A federal judge has ruled that Andrew Cuomo should have a sign-language interpreter available for his TV briefings. The New York governor must have “in-frame ASL interpretation” during his daily updates, which garnered national attention as New York became a hotspot for coronavirus cases.
Until now, those who needed ASL interpretation needed to go online to access it. Starting Wednesday, Cuomo’s office said an interpreter will be visible on TV as well.
California is loosening its stay-at-home order for counties that meet certain criteria in containing the virus, allowing them to reopen some offices, schools and dine-in restaurants, governor Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
As of Tuesday morning, only the rural counties of Butte, north of Sacramento, and El Dorado, south of Tahoe National Forest, have gotten state approval to reopen more of their economy, but Newsom predicted that at least two more would receive the go-ahead by the end of the day.
Butte county has a population of about 219,000 and El Dorado county has a population of about 193,000. Butte has had a total of 20 cases and El Dorado has had a total of 56. Both counties had to file attestments that they met the state’s readiness criteria.
The debate around local variance to modifications to the stay-at-home order has raged around the state even before Newsom brought California into phase two of the crisis on 8 May and reopened 70% of its economy under certain guidelines. It once again highlights the difficulties that come with governing a state as large and varied as California. While rural counties that have not seen high rates of infection argue that they could loosen up restrictions before the rest of the state, harder hit regions are adhering to stricter measures than the state’s order, much to the dismay of business owners like Elon Musk.
Los Angeles county’s stay-at-home order, for example, will “with all certainty”be extended through July. Los Angeles has had 32,258 positive cases and 1,569 deaths – more than half the deaths in the entire state.
It’s been a busy day in US politics and coronavirus news so far today and there’s more action to come. My colleague Maanvi Singh on the west coast will take over now and bring you the major developments over the next few hours.
Here are the most recent items this afternoon:
- Looks like Los Angeles County will extend its stay-at-home order through July in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.
- Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff in a landmark case about LGBTQ rights that was in the process of being heard by the US Supreme Court has died.
- The White House coronavirus task force is to be expanded soon, though no details yet, press sec Kayleigh McEnany confirmed. Donald Trump was going to wind it down, then reversed course after public uproar.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the next $3 trillion financial rescue bill, though the Republican-controlled Senate will flay it alive.
- It was an action-packed morning with a crucial Senate health committee hearing in which top US public health expert Anthony Fauci warned against serious consequences in a hasty reopening, and at the Supreme Court oral arguments were heard on the power to subpoena Donald Trump’s tax records. Here’s the previous summary.
The big case before the Supreme Court
Oral arguments today in the big case about Donald Trump’s tax returns were somewhat overshadowed by the illuminating hearing on public health in the Senate.
But Reuters has published a useful wrap on the case.
In a major showdown over presidential powers, Supreme Court justices appeared divided over Trump’s bid to prevent congressional Democrats from obtaining his financial records, but seemed more open toward a New York prosecutor’s attempt to secure similar records.
The court’s conservative majority signaled concern about improper “harassment” of Trump by three Democratic-led House of Representatives committees seeking his records.
In the New York case, the conservative justices joined the court’s liberals in indicating skepticism toward broad arguments by Trump’s lawyer for complete immunity from criminal investigation for a sitting president.
All the subpoenas were issued to third parties – an accounting firm and two banks – and not to the Republican president himself, though he sued to block them.
There’s a chance the court won’t simply allow or disallow enforcement of the subpoenas but rather impose tighter standards for issuing subpoenas for the personal records of a sitting president and send the matter back to lower courts to reconsider, which could push matters beyond the election.
This course of action could delay an ultimate decision on releasing the records until after the election.
Chief Justice John Roberts asked questions suggesting skepticism about unchecked subpoena power when applied to a sitting president but also concern about a president evading scrutiny altogether.
Conservative and liberal justices asked a lawyer for the House, Doug Letter, to explain why the subpoenas were not simply harassment and whether Congress should be limited in issuing subpoenas so as to not distract a president or frustrate his official duties.
Even liberal justices raised concerns about an unfettered ability by lawmakers to subpoena a president’s personal records.
The House committees have said they are seeking the material for investigations into potential money laundering by banks and into whether Trump inflated and deflated certain assets on financial statements – as his former personal lawyer has said – in part to reduce his real estate taxes.
New York prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr wants to know more about Trump’s payoffs to women who claimed affairs with him, and whether such hush money payments involved the falsification of business records.
Justice Elena Kagan said where personal records are concerned “the president is just a man.”
In the New York case, Kagan told Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow it is a “fundamental precept of our constitutional order that the president is not above the law.”
Rulings are likely within weeks.
Trump pauses Mar-a-Lago dock plan
With coronavirus playing havoc with local councils’ business, the president is holding back on a proposal for a dock at his private resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Washington Post writes that the decision was disclosed in a letter sent to the Palm Beach mayor and town council on Monday, comes three days after the Post published a story that outlined assertions by local attorneys who argue that agreements Trump entered into with the town prevent him from living at the resort, and may have precluded him from legally registering to vote in Florida.
(Trump has said he voted by mail in Florida’s Republican presidential primary this year.)
Trump had come under scathing criticism from his Palm Beach neighbors and their attorneys who accused him and his legal team of attempting to jam through the dock request at the Mar-a-Lago resort while the nation’s attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the town’s council is only able to hold meetings electronically, the Post continues.
In the letter withdrawing the proposal, Trump’s Palm Beach attorney, Harvey Oyer III, cited “the extraordinary circumstances that we find ourselves in” as a reason for the decision. But he makes no specific mention of coronavirus. The proposal had been scheduled to be heard on Wednesday by the Palm Beach Town Council.
Los Angeles County ‘with all certainty’ will keep stay-at-home orders in place through July
That’s the news breaking in the LA Times.
The newspaper writes:
Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home orders will “with all certainty” be extended for the next three months, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer acknowledged during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.
Ferrer, though she didn’t issue an official order, said that timeline would only change if there was a “dramatic change to the virus and tools at hand.”
“Our hope is that by using the data, we’d be able to slowly lift restrictions over the next three months,” she said. But without widely available therapeutic testing for the coronavirus or rapid at-home versions that would allow people to test themselves daily, it seems unlikely that restrictions would be completely eased.
Ferrer’s comments came shortly after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned Congress that states that push too quickly to ease orders could undo progress that would trigger an outbreak. Fauci said a 14-day decline in cases is the major checkpoint that states should meet before reopening.
In L.A. County, confirmed cases and deaths have continued to rise, even though beaches in the county are set to reopen on Wednesday, just days after the county lifted restrictions on hiking trails, parks and golf courses and allowed curbside pickup at nonessential businesses. But Ferrer warned Tuesday that further loosening of the rules will be slow.
But how people can use the sand will look different. Face coverings will be required when not in the water, and sunbathing won’t be allowed. Only active recreation — surfing, running, walking and swimming — will be permitted. Coolers, chairs, umbrellas and any of the other accessories that typically dot the shoreline should be left at home.
The update to L.A.’s stay-at-home orders comes as officials try to satisfy two needs: restarting the economy under a new normal while also ensuring that the resurgence in activity doesn’t upend progress in the fight against the coronavirus.
Trump and Tesla
Donald Trump earlier today urged that Tesla Inc be allowed to reopen its electric vehicle assembly plant in California, joining CEO Elon Musk’s bid to defy county officials who have ordered it to remain closed.
“California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Musk tweeted “Thank you!” in response
On Monday, Musk said production was resuming at the automaker’s sole US vehicle factory, defying an order to stay closed and saying if anyone had to be arrested, it should be he.
Tesla shares were up 1.1% at $820.44 in late trading, Reuters notes.
At Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, employee parking lots that were deserted on Friday were packed with cars today.
Trucks could be seen driving in and out of the factory grounds.
About a dozen workers, some masked, some not, were seen standing by a red food truck on the factory grounds.
At the factory’s outbound logistics parking lot, where only a dozen Tesla cars stood on Friday, hundreds of Tesla vehicles were seen today.
The company, which on Saturday sued Alameda County, where the plant is located, over its decision that the plant should stay closed, did not officially comment on Trump’s tweet. The conflict heated up at the weekend.
Late yesterday, county health officials said they were aware Tesla had opened beyond the so-called minimum basic operations allowed during lockdown, and had notified the company it could not operate without a county-approved plan.
A county health official on Friday said the county had asked all manufacturers, including Tesla, to delay operations by at least another week to monitor infection and hospitalization rates.
California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday said he had spoken with Musk several days ago and that the Tesla founder’s concerns helped prompt the state to begin its phased reopening of manufacturing last week.
Woman at center of Supreme Court case dies
Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff at the center of the most important LGBTQ rights case to come before the US supreme court since it ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2015, has died.
Her congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, also tweeted about the sad news.
Here’s my colleague Dominic Rushe on the case, and the woman behind it:
Coronavirus task force update
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany just confirmed that there will be additional members appointed to the coronavirus task force.
She did not confirm who that would be or when that would be made public. McEnany was also asked when we might see task force leader Anthony Fauci and coordinator Deborah Birx back at the press briefing podium (where McEnany is standing now).
They used to present to the public every day until the president effectively took over the briefings and turned them into, many days, two-plus hour-long grievance sessions with a side helping of medical misinformation, which eventually began to turn off his voters.
But since Trump stopped the daily briefings after the climax where he mused to his own experts that injections of disinfectant could be looked at as a treatment for coronavirus, the experts’ briefings stopped too.
McEnany said Fauci and Birx are doing plenty of interviews that that’s great (to paraphrase), so no prospect of them giving official briefings again any time soon.
McEnany pointed out that we spent a lot of the morning hearing from Anthony Fauci in the Senate health committee hearing.
The Trump administration has blocked Fauci from testifying in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
But the hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate was sufficiently devastating, as witnesses and experts exposed the extent to which the US delayed vital testing early on and that the coronavirus is not at all under control in the US.
The White House press briefing has now finished.
The White House press secretary is repeating Donald Trump’s boast that the US is now doing more coronavirus testing that South Korea.
But Senators ranging from Democrat Tim Kaine to Republican Mitt Romney demolished the administration’s arguments during the health committee hearing this morning.
As a reminder, Romney said a little earlier that the administration’s boasts “ignored the fact that they [South Korea] accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak, while we treaded water during February and March.”
Romney added: “And as a result, by March 6, the US had completed just 2,000 tests, whereas South Korea had conducted more than 140,000 tests, so partially as a result of that they have 256 deaths and we have 80,000. I find our testing record is nothing to celebrate whatsoever.”
And he concluded:
“The fact is their [South Korea’s] test numbers are going down, down, down, down now because they don’t have the kind of outbreak we have, ours are going up, up, up as they have to. That’s an important lesson for us as we think about the future.
We’re waiting for a White House briefing from press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, which was billed to start at 2pm ET.
Here we go. You can watch it live, here.
Early afternoon summary
There’s a White House press briefing in a moment, but meanwhile, here’s how the morning went.
- At the Senate health committee hearing, Republican Mitt Romney slammed the US’s track record on early coronavirus testing.
- The federal agency the CDC admitted that the US failed in its chance to contain the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, being left instead with only mitigation efforts.
- Top public health chief Anthony Fauci said that coronavirus is not yet under control in the US, months into the crisis.
- The supreme court heard arguments in the cases from the House of Representatives and New York investigators that seek access to Donald Trump’s taxes and other financial records.
- At the Senate hearing, Bernie Sanders demanded that if (hopefully when) there is a vaccine to innoculate against Covid-19 that all Americans will have access regardless of their circumstances.
- Anthony Fauci said the US death toll from coronavirus was likely higher than the official toll of 80,000 dead so far.
- Fauci warned of “serious consequences” if the US rushes to reopen prematurely.
Pelosi reveals $3tn House stimulus bill
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – She Who Would Turn America Communist, according to Donald Trump this morning – has released Democrats’ new coronavirus economic stimulus bill. It would cost more than $3tn and provide nearly $1tn of aid for states, cities, local governments and essential workers and more cash payments to individual Americans.
The White House has said repeatedly that it’s not interested and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said there is no urgency to act. Nonetheless, the Associated Press reports:
“The House is expected to vote on the package as soon as Friday … the so-called Heroes Act would provide nearly $1tn for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs and additional $200bn in “hazard pay” for essential workers, according a summary.
It will offer a fresh round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, increased to up to $6,000 per household, and launches a $175bn housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages. There is $75bn more for virus testing.
It would continue, through January, the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits. It adds a 15% increase for food stamps and new help for paying employer-backed health coverage. For businesses, there’s an employee retention tax credit.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the bill “will be ready” to call lawmakers back to Washington for the vote.
There’s also more in there for the small business Paycheck Protection Program, for the US Postal Office and more.
But, to stress, Trump has already signed around $3tn of stimulus spending into law and he doesn’t want to do more and has floated things like payroll tax cuts and concessions on immigration policy as the price of action, prospects Democrats do not like in the slightest.
McConnell has called the Democratic bill a “big laundry list of pet priorities” and said: “I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately.”
In turn, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will repeat President Herbert Hoover’s inadequate response to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
US unemployment is now at Great Depression levels, so the comparison was apt.