangerous,” for linking poverty and crime. She told him he was rude, and went inside to cast a vote. When she came back out, she said, “There were reporters in the front of the Capitol, and in front of reporters Rep. Yoho called me, and I quote, a ‘f*****g bitch.’”
Ocasio-Cortez called out Yoho’s verbal abuse and his non-apology (he apologized for the “abrupt manner of the conversation,” but said he could not apologize for his “passion”). She indicted the sexism inherent in not only Congress but in society in general. “This issue is not about one incident,” she said. “It is cultural. It is a culture… of accepting of violence and violent language against women and an entire structure of power that supports that.” Silence on the issue, she said, “is a form of acceptance.” It was a powerful speech, putting the issue of sexism on the table in Congress along with the issue of racism.
While the Republicans bet on the idea of a full-fledged convention this year and lost, the Democratic National Committee decided back in June to make their convention both virtual and appropriate to the pandemic. It will be centered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from August 17-20, and will have live broadcasts from other cities, and a robust social media platform as well, while keeping participants safely distanced.
“Leadership means being able to adapt to any situation,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez.