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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 11)

Trump’s New Message: Time to Move On to the Recovery

WASHINGTON — Confronted with America’s worst public health crisis in generations, President Trump declared himself a wartime president. Now he has begun doing what past commanders have done when a war goes badly: Declare victory and go home.

The war, however, does not seem over. Outside New York, the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is still growing, not receding. The latest death toll estimates have more than doubled from what Mr. Trump predicted just weeks ago. And polls show the public is not ready to restore normal life.

But Mr. Trump’s cure-can’t-be-worse-than-the-disease logic is clear: As bad as the virus may be, the cost of the virtual national lockdown has grown too high. With more than 30 million people out of work and businesses collapsing by the day, keeping the country at home seems unsustainable. With the virus still spreading and no vaccine available until next year at the earliest, though, the president has decided that for life to resume for many, some may have to die.

“Hopefully that won’t be the case,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday when asked if deaths would rise as a result of reopening, but added, “It could very well be the case.”

“But we have to get our country open again,” he continued. “People want to go back, and you’re going to have a problem if you don’t do it.”

For a president who had staked his legacy on an economic record that was shredded by the crisis, moving on may seem like the best way to salvage his chances for re-election this fall. He tried to signal that this week by saying that his coronavirus task force would soon begin winding down.

By his own admission, Mr. Trump was surprised to discover that many others thought it was too soon to do that. By Wednesday he reversed course, vowing to keep the task force going “indefinitely” and promising that health experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx would remain part of the group even as he added other members.

Even then, the president tried to pivot by redefining the task force’s mission to figuring out how to reopen the country safely and soon.

“I thought we could wind it down sooner,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he hosted nurses in the Oval Office to sign a proclamation honoring National Nurses Day. “But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday. When I started talking about winding it down, I got calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it would be better to keep it going.’”

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That partial retreat did not mean that Mr. Trump had changed his mind about the broader direction. At a news briefing later in the afternoon, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, described the task force’s battle with the virus as if it were largely past.

“They’ve gotten our country through this,” she said. “There were supposed to be 2.2 million deaths, and we’re at a point where we’re far lower than that thanks to the great work of the task force and the leadership of President Trump.”

The death toll on Wednesday passed 72,000, or roughly the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Evanston, Ill.; Canton, Ohio; or Wilmington, Del., and far beyond the low estimate of 50,000 advanced by Mr. Trump just a couple of weeks ago. The widely cited model of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington now predicts 134,475 deaths by Aug. 4, twice its previous estimate and about the population of Charleston, S.C.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_171945267_537dd6b4-6ac4-4bec-8a3e-fa25ec02f30e-articleLarge Trump’s New Message: Time to Move On to the Recovery United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Epidemics Deaths (Fatalities) Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

Mr. Trump acknowledged the toll but characterized it as low compared with what it could have been. “It’s a big number, but it’s also a number that’s the lower scale,” he said in a separate appearance with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa.

The president has made little effort to reconcile his increasing pressure to reopen with the increasing death toll, instead boasting that the government is now in better shape to deal with new cases with more ventilators, masks and other equipment.

“I think he has given up on the hard stuff and as a consequence is writing off people’s lives,” said Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama and now a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

“Not, unfortunately, in exchange for a better economic outcome,” he added. “The economy — hiring, consumer spending, buying cars, getting on airplanes, signing leases — isn’t going to happen. It’s not going to happen until we have demonstrated we can navigate this global health crisis.”

Most Americans do not have confidence in that yet, preferring that the president and their states take a slower course in the name of public health. By a ratio of 2 to 1, those surveyed by Monmouth University in a poll released this week were more concerned about lifting restrictions too quickly rather than too slowly. And 56 percent said the more important factor should be making sure as few people get sick as possible, while 33 percent said it was more important to prevent the economy from sinking into a profound downturn.

About half the states have begun to reopen their economies and public life in some meaningful way, and in some of them the risk may be low because they have seen only limited infections to date. But others are lifting restrictions on business and travel even though they do not meet the standards set by Mr. Trump’s administration calling for 14 days of declining cases before the earliest steps.

In New York, the epicenter of the outbreak until now, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo acknowledged the difficult choices and has resisted moving quickly. “The fundamental question which we’re not articulating is how much is a human life worth?” he asked at a briefing on Tuesday. “There’s a cost of staying closed, no doubt — economic cost, personal cost. There’s also a cost of reopening quickly. Either option has a cost.”

Reopening while the virus remains unchecked could exacerbate the already disproportionate effects, experts said, particularly on lower-income families where breadwinners cannot work from home and have less access to quality health care.

“Doing so will result in many, many more deaths, with those deaths, of course, concentrated among less affluent Americans,” said Jacob S. Hacker, the director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. “And not just more deaths, but also a rationale for denying additional unemployment benefits and other vital assistance to those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.”

Credit…Joseph Rushmore for The New York Times

Mr. Trump argued that the country was better prepared to handle new cases even as doors reopened and that precautions would make a difference. As an example, he said Americans over the age of 60 and especially those with diabetes or heart problems should remain cautious about returning to work or public spaces.

“This virus is going to disappear,” he said. “It’s a question of when. Will it come back in a small way? Will it come back in a fairly large way? But we know how to deal with it now much better.”

Remaining closed, he added, is not an option. “We can’t have our whole country out. We can’t do it. The country won’t take it. It won’t stand it. It’s not sustainable.”

In addition to the damage to the country, Mr. Trump has long viewed the pandemic through the lens of his political prospects.

He openly admitted in March that he did not want to let infected patients from a cruise ship disembark because it would increase the number of cases counted in the United States. He essentially made the same calculation on Wednesday by saying that more testing only reveals more infections and therefore increases the numbers. “In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad,” he said.

Mr. Trump returned to his military analogy at one point on Wednesday, calling Americans “warriors” in the battle and comparing the virus outbreak, which he blamed on China, to sneak attacks by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941, and Al Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is worse than Pearl Harbor,” he said. “This is worse than the World Trade Center. There has never been an attack like this.”

As it happens, the death toll is now about 24 times that of the Sept. 11 attack and 30 times that of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and still climbing. But Mr. Trump had no interest in extending the analogy to a long global war against tyranny or terrorists.

Instead, he said, for today’s Americans, the front lines will be at their workplaces, schools, places of worship, street corners and shopping malls. “We have to be warriors,” he said. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump’s New Message: Time to Move On to the Recovery

WASHINGTON — Confronted with America’s worst public health crisis in generations, President Trump declared himself a wartime president. Now he has begun doing what past commanders have done when a war goes badly: Declare victory and go home.

The war, however, does not seem over. Outside New York, the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is still growing, not receding. The latest death toll estimates have more than doubled from what Mr. Trump predicted just weeks ago. And polls show the public is not ready to restore normal life.

But Mr. Trump’s cure-can’t-be-worse-than-the-disease logic is clear: As bad as the virus may be, the cost of the virtual national lockdown has grown too high. With more than 30 million people out of work and businesses collapsing by the day, keeping the country at home seems unsustainable. With the virus still spreading and no vaccine available until next year at the earliest, though, the president has decided that for life to resume for many, some may have to die.

“Hopefully that won’t be the case,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday when asked if deaths would rise as a result of reopening, but added, “It could very well be the case.”

“But we have to get our country open again,” he continued. “People want to go back, and you’re going to have a problem if you don’t do it.”

For a president who had staked his legacy on an economic record that was shredded by the crisis, moving on may seem like the best way to salvage his chances for re-election this fall. He tried to signal that this week by saying that his coronavirus task force would soon begin winding down.

By his own admission, Mr. Trump was surprised to discover that many others thought it was too soon to do that. By Wednesday he reversed course, vowing to keep the task force going “indefinitely” and promising that health experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx would remain part of the group even as he added other members.

Even then, the president tried to pivot by redefining the task force’s mission to figuring out how to reopen the country safely and soon.

“I thought we could wind it down sooner,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he hosted nurses in the Oval Office to sign a proclamation honoring National Nurses Day. “But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday. When I started talking about winding it down, I got calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it would be better to keep it going.’”

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That partial retreat did not mean that Mr. Trump had changed his mind about the broader direction. At a news briefing later in the afternoon, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, described the task force’s battle with the virus as if it were largely past.

“They’ve gotten our country through this,” she said. “There were supposed to be 2.2 million deaths, and we’re at a point where we’re far lower than that thanks to the great work of the task force and the leadership of President Trump.”

The death toll on Wednesday passed 72,000, or roughly the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Evanston, Ill.; Canton, Ohio; or Wilmington, Del., and far beyond the low estimate of 50,000 advanced by Mr. Trump just a couple of weeks ago. The widely cited model of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington now predicts 134,475 deaths by Aug. 4, twice its previous estimate and about the population of Charleston, S.C.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_171945267_537dd6b4-6ac4-4bec-8a3e-fa25ec02f30e-articleLarge Trump’s New Message: Time to Move On to the Recovery United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Epidemics Deaths (Fatalities) Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

Mr. Trump acknowledged the toll but characterized it as low compared with what it could have been. “It’s a big number, but it’s also a number that’s the lower scale,” he said in a separate appearance with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa.

The president has made little effort to reconcile his increasing pressure to reopen with the increasing death toll, instead boasting that the government is now in better shape to deal with new cases with more ventilators, masks and other equipment.

“I think he has given up on the hard stuff and as a consequence is writing off people’s lives,” said Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama and now a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

“Not, unfortunately, in exchange for a better economic outcome,” he added. “The economy — hiring, consumer spending, buying cars, getting on airplanes, signing leases — isn’t going to happen. It’s not going to happen until we have demonstrated we can navigate this global health crisis.”

Most Americans do not have confidence in that yet, preferring that the president and their states take a slower course in the name of public health. By a ratio of 2 to 1, those surveyed by Monmouth University in a poll released this week were more concerned about lifting restrictions too quickly rather than too slowly. And 56 percent said the more important factor should be making sure as few people get sick as possible, while 33 percent said it was more important to prevent the economy from sinking into a profound downturn.

About half the states have begun to reopen their economies and public life in some meaningful way, and in some of them the risk may be low because they have seen only limited infections to date. But others are lifting restrictions on business and travel even though they do not meet the standards set by Mr. Trump’s administration calling for 14 days of declining cases before the earliest steps.

In New York, the epicenter of the outbreak until now, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo acknowledged the difficult choices and has resisted moving quickly. “The fundamental question which we’re not articulating is how much is a human life worth?” he asked at a briefing on Tuesday. “There’s a cost of staying closed, no doubt — economic cost, personal cost. There’s also a cost of reopening quickly. Either option has a cost.”

Reopening while the virus remains unchecked could exacerbate the already disproportionate effects, experts said, particularly on lower-income families where breadwinners cannot work from home and have less access to quality health care.

“Doing so will result in many, many more deaths, with those deaths, of course, concentrated among less affluent Americans,” said Jacob S. Hacker, the director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. “And not just more deaths, but also a rationale for denying additional unemployment benefits and other vital assistance to those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.”

Credit…Joseph Rushmore for The New York Times

Mr. Trump argued that the country was better prepared to handle new cases even as doors reopened and that precautions would make a difference. As an example, he said Americans over the age of 60 and especially those with diabetes or heart problems should remain cautious about returning to work or public spaces.

“This virus is going to disappear,” he said. “It’s a question of when. Will it come back in a small way? Will it come back in a fairly large way? But we know how to deal with it now much better.”

Remaining closed, he added, is not an option. “We can’t have our whole country out. We can’t do it. The country won’t take it. It won’t stand it. It’s not sustainable.”

In addition to the damage to the country, Mr. Trump has long viewed the pandemic through the lens of his political prospects.

He openly admitted in March that he did not want to let infected patients from a cruise ship disembark because it would increase the number of cases counted in the United States. He essentially made the same calculation on Wednesday by saying that more testing only reveals more infections and therefore increases the numbers. “In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad,” he said.

Mr. Trump returned to his military analogy at one point on Wednesday, calling Americans “warriors” in the battle and comparing the virus outbreak, which he blamed on China, to sneak attacks by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941, and Al Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is worse than Pearl Harbor,” he said. “This is worse than the World Trade Center. There has never been an attack like this.”

As it happens, the death toll is now about 24 times that of the Sept. 11 attack and 30 times that of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and still climbing. But Mr. Trump had no interest in extending the analogy to a long global war against tyranny or terrorists.

Instead, he said, for today’s Americans, the front lines will be at their workplaces, schools, places of worship, street corners and shopping malls. “We have to be warriors,” he said. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Coronavirus Masks and Testing Kits: Firm Set Up by G.O.P. Operatives Under Scrutiny

WASHINGTON — A company created just six weeks ago by a pair of Republican operatives received hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from desperate state and local governments for coronavirus supplies, but is now facing a federal criminal investigation and a rising chorus of complaints from customers who say their orders never arrived.

The company, Blue Flame Medical, had boasted that it could quickly obtain coveted test kits, N95 masks and other personal protective equipment through a Chinese government-owned company with which it had partnered, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Blue Flame was started by a pair of Republican political consultants, Mike Gula and John Thomas, who did not have much experience in the medical supply field. Mr. Gula’s fund-raising firm has been paid more than $36 million since 2008 by a range of top Republican politicians and political committees, while Mr. Thomas has served as a general consultant to a number of campaigns.

Mr. Thomas had said in an interview in late March that the pair had developed “very, very large networks” through their work in politics that would enable them to secure supplies from manufacturers, and connect to customers, such as government offices, large medical systems and law enforcement agencies around the world, including in the Middle East.

The company’s pitch — which was accompanied by an endorsement from a well-connected Chinese businessman who is an associate of Mr. Thomas’s — struck a chord with government agencies scrambling to obtain lifesaving supplies as the severity of the pandemic was becoming apparent.

Orders came in from state governments, local police departments and airports in California, Florida and Maryland, according to interviews and documents.

But things have not gone as planned.

The State of California quickly clawed back a $457 million payment for 100 million masks, as first reported by CalMatters. Other state and local agencies that paid Blue Flame say that the supplies never arrived, or that orders were only partially filled.

The Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation into the company, according to people familiar with the investigation, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

Some of the company’s clients are requesting refunds or threatening their own investigations.

Blue Flame’s lawyer, Ethan Bearman, did not respond to questions about the complaints, the demands for refunds or the federal investigation.

“We have spent close to $5,000 on unfilled items, and we need to have it all refunded,” wrote Daniel Lynch, a commander with the Melbourne Police Department in Florida, in an email to Blue Flame officials this month after spending weeks waiting for masks, face shields and surgical gowns.

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“At this point, if you do not refund the City of Melbourne this money, I will consider it theft/fraud, and move this to a different direction,” Commander Lynch wrote in the email, which was obtained under open records laws.

Representatives for the Maryland State Police also said they had not received supplies ordered from the company in late March. And separately, the Maryland Department of General Services moved to cancel a $12.5 million contract for masks and ventilators, and asked state law enforcement officials to investigate, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The willingness to pay huge sums to an unproven company reflects a desperate clamor to obtain vital equipment at a time of relatively limited supply. And Blue Flame’s inability to quickly make good on its promises underscores the logistical challenges and uncertainty surrounding a private production chain largely influenced by an unpredictable Chinese government and shrouded in concerns about profiteering.

New York State paid a Silicon Valley electrical engineer $69.1 million for more than 1,000 ventilators on the recommendation of the Trump administration, which passed along the proposal after it had been highlighted by a supply-chain task force assembled by President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But the engineer had not been vetted, and did not deliver a single ventilator. New York is now seeking to recover the money.

State and local agencies “were in a very difficult position, trying to vet companies that were nontraditional suppliers or third parties,” while at the same time “scrambling and quite frankly competing with each other to get access to either stockpiles or a reliable supply chain,” said Louis Grever, the executive director of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies.

“There was some real fear here about whether or not these third-party vendors and suppliers were legitimate, whether or not they truly had access,” Mr. Grever said.

He circulated an inventory list from Blue Flame to state law enforcement agencies across the country after the company was recommended to him by a law enforcement consultant named Laura S. Milford and her husband, James Milford, a former deputy administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In an email sent to Mr. Grever, Ms. Milford wrote that Blue Flame had “teamed with” the Miami-based intelligence and security firm V2 Global. The company indicated in promotional materials that its coronavirus response team included her husband, as well as other former officials, including Kevin K. McAleenan, Mr. Trump’s former acting homeland security secretary. (A person close to Mr. McAleenan said he is not involved with Blue Flame, and only agreed to provide crisis management consulting to V2 on a case-by-case basis two months ago.)

While Blue Flame had incorporated just two days before Ms. Milford had sent the email, she called the company “a prominent aggregator” of “masks, travel kits, Covid-19 test kits and personal protective equipment important to the coronavirus response.”

After circulating the inventory list, Mr. Grever said, he almost immediately received inquiries from local and state law enforcement agencies in Arkansas and Florida interested in doing business with Blue Flame, and referred them to Ms. Milford, who served as a liaison to Blue Flame.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I felt like I was misled about what the nature of the company was,” said Mr. Grever, a former F.B.I. official. He said it appeared to him that Blue Flame officials overpromised because they “thought they could rely on associates from the past” but in the end failed to deliver.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_172189692_95aeac34-b67a-4fc0-8369-28881f1ab7e9-articleLarge Coronavirus Masks and Testing Kits: Firm Set Up by G.O.P. Operatives Under Scrutiny Trump, Donald J Protective Clothing and Gear Politics and Government Internal Revenue Service Federal Bureau of Investigation Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

In an email, Ms. Milford suggested Blue Flame misled her about its capabilities. The company, she said, “purported to being able to provide personal protection equipment (P.P.E.) at a time of high demand and crucial need when suppliers were extremely hard to find, if at all.”

She said she is not in business with Blue Flame and “was merely generating awareness of a potential P.P.E. supplier to agencies who would perform their own due diligence.”

In a pitch deck for potential customers obtained by The Times, Blue Flame said it had partnered with a Chinese company called Great Health Companion to procure protective equipment directly from Chinese manufacturers in a way that complied with all Chinese laws and export rules.

Great Health is a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned firm called Hakim Unique Internet Company, which includes nearly 200 companies around the world, according to the deck. The deck included a letter from Henry Huang, who is listed as Hakim’s “C.E.O. of health care” and the founder and chairman of Great Health Companion Group.

Mr. Huang, a dual American-Chinese citizen who is a longtime associate of Mr. Thomas’s, said in an email that Hakim and Great Health contracted with Blue Flame “to assist their Covid-19 procurement efforts in China.”

Blue Flame promised customers it could deliver “volume orders” within “seven to 12 days after the initial order is placed,” according to the pitch deck.

After Maryland state officials complained about the delay in their $12.5 million order for 1.55 million N95 masks and 110 ventilators, Blue Flame blamed Chinese officials for preventing the shipment arranged by Great Health Companion Group, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Mr. Bearman, Blue Flame’s lawyer, had issued a statement to The Times earlier in the week saying the company “fully intends to honor” the Maryland contract, and “is devoted to getting masks and ventilators to the people in Maryland who so desperately need them.”

China made half the world’s masks before the coronavirus emerged there, and it has expanded production nearly 12-fold since then, but it has limited exports.

In an April 22 email intended to allay concerns of Melbourne police contracting officials, Marc T. Serrio, Blue Flame’s chief financial officer, wrote, “As you may have seen in the news, there have been significant disruptions in the supply chain coming out of China, and unfortunately we are not immune.”

He apologized for the delay and explained that the company would refund the department for some purchases.

Nearly two weeks later, the department was still seeking a refund of some funds, according to its spokesman, Marcus Claycomb, who said in an email that the department “will absolutely consider” referring the matter for investigation or potential charges against Blue Flame.

“Clearly this hindered our ability to get necessary personal protective equipment to our personnel in a timely manner,” Mr. Claycomb said.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point

WASHINGTON — As a padlocked economy leaves millions of Americans without paychecks, lines outside food banks have stretched for miles, prompting some of the overwhelmed charities to seek help from the National Guard.

New research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent. Among mothers with young children, nearly one-fifth say their children are not getting enough to eat, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution, a rate three times as high as in 2008, during the worst of the Great Recession.

The reality of so many Americans running out of food is an alarming reminder of the economic hardship the pandemic has inflicted. But despite their support for spending trillions on other programs to mitigate those hardships, Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps — a core feature of the safety net that once enjoyed broad support but is now a source of a highly partisan divide.

Democrats want to raise food stamp benefits by 15 percent for the duration of the economic crisis, arguing that a similar move during the Great Recession reduced hunger and helped the economy. But Republicans have fought for years to shrink the program, saying that the earlier liberalization led to enduring caseload growth and a backdoor expansion of the welfare state.

For President Trump, a personal rivalry may also be in play: In his State of the Union address in February, he boasted that falling caseloads showed him besting his predecessor, Barack Obama, whom Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, had derided as “the food stamp president.” Even as the pandemic unfolded, the Trump administration tried to push forward with new work rules projected to remove more people from aid.

Mr. Trump and his congressional allies have agreed to only a short-term increase in food stamp benefits that omits the poorest recipients, including five million children. Those calling for a broader increase say Congress has spent an unprecedented amount on programs invented on the fly while rejecting a proven way to keep hungry people fed.

“This program is the single most powerful anti-hunger tool that we have and one of the most important economic development tools,” said Kate Maehr, the head of the Chicago food bank. “Not to use it when we have so many people who are in such great need is heartbreaking. This is not a war that charity can win.”

The debate in Congress is about the size of benefits, not the numbers on the rolls. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are also known, expands automatically to accommodate need.

“SNAP is working, SNAP will increase,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the program. “Anyone who qualifies is going to get those benefits. We do not need new legislation.”

Mr. Conaway noted that Republicans have supported huge spending on other programs to temper the economic distress, and increased benefits for some SNAP recipients (for the duration of the health emergency, not the economic downturn). Democrats, he said, want to leverage the pandemic into a permanent food stamp expansion.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_152728413_afb3d017-d2e1-4c91-a329-009651e53e7c-articleLarge As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point Welfare (US) United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Republican Party Poverty House of Representatives food stamps Food Diet and Nutrition Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Children and Childhood
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“I’m a little bit jaded,” he said. “The last time we did this, those changes were sold as being temporary — when unemployment improved, the rolls would revert back. That didn’t happen.”

Rejecting what he called the Democrats’ narrative of “hardhearted Republicans,” he warned against tempting people to become dependent on government aid. “I don’t want to create a moral hazard for people to be on welfare.”

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Food stamp supporters say the program is well suited for the crisis because it targets the poor and benefits can be easily adjusted since recipients get them on a debit card. The money gets quickly spent and supplies a basic need.

During the Great Recession, Congress increased maximum benefits by about 14 percent and let states suspend work rules. Caseloads soared. By the time the rolls peaked in 2013, nearly 20 million people had joined the program, an increase of nearly 70 percent, and one in seven Americans received food stamps, including millions with no other income.

The Growth of a Core Safety Net Program

The number of people receiving food stamps, also known as SNAP, soared during the Great Recession and has never fully returned to its previous level.




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Westlake Legal Group 0506-nat-web-DC-VIRUS-FOODSTAMPS-Recipients-Artboard_2 As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point Welfare (US) United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Republican Party Poverty House of Representatives food stamps Food Diet and Nutrition Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Children and Childhood

AVERAGE NUMBER OF SNAP RECIPIENTS*

AVERAGE MONTHLY BENEFIT PER PERSON

million recipients

Adjusted for inflation

GREAT RECESSION

FISCAL YEARS

FISCAL YEARS

Westlake Legal Group 0506-nat-web-DC-VIRUS-FOODSTAMPS-Recipients-Artboard_3 As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point Welfare (US) United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Republican Party Poverty House of Representatives food stamps Food Diet and Nutrition Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Children and Childhood

AVERAGE NUMBER OF SNAP RECIPIENTS*

million recipients

GREAT RECESSION

FISCAL YEARS

AVERAGE MONTHLY BENEFIT PER PERSON

Adjusted for inflation

FISCAL YEARS


*The 2019 data excludes January and February, which were artificially affected by the government shutdown in January.

By The New York Times | Source: United States Department of Agriculture

Supporters saw a model response. The share of families suffering “very low food security” — essentially, hunger — fell after the benefit expanded (and rose once the increase expired). Analysts at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arloc Sherman and Danilo Trisi, found that in 2012 the program lifted 10 million people out of poverty.

“This is what you want a safety net to do — expand in times of crisis,” said Diane Schanzenbach, an economist at Northwestern University.

But a backlash quickly followed, as a weak recovery and efforts to increase participation kept the rolls much higher than they had been before the recession.

Republican governors reinstated work rules for childless adults, and one of them, Sam Brownback of Kansas, succeeded in pushing three-quarters of that population from the rolls. A new conservative think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability, said the policy “freed” the poor and urged others to follow. By the time Mr. Trump introduced his brand of conservative populism, skepticism of food stamps was part of the movement’s genome.

In a history that spans more than a half-century, the program has alternately been celebrated as “nutritional aid” and attacked as “welfare.”

Its current form dates to a 1977 compromise between two Senate lions, the liberal George McGovern and the conservative Bob Dole. But almost simultaneously Ronald Reagan added to a stream of racialized attacks on the program, invoking the image of a “strapping young buck” who used food stamps to buy steaks. As president, Reagan went on to enact large cuts.

Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

After President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare” in the 1990s by restricting cash aid, conservatives sought to include big cuts in food stamps, which he resisted. The law he signed subjected cash aid to time limits and work requirements but allowed similar constraints on just one group of food stamp recipients — adults without minor children, roughly 10 percent of the caseload. (Other provisions disqualified many immigrants.)

His Republican successor, George W. Bush, called himself a “compassionate conservative” and promoted food stamps — partly to help people leaving cash welfare to work — and the caseloads grew by nearly two-thirds.

“I don’t see it as a welfare program,” said Eric M. Bost, Mr. Bush’s first food stamp administrator. “I see it as a nutritional assistance program. You can only use it to buy food.”

Food stamps remain central to the American safety net — costing much more ($60 billion) than cash aid and covering many more people (38 million). To qualify, a household must have an income of 130 percent of the poverty line or less, about $28,000 for three people. Before the pandemic, the average household had a total income of just over $10,000 and received a benefit of about $239 a month.

But Mr. Trump has done all he can to shrink the program. He sought budget cuts of 30 percent. He tried to replace part of the benefit with “Harvest Boxes” of cheaper commodities. He tried to reduce eligibility and expand work rules to a much larger share of the caseload. When Congress balked, he pursued his goals through regulations. His chief of staff, Mark Meadows, called last year for using erroneous food stamp payments to fund the border wall.

“Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food stamp rolls,” Mr. Trump said in his State of Union speech (understating the growth). “Under my administration, seven million Americans have come off food stamps.”

In December, Mr. Trump issued a rule that made it harder for states to waive work mandates in areas of high unemployment. Conservatives say liberal states have abused waivers to gut the work rules — only six of California’s 58 counties, for example, enforced the requirement at the start of the year.

“Millions of able-bodied, working-age adults continue to collect food stamps without working or even looking for work,” Mr. Trump said.

But opponents of the Trump work rule, which applies to able-bodied adults, say it will punish indigents willing to work but unable to find jobs. Before the pandemic, the administration predicted nearly 700,000 people would lose benefits. They have average cash incomes of about $367 a month.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“This rule would take a group of people who are already incredibly poor, and make them worse off,” said Stacy Dean, vice president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which favors broad access to benefits.

Even as the pandemic unfolded in mid-March, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue vowed to implement the work rule on April 1 as scheduled. A federal judge halted the move, and Congress deferred the rule until the pandemic ends.

A second target of administration ire is a policy that lets states expand eligibility by waiving certain limits on income and assets. About 40 states do so, although the budget center found more than 99 percent of benefits go to households with net incomes below the poverty line ($21,700 for a family of three).

Critics of the policy — “broad-based categorical eligibility” — say it encourages abuse by allowing people with significant savings to collect benefits. The Trump administration is seeking to eliminate it and has and predicted that 3.1 million people would lose benefits, 8 percent of the caseload.

The Republican distrust of food stamps has now collided with a monumental crisis. Cars outside food banks have lined up for miles in places as different as San Antonio, Pittsburgh and Miami Beach.

Among those seeking food bank help for the first time was Andrew Schuster, 22, a long-distance trucker who contracted Covid-19 and returned home to recover outside Cleveland.

Unable to get unemployment benefits as the state’s website crashed, he exhausted his $1,200 stimulus check on rent and watched his food shelves empty. He was down to ramen noodles when he learned the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio was distributing food at his high school.

“I felt kind of embarrassed, really, because of the stigma of it,” Mr. Schuster said. But a box of milk, corn and pork loin “lifted a weight off my shoulders — I was almost in tears.”

Mr. Schuster, who voted for Mr. Trump, said that he used to think people abused food stamps, but that he may need to apply. “I never thought I would need it.”

While Mr. Schuster’s income fell, others have seen expenses rise. Jami Clinkscale of Columbus, Ohio, who lives on a disability check of $580 a month, has gone from feeding two people to six after taking in grandchildren when their mother was evicted. She feeds them on $170 of food stamps and frequents food pantries. “I’ve eaten a lot less just to make sure they get what they need,” she said.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

The share of Americans who say they cannot always afford enough food has hit the highest level on record and has increased most rapidly among families with young children.





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Westlake Legal Group 0506-nat-web-DC-VIRUS-FOODSTAMPS-Insecurity-Artboard_2 As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point Welfare (US) United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Republican Party Poverty House of Representatives food stamps Food Diet and Nutrition Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Children and Childhood

Share who answered “often” or “sometimes” to the statement:

“The food that we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to get more.”

Mothers with children 12 and under

GREAT RECESSION

U.S. households with children under 18

All U.S. households

April ’20

Westlake Legal Group 0506-nat-web-DC-VIRUS-FOODSTAMPS-Insecurity-Artboard_3 As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point Welfare (US) United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Republican Party Poverty House of Representatives food stamps Food Diet and Nutrition Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Children and Childhood

Share who answered “often” or

“sometimes” to the statement:

“The food that we bought just didn’t last,

and we didn’t have money to get more.”

Mothers with children

12 and under

GREAT RECESSION

U.S. households with

children under 18

All U.S. households

April

’20


By The New York Times | Source: Brookings Institution

The new research by the Brookings Institution underscores the rising need. Analyzing data from the Covid Impact Survey, a nationally representative sample, Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow in economic studies, found that nearly 23 percent of households said they lacked money to get enough food, compared with about 16 percent during the worst of the Great Recession. Among households with children, the share without enough food was nearly 35 percent, up from about 21 percent in the previous downturn.

When food runs short, parents often skip meals to keep children fed. But Ms. Bauer’s own survey of households with children 12 and younger found that more than 17.4 percent reported the children themselves not eating enough, compared with 5.7 percent in the Great Recession. (Her survey is called the Survey of Mothers With Young Children.) Inadequate nutrition can leave young children with permanent developmental damage.

Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

“This is alarming,” she said. “These are households cutting back on portion sizes, having kids skip meals. The numbers are much higher than I expected.”

Ms. Bauer said disruptions in school meal programs may be part of the problem, with some families unable to reach distribution sites and older siblings at home competing for limited food.

Republicans say the government is spending trillions to meet such needs. In addition to the stimulus checks, Congress has added $600 a week to jobless benefits through July and raised food stamp benefits during the pandemic for about 60 percent of the caseload, at a cost of nearly $2 billion a month. They note that Democrats have not only pushed a longer benefit increase but proposed to permanently block Mr. Trump’s work rules and asset limitations.

“This is a backdoor way to get permanent changes,” Mr. Conaway said.

Democrats say the emergency help will end before the economy recovers and mostly bypasses the neediest families, few of whom qualify for jobless benefits. About 40 percent of food stamp households — the poorest — were left out of the benefit expansion. (The increase gives all households the maximum benefit, $509 for a family of three, though the poorest 40 percent already received it.)

Prospects for a congressional deal remain unclear and may depend on horse-trading in a larger coronavirus bill. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is adamant that it should contain a broader food stamp expansion.

“First of all, it’s a moral thing to do,” she said in an interview with MSNBC. “Second of all, the people need it. And third of all, it’s a stimulus to the economy.”

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How Kushner’s Volunteer Force Led a Fumbling Hunt for Medical Supplies

Westlake Legal Group how-kushners-volunteer-force-led-a-fumbling-hunt-for-medical-supplies How Kushner’s Volunteer Force Led a Fumbling Hunt for Medical Supplies United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Medical Devices Masks Kushner, Jared Government Contracts and Procurement federal emergency management agency Defense Production Act Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

This spring, as the United States faced a critical shortage of masks, gloves and other protective equipment to battle the coronavirus pandemic, a South Carolina physician reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency with an offer of help.

Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks had longtime manufacturing contacts in China and a line on millions of masks from established suppliers. Instead of encountering seasoned FEMA procurement officials, his information was diverted to a team of roughly a dozen young volunteers, recruited by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and overseen by a former assistant to Mr. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump.

The volunteers, foot soldiers in the Trump administration’s new supply-chain task force, had little to no experience with government procurement procedures or medical equipment. But as part of Mr. Kushner’s governmentwide push to secure protective gear for the nation’s doctors and nurses, the volunteers were put in charge of sifting through more than a thousand incoming leads, and told to pass only the best ones on for further review by FEMA officials.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 05virus-fema-hendricks-articleLarge How Kushner’s Volunteer Force Led a Fumbling Hunt for Medical Supplies United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Medical Devices Masks Kushner, Jared Government Contracts and Procurement federal emergency management agency Defense Production Act Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Credit…Stephen Stinson

As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare and medical workers improvised their own safety gear, Dr. Hendricks found his offer stalled. Many of the volunteers were told to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of President Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The New York Times. Among them were leads from Republican members of Congress, the Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump.

Trump allies also pressed FEMA officials directly: A Pennsylvania dentist, once featured at a Trump rally, dropped the president’s name as he pushed the agency to procure test kits from his associates.

Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee. While Vice President Mike Pence dropped by the volunteers’ windowless command center in Washington to cheer them on, they were confused and overwhelmed by their task, the whistle-blower said in interviews.

“The nature and scale of the response seemed grossly inadequate,” said the volunteer, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity and, like the others, signed a nondisclosure agreement. “It was bureaucratic cycles of chaos.”

The fumbling search for new supplies — heralded by Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner as a way to pipe private-sector hustle and accountability into the hidebound federal bureaucracy — became a case study of Mr. Trump’s style of governing, in which personal relationships and loyalty are often prized over governmental expertise, and private interests are granted extraordinary access and deference.

Federal officials who had spent years devising emergency plans were layered over by Kushner allies, working with and within the White House coronavirus task force, who believed their private-sector experience could solve the country’s looming supply shortage. The young volunteers — drawn from venture capital and private equity firms — were expected to apply their deal-making experience to quickly weed out good leads from the mountain of bad ones, administration officials said in an interview. FEMA and other agencies, despite years of emergency preparation, were not equipped for the unprecedented task of a pandemic that impacted all 50 states, they said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_170742978_0f710a8c-d7eb-43a5-a1d9-ee90abc00607-articleLarge How Kushner’s Volunteer Force Led a Fumbling Hunt for Medical Supplies United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Medical Devices Masks Kushner, Jared Government Contracts and Procurement federal emergency management agency Defense Production Act Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Credit…Pool photo by Evan Vucci

But the officials acknowledged it was difficult to identify specific contracts the volunteers had successfully sourced.

At least one tip the volunteers forwarded turned into an expensive debacle. In late March, according to emails obtained by The Times, two of the volunteers passed along procurement forms submitted by Yaron Oren-Pines, a Silicon Valley engineer who said he could provide more than 1,000 ventilators.

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Mr. Kushner’s volunteers passed the tip to federal officials who then sent it to senior officials in New York, who assumed Mr. Oren-Pines had been vetted and awarded him an eye-popping $69 million contract. Not a single ventilator was delivered, and New York is now seeking to recover the money.

“There’s an old saying in emergency management — disaster is the wrong time to exchange business cards,” said Tim Manning, a former deputy administrator at FEMA. “And it’s absolutely the wrong time to make up new procedures.”

Records and emails obtained by The Times — along with interviews with current and former FEMA officials, former task force volunteers and others briefed on the agency’s work — provide the most detailed picture yet of how the Kushner-installed personnel complicated the government response amid a deadly crisis.

The whistle-blower memo, which has been provided to lawmakers on a House oversight committee, was disclosed on Tuesday by The Washington Post.

In April, as the virus spread, the shortages continued and the volunteers struggled, Dr. Hendricks waited, eager to move forward. Some of his messages to the volunteers went unreturned, he said, as he read news reports of the government making other, questionable, deals.

“When I offered them viable leads at viable prices from an approved vendor, they kept passing me down the line and made terrible deals instead,” said Dr. Hendricks, who has since sold supplies to hospitals in Michigan and elsewhere.

The coronavirus crisis presented a unique test for FEMA, former and current officials said: a 50-state emergency in which acquiring emergency supplies, many of them from overseas, became the overriding concern, rather than efficiently distributing goods readily available in the United States. In interviews, current FEMA officials and former colleagues who have spoken with them in recent weeks conveyed mixed feelings about the Kushner team’s involvement.

Some praised Mr. Kushner for ensuring that other White House officials did not meddle further in the response effort, and for quickly enlisting the Pentagon to link FEMA with the military’s suppliers. At meetings, some said, Mr. Kushner was well prepared with data and determined to act quickly. His deputies, including a Kushner friend and Trump appointee named Adam Boehler, were responsive to questions and concerns.

In a statement, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, the head of the supply-chain task force, said the volunteers had served an important function.

“The first thing we knew we needed to do was find more product around the globe in order to buy time to increase domestic production,” the admiral said. “This group made lots of calls, followed up on many leads. They helped wade through the hundreds of false claims and turned over a few true sources to government action officers. Their efforts saved many government man hours.”

But other officials described Mr. Kushner’s efforts as the solution to a problem of the president’s own making. Had Mr. Trump acted earlier than mid-March to assign FEMA to lead the federal government’s coronavirus response, the agency’s normal procedures might have been able to cope with the swelling demand. By the time Mr. Trump’s decision came, the Strategic National Stockpile was already running low on critical supplies. FEMA had no choice but to pursue every available lead, officials said, no matter how far-fetched.

And while the volunteers who began arriving around March 20 put eyes on the influx of tips at the agency, the officials did not understand why the White House did not recruit more manpower from the military or other agencies with logistics expertise, as FEMA typically does in a crisis. Two current and a former FEMA official briefed on the agency’s operations said the White House effort led to missed opportunities to procure personal protective gear from legitimate sources.

Some associates of Mr. Trump sought special treatment from FEMA. In one case, Jeanine Pirro, the Trump stalwart and Fox host, repeatedly contacted task force members and FEMA officials until 100,000 masks were sent to a hospital she favored. Ms. Pirro did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Dr. Albert Hazzouri, a Pennsylvania dentist and visitor of Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private Florida club, repeatedly pressed FEMA officials to buy from his associates, after being referred by Rep. Brian Babin, a Texas Republican and fellow dentist.

He said he could help facilitate a procurement of 100,000 test kits from Mexico. Dr. Hazzouri, who has used his relationship with Mr. Trump to gain access to federal agencies in the past, repeatedly called the team of volunteers and FEMA officials, according to those involved in the agency’s operations, even invoking his friendship with the president when he was directed to a portal for submitting bids.

When reached for comment, a man who identified himself as the dentist’s brother said Dr. Hazzouri was not available and denied that the dentist had made use of his friendship with the president, received any special treatment or had a financial interest in the potential deal, saying he merely had made a few introductions. None of his tips resulted in FEMA supply deals.

The agency’s career staff is filled with military veterans and disaster specialists whose careers trace the history of recent American catastrophes: Katrina, Sandy, Deepwater Horizon, Irene. The volunteers, most in their 20s, had different names in their résumés: Stanford, Goldman Sachs, Google. One had graduated from college just the previous spring. They were recruited from Insight Partners, Clayton Dubilier & Rice and other investment firms and consulting companies in New York City.

According to the whistle-blower, they were given little initial instruction. They used personal Gmail accounts, prompting suspicion from some prospective suppliers and brokers who questioned their bona fides. A few days after they began, a government lawyer belatedly showed up with nondisclosure forms from the Department of Homeland Security.

Bottles of hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes were placed around the room, and in a nod to social distancing, sheets of paper were laid on every other chair at the long conference tables, though many of the seats were eventually occupied by volunteers. For Mr. Pence’s pep talk in late March, the televisions were switched from CNN to Fox News.

For the next three weeks, the volunteers worked 12-hour days, struggling to keep up with leads funneled through FEMA’s website and trying to navigate the federal government’s byzantine procurement rules. But their work was plagued by frequent changes in process, efforts that turned out to be wasted, poor communication and mounting dread about their lack of progress, the whistle-blower said in interviews and the blistering memo.

“These problems affect the entire chain of command, hamper our ability to respond and could result in many Americans losing their lives,” the whistle-blower wrote.

Their temporary supervisor was Rachael Baitel, a 2014 Princeton graduate who had worked as a White House assistant to Ms. Trump before moving on to a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ms. Baitel told volunteers to prioritize leads from the politically connected, according to the former volunteer and documents reviewed by The Times. The senior administration officials said that the White House task force was unaware that any FEMA leads were being prioritized on a V.I.P. list. All leads judged by the volunteers to be worth pursuing, the officials said, would have been reviewed by career government officials, with a final contract decision made by FEMA procurement experts.

Many other leads came to the volunteers from Mr. Kushner’s team. There was Mr. Boehler, a former venture capitalist and Mr. Kushner’s college roommate, who was serving elsewhere in the administration, as well as Avi Berkowitz, a Kushner aide, and Ms. Trump’s chief of staff, Julie Radford. Tips also came in from Republican members of congress, conservative media personalities and Admiral Polowczyk.

When Tana Goertz, the former “Apprentice” contestant who now runs Women For Trump, wrote in with a lead for N95 masks, it circulated among top Trump appointees at three federal agencies — including Mr. Trump’s top public health preparedness official, Robert Kadlec. Ms. Goertz did not reply to messages seeking comment.

In contrast, Dr. Hendricks’s messages sometimes went unanswered and were passed from person to person, even though he provided the codes and filled out the forms the government required, and sent a picture of the masks to Ms. Baitel to prove that they were real.

Weeks after the volunteers left in early April, and his tip had been passed to a Defense Department employee, Dr. Hendricks finally saw a sign of progress: notification of a possible site visit in China. “After five weeks of somewhat frustrating efforts, I’m finally hopeful,” he said.

Other potential suppliers contacted FEMA officials after the volunteers departed, asking about lack of follow-up. FEMA officials, who were not provided with complete records on the calls made by the volunteers, were forced to restart vetting some bids.

The volunteers also worked on other aspects of Mr. Kushner’s White House effort, notably Project Airbridge, in which American taxpayers paid to ship crates of gowns, masks and gloves procured in China by large American suppliers, such as Cardinal Health, McKesson and Owens & Minor.

Supplies of protective gear have improved in recent weeks, administration officials said, pointing to an agreement the White House struck with 3M in early April to procure more than 160 million respirators over three months. But many medical workers across the country say that shortages remain a serious problem.

“There are health providers quitting their jobs because they are worried about getting sick,” said Dr. Valerie Griffeth, an emergency room doctor in Oregon and a founder of Get Us P.P.E., a volunteer effort to match available medical supplies with hospitals and emergency workers.

She and other front-line medical workers continue to press Mr. Trump to make use of the Defense Production Act, and she criticized the administration’s reliance on the private sector to address the shortages.

“To bring in inexperienced volunteers is laughable when there are professional logistics experts in government who could have helped with procurement and distribution and get us the supplies we need,” she said.

Christopher Flavelle contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy, Alain Delaquérière and Lauren Pressman contributed research.

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Administration to Phase Out Coronavirus Task Force

Westlake Legal Group 05dc-virus-taskforce-facebookJumbo Administration to Phase Out Coronavirus Task Force United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Pence, Mike Kushner, Jared Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Azar, Alex M II

WASHINGTON — Despite growing evidence that the pandemic is still raging, administration officials said on Tuesday that they had made so much progress in bringing it under control that they planned to wind down the coronavirus task force in the coming weeks and focus the White House on restarting the economy.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has led the task force for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of the May, and shift management of the public health response back to the federal agencies whose work it was created to coordinate.

Other administration officials said that under plans still in discussion, the White House would consult with medical experts on a more informal basis and that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, would help oversee a group pushing for progress in developing a vaccine and treatments for the virus.

“It really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country,” Mr. Pence told reporters at the White House.

His comments came a day after the revelation of new estimates that suggest deaths from the coronavirus, now above 70,000, could double by early August, and that infection rates may rise sharply as businesses reopen. While the number of new cases logged daily in the New York City area is declining, new cases continue to grow across the rest of the United States.

With President Trump facing a tough re-election battle, the White House appears intent on putting a response to the daily death toll more toward the background as it emphasizes efforts at a return to economic and job growth. The president’s advisers have repeatedly tried to place the responsibility for testing and decisions about reopening on individual states.

The task force spent some of its time preparing talking points for Mr. Trump, who took over its public briefings, often turning them into lengthy opportunities to air grievances, praise his own handling of the crisis and offer up his own prescriptions.

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There were signals in recent days of the task force’s impending demise: The panel did not meet on Saturday, as it typically does, and canceled a meeting on Monday. And the president has stopped linking his news briefings to the task force’s meetings and no longer routinely arrays task force members around him in his public appearances, a change that came swiftly after he mused one day about the possibility of injecting disinfectants to kill the virus.

Members of the coronavirus task force, including Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, had to urge Americans not to take those steps. And they often served as a public check on Mr. Trump’s questionable or false statements, cautioning about promises of a quick vaccine or the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a drug promoted by the president.

While the task force’s advice has sometimes been swept aside by Mr. Trump and the guidelines it produced for states to reopen ignored by some of them, the group was a comforting symbol for people scared about the virus’s spread and looking for a sign the White House was taking it seriously. People closely monitored which members attended, noting any time Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert, was absent. The decision to phase out the task force has prompted new questions about whether the administration will be adequately organized to address the complex, life-or-death decisions related to the virus and give sufficient voice to scientists and public health experts in making policy.

“We will have something in a different form,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Tuesday during a trip to Arizona.

Asked why now was the right time to wind down the task force, he replied, “Because we can’t keep our country closed for the next five years.”

If there is a recurrence of cases in the fall, he said, “we’re going to put the flame out.”

White House officials said that medical officials like Dr. Birx would still be advising the president and be available to answer reporters’ questions.

Still, the change means a growing role for Mr. Kushner, who is looking for a czarlike appointee to oversee the development of a vaccine and therapeutic treatments, as well as for top economic officials like Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and the White House advisers Larry Kudlow and Kevin Hassett.

Since it was formed in January, the task force has been the scene of bureaucratic and policy battling, its influence only as great as Mr. Trump’s episodic willingness to accept its advice.

Its priorities and configuration often reflected the most immediate circumstances, starting with quarantines for passengers of cruise ships and repatriated Americans in late January and early February. But the group spent little time managing the testing of Americans for the virus, a problem the administration still has not fully resolved.

It was initially overseen by Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, before he was cast aside for Mr. Pence. Its influence peaked in March, when Dr. Birx led other members in persuading the president to urge the stay-at-home and social-distancing orders that have averted even higher death tolls, but at a huge cost to the economy.

From the task force’s inception, there have been tensions between economic advisers and some of Mr. Trump’s health and national security officials over the right balance between keeping the nation locked down to minimize illness and death and the devastation from a historic surge in joblessness.

In recent weeks, one official said, economic advisers, including Mr. Mnuchin, have had an increasingly prominent role in discussions of public health matters. To critics, Mr. Trump’s promotion of economic recovery reflects the White House’s impatience with the caution that top health officials have urged for months as the virus’s death toll has climbed rapidly.

At the same time, top White House officials have moved much of the coordination of federal resources away from the official task force. A group led by Mr. Kushner has been functioning as something of a shadow task force since early March. Among other issues, Mr. Kushner has told people he is helping oversee the vaccine development process, and he has been overseeing the expansion of testing.

“The task force has been hampered by inconsistent messaging,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, a former top F.D.A. official who teaches on public health crises at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There were too many times when what the scientists said and what the president said were at odds.”

At various moments, different splinter groups separate from the task force have met elsewhere in the White House, including the one led by Mr. Kushner, which focused on testing and then supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators. Another has been led by Joe Grogan, the chief of the White House Domestic Policy Council who plans to leave his post this month.

That group, composed mostly of top health officials, gathers in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room to organize and script discussion for the larger task force meeting that occurs directly after it, one senior administration official said. Another group, which consists solely of top health officials with medical degrees, meets less regularly in person and by phone.

The news of the task force’s potential disbandment was not met with strong resistance from medical officials in the group, according to senior administration officials. In recent months, top health officials had become wary of the amount of time task force obligations were taking, including trips to and from the White House, which is far from the headquarters of agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, where a task force meeting was scheduled to take place on Tuesday before it was moved to the White House, one official said.

Dr. Fauci described the meetings last week as the place where health officials could spend 90 minutes or so examining data about new infections and deaths, the effectiveness of potential treatments and the surging of resources to new hot spots.

“Everyone understands the task force and refers to it as the coordinating body, where policies came out, messaging came out, guidelines were centralized from this one body,” said Dr. Leana S. Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. “We need to have a national coordinating body that has the ear of the president and is able to direct the entire federal government.”

Noah Weiland and David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.

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Judge Justin Walker Faces Scrutiny in Bid for Seat on Powerful Appeals Court

Westlake Legal Group 05dc-walker1-facebookJumbo Judge Justin Walker Faces Scrutiny in Bid for Seat on Powerful Appeals Court Walker, Justin R United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Metts, Frank McConnell, Mitch LOUISVILLE, Ky. Kentucky federalist society Appointments and Executive Changes Appeals Courts (US) American Bar Assn

WASHINGTON — In March, after Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh took time off from his Supreme Court duties to swear in Justin Walker to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville, the newly minted judge recognized how he had gotten there at the age of 37, with zero trial experience but a pedigree in conservatism.

His mother had supported a rising Republican star named Mitch McConnell when her son was just 8, Judge Walker recalled: “I’ve got to hand it to you, Mom. It has been extremely important to me that Kentucky’s senior senator is Mitch McConnell.”

Then he turned to Justice Kavanaugh as he addressed the justice’s liberal opponents: “What can I say that I haven’t already said on Fox News?” said Judge Walker, who gave 119 interviews to the news media and several speeches paid for by the Federalist Society rebutting Kavanaugh critics. “In Brett Kavanaugh’s America,” he said, “we will not surrender while you wage war on our work, or our cause, or our hope, or our dream.”

He closed with a broadside against the American Bar Association, which had given him a rare “Not Qualified” rating for his absence of courtroom work, categorizing the professional organization among his “opponents.” “Although we are winning we have not won. Although we celebrate today, we cannot take for granted tomorrow — or we will lose our courts and our country to critics who call us terrifying and who describe us as deplorable.”

Barely two months later, Judge Walker will appear Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee as Mr. McConnell’s handpicked nominee to a new seat: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, long seen as the second-most powerful court in the land and a potential springboard to the most powerful, the Supreme Court.

In his quest to remake the American judiciary, Mr. McConnell is not done with his protégé, Judge Walker, the grandson of a millionaire power broker in Kentucky and a soldier in the Senate majority leader’s judicial push. Calling senators back to Washington amid a pandemic, Mr. McConnell plans a swift confirmation for the youngest nominee to the District of Columbia appellate court since 1983.

Republicans promote Judge Walker as a “drain the swamp” Washington outsider, who triumphed over a hardscrabble upbringing in Kentucky to reach the heights of American jurisprudence 11 years out of law school.

“He’s young, brilliant and conservative,” said Mike Davis, who leads the Article III Project, a judicial advocacy group that has pushed President Trump’s appointments to the federal bench.

Democrats see the appointment differently. “I don’t think Mitch cares much about who is appointed to these spots as long as it’s someone he knows and he has confidence will be a conservative,” said Representative John Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents Mr. McConnell’s hometown, Louisville, and who has known Mr. McConnell for decades.

“It’s the ultimate wielding of power,” he added, “and that’s what Mitch lives for.”

Judge Walker’s biography has received something of a makeover during his judicial ascent. Last year, he described his mother, Deborah Walker, as “a single working mom” who “made indescribable sacrifices to provide me, the first in my family to graduate from college, with the opportunities she didn’t have herself.”

But his maternal grandfather, Frank R. Metts, was a millionaire real estate developer and a Kentucky transportation secretary who was one of the state’s most powerful officials in the early 1980s. Judge Walker’s estranged father, Terry Martin Walker, earned his college degree in 1979, several years before he and Judge Walker’s mother divorced in 1985.

“My father believed strongly in his children working to make their own way in the world,” Deborah Walker said in emailed comments.

“When Justin referred to ‘opportunities I didn’t have,’ he was referring to the opportunities a college graduate has,” she said. “I wanted that for him.”

In an interview, Terry Walker declined to comment on his son’s personal narrative.

“He was funny, just so smart and a good kid all the way around,” Mr. Walker said.

“Justin and I had a great, great relationship. But junior or senior year in high school, he kind of got out of wanting to see me,” said Mr. Walker, a real estate appraiser. “His mom was doing a fantastic job raising him. And I loved him so much I had to let him go.”

Mr. Walker said he had continued to pay child support and half of his son’s tuition at St. Xavier High School, an elite Catholic school in Louisville. Ms. Walker disputed that.

Judge Walker’s parents were barely into their 20s when they married in 1976. They named Justin, born in 1982, after Justin Hayward, the guitarist and frontman for an often over-the-top British progressive rock band, the Moody Blues, and gave him the same middle name, Reed, as his well-known grandfather. Judge Walker served as ring bearer when his father remarried, and in his younger years, he was close to the three children his father had with his second wife.

He grew up in a Democratic household. After making millions on land deals, his grandfather became Kentucky transportation secretary in the administration of Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., overseeing thousands of workers and tens of millions of dollars in construction funds. After his grandparents divorced, his grandmother, Barbara Metts, married Norton Cohen, president of the Acme Paper Stock Company and a prominent member of Louisville’s Jewish community.

Despite his Democratic pedigree, young Justin embraced the Republican Party from childhood. “I remember on Halloween once or more than once, his costume was a G.O.P. elephant,” Terry Walker recalled.

A profile in his high school alumni magazine said Judge Walker was “putting up political yard signs at age 4 or 5.” In a 1995 letter to the editor in The Courier-Journal in Louisville, a 13-year-old Justin Walker defended the Christian Coalition.

“You have made a bunch of concerned parents, who feel strongly about their beliefs and who are trying to take back their government from all the Washington bureaucrats, look like a bunch of fanatical, right-winged, anti-Semitic bigots,” he wrote.

Mr. Cohen arranged his grandson’s first meeting with Mr. McConnell while he was a student at St. Xavier. Judge Walker interviewed Mr. McConnell for a treatise on the Republicans’ 1994 takeover of Congress, a paper that Mr. McConnell hailed as equivalent to “a Ph.D. dissertation” at his protégé’s first judicial confirmation hearing last year.

“He was such a political nerd or junkie, into the ‘contract with America’ and Newt Gingrich,” said Michael Denbow, who was class president at St. Xavier when Judge Walker attended. “It was something the rest of us slackers didn’t even think about.”

In summer 2002, while a student at Duke University, Judge Walker interned in Mr. McConnell’s office. After graduating in 2004, he worked on the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush, and then served as a speechwriter for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

He attended Harvard Law School, joining its chapter of the conservative Federalist Society in 2006. He held leadership roles in the organization until last year, and has kept up his membership from the bench.

Judge Walker clerked for Justice Kavanaugh when he was a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court, and then for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, working for brief periods in between at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He then moved back to Louisville for a job teaching legal writing at the University of Louisville, a McConnell power center.

While in Louisville, Judge Walker also did work for Javelin, a literary agency founded by former aides to Mr. McConnell and Mr. Rumsfeld. He declined to tell the Senate whose books he had worked on, citing his clients’ expectations of confidentiality. But he was prominently named as “Justin Walker at Javelin” in the acknowledgments of a 2015 book by Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, which is considering his nomination this week.

“It’s ironic,” Mr. Denbow added, “He’s probably better suited as a circuit court judge than a trial judge, given his lack of trial experience but his great experience as a clerk and an academic.”

The American Bar Association concurred with that assessment. Late Tuesday, it rated Judge Walker “well qualified” for the seat on the District of Columbia Circuit, citing his scholarship as well as his writing and clerking experience.

On June 22, 2018, Judge Walker told Mr. McConnell that he was interested in a judgeship, according to his Senate questionnaire. Five days later, he gave his first interview pressing for the Kavanaugh confirmation.

In July 2018, with Mr. Trump embroiled in the special counsel investigation stemming from his firing of James B. Comey as the F.B.I. director, Judge Walker wrote a paper arguing that “calls for an independent F.B.I. are misguided and dangerous.”

The F.B.I.’s history of “infringements on liberty,” he wrote, “shows why the F.B.I. must not operate as an independent agency. It must be accountable to the President.”

Two months later, in September 2018, Judge Walker was interviewed by White House lawyers to replace Justice Kavanaugh on the District of Columbia Circuit, well before he was being considered for the lower court. He was passed over that time, but in March 2019, he again met with the White House about a potential appointment. He was confirmed along party lines last fall to the trial court in Kentucky, and on Jan. 8, 2020, Mr. McConnell accompanied him to the White House to meet with the president.

At the March swearing-in, Justice Kavanaugh emphasized in his remarks that Justice Elena Kagan, who was named to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, had recommended Judge Walker as a clerk to Justice Kennedy, while she was dean of the Harvard Law School.

But after taking the oath, Judge Walker delivered a speech that touched nerves after the bitter Kavanaugh fight. “You were like St. Paul,” he said in describing Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, “hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.”

Judge Walker cited St. Paul again last month in a decision in favor of the On Fire Christian Church, in Louisville, which had sued Mayor Greg Fischer over his urging faith leaders to avoid large gatherings such as the church’s drive-in Easter services amid the coronavirus pandemic. “On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” Judge Walker wrote.

Manning G. Warren III, Judge Walker’s fellow law professor at the University of Louisville, sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee in support of Judge Walker’s confirmation. But even he said he considered that 16-page opinion over the top. “I don’t think Mayor Fischer would ever criminalize Easter,” Mr. Warren said, laughing. “He’s a good guy.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Trump Eyes New Tax Cuts for Next Stimulus Package

Westlake Legal Group 05DC-VIRUS-TAX-01-facebookJumbo Trump Eyes New Tax Cuts for Next Stimulus Package United States Politics and Government United States Economy Trump, Donald J Tax Credits, Deductions and Exemptions Recession and Depression Payroll Tax Federal Taxes (US) Corporate Taxes Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering a wide range of tax-cut proposals for businesses and investors in the next coronavirus response bill as it tries to shift from government spending programs to support the economy toward measures that aim to reinvigorate growth.

The list of ideas under discussion includes a reduction in the capital gains tax rate and measures that would allow companies to deduct the full costs of any investments they make now or in the future, according to administration officials and several outside experts who have discussed plans with the White House.

Those proposals, which are still being debated and are not final, could accompany President Trump’s top two priorities for the next rescue package: the suspension of payroll taxes for workers and an expanded deduction for corporate spending on meals and entertainment.

Mr. Trump and his aides are also planning to push lawmakers to approve legal liability limits for businesses that operate during the pandemic, a top priority of business lobbying groups in Washington and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.

Some of the administration’s proposals have been disclosed publicly by officials, while others have been discussed internally and with outside advisers.

None of the plans are likely to find favor with congressional Democrats, who are pushing instead for additional support for Americans who have lost their jobs as the pandemic plunges the country into recession and for hundreds of billions of dollars in federal assistance to struggling state and local governments to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and other government workers.

The administration’s internal debates reflect a balancing act as the White House tries to continue helping businesses and individuals weather the recession while hoping that a gradual lifting of state restrictions on economic activity will begin to restart growth and move the discussion in Congress away from additional spending programs and toward incentives for investment.

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Activist protests in state capitals in favor of “reopening” the economy — and a growing backlash among congressional conservatives against the $3-trillion-and-growing tab for federal spending on economic assistance during the crisis — have increased the pressure from Mr. Trump’s base to shift the government’s focus, even as millions of Americans are applying for new unemployment benefits each week.

“‘No more spending’ has really become the rallying cry of the right,” said Stephen Moore, an informal adviser to Mr. Trump who is the president of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, which has pushed governors and other officials to ease restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses. “We’ve done the spending, it didn’t work, and now we need to try something else. There is going to be civil war in Congress over this.”

But administration officials and many of their allies privately acknowledge what public forecasters, including the Congressional Budget Office, are increasingly projecting: that the recession will be so severe that it could take years for the American economy to fully recover, even if growth returns this year.

That could necessitate continuing government support to people and businesses, though administration officials are divided over what form that should take and how much they should spend. Some believe that business support is best left to the Federal Reserve, which has opened a series of lending programs meant to keep the financial system functioning and to help steady the economy once the recovery begins.

There is debate within the administration, for example, over whether to continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans for smaller companies. Congress has already allocated $660 billion for the program and to help companies stay in business and keep paying workers, but it has quickly lost favor among lawmakers amid revelations that larger companies are benefiting from funds meant to help mom-and-pop shops.

Mr. Trump nodded to the tension in a Fox News virtual town hall on Sunday, telling a questioner who was experiencing economic duress: “There is more help coming. There has to be.” But, he added: “I think we’re going to have an incredible following year. We’re going to go into a transition in the third quarter, and we’re going to see things happening that look good. I really believe that. I have a good feel for this stuff.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers are considering several measures that so-called supply-side conservatives have long proposed as a means to accelerate economic growth. In many cases, those measures would expand or make permanent provisions of the sweeping tax overhaul Mr. Trump signed into law in 2017. They include making permanent a provision that allows businesses to immediately deduct the full cost of their investments in equipment and other relatively short-lived assets, which is currently set to begin phasing out in 2022.

In some cases, the proposals would reverse provisions tucked into the 2017 overhaul to help pay for the overall package, such as limiting deductions on research and development investments in 2022.

Officials have also discussed extending the immediate deduction provision, known as “full expensing,” to structures — allowing anyone who buys a building to write off its cost right away. The Tax Foundation in Washington, which analyzes tax proposals and tends to find high economic effects from tax cuts, estimates that such an expansion would reduce federal revenues by $1.6 trillion over a decade, before accounting for additional growth.

Administration officials have also weighed a less-costly substitute for that proposal, which would allow companies to deduct investments in structures over time, but with adjustments for inflation and other factors, in order to increase the value of the deduction. That “neutral cost recovery” system would reduce revenues by about $1.3 trillion before accounting for growth effects, the Tax Foundation estimates.

Officials are also considering some way to encourage individual investors to take risk, perhaps by reducing the rate on capital gains taxes, a senior administration official said. Those taxes, which range from 0 to 20 percent based on income levels, are assessed on realized profits from sales of stock and other investments.

Mr. Trump has made clear, officials and allies said, that his top priorities are a suspension of all payroll taxes paid by employees and an expansion of business deductions for meals, entertainment and sporting events.

Democrats have already begun to criticize Mr. Trump for pushing tax cuts they say are unrelated to the economy’s current situation — where activity is limited and slow to return even in areas where restrictions have been lifted, because would-be consumers continue to fear contracting the virus — and unlikely to help hard-hit workers and small-business owners.

“It’s extraordinarily naïve to think that tax cuts are going to bring this economy back faster,” said Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., Democrat of Virginia and the vice chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. “I have not talked to a single economist yet who says tax cuts are a viable solution here.”

Mr. Beyer and two Democratic counterparts in the Senate, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, released a plan on Tuesday for a very different sort of economic response to the virus. It would tie enhanced unemployment benefits to economic conditions, phasing them down from the current benefit — which adds $600 per week to every unemployment check — once the crisis abates and the unemployment rate begins to fall. If the rate stays near 10 percent for years to come, the benefits could last until as late as April 2022.

Republicans have pushed to end the enhanced unemployment benefits earlier than scheduled, saying they are dissuading workers from staying on payrolls or returning to their jobs.

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A Bitter Battle for a California House Seat Unfolds in Quarantine

Westlake Legal Group 00-CA25-facebookJumbo A Bitter Battle for a California House Seat Unfolds in Quarantine United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Smith, Christy Republican Party Hill, Katie (1987- ) Garcia, Mike Elections, House of Representatives Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) California absentee voting

LOS ANGELES — Christy Smith, a Democratic House candidate in suburban Los Angeles, had just finished a debate (over Zoom, of course) and was eager to point something out: First, President Trump had endorsed her Republican opponent, Mike Garcia. Then the president raised the specter of voting fraud, writing on Twitter: “Turn your Ballots in now and track them, watching for dishonesty. Report to Law Enforcement.”

Democrats saw this special election on May 12 as a referendum on Mr. Trump even before the coronavirus crisis brought his leadership front and center for many Americans. For Mr. Garcia, the president’s support means potentially more donors and a motivated, loyal base. For Ms. Smith, it’s a vulnerability to attack.

The same week, we have a president who endorsed both my opponent and potentially using household disinfectants to treat a deadly pandemic,” Ms. Smith said from her home office in a recent interview. “I think that pretty well encapsulates the moment.”

The election is a microcosm of the country’s politics amid the health crisis: It is an early test of Mr. Trump’s sway in a race both he and his former rival, Hillary Clinton, have weighed in on. It is a battle over vote-by-mail in which doubts have been sown over the election’s integrity. And it is showing just how nasty politics can be, even under lockdown.

In the 2018 midterm elections, this Southern California district, the 25th Congressional, was one of the highest-profile victories for Democrats. But after just a year in office, Representative Katie Hill resigned after admitting to an affair with a staff member. Now, Ms. Smith and Mr. Garcia are locked in a bitter battle that will serve as an important early test for both parties ahead of the fall.

One key question is how much of a role Mr. Trump will play. Democrats believe that focusing on his leadership, particularly over the pandemic, will help them in a suburban district north of Los Angeles that Ms. Hill won by nine percentage points. But Republicans appear emboldened, counting on reliable conservatives to cast their ballots.

Each of the roughly 425,000 voters in the district was sent a ballot for the election — with return postage already paid. But there’s another unknowable: How much will it take to get voters to move those ballots from their kitchen counter to their mailbox at a time when many are consumed by worries about their health and finances?

If the choice is between “‘I’ve got to spend a little time thinking about who my congressional candidate is today’ or ‘I’ve got to figure out a way to get back online and apply one more time for my unemployment insurance that I haven’t gotten yet,’” the answer is obvious, Ms. Smith said. “People are going to take care of their families.”

“We get the challenge,” she added. “We understand how hard it is.”

Mr. Garcia, a defense contractor and political newcomer, has relied heavily on his biography — he was raised in the district, leaving after high school for the Navy, where he served as a pilot. Nearly all of his advertisements feature him standing in front of a plane, and his campaign logo is designed to resemble jet wings, with “fighter pilot” above his name on his website.

During a recent call with volunteers, Ms. Smith, a current member of the State Assembly with a long history in politics, laughingly questioned Mr. Garcia’s credentials.

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“Did you guys know he’s a pilot?” she asked sarcastically. During the debate the day before, she said, she texted her team to point out that while he had “pictures of planes behind him,” her background was “constitutional law books.”

Mr. Garcia’s supporters seized on the remarks, saying they were evidence that she does not respect his military service. Mr. Garcia declined to comment for this article.

During the pandemic, the race has become increasingly vitriolic — with the campaigns unable to knock on doors, they have focused on blanketing television and social media with advertisements, many of them negative.

The race is also putting a sharp focus on the increasingly partisan debate over vote-by-mail, which Republicans have portrayed as ripe for fraud, though there is no evidence of widespread wrongdoing. Party officials have focused much of their ire on so-called ballot harvesting, the legal practice in which political organizers collect ballots from voters and drop them off at polling sites on their behalf.

Speaking to supporters in late January, Mr. Garcia said that he believed many votes were left uncounted and that the special election would “magnify or potentially open up the opportunity for more fraud than already existed,” both unfounded claims. Republicans in Congress, including Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, have repeatedly questioned the results of past elections in the state.

“The question is, how confident am I in the integrity of the election? Not confident at all,” Mr. Garcia said. “The bottom line is, I have very low confidence in a truly high-integrity election process.”

This month, Republican officials in California sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, demanding that he make such collections illegal amid stay-at-home orders. Last week, state party officials filed a lawsuit to try force such an action.

But while Ms. Smith said she was not allowing anyone from her campaign to collect ballots, Democrats say Mr. Garcia’s campaign appears to be setting up the kind of system his party has repeatedly condemned. Officials from his campaign have encouraged local churches to set up unofficial drop-off sites for ballots as recently as last month, according to an internal email provided by Democratic officials.

Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, has not issued any directive over collecting ballots, but has been unabashed in his response to accusations from Republicans that he has presided over elections rife with fraud — a claim he calls baseless.

“Voter fraud is nothing but a distraction and nothing but a pretext for suppressing the vote,” said Mr. Padilla, a Democrat. “It’s disingenuous at a time when we should be making it easier — not stifling rights.”

More than half of all voters in California have voted by mail for the last decade. Mr. Padilla and other election officials view the special election as a test run for November. Though state officials are still hammering out detailed plans, Mr. Padilla expects that voters statewide will automatically receive their ballots by mail.

Even then, local officials will still be expected to open in-person polling places, and they have begun to search for larger locations to allow for social distancing and for new volunteers to work the sites.

“The most important thing is to demonstrate that even during the Covid pandemic, our democracy is resilient, and that we can provide accessible and safe measures both now and especially for November,” Mr. Padilla said.

Early indications suggest voters are turning out in high numbers. Already, nearly 20 percent of voters in the district have cast their ballots, with 31 percent of registered Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats doing so, according to tracking data. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 30,000 voters in the district.

And Mr. Trump is hardly the only high-profile official paying attention to the race: Ms. Smith attracted endorsements from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, and this week Ms. Hill’s new political action committee began a $200,000 advertising blitz to urge her former supporters to vote in the special election, targeting newly registered voters and those who cast a ballot in 2018 but had not consistently voted in congressional elections.

But many Democrats worry that Ms. Hill’s sudden resignation left the party vulnerable in the district, and strategists have privately reported that Ms. Hill’s high unfavorable ratings in the district have made it more difficult for Ms. Smith. In February, several California lawmakers met at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters and expressed concern that she was not raising the kind of money needed to win the district. Both Ms. Smith and Mr. Garcia have each raised over $2.2 million and have about $300,000 cash on hand, according to their most recent campaign finance reports. Last month, the Cook Political Report shifted the race from “lean Democratic” to a “tossup.”

During the 2018 midterm elections, activists from safe Democratic districts in Los Angeles routinely trekked an hour north to knock on doors in the middle-class district, which has long drawn families looking for more affordable suburban housing and has grown increasingly diverse — roughly 45 percent of the district is black, Latino or Asian.

Indivisible, the liberal group that helped flip several congressional districts in 2018 and has backed Ms. Smith, had so many volunteers for at-home phone banks in recent weeks that it had to create a waiting list and wrote postcards to send to every voter in the district.

“People are really motivated to defend what they won, and there’s definitely still a lot of energy among volunteers,” said Lucy Solomon, a national political director for the group. But she tempered her optimism. “It’s impossible to know how coronavirus is going to affect the outcome,” she said.

Though Mr. Padilla expects that the overwhelming majority of voters will choose to mail in their ballots, a few in-person voting options will be open on May 12, mostly to allow for same-day voter registration.

Still, he cautioned, if the results show a close race, a winner might not be clear for days, or even weeks. And no matter who wins, a rematch is expected in November, when the candidates will battle for the full congressional term.

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting from Washington.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

A Bitter Battle for a California House Seat Unfolds in Quarantine

Westlake Legal Group 00-CA25-facebookJumbo A Bitter Battle for a California House Seat Unfolds in Quarantine United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Smith, Christy Republican Party Hill, Katie (1987- ) Garcia, Mike Elections, House of Representatives Democratic Party Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) California absentee voting

LOS ANGELES — Christy Smith, a Democratic House candidate in suburban Los Angeles, had just finished a debate (over Zoom, of course) and was eager to point something out: First, President Trump had endorsed her Republican opponent, Mike Garcia. Then the president raised the specter of voting fraud, writing on Twitter: “Turn your Ballots in now and track them, watching for dishonesty. Report to Law Enforcement.”

Democrats saw this special election on May 12 as a referendum on Mr. Trump even before the coronavirus crisis brought his leadership front and center for many Americans. For Mr. Garcia, the president’s support means potentially more donors and a motivated, loyal base. For Ms. Smith, it’s a vulnerability to attack.

The same week, we have a president who endorsed both my opponent and potentially using household disinfectants to treat a deadly pandemic,” Ms. Smith said from her home office in a recent interview. “I think that pretty well encapsulates the moment.”

The election is a microcosm of the country’s politics amid the health crisis: It is an early test of Mr. Trump’s sway in a race both he and his former rival, Hillary Clinton, have weighed in on. It is a battle over vote-by-mail in which doubts have been sown over the election’s integrity. And it is showing just how nasty politics can be, even under lockdown.

In the 2018 midterm elections, this Southern California district, the 25th Congressional, was one of the highest-profile victories for Democrats. But after just a year in office, Representative Katie Hill resigned after admitting to an affair with a staff member. Now, Ms. Smith and Mr. Garcia are locked in a bitter battle that will serve as an important early test for both parties ahead of the fall.

One key question is how much of a role Mr. Trump will play. Democrats believe that focusing on his leadership, particularly over the pandemic, will help them in a suburban district north of Los Angeles that Ms. Hill won by nine percentage points. But Republicans appear emboldened, counting on reliable conservatives to cast their ballots.

Each of the roughly 425,000 voters in the district was sent a ballot for the election — with return postage already paid. But there’s another unknowable: How much will it take to get voters to move those ballots from their kitchen counter to their mailbox at a time when many are consumed by worries about their health and finances?

If the choice is between “‘I’ve got to spend a little time thinking about who my congressional candidate is today’ or ‘I’ve got to figure out a way to get back online and apply one more time for my unemployment insurance that I haven’t gotten yet,’” the answer is obvious, Ms. Smith said. “People are going to take care of their families.”

“We get the challenge,” she added. “We understand how hard it is.”

Mr. Garcia, a defense contractor and political newcomer, has relied heavily on his biography — he was raised in the district, leaving after high school for the Navy, where he served as a pilot. Nearly all of his advertisements feature him standing in front of a plane, and his campaign logo is designed to resemble jet wings, with “fighter pilot” above his name on his website.

During a recent call with volunteers, Ms. Smith, a current member of the State Assembly with a long history in politics, laughingly questioned Mr. Garcia’s credentials.

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“Did you guys know he’s a pilot?” she asked sarcastically. During the debate the day before, she said, she texted her team to point out that while he had “pictures of planes behind him,” her background was “constitutional law books.”

Mr. Garcia’s supporters seized on the remarks, saying they were evidence that she does not respect his military service. Mr. Garcia declined to comment for this article.

During the pandemic, the race has become increasingly vitriolic — with the campaigns unable to knock on doors, they have focused on blanketing television and social media with advertisements, many of them negative.

The race is also putting a sharp focus on the increasingly partisan debate over vote-by-mail, which Republicans have portrayed as ripe for fraud, though there is no evidence of widespread wrongdoing. Party officials have focused much of their ire on so-called ballot harvesting, the legal practice in which political organizers collect ballots from voters and drop them off at polling sites on their behalf.

Speaking to supporters in late January, Mr. Garcia said that he believed many votes were left uncounted and that the special election would “magnify or potentially open up the opportunity for more fraud than already existed,” both unfounded claims. Republicans in Congress, including Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, have repeatedly questioned the results of past elections in the state.

“The question is, how confident am I in the integrity of the election? Not confident at all,” Mr. Garcia said. “The bottom line is, I have very low confidence in a truly high-integrity election process.”

This month, Republican officials in California sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, demanding that he make such collections illegal amid stay-at-home orders. Last week, state party officials filed a lawsuit to try force such an action.

But while Ms. Smith said she was not allowing anyone from her campaign to collect ballots, Democrats say Mr. Garcia’s campaign appears to be setting up the kind of system his party has repeatedly condemned. Officials from his campaign have encouraged local churches to set up unofficial drop-off sites for ballots as recently as last month, according to an internal email provided by Democratic officials.

Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, has not issued any directive over collecting ballots, but has been unabashed in his response to accusations from Republicans that he has presided over elections rife with fraud — a claim he calls baseless.

“Voter fraud is nothing but a distraction and nothing but a pretext for suppressing the vote,” said Mr. Padilla, a Democrat. “It’s disingenuous at a time when we should be making it easier — not stifling rights.”

More than half of all voters in California have voted by mail for the last decade. Mr. Padilla and other election officials view the special election as a test run for November. Though state officials are still hammering out detailed plans, Mr. Padilla expects that voters statewide will automatically receive their ballots by mail.

Even then, local officials will still be expected to open in-person polling places, and they have begun to search for larger locations to allow for social distancing and for new volunteers to work the sites.

“The most important thing is to demonstrate that even during the Covid pandemic, our democracy is resilient, and that we can provide accessible and safe measures both now and especially for November,” Mr. Padilla said.

Early indications suggest voters are turning out in high numbers. Already, nearly 20 percent of voters in the district have cast their ballots, with 31 percent of registered Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats doing so, according to tracking data. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 30,000 voters in the district.

And Mr. Trump is hardly the only high-profile official paying attention to the race: Ms. Smith attracted endorsements from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, and this week Ms. Hill’s new political action committee began a $200,000 advertising blitz to urge her former supporters to vote in the special election, targeting newly registered voters and those who cast a ballot in 2018 but had not consistently voted in congressional elections.

But many Democrats worry that Ms. Hill’s sudden resignation left the party vulnerable in the district, and strategists have privately reported that Ms. Hill’s high unfavorable ratings in the district have made it more difficult for Ms. Smith. In February, several California lawmakers met at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters and expressed concern that she was not raising the kind of money needed to win the district. Both Ms. Smith and Mr. Garcia have each raised over $2.2 million and have about $300,000 cash on hand, according to their most recent campaign finance reports. Last month, the Cook Political Report shifted the race from “lean Democratic” to a “tossup.”

During the 2018 midterm elections, activists from safe Democratic districts in Los Angeles routinely trekked an hour north to knock on doors in the middle-class district, which has long drawn families looking for more affordable suburban housing and has grown increasingly diverse — roughly 45 percent of the district is black, Latino or Asian.

Indivisible, the liberal group that helped flip several congressional districts in 2018 and has backed Ms. Smith, had so many volunteers for at-home phone banks in recent weeks that it had to create a waiting list and wrote postcards to send to every voter in the district.

“People are really motivated to defend what they won, and there’s definitely still a lot of energy among volunteers,” said Lucy Solomon, a national political director for the group. But she tempered her optimism. “It’s impossible to know how coronavirus is going to affect the outcome,” she said.

Though Mr. Padilla expects that the overwhelming majority of voters will choose to mail in their ballots, a few in-person voting options will be open on May 12, mostly to allow for same-day voter registration.

Still, he cautioned, if the results show a close race, a winner might not be clear for days, or even weeks. And no matter who wins, a rematch is expected in November, when the candidates will battle for the full congressional term.

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting from Washington.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com