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Fri May 22, 2020, 09:20 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Trump's Mask-querade

Proof has finally emerged that President Donald Trump has actually put a mask on his face. Bizarrely, this proof came from a non-official photographer instead of from an official media or White House source. Because the one thing Trump wants to avoid at all costs is ever setting any kind of good example for anyone.

You really couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. A president in the midst of a national crisis doesn't just ignore what the experts are telling all Americans to do, but openly defies them every chance he gets. Trump not only refuses to wear a mask, but this week also announced he was taking a drug that has now been shown to have no use against the coronavirus but comes with an increased chance of death for those taking it. Nothing like setting a good bad example, Mister President!

The real irony in all of this is that if Trump had shown even the slightest inclination towards either setting a good example himself or at the very least shown a shred of empathy for those families affected by the pandemic, his job approval ratings would likely have spiked up above 50 percent for the first time ever. Trump's refusal to show any sort of personal leadership in a time of crisis (which he even brags about: "I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing [Trump in a mask at the Ford plant]" ) is having exactly the opposite effect he thinks. This was pointed out after his visit by the Washington Post, who noted that the visit: "for any other president would serve as a feel-good story about leadership, corporate nimbleness and the production of lifesaving medical gear. Instead, his mask-querade dominated news coverage." [Which, obviously, is where we got out column's title this week, we should mention.] Trump's job approval ratings are heading down, while 49 of 50 governors now have approval ratings better than Trump -- in most cases, a lot better, in fact.

As usual, Trump shoulders no blame for any mistakes made, either. While a study was released this week showing that tens of thousands of Americans would still be alive today if Trump had only acted faster and more decisively at the start of the virus (36,000 if he had acted a week earlier, and 54,000 if he had acted two weeks earlier), Trump dismisses it as a "political hit job," because everything is always about him, of course. When a reporter pointed out that the U.S. has only four percent of the Earth's population but 30 percent of coronavirus deaths, and asked Trump what he would have done differently, Trump responded: "Well, nothing." Because he really thinks his response was perfect (or slightly better than perfect).

But let's just focus on last week. Trump's refusal to wear a mask during all of his visit to the Ford factory (where he strangely praised noted anti-Semite Henry Ford as having "good bloodlines" for some reason) was roundly denounced by Michigan's attorney general, who said afterwards: "He is a petulant child who refuses to follow the rules. This is not a joke."

Earlier in the week, Trump stunned the press corps with his surprise announcement that he's been taking hydroxychloroquine. The White House physician put out a statement where he notably refused to say he had prescribed the drug to Trump, leaving many to wonder whether (A) the president was flat-out lying to the country about taking a possibly-dangerous drug, or (B) actually was taking a possibly-dangerous drug, on a whim. Neither one should fill anyone with confidence in his leadership skills, obviously. This announcement was denounced from a rather unusual source: Neil Cavuto, on Fox News:

That was stunning. The president of the United States, just to acknowledge that he is taking a hydroxychloroquine, a drug that [was] meant really to treat malaria and lupus. The president is insistent that it has enormous benefits for patients either trying to prevent or already have COVID-19. The fact of the matter is, though, when the president said, "What have you got to lose?" a number of studies, those are certainly vulnerable in the population have one thing to lose. Their lives.... If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus, or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you. I cannot stress enough -- this will kill you. So, again, whatever benefits the president says this has and certainly it is had for those suffering from malaria, dealing with lupus, this is a leap that that should not be taken casually by those watching at home or assuming well, the president of the United States says it's okay. Even the F.D.A. was very cautious about this unless in a clinical trial safely and deliberately watched. I only make this not to make a political point here, but a life-and-death point. Be very, very careful.


Trump, of course, lit into both Cavuto and Fox News immediately afterwards. But Nancy Pelosi had the best response, as she sounded downright worried (heh) about the state of Trump's health: "I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group: 'Morbidly obese,' they say."

Trump reacted with some Grade-A projection, calling Pelosi a "sick woman" who had "a lot of mental problems." Pelosi shot back with some more faux concern: "I didn't say anything about the president. I gave him a dose of his own medicine. I was only quoting what doctors had said about him and I was being factual in a very sympathetic way. I said, he's our president, we don't want our president taking something that could be dangerous, as the scientists have said. If he takes offense at that, well, I could take offense at a lot of things, but they don't mean that much to me."

Heh. "Sympathetic." That's a good one, Madam Speaker!

But for a change, let's take a look at some election news. Remember a few weeks ago when Trump's campaign launched an outreach effort to minorities? Let's just check in and see how that's going, shall we?

Nearly three months into the pandemic, administration officials are still trying to formulate a comprehensive plan for helping minority communities -- particularly African Americans and Latinos -- hit disproportionately hard by the virus. The mounting concerns about inaccessible testing and high hospitalization rates are highlighting a gaping hole in Trump's pandemic response -- worries that also threaten to ricochet through the president's 2020 reelection operation six months out from Election Day.

Trump campaign officials, who have spent months investing in outreach to black and Latino voters ahead of November, now face the difficult task of courting communities that have been ravaged by the virus and are frustrated with what they perceive as a lackluster response from the administration.

. . .

"Secretary [Ben] Carson was supposed to take some initiative to deal with this, but I haven't heard anything since then. It's hard to be critical of their strategy excluding racial disparity issues when there doesn't seem to be any strategy at all," said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who participated in a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence and House Democrats last month where concerns about underserved populations repeatedly came up.

. . .

Trump has also repeatedly highlighted the $30 billion of Paycheck Protection funds that was set aside for smaller loan recipients, including minority-owned businesses. During a Fox News town hall on May 3, the president said he would release a report within two weeks outlining further plans to address the "totally disproportional effect" COVID-19 has had on racial minorities.

A White House spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of such a report.


So what is the Trump campaign doing to help support minorities? Well, not much that they can brag about, apparently:

A Facebook video posted by the campaign last week touted the president's purchase of 250 burritos from a Latino-owned restaurant during an event Trump hosted at an N95 mask factory in Phoenix, Ariz.


Like we said, you just can't make this stuff up, folks.

Speaking of Arizona, Trump apparently is concerned about Republican chances to hold a Senate seat there (as he should be):

Senior political advisers to President Donald Trump warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday that Republican Sen. Martha McSally is falling dangerously behind in the critical swing state of Arizona.

Trump's campaign team was meeting with the president at the White House to discuss the state of play in a handful of battleground states. Toward the end of the meeting, Trump pulled McConnell, who was at the White House to meet with him on another matter, into the Roosevelt Room. The discussion turned to Arizona, where recent polling has shown Trump and McSally trailing.

. . .

The Senate race is a particular trouble spot. As Senate Republicans try to protect their majority, McSally has emerged as one of the party's most vulnerable incumbents. One survey released this week showed McSally trailing [Mark] Kelly by 13 points.


Kelly, of course, is the astronaut husband of Gabby Giffords, and so far he's outraised McSally $31 million to $18 million.

In Georgia, another GOP senator who was named to the office (rather than elected) also may be in trouble. Senator Kelly Loeffler is fighting off criticism for her stock trades at the start of the pandemic, and her husband (who just happens to be the chair of the New York Stock Exchange) just donated a cool million bucks to Trump's super PAC (perhaps to avoid Trump endorsing her primary challenger). So we'll see how that goes.

Lindsey Graham is taking some heat in his own re-election race down in South Carolina. An anti-Graham group just released a particularly brutal ad against him which does nothing more than compare his remarks about Trump from a few years ago to what he's been saying now. Jimmy Williams, a senior advisor to the PAC responsible for the ad, summed up what their goal currently is: "We're simply tired of his snarling, revengeful, dirty payback politics down here and I promise you we will do whatever we legally can to make his last nine months in the U.S. Senate a miserable hell." So there's that to look forward to. From their ad, it seems they've made a good start already.

In a House race in California, the Republican Party is backing away from its own nominee as quickly as they can, after even more racist postings were brought to light from Ted Howze. Earlier, he tried to claim that his accounts had somehow been hacked, and that he wasn't responsible for the odious posts. Republicans looked the other way then, but now they've had enough. Here's the head of the California Republican Party: "Mr. Howze's social media posts recently revealed through news reports are disgraceful, disgusting and do not represent the values we hold or the party we are building." The chair of the committee to elect Republicans to the House chimed in as well: "These statements are unacceptable and not indicative of the Republican Party and what we are building here at the N.R.C.C. with our diverse slate of candidates." Kevin McCarthy removed him from the "Young Republicans" group and said of Howze: "The content in question on Mr. Howze's social media channels is disappointing and disturbing. Bigotry and hateful rhetoric -- in any form -- have no place in the Republican Party. These posts are unacceptable and do not reflect the Ted Howze that I have briefly interacted with."

Better tell all of that to Alaska Representative Ben Carpenter (a Republican, naturally), who earlier in the week emailed all 39 of his colleagues a screed against having to wear health-screening stickers to the statehouse: "If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get public shaming too? Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?" When called on his words by several in his own party, Carpenter responded by (are you sitting down?) defending Adolf Hitler. No, really:

Can you or I -- can we even say it is totally out of the realm of possibility that COVID-19 patients will be rounded up and taken somewhere?... People want to say Hitler was a white supremacist. No. He was fearful of the Jewish nation, and that drove him into some unfathomable atrocities.


Hoo boy.

OK, just a few more things to touch upon before we move along with the weekly awards.

Donald Trump is getting close to bowing to a lot of pressure to extend the deployment of the National Guard past 89 days. That may sound like an odd time period, but it was designed for a purpose. If the Guard deploys for 90 days or more, they get benefits like the G.I. Bill -- so Trump cut their initial time short by one day to prevent that. But now he's getting a lot of pushback, so maybe he'll be forced to do the right thing. Eventually.

It's actually been hard to keep count of how many inspectors general have now been fired by Trump, and while most of the media noticed the one canned at the State Department, few also took note that the I.G. at the Department of Transportation was also ousted.

Speaking of keeping count, we're now up to 38.6 million American workers who have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. And we're only days away from hitting 100,000 dead Americans.

And one more morbid note: a new documentary (AKA Jane Roe) is ready for release which interviews "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, shortly before she died. Norma McCorvey made the news back in the 1990s, when the anti-abortion side "converted" her and used her as an anti-abortion spokeswoman. But in what she herself calls a "deathbed confession," she lets everyone know what really was going on:

In the final third of director Nick Sweeney's 79-minute documentary, featuring many end-of-life reflections from McCorvey -- who grew up queer, poor, and was sexually abused by a family member her mother sent her to live with after leaving reform school -- the former Jane Roe admits that her later turn to the anti-abortion camp as a born-again Christian was "all an act."

"This is my deathbed confession," she chuckles, sitting in a chair in her nursing home room, on oxygen. Sweeney asks McCorvey, "Did [the evangelicals] use you as a trophy?" "Of course," she replies. "I was the Big Fish." "Do you think you would say that you used them?" Sweeney responds. "Well," says McCorvey, "I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say. That's what I'd say." She even gives an example of her scripted anti-abortion lines. "I'm a good actress," she points out. "Of course, I'm not acting now."


This is a very sad story of someone who absolutely sold out (to the tune of around a half-million dollars) to be a paid shill for a cause she did not believe in at all. But it's a story that really needs to be told, to nullify all the things she made the news for saying, back then.





Before we get to our main award, we have to at least give a Honorable Mention to Nancy Pelosi. Not only did she get under Trump's skin in a big way this week, but she's been busy doing her day job as well.

Last week, she passed a $3 trillion relief measure, which Mitch McConnell is ignoring. However, time may not be as much on Mitch's side as he likes to think, because his own Republicans are getting increasingly nervous about their chances in the fall if they are seen as obstructing needed money in a time of crisis. They're specifically worried about their chances in battleground states, and they have good reason to do so. Which is why some of them are already breaking with McConnell. The pressure Pelosi is putting on them is only going to increase as more time goes by. As she is happy to point out:

"Some of the members say, 'Let's take a pause.' Let's take a pause? Do you think this virus is taking a pause?" Pelosi said in a floor speech, making a final pitch to her caucus ahead of the vote.

"Do you think that the rent takes a pause? Do you think that putting food on the table or the hunger that comes if you can't takes a pause?"


While speaking about the money in the bill to ensure mail-in voting across the country, Pelosi made a similar point:

She argued that Republicans misunderstand what's going on, ignoring that there is wide bipartisan support to allow people to vote without risking their health. She said the Republicans' opposition is in keeping with their efforts to make it harder to vote. "This is for the people, no need to be afraid of the people," she said. "That's just another insecurity." She added that Republican opposition to the funding is "in keeping with their voter suppression in general."

. . .

On the Heroes Act, she expressed confidence that McConnell would eventually come to the table. Nevertheless, for now she argues, "He has decided to obstruct."


But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week goes to Barack Obama, for reminding us all what we once had in the Oval Office. He delivered two commencement speeches (remotely) last weekend, one of which was broadcast in primetime by all the major networks. He took a few mild shots at Donald Trump (without actually naming him -- "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" ), but that wasn't the most notable part of his speeches (to us, at any rate). As we wrote earlier in the week:

This weekend, however, Obama jumped into the fight in a big way. This is a good sign for Democrats, for a number of reasons. First, it reminds everyone what an intelligent and rational president looks and sounds like. Remember when presidents spoke in grammatically-correct and logically-constructed sentences? Boy, those were the days! Remember when presidents were actually capable of showing empathy? We can return to those halcyon days if we want. This message will be reinforced each and every time Obama speaks for the next six months, no matter what he is actually talking about.


It really wasn't that long ago we had a sane and rational president. Every time Obama speaks, we're all going to be reminded of this fact, and the reality that we could soon have that once again. Which is why Barack Obama was clearly the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week last week.

[Barack Obama is now a private citizen, and it is our blanket policy not to provide contact information about such persons, so you'll have to seek his contact info out yourself if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]






Meanwhile, two New York politicians got downright Trumpian. That's a nasty thing to say of a Democrat, but sadly this shoe seems to fit rather well.

Andrew Cuomo has been lauded in the press as being the model Democratic governor during the pandemic. But both he and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio really deserve some blame for dragging their own feet at the start of the crisis. While other states had already moved to shut down and shelter in place, both New York Democrats resisted such moves. They both were quoted as essentially echoing Trump's "It's going to be no big deal" rhetoric, right up until the day when they did decide it was time to act. That study that showed that 36,000 lives could have been saved by moving one week earlier in March also pointed out that 17,000 of these lives saved would have lived in the New York City area. So here's how they reacted to this news:

The findings, first reported by The New York Times, revealed what many New Yorkers have come to believe over the past two months: Cuomo and de Blasio, two Democrats who have been unable to even present the same death count amid long-standing bickering, dragged their feet during the most dire crisis either has faced in their careers and as a result, thousands of New Yorkers died.

But both leaders on Thursday insisted they didn't know the extent or source of the spread, expressing regret for their ignorance but not the timing of their decisions.

Cuomo, who tends to dismiss retrospective analysis as "Monday morning quarterbacking," has repeatedly referred questions about his responses to the data by which he says he makes his decisions.

No one reported that the virus was moving to Europe from China late last year, he said Thursday, and if the true extent of the spread was known, travel bans from both regions would have been appropriate as early as Dec. 31.

"Who should have known?," he told reporters at his briefing in Manhattan. "It's above my paygrade as the governor of one state, but what federal agency? What international health organization? I don't know. It's not what I do; it's not my responsibility. But someone has to answer that question."

De Blasio likewise placed blame on the novelty of the disease and the fact that no one had a playbook for its response.

"I wish we had known so much more in January, February, the beginning of March. I wish we had the testing that would have told us what was going on," de Blasio told reporters Thursday. "It's very painful to think about, if we had had the testing we needed, everything we could have done differently. Or if we had known then the things we know now, what we would have been able to do for people. It's horrible."


As we said, it's pretty hard to call "it's not my responsibility" as anything short of "Trumpian," at this point. Nothing like passing that buck, eh?

For refusing to even admit that they might have personally borne some blame for waiting too long to act, both Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio are our hands-down winners this week for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on his official contact page and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio on his official contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]




Volume 575 (5/22/20)

A mixed bag this week, with some attempts at comedy (at least that's what we have to assume they were) for everyone in the middle.



What the heck is going on, Steve?

This story needs a lot more attention than it initially got.

"Congress passed $500 billion to bail out businesses and local governments weeks ago, because there was an immediate need for such help. Since then, however, the Treasury has only disbursed a paltry $37.5 billion -- less than ten percent of the funds. Funds for the airline industry have not been disbursed. Nothing has gone to local governments at all -- the only money made available was to purchase corporate debt, in fact. This is an outrage, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin needs to be held responsible for it. Why has he dithered for months instead of getting that money out there as Congress intended?"



Let's just hide the data!

You just knew this was coming, didn't you?

"More and more, it seems that Republicans at both the state and federal level have decided to misrepresent or censor data about the coronavirus pandemic. This needs to stop, and it needs to stop immediately. In Georgia, they've decided they can just rearrange the calendar to make the numbers look better. Florida just fired the woman who put together their public health website because she said she refused to 'manually change data' about the pandemic on the site 'to drum up support for the plan to reopen.' And, according to The Atlantic, the C.D.C. is now 'overstating the country's ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19' by 'combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus.' So as far as Republicans are concerned, if you don't like the data, just change it until it looks better politically for you. Presto change-o!"



Florida election fraud found!

Too, too funny.

"Once again, a 17-month in-depth investigation into voter fraud has found exactly what every single other study of the subject has ever found. Remember the 2018 election in Florida for governor and senator? Donald Trump whined about "fraud" in this election, in two Democrat-dominated counties. He even promised: 'Don't worry, Florida -- I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!' So the state took 17 months to investigate, and they just released their findings. Out of 709,180 ballots cast in Broward County, the new Republican supervisor of elections found precisely '21 cases of people who illegally voted twice and one instance of a noncitizen who voted unlawfully.' That works out to 0.003 percent fraud. Mind you -- that's not three-tenths of one percent, that is actually only three-thousandths of one percent. Again, just like every other investigation and study ever done on voting fraud. The problem simply does not exist to the level where it could have the slightest effect on any election, period."



Barr cracks a joke

That's what it must have been, right?

"Attorney General William Barr apparently is trying to be a comedian. While announcing that he wouldn't actually be investigating Barack Obama or Joe Biden over the non-existent Trump 'Obamagate' fantasy scandal, he got in a knee-slapper:

Barr insisted Monday the United States cannot allow its electoral process 'to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate.'


Believing William Barr is a steadfast defender of the nonpoliticization of the Justice Department is the funniest thing I've heard all week. I mean... William Barr? Seriously?"



Karl Rove takes the mic

Karl Rove got in on the open-mic action as well, it seems, in reaction to Obama's digs on Trump during his speeches last weekend:

"Karl Rove apparently wouldn't know irony if it smacked him in the face. Here he is expressing his outrage at Barack Obama:

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. This is a moment where these young graduates that could be inspired to a life of service, to recognize that life is going to bring challenges and how we handle the challenges it's going to demonstrate our character, there are lots of positive messages that the former president could have delivered.


OK, I'll wait for you to stop laughing... I mean, Karl Rove lecturing us on demonstrating character? Or drive-by political shootings, for that matter? I defy Rove to name me one single example of President Trump 'inspiring' anyone 'to a life of service.' He can't, because Trump never has. And he really ought to take a look at some of the things Dick Cheney said about Barack Obama while he was in office if he wants to see what a 'drive-by shooting' looks like."



Trump gets in on the comedy action

This question's going to come up a lot, because it is so funny watching Trump try to explain why we should all do as he says, not as he does.

"Donald Trump really hates it when Democrats vote by mail, it seems. Which is downright hilarious because he votes by mail himself. Which is impossible to reconcile, really. But it didn't stop Trump from trying, once again: 'We don't want them to do mail-in ballots because it's going to lead to total election fraud. Now if somebody has to mail it in because they're sick, or, by the way, because they live in the White House and they have to vote in Florida and they won't be in Florida, if there's a reason for it, that's okay.' So everyone just has to move to the White House in order for their mail-in ballot to meet with Trump's approval? That's pretty funny. I've never seen a worse example of: 'Do what I say and not what I do,' personally."



Where was the coverage?

So much for that so-called "liberal media."

"You know, for the past month or so whenever ten or twenty yahoos gather in front of a statehouse somewhere to yell about reopening the economy, there are dozens of television cameras rolling, to capture what the media has deemed very important protests. But when a protest is staged with body bags left in front of the White House, not a single network bothered to give it any prominence on the evening news. During a nationwide 'Day Of Mourning,' activists held a mock funeral with 200 cars that started at the residence of Mitch McConnell, drove past the Capitol, and wound up at the White House where body bags with signs reading 'Trump Lies, People Die' on the sidewalk. Religious leaders delivered eulogies and others gave speeches about lost loved ones. And none of it was interesting enough to make the evening news headlines. Maybe they should wave around some assault weapons next time, because that's the only thing that seems to get the media's attention."




Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Fri May 22, 2020, 10:13 PM

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