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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 28)

It’s a ‘Swimming Naked’ Moment: The Financial System Has a Real Test

Westlake Legal Group 09stewart-01-facebookJumbo It’s a ‘Swimming Naked’ Moment: The Financial System Has a Real Test United States Economy Trump, Donald J Travel and Vacations Stocks and Bonds Stein, Jeremy C Recession and Depression Interest Rates Federal Reserve System Dow Jones Stock Average Credit and Debt Collateralized Debt Obligations Banking and Financial Institutions

The investor Warren Buffett once gave a famous warning: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

The tide has just gone out again, and clues to who’s been swimming naked have begun to emerge.

Mr. Buffett first made that comment in 1992, after Hurricane Andrew exposed the inadequacies of the insurance industry, to describe the rosy appearances that can mask financial recklessness until the good times end.

With a contagious virus seemingly out of control; supply chains disrupted and travel and tourism collapsing; an oil price war that has sent crude prices plunging to their biggest one-day drop since 1991; and stocks that may have just careened into a bear market for the first time in 11 years, the financial system is about to undergo its first real-life stress test since the financial crisis and recession more than a decade ago.

“I’m worried,” the Harvard economics professor Jeremy Stein told me on Monday, as the Dow Jones average was dropping a record-setting 2,000 points. “I don’t usually think of the stock market as having that large a quantitative impact on the real economy. But with credit markets also beginning to show real signs of strain, the potential for damage is elevated.”

On some level, we all knew that the unprecedented bull market that began exactly 11 years ago wouldn’t last forever. But as the years went by with only short-lived corrections, the horizon for the next bear market seemed to be receding ever further into the future. How bad could it get, with U.S. unemployment at an all-time low and short-term interest rates barely above zero?

And if things got bad, the Federal Reserve was there to take care of us — especially with a president browbeating the Fed chairman to keep stock prices rising. “Investors’ misplaced confidence in the Fed’s ability to control the stock market, and even the economy, is being heavily tested by this steep correction,” said Jim Stack, a market historian and founder of InvesTech research. “I’m concerned that a lot of risk-averse capital has gone into the stock market over the past few years without appreciation for the inherent risk in a mature economy and late-stage bull market.”

That kind of complacency is exactly what breeds overconfidence, unsustainable valuations, and, finally, bear markets. They tend to begin when investors least expect them, with causes that at the time are unforeseeable — like the emergence of the coronavirus.

While the full extent of the damage remains to be seen, there’s no doubt that the spreading virus will take a serious toll on global economic activity. Tourism alone accounts for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product. Even if that is cut in half, it would have a devastating impact on Europe’s fourth-largest economy and its still-fragile banking system.

And that’s just one country. Travel and tourism are slumping worldwide. Meetings and conferences are being canceled. Schools and universities are suspending in-person classes. The prospect of sharply diminished economic prospects is a major reason that oil, banking and airline stocks are dropping even more than the market as a whole. That’s not an irrational investor panic.

But a falling stock market, in and of itself, isn’t likely to trigger a recession. It didn’t cause the financial crisis, but it did help expose the excesses of the mortgage-backed securities market and inflated real estate prices, which in turn led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a worldwide recession.

There’s no reason to believe that anything of that magnitude is lurking within the financial system today. But no one can be sure until the financial plumbing comes under pressure.

Already, some stresses are emerging, especially in credit markets. With risk-free U.S. Treasury yields at historic lows after the financial crisis, investors poured into riskier, high-yielding debt, especially junk bonds. Since the emergence of the virus, that flow has reversed abruptly. Last week investors pulled out $12.2 billion from mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that buy corporate bonds and loans, the largest amount since the financial crisis. Investors withdrew $5.1 billion from junk bond funds, after pulling $4.2 billion the week before.

Junk bond worries were already acute in the oil sector even before the Russia-Saudi Arabia price war. Energy companies account for 13 percent of triple-C-rated bonds, the bottom tier of the high-yield market. Those bond yields surged to nearly 13 percent last week as prices dropped. (Yields move inversely to prices.)

The risk is that a wave of defaults and bankruptcies in the oil sector could start a chain reaction. Some issuers were already rushing to reassure investors that they had adequate liquidity to meet debt payments. But shares in Chesapeake Energy, a big junk bond issuer, dropped to 15 cents on Monday, a 30 percent one-day decline.

Leveraged loans, which are private loans to already heavily indebted borrowers, could now emerge as the mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations of the financial crisis. Just as mortgage and debt securities were packaged, carved up and sold to often unwitting investors before the financial crisis, risky high-interest loans have been similarly packaged over the past decade, mostly by nonbank issuers. Given their high yields, collateralized loan obligations, or C.L.O.s, as they’re known, surged in popularity, and the market for them had grown to an estimated $1.2 trillion by the end of last year.

Professor Stein is concerned that no one knows how the leveraged loans will perform in a downturn. “I’m worried about all the nonbank corporate lending,” he said. “So much of the credit formation has been in the leveraged lending market and the ultimate suppliers are nonbanks. They’ve done well. But when they hit their first round of defaults, this will be new. There may turn out to be something of a bubble.”

European banks are another potential weak link. The London-based HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered have already issued profit warnings because of the coronavirus, but if the crisis deepens, others could be at risk. “Italy has always been just one shock away from crisis,” Professor Stein said. “The European Central Bank will have to act very aggressively if the Italian banks run into solvency problems.”

All of this is unfolding after years of low interest rates, which have left the Federal Reserve with only so much room to maneuver. Professor Stein was a Fed governor from 2012 to 2014, and “I’d have to vote for a rate cut if I were still there,” he said. “But how much effect can that have? The interest rate on 10-year is already below 0.5 percent.”

One answer may by aggressive fiscal stimulus rather than monetary policy. “The first line of defense has to be: Stop the virus,” Professor Stein said. “The second should be fiscal policy. I’d give everyone a fast tax cut so that people who miss a couple of paychecks aren’t immediately left in distress.”

Fiscal policy, of course, depends on the White House and Congress enacting legislation. As the market was plunging Monday, President Trump blamed the “fake news media” for inflaming the sense of crisis and added, incorrectly, that “nothing is shut down, life and the economy go on.”

A few hours later, in a White House press briefing, he said he would push for a payroll tax cut and financial help for hourly workers who are hurt by the disruption. Stay tuned.

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

Coronavirus Live Updates: China’s Xi Jinping Visits Outbreak’s Center in Sign of Confidence

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_170226627_36615882-5b56-4c5c-a175-fe2c07b1613c-articleLarge Coronavirus Live Updates: China’s Xi Jinping Visits Outbreak’s Center in Sign of Confidence Xi Jinping Wuhan (China) Trump, Donald J Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) China

Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, visiting a lab in Beijing last week. He had led efforts to control the outbreak from the capital, only visiting Wuhan on Tuesday.  Credit…Ju Peng/Xinhua, via Associated Press

The Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived on Tuesday in Wuhan, visiting the center of the global coronavirus epidemic for the first time since the outbreak began and sending a powerful signal that the government believes the worst of the national emergency is over.

Mr. Xi’s visit was reported in a brief bulletin from Xinhua, the main official news agency, which said he met with front-line medical workers, military personnel, community workers, police officers and officials.

His trip is sure to be seen as a sign that China’s leaders believe that a series of draconian restrictions, including the lockdown of hundreds of millions of people starting in late January, have brought the outbreak under control.

According to official data, coronavirus infections have recently receded in China, falling to a few dozen new cases every day, nearly all of them in Wuhan, the provincial capital.

On Tuesday, China said it recorded 19 new infections from the coronavirus, and 17 deaths, in the past 24 hours. All but two of the newly confirmed infections were in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus originated. The remaining two infections were people who contracted the virus after traveling abroad.

Wuhan remains the source of most new infections, even as the overall number of cases has fallen. More than three quarters of the 3,136 deaths recorded in China were in the city of 11 million people.

In Wuhan, most residents remain under heavy restrictions. But growing numbers of neighborhoods across the city have been declared free of new infections, and officials have said that the last two makeshift isolation centers for patients with mild cases of coronavirus infection would close.

The Italian government on Monday night extended restrictions on personal movement and public events to the entire country in a desperate effort to stem the coronavirus outbreak — an extraordinary set of measures in a modern democracy that values individual freedoms.

Get an informed guide to the global outbreak with our daily coronavirus newsletter.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced in a prime-time news conference that public gatherings were banned and that people would be allowed to travel only for work or for emergencies.

Those restrictions had been placed on the “red zone” created in northern Italy, covering about 16 million people, but Mr. Conte extended them to an entire nation of 60 million.

“We all have to renounce something for the good of Italy,” said Mr. Conte, saying that the government would enact more stringent rules over the entire Italian peninsula.

Italy has recorded more than 9,000 coronavirus infections and 463 deaths — well over half the toll for Europe — and the numbers continue to climb fast.

While the coronavirus prompts shutdowns and economic alarm across the world, the Chinese province where the epidemic began announced that it would — ever so carefully — restart business and manufacturing.

Leaders in Hubei Province, the source of the global outbreak, laid out plans on Monday after the province recorded a significant fall in the daily number of new infections and deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Ying Yong, the province’s highest-ranking official, said the government would lift travel restrictions in areas of low risk to allow workers to get to their jobs. The risk level for each area of the province would be rated and those in low-risk areas would soon be allowed to travel.

Since January, much of Hubei has been under a lockdown that has deterred tens of millions of residents from moving around, or even leaving their homes.

“Currently, epidemic containment in Hubei Province has been shown promising developments and a sustained positive momentum, but the tasks of prevention and control remain arduous,” Mr. Ying told officials, according to the official Hubei Daily on Tuesday.

At the same time, Mr. Ying added, the province would “advance the planning so that people can move around in a safe and orderly way and enterprises can revive production.”

Mr. Ying did not spell out what would happen in Wuhan, the provincial capital, but his wording suggested that the city would remain cordoned off for now, even if the rest of Hubei loosened up.

President Trump has been promising the imminent arrival of a vaccine to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Federal health officials have repeatedly pointed out that his timetable is off — it will take at least a year — but Mr. Trump’s single-minded focus on warp-speed production of a new vaccine represents a striking philosophical shift.

For years, he was an extreme vaccine skeptic who not only blamed childhood immunizations for autism — a position that scientists have forcefully repudiated — but once boasted he had never had a flu shot.

At least a decade before Mr. Trump was elected president, with responsibilities that would include nominating experts to lead the nation’s health centers, the hotelier and commercial developer was holding forth with great confidence about medical topics. When an interviewer would note that physicians disagreed with the dim view he took of vaccines, Mr. Trump remained ever ebullient, impervious and dismissive of scientific authority.

Now, as his federal health agencies tackle the rapidly morphing coronavirus epidemic and he and his administration come under fire for serious missteps in managing it, Mr. Trump has had to adjust his messaging. He is now all in on a vaccine and the sooner the better, says the man who in 2015 said that he didn’t “like the idea of injecting bad stuff in your body.”

Europe had already been teetering toward trouble.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak quarantined the industrial heart of Italy and emptied the teeming streets of Venice, before France banned public gatherings and major trade shows were canceled in Germany and Spain, economists were openly warning about the prospect of an economic downturn across the continent.

Now, Europe is almost certainly gripped by a recession, amplifying fears that the global economy could be headed that way, too.

“It seems pretty difficult to avoid a recession in the first half of the year,” said Ángel Talavera, head of European economics at Oxford Economics in London. “The spread of the disease in Europe is a game changer. The question is how deep it will be, and how long it will last.”

As the world absorbs the consequences of Europe sinking into a slump just as China suffers a profound downturn, the sense of alarm is heightened by another question with no obvious answer: Can European leaders transcend their often-bitter differences to forge an effective response — especially when this crisis may be beyond traditional economic policy prescriptions?

The sudden upheaval in the oil markets may claim victims around the world, from energy companies and their workers to governments whose budgets are pegged to the price of crude.

The fallout may take months to assess. But the impact on the American economy is bound to be considerable, especially in Texas and other states where oil drives much of the job market.

With the coronavirus outbreak slowing trade, transportation and other energy-intensive economic activities, demand is likely to remain weak. Even if Russia and Saudi Arabia resolve their differences — which led the Saudis to slash prices after Russia refused to join in production cuts — a global oil glut could keep prices low for years.

Many smaller American oil companies could face bankruptcy if the price pressure goes on for more than a few weeks, while larger ones will be challenged to protect their dividend payments. Thousands of oil workers are about to receive pink slips.

The battle will impose intense hardship on many other oil-producing countries as well, especially Venezuela, Iran and several African nations, with political implications that are difficult to predict.

The only winners may be drivers paying less for gasoline — particularly those with older, less fuel-efficient cars, who tend to have lower incomes.

“This is a clash of oil, geopolitics and the virus that together have sent the markets spiraling down,” said Daniel Yergin, the energy historian. ”The decline in demand for oil will march across the globe as the virus advances.”

Reporting was contributed by Jan Hoffman, Peter S. Goodman and Clifford Krauss.

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

Coming Home to a Michigan County Where Life Has Shifted

BAY CITY, Mich. — When the United Auto Workers went on strike against General Motors last fall, Robby Lamas and those left at the massive engine plant in this Michigan city walked the picket lines day and night. Mr. Lamas, who, at 30, was the youngest at the plant by a decade, was unsure how the public would react to the walkout, his first strike.

After all, employment at the plant is now a fraction of what it once was. And not far from anyone’s mind was the fact that Bay County flipped to Republican in 2016, against the wishes of the U.A.W. The county was one of 12 former Democratic strongholds in Michigan that delivered parts of the once impregnable industrial Midwest to Donald J. Trump.

Almost four years later, Bay City, the county seat, still has the feel of a traditional labor town. For the 40 days of the GM strike, nearly every car that passed the strikers honked. A steady stream of residents and businesses kept dropping off food, firewood, tents and other supplies. “People were donating stuff all the way to the end,” Mr. Lamas said.

But fissures are never far from the surface. Mr. Lamas and some other workers were infuriated that President Trump did not offer support for the strikers. The union instructed them not to talk politics on the picket line, especially after a scuffle broke out between fellow strikers when one of them showed up carrying a Trump 2020 flag.

The strike, the longest national walkout against GM since 1970, symbolized the contradictions and tensions in places like Bay City as Michigan prepares to vote on Tuesday, one of six states holding primaries or caucuses.

Mr. Trump often touts a “blue-collar boom.” But there is a sense that residents in Bay County are barely hanging on. The poverty rate increased to almost 15 percent in 2017 from under 10 percent in 1999. Real median earnings for men working full-time and year-round fell about $7,000 in that time, as an ecosystem of factories that held up the Midwest was hollowed out, said Gabriel Ehrlich, director of the University of Michigan’s Research Seminar in Qualitative Economics. The plant where Mr. Lamas works now employs fewer than 400 workers, down from nearly 5,000 at its peak.

Robby Lamas, a third-generation auto worker, is the youngest at the GM Powertrain Plant in Bay City. The parking lots at the GM plant are much emptier these days, but locals are happy that it is still open.

Barreling down I-75, the north-south expressway that runs from the northern tip of Michigan to Florida, many drivers barely notice Bay City. Anchoring a flat landscape of factories and farms north of Detroit and Flint, this small, unassuming city is perhaps best known for being Madonna’s hometown.

It happens to be my hometown as well.

I graduated in 1984 from Garber High School, about three miles from the GM plant. Back then, mid-Michigan was just emerging from a recession so severe that some parents of my high school classmates lost their jobs.

Michigan came back then and, like the auto industry, has a history of booms and busts — and surprises. Political observers thought Michigan was a lock for the Democrats in 2016 because it had leaned that way in six previous presidential cycles and because President Barack Obama defied Republicans and bailed out GM and Chrysler during the financial crisis. Many still profess shock that the state went Republican instead. Even nearby Saginaw County, where more than 42 percent of residents are African-Americans, went for Mr. Trump.

As the political stakes rise for Michigan, I found myself drawn to my hometown for signals about how 2020 will unfold.

In a polarized nation, places like Bay City do not fall into a neat script. Democrats tend to favor gun rights and oppose abortion, which leaves them feeling out of step with the national party. Though young people like Mr. Lamas tend to be strong supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, others prefer former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., worried that a far-left candidate would not fare well in the general election.

“This isn’t Ann Arbor or Lansing,” said Jim Barcia, referring to the state’s most liberal college towns. Mr. Barcia, a Democrat, was pressed back into service as Bay County’s county executive in 2016 after retiring after five terms in the House of Representatives.

Not long ago, he watched as more than 100 angry residents crowded a meeting demanding that Bay County be declared a “Second Amendment sanctuary” amid talk of an assault weapons ban. “One 70-year-old lady had tears in her eyes,” recalled Mr. Barcia, an avid hunter who has two bucks mounted on his office wall.

Asked how Bay City is doing these days, Mr. Barcia, a lifelong resident, points to the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and a most favored nation trade pact with China. He estimates that Bay County has lost 7,500 jobs since 2000, almost a tenth of its population.

“Much of what we feared ended up happening. I saw our manufacturers disappear,” said Mr. Barcia, who voted against both while in the House. “When Trump talked about trade, it really did resonate with working families.”

With fewer jobs with benefits in traditional industries like autos, many people are working multiple jobs just to get by, a grueling working-class calculus to stitch together enough work to pay the rent and bills. Of the five most common occupations in Bay County, only one — a registered nurse — averages more than $25,000 a year. Manufacturing does not make the top five.

“I don’t know anyone who isn’t working two or three jobs or has a side gig,” said Kim Coonan, the owner of Coonan’s Irish Hub, a neighborhood restaurant and bar down the street from the GM Powertrain plant, a backbone of the city since it began making parts for Chevrolet in 1916. “The middle class is gone.”

Recently, there has been talk of more layoffs. Most of the stores in the Bay City mall have shuttered. Downtown is dotted with empty storefronts, between restaurants and condominiums that reflect budding efforts to remake the riverfront city into a destination.

There are not a lot of Trump signs or MAGA hats visible here. Yet there is evidence of a quiet support for Mr. Trump for being willing to take on China, even if the results have been mixed. Support for labor runs so deep that what is expressed behind closed doors is often different than what is said in public, making political opinion hard to gauge. “People wear masks here,” said one business executive, who asked not to be identified by name.

One exception to this rule: the area’s farmers, who are proudly supportive of the president. “In my group of friends, I don’t know anyone who won’t support Trump,” said Brian Johnson, who this year took over the family farm in Pinconning, north of Bay City. He received $80,000 in federal compensation from lost sales in soybeans to China last year, an amount he said prevented him from a financial disaster. For now, it seems that the people who are fortunate enough to have one job — and only one job — are thinking about politics more than others.

Jeffrey Bulls works at Nexteer, a Chinese company that bought Saginaw Steering Gear, an auto supplier and a symbol of the shift toward a new global economic order. Purchased by the Chinese out of bankruptcy in 2009, it now employs about 12,000, down from 20,000 at its peak. Mr. Bulls started a podcast in his downtime, “Independent Jeff,” that focuses on issues of concern to African-American voters. “We get taken for granted too much,” Mr. Bulls said.

In this swing region of a swing state, Mr. Bulls senses that any outcome is possible in November, and that much may rest on the struggle so many people have to make ends meet. As I wandered through the region talking to people, it was those stories of getting by that emerged again and again. Uncertain still is which politician gets blamed for that and who benefits. “I don’t know what way it’s going to go this time,” Mr. Bulls said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_169980750_d3322b27-2c87-40c5-88c1-59ec6f10d919-articleLarge Coming Home to a Michigan County Where Life Has Shifted Trump, Donald J Strikes Presidential Election of 2020 Michigan Labor and Jobs Colleges and Universities Biden, Joseph R Jr

Jeffrey Bulls started at Saginaw Steering Gear in his 20s and met his wife, Kim, at the plant.

Bill Harris has seen a lot of changes in his 26 years as a guidance counselor at Garber High School in neighboring Essexville, where I graduated. Perhaps the biggest one is college.

“It’s flipped,” Mr. Harris said.

“Until eight to 10 years ago, 60 percent went to a four-year college,” Mr. Harris said. “Now 60 percent go to community college instead.”

The biggest reason, he says, is the cost. Michigan has a strong system of state universities. But with tuition and living expenses between $20,000 and $30,000 a year, attending a four-year college is simply not an option for many families.

“I get out my phone and start showing them the figures. I tell them, ‘This is the amount of money you will owe,’” Mr. Harris said. “Somebody is going to go into debt. Some of them are shocked.”

More than half of the 129 members of the class of 2019 are attending Delta College, a community college where many qualify for aid. Fewer than one-third are attending four-year colleges — and only a small handful are at the state’s top universities. On his bulletin board, Mr. Harris has a sticker touting the University of Michigan’s tuition guarantee for qualified students whose parents make under $60,000. Few students meet both the financial and academic requirements.

On a recent day, he called in one of the high school’s high-achieving juniors to talk about possibilities, including the University of Michigan scholarship. “Do you know how much your parents make?” Mr. Harris asked Jessica Albrecht, who is 17. She told him that her father is a truck driver, and her mother works in the school district.

“I’m smart here, but I’m not sure I would be there,” Ms. Albrecht said of the possibility of the University of Michigan. Still, she seemed intrigued. If her parents’ combined income is under $60,000, Michigan could be a real option, Mr. Harris told her. If not, he said, pausing, as he tried to balance encouragement with reality, it is tougher.

For years, young people in this area did not feel a lot of pressure to go to college. They could graduate and get a job at “the shop.” The U.A.W.-negotiated salary was a gateway to a middle-class life that supported places like Bay County, allowing people to marry, have a family, buy a house and, if they could eke out 20 years of service, even own a home or a boat “up north.”

“You could have a very nice life,” Mr. Harris, who grew up in Bay City, recalled.

There is hardly a better place to watch today’s job shuffle than Coonan’s, where office workers, teachers, mechanics and others come to work extra hours as a second, third, even fourth job.

The unemployment rate in Bay City is 4.7 percent, but that masks the fact that many jobs simply pay too little to make ends meet.

Erin Sitkowski works as an account manager at the F.P. Horak Company, a prominent printing company in Bay City. But when she gets out of work at 5 p.m., she drives as fast as she can across town to reach Coonan’s within 15 minutes.

“I knew it was time to get a second job when I was borrowing from my family to make ends meet,” said Ms. Sitkowski, who struggled financially after getting a divorce.

A customer leaves a tip at Coonan’s Irish Pub in Bay City. People associate the city with the Bay City Rollers, a Scottish band from the 1970s that got the name after throwing a dart at a map of the United States. Erin Sitkowski waits tables at Coonan’s. She rushes here after her day job at a printing company.
Kimberly Matula with her daughter Gloria Ana Ovalle. Ms. Matula also moonlights at Coonan’s and is one of the cooks. Kim Coonan, a retired union negotiator and a Democratic county commissioner, is the owner of Coonan’s. He calls it the “Main Street” of town.

There were layoffs at the printing company the other day, and Ms. Sitkowski was upset to see 12 co-workers lose their jobs. She remains nervous that there could be more reductions.

Arianna Whisman is here at Coonan’s, too. This is but one of her four jobs, to pay for college at Saginaw Valley State University. And Kimberly Matula makes $15 an hour as a cook, but that does not go far as a single parent.

“I worked two jobs for years, just to make ends meet,” Ms. Matula said. “Really, my kids raised themselves.”

She recently took out a high-interest loan to buy a car, but said she was trying to hold things together for her 15-year-old daughter. “We are the blue-collar workers who make the country go around,” she said.

Mr. Johnson’s father, Raymond, who is 65, owns more than 800 acres of farmland in nearby Pinconning. Asked on a recent blustery afternoon whether he was pleased that his son chose farming, too, he did not hesitate. “No, I wish he hadn’t farmed.”

Brian Johnson, 31, is figuring it out. He was hit hard by the loss of soybean sales from China and is trying to figure out how to adjust his plantings for this year. Yet he feels that Mr. Trump is watching out for farmers like him.

Brian Johnson worked on a fertilizer tank at the farm he has taken over from his father. Raymond Johnson has mixed feelings about his son farming. Both father and son agree the future is far from certain.

The future feels far from certain, both of the Johnsons say.

“No question about it, we are one disaster away from having to give up the farm,” Raymond Johnson said. “I hope he can make it,” he said of his son. “Someone has got to do it.”

His brother recently sold part of his holdings to a marijuana company that is building about 100 acres of indoor greenhouses.

Mr. Lamas, the GM worker, “fell in love with math” in high school and went to college at Michigan Tech University. He dropped out after a year because he was $40,000 in debt.

Like many at the plant, he comes from an auto family. His father works in the same engine plant. He did two temporary stints at the GM engine plant, but was let go. He worked in bar and restaurant kitchens for eight years and was paying $200 a month to share a home with friends.

“You were basically working to live, just scraping by,” said Mr. Lamas.

One day, GM called, offering him a spot.

Mr. Lamas feels as if he won the lottery, though he barely sees family and friends. He works the third shift — 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., getting lunch at 3:30 a.m.

As a millennial and budding labor activist, he feels a generational difference with the other plant workers.

“They call it a retirement home,” Mr. Lamas said. “The average age at that plant is ridiculously high.”

Mr. Lamas makes about $63,000 a year, and his wage will soon equal the level of more senior workers. That was one of the gains from the recent strike. But Mr. Lamas will not receive a pension.

Many of his friends are not so fortunate, and Mr. Lamas is determined not to forget that. One of his close friends and his wife can’t afford to get their wisdom teeth pulled.

Mr. Lamas is an avid Sanders supporter. But as he watches his peers desperately searching for work in an increasingly automated economy, he thinks that Andrew Yang, who dropped out last month, was addressing an important issue. “When you have people struggling and are working two to three jobs just to get by, that’s not a strong economy.”

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2 Congressmen Who Spent Time With Trump Go Into Isolation Amid Fear of Coronavirus

Westlake Legal Group merlin_170257119_495a3db4-6ff6-43c6-9a80-5c137b01d305-facebookJumbo 2 Congressmen Who Spent Time With Trump Go Into Isolation Amid Fear of Coronavirus Trump, Donald J Travel Warnings Stocks and Bonds Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

WASHINGTON — Two Republican members of Congress who have spent time with President Trump in the last few days, including one who just rode back to Washington on Air Force One, put themselves into self-quarantine on Monday because of concern over exposure to coronavirus.

Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who attended a party with Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate over the weekend and traveled with him from Florida to the capital on Monday afternoon, announced an hour after getting off the president’s plane that he would remain out of contact with other people for the next few days.

Mr. Gaetz boarded Air Force One in Orlando through the front door just steps behind the president, who had stopped there for a fund-raiser on the way back to Washington. Shortly after takeoff, Mr. Gaetz learned that he had been in touch with an infected person at the Conservative Political Action Conference late last month, according to two people informed about the situation.

He then essentially quarantined himself, sitting in a section of the plane alone. Reporters spotted Mr. Gaetz getting off the back of the plane at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland outside of Washington, where he was then escorted to a waiting car.

“While the Congressman is not experiencing symptoms, he received testing today and expects results soon,” Mr. Gaetz’s staff wrote on his Twitter feed. “Under doctor’s usual precautionary recommendations, he’ll remain self-quarantined until the 14-day period expires this week.”

Representative Doug Collins, Republican of Georgia, who toured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta with Mr. Trump on Friday, likewise went into isolation on Monday after being told by the C.D.C. that it had found a photograph of him with the infected person at the conservative conference.

Mr. Collins was on the tarmac when Mr. Trump landed in Atlanta on Friday and shook the president’s hand before joining him on the tour of the C.D.C. “While I am not experiencing any symptoms, I have decided to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution,” Mr. Collins wrote on his Twitter feed.

That makes four members of Congress who have now quarantined themselves because of their potential exposure at the conservative conference, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, both Republicans.

Mr. Gaetz drew attention last week when he wore a bulky gas mask in the Capitol for the vote on an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to combat the coronavirus. Days later a resident of his Florida district died from coronavirus, prompting some to suggest that he had made light of the risks.

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Mr. Gaetz denied that. “Made light?!?!” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “I was quite serious. The threat to Congress is real, as I explained based on travel and habits like selfies and handshakes.”

Mr. Trump told reporters as recently as Saturday that he was not worried as the coronavirus seemed to be making its way closer to the White House.

“No, I’m not concerned at all,” he said.

But the news that he had spent time with two members of Congress now in isolation may change the calculus for a president who has sought to play down the threat of the outbreak and resisted making changes to his own schedule.

The latest development came hours after Mr. Trump’s campaign called off a “Women for Trump” bus tour featuring his daughter-in-law and other top election surrogates amid ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, two people close to the campaign said.

The three-day bus tour through the key battleground states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania was supposed to begin on Monday, featuring Lara Trump, the wife of the president’s son Eric Trump; Kayleigh McEnany, a campaign spokeswoman; and Mercedes Schlapp, a former White House adviser whose husband oversees the Conservative Political Action Conference where an attendee has tested positive for the virus.

But after an advisory was sent out broadly last week, the bus tour was quietly postponed, with notices going to reporters and attendees who were planning to participate. A campaign spokeswoman cited “scheduling conflicts.” But the two people familiar with the events said the decision came after Ms. Schlapp sought a postponement in the wake of the diagnosis of the person who attended the CPAC event.

After publication of this article, Erin Perinne, a campaign spokeswoman, said it was “untrue” that it was moved because of Ms. Schlapp. Ms. Schlapp, in a brief telephone interview, later said it was not at her request that the tour was postponed.

The delay came as Mr. Trump tried to reassure the public by once again emphasizing that coronavirus remained a relatively low risk for most Americans.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” he wrote on Twitter in the morning as he arrived in Orlando for his campaign fund-raiser. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

He appeared to dismiss the impact of the outbreak in fueling Monday’s market meltdown, the worst since the financial crisis of 2008. “Saudi Arabia and Russia are arguing over the price and flow of oil,” he wrote. “That, and the Fake News, is the reason for the market drop!”

He even sought to cast the decline in oil prices in positive terms. “Good for the consumer, gasoline prices coming down!” he wrote.

His advisers expressed more concern. “This is a very serious public health issue,” Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, told reporters on a conference call on Monday morning. “It’s a serious issue globally. The risk to any individual American generally remains low, but we’ve been very candid that for individuals, in particular the older individuals and in particular those with various elements of medical fragility, to take a special precautions.”

The delayed bus tour was the most visible sign of disruption for the president’s world after days of health experts offering increasingly urgent public commentary about the spread of the coronavirus. The president has said he will continue with the large-scale rallies he relishes, but for the first time in months, none are currently scheduled.

The White House doctor who treats Mr. Trump has been sitting in on meetings related to the coronavirus, administration officials said, and has been monitoring how many events are put on the president’s schedule. He has cautioned against overloading Mr. Trump’s day to the point where he gets run down, according to one senior administration official, who added that the doctor has given such guidance in the past as well. Another senior administration official asserted that nothing out of the ordinary had been suggested by the president’s doctor.

Mr. Trump has asked advisers whether he needs to reduce how many hands he shakes, but he has shown reluctance to change his actual habits — long before the current outbreak, he made a habit of slathering his hands with sanitizer once he finishes with crowds. At a closed-door fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago on Sunday, he appeared to avoid shaking hands in video posted on social media, elbow bumping one guest instead.

The president’s mood appeared grim Monday morning as the markets plummeted while he left Palm Beach, where he spent the weekend golfing, hosting a birthday party and having dinner with Brazil’s visiting president. He swiftly boarded Air Force One without waiting for news photographers to arrive on the tarmac below the stairs, to take his picture, as he typically does. After landing in Orlando, though, he made a point of shaking hands with Gov. Ron DeSantis and then briefly shaking hands with a crowd of supporters who had gathered to watch his arrival.

Mr. Trump has been accused of underplaying the danger of the virus even as his administration has imposed travel restrictions and struggled to expand the distribution of testing kits. In private, the president has complained that his own health secretary was being “alarmist,” but fear over the virus has begun to ripple through the economy and society in remarkable ways, as organizations cancel conventions and travel, schools and universities begin to cancel in-person classes and airlines and hotels weigh significant layoffs.

The impact on American life was evident even in Mr. Trump’s own schedule. Aside from the fund-raiser, he had been scheduled to address a global health care conference in Orlando, but it was canceled because of fear of coronavirus.

Mr. Trump is scheduled to attend a conference of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas this weekend and has made no changes to his plans so far.

Former Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota and chairman of the group, sent out a message to people planning to attend intended to reassure them about the low risk of coronavirus by citing the president’s participation.

“It’s important to note that we have the most protected and high-profile speaker in the country attending, President Donald J. Trump,” he wrote. “Our regular communications with both the White House Coronavirus Task Force and Secret Service indicate that the president would not be at risk at our conference and as such have every intention of joining us this coming weekend. Should that change, we will of course let you know.”

Matthew Brooks, the coalition’s executive director, denied that organizers were considering canceling the event. “It is absolutely categorically untrue,” he said in an interview. “We’ve had no conversations about canceling, no pressure. These are decisions we have made internally.”

“Ultimately people have to make their own decisions,” he added. “The amount of cancellations and attrition has been less than 10 percent. Part of our decision is letting the marketplace decide.”

Peter Baker and Annie Karni reported from Washington, Maggie Haberman from New York and Annie Karni from Washington.

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How the Trump Campaign Took Over the G.O.P.

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s campaign manager and a circle of allies have seized control of the Republican Party’s voter data and fund-raising apparatus, using a network of private businesses whose operations and ownership are cloaked in secrecy, largely exempt from federal disclosure.

Working under the aegis of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, with the cooperation of Trump appointees at the Republican National Committee, the operatives have consolidated power — and made money — in a way not possible in an earlier, more transparent analog era. Since 2017, businesses associated with the group have billed roughly $75 million to the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and a range of other Republican clients.

The takeover of the Republican Party’s under-the-hood political machinery parallels the president’s domination of a party that once shunned him, reflected in his speedy impeachment trial and summary acquittal. Elected Republicans have learned the political peril of insufficient fealty. Now, by commanding the party’s repository of voter data and creating a powerful pipeline for small donations, the Trump campaign and key party officials have made it increasingly difficult for Republicans to mount modern, digital campaigns without the president’s support.

The process has not been exactly frictionless, shot through with accusations of empire-building and profiteering by the campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and his allies. Mr. Parscale’s flagship firm, Parscale Strategy, has billed nearly $35 million to the Trump campaign, the R.N.C. and related entities since 2017 — the vast bulk of it, he says, passed along to advertising and digital firms.

What’s more, the move to consolidate voter data came at the expense of a competing data vehicle developed by the conservative activist Koch brothers, provoking resentment from Koch allies, especially in the Senate. And a fierce pressure campaign to centralize fund-raising on the new platform, a for-profit company that Mr. Trump branded WinRed, brought dissent from candidates initially reluctant to sign on, as well as competitors who believed they were being pushed aside without a fair hearing.

For all that, WinRed, created last summer, has given the party an overdue counterweight to ActBlue, the Democrats’ small-donor fund-raising juggernaut. With WinRed, donors could contribute with a few clicks, and candidates could reap windfalls through joint appeals with the president. In its first six months, capitalizing on the Republican base’s outrage over impeachment, WinRed raised $100 million, a fast start, though still well behind the roughly $1 billion raised last year by ActBlue.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_168731898_dca0b2b1-2286-4196-88b7-4117e8fdb594-articleLarge How the Trump Campaign Took Over the G.O.P. WinRed Walsh, Katie (1984- ) United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Shields, Mike Republican Party Presidential Election of 2020 Parscale, Brad (1976- ) Data-Mining and Database Marketing Data Trust Campaign Finance ActBlue

While Jared Kushner’s responsibilities in the White House have varied since his father-in-law took office, his most consistent role has been informal campaign chairman.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

“It is completely, thoroughly ironic that Trump, who ran against anything to do with the R.N.C. and the establishment, is the guy who is breathing new life into the party,” said WinRed’s chairman, Henry Barbour. Perhaps no one better represents the new outside-in reality than Mr. Barbour — nephew of the former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour — who once said it would be “very hard” to vote for Mr. Trump.

The younger Mr. Barbour is also chairman of the other central pillar of the Republican machine, Data Trust, a storehouse of personal, commercial and demographic voter data collected from state parties and voter files or bought from data brokers (or from WinRed, itself a vital source of donor information). Data Trust, a private company controlled by a board of Republican grandees, provided much of the raw material behind the Republicans’ digital-messaging advantage in 2016 — a deficit that the Democrats, after leading on tech during the Obama years, are now struggling to close amid the divisive funk of this primary season.

The Parscale-led group — including Katie Walsh Shields and her husband, Mike Shields, both former R.N.C. chiefs of staff; and the party’s former digital director, Gerrit Lansing — has also presided over the creation of a number of other political tools, from the president’s affiliated super PACs to a forthcoming party-controlled news app intended to produce cheerleading content.

Mr. Parscale declined to comment in detail for this article. But he and his associates have said that private companies give them greater operational flexibility, given the constraints of campaign-finance laws. (ActBlue, by contrast, is a nonprofit. Both entities, though, are required to disclose individual donors.) Still, the millions moving through opaque private businesses have left even the president perpetually concerned that Mr. Parscale and his team are making too much money, according to campaign and White House staff members.

The Trump family looms over the whole operation, starting with Mr. Kushner. While his White House portfolio has variously encompassed everything from immigration to the Middle East, his most consistent assignment has been informal campaign chairman, overseeing the most vital arm of the new family business: politics.

According to two people with knowledge of the matter, Parscale Strategy has also been used to make payments out of public view to Lara Trump, the wife of the president’s son Eric, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., who have been surrogates on the stump and also taken on broader advisory roles. Their presence makes for an odd dynamic between a campaign manager and a candidate’s family.

During a campaign appearance last summer in Orlando, Ms. Guilfoyle confronted Mr. Parscale: Why were her checks always late? Two people who witnessed the encounter said a contrite Mr. Parscale promised that the problem would be sorted out promptly by his wife, Candice Parscale, who handles the books on many of his ventures.

In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential run, the Republican Party released a 100-page report that many considered an autopsy. Reince Priebus, then the R.N.C. chairman, offered this blunt assessment: “Our message was weak. Our ground game was insufficient. We weren’t inclusive. We were behind in both data and digital.”

While Mr. Trump’s team shredded its core recommendation — a tolerant immigration policy and outreach to women and minorities — it embraced the call for technological change.

Previously, parties had spent heavily on television advertising, but now the R.N.C. moved to rebuild around Data Trust, which it had recently helped establish. The idea was compelling: If state and national party committees and campaigns fed information into one place, it could create a deeper understanding of voters. If that place were outside the party, fund-raising limits would not apply. Contractors were fired, and much of the R.N.C.’s data staff was moved into Data Trust, which effectively became an off-campus arm of the party.

“Naturally we faced opposition from a lot of the entrenched interests who had business models that benefited from the old way of doing things,” said Mr. Shields, the R.N.C. chief of staff in 2013 and 2014.

That included the Koch brothers and their data vehicle, i360, which built personality profiles of millions of voters and was used by a number of campaigns. They weren’t the only skeptics who worried that the committee was steering business to its pet company. Aides to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, believed that Data Trust was inferior to its competitor, and Mr. McConnell gave senators the option of using either.

The battle came to a head in mid-2016, when Mr. Priebus and Ms. Walsh-Shields, who had become R.N.C. chief of staff the previous year, visited the National Republican Senatorial Committee. She accused the committee of working against the interests of the party and its presumptive presidential nominee, Mr. Trump. From there, the meeting devolved into shouting, several Republicans with direct knowledge of the clash said.

While Ms. Walsh-Shields said in a statement that she did not recall the specific meeting, she added: “I have found that quite often when a woman in a position of power disagrees with a man, it is later referred to as a bad meeting.”

She said the Senate committee’s staff was “bizarrely very beholden to using i360 and the Koch brothers’ system,” while Mr. Priebus’s general position was that the party would help pay campaigns’ staff expenses only if those aides were “going to be using — and gathering — data that would help elect the president.”

In the end, some Senate Republicans continued to use the Koch data.

Money was another point of contention. Some Senate committee staff members chafed at a consulting contract given to Mr. Shields by Data Trust, given Ms. Walsh-Shields’s influence, though she had briefly left the R.N.C. in 2017 during the period when it was awarded. (Mr. Barbour said Mr. Shields “provided tremendous value.”) Data Trust also chronically needed to purchase new state voter files and pay its staff and vendors like Mr. Shields. The party has pumped nearly $15 million into the company since 2016, filings show.

Building relations with Senate Republicans became secondary after Mr. Trump secured the nomination. Ms. Walsh-Shields struck an unlikely alliance with Mr. Parscale, then the Trump campaign digital director, when the two began sharing a Trump Tower office.

Mr. Parscale, now 44, was a small-time San Antonio web entrepreneur with a gift for salesmanship. Ms. Walsh-Shields, 35, had worked her way up through the political ranks on the strength of her fund-raising abilities and knowledge of the party’s internal workings. With Mr. Kushner’s blessing and Data Trust’s information — and some help from the now-defunct, controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica — Mr. Parscale focused on targeting Facebook ads at voters.

Karl Rove, campaign manager and confidant to President George W. Bush, was an early backer of Data Trust and has been informally advising Mr. Parscale. He wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that technology had played a critical role in battleground states, adding, “Data Trust was a big reason why Donald Trump won the 2016 election.”

Just before the Republicans lost the House in 2018, Mr. Kushner convened a cadre of operatives at the Trump family’s Washington hotel to confront a rising threat to the president.

Republicans had watched with alarm as ActBlue helped Beto O’Rourke, a previously obscure Texas congressman, pull in more than $50 million for his improbably serious challenge to Senator Ted Cruz. Megadonors warned Mr. Kushner that, come 2020, they would not make up for the party’s small-donor deficit.

Republicans had fund-raising tools, but by coalescing around a single vendor like ActBlue, candidates could raise money jointly and more easily share data on contributors. There were several contenders. But to Mr. Kushner and Mr. Parscale, who by then was the 2020 campaign manager, only one vendor was acceptable, according to several people with knowledge of the deliberations: a company called Revv which had already been processing payments for the campaign.

Revv had been co-founded by Mr. Lansing, who was well regarded as a tech-savvy operator and for raising alarms about ActBlue for years. But in 2017, Politico reported that, after taking over as the R.N.C.’s digital director the year before, he had encouraged Republican campaigns to use Revv, earning a $909,000 payout from the company. Some party veterans viewed this as self-dealing.

By the summer of 2019, WinRed was created atop Revv’s platform, but only after negotiations that ended with the Senate campaign committee, and R.N.C. representatives, imposing restrictions that blocked Mr. Lansing from selling WinRed in the future and tightening control of firms he could hire.

Mr. Lansing, in a statement, called WinRed “the work of seven months of lawyering to ensure every major stakeholder would be happy with all data, financial and ownership arrangements.”

The new company was a joint venture between Revv and Data Trust, with 60 percent of profits going to Revv. (WinRed charges campaigns 3.8 percent, plus 30 cents per credit card transaction.) Officials involved would not detail Mr. Lansing’s remuneration. Mr. Parscale, Ms. Walsh-Shields and Mr. Shields do not own stakes, according to financial records reviewed by The New York Times.

WinRed became ascendant, and this time the Trump team and Senate Republicans joined in a pressure campaign to convert holdouts. Mr. McConnell told colleagues at a lunch in mid-2019 that his personal goal was to “shut down all the competitors,” according to one senator who was surprised at the majority leader’s directness. The party even sent a cease-and-desist letter to one of the losing contenders, Anedot, instructing it to remove G.O.P. logos from solicitations.

With or without a stake in WinRed, key aides have positioned themselves at the center of a formidable political machine. Ms. Walsh-Shields’s consulting firm receives a $25,000-a-month R.N.C. retainer and 1 to 5 percent of money it raises for the party’s 2020 convention. Mr. Shields’s firm, Convergence Media, represents clients ranging from the R.N.C. to Representative Devin Nunes of California, one of the president’s staunchest defenders against impeachment.

But it is Mr. Parscale who has most often been the focus of Mr. Trump’s complaints that those around him are making too much money from his name and brand. Mr. Parscale has not always discouraged suspicions. A few weeks before the 2016 election, the campaign staff gathered at the Whiskey Trader, a watering hole near Trump Tower, to play beer pong and brace for near-certain defeat. In walked Mr. Parscale, returning from dinner with a new campaign hire.

“I’m making so much money!” Mr. Parscale declared, inserting an expletive, according to two people who were present.

Mr. Parscale, in a statement, called their account “untrue and ridiculous,” but since his appointment as campaign manager, he has bought a $2.4 million canalside home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; two condos, owned with his family, together worth $2 million; and a Ferrari. A campaign official attributed the spending to Mr. Parscale’s relocation and divestment from businesses in Texas.

But after a rival aide left an underlined copy of a Daily Mail story detailing his spending on the president’s desk, Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Parscale for a pointed lecture, according to a senior White House official.

Others in his circle have made purchases of their own. Mr. Lansing bought a $1.7 million home in Washington last year, while Ms. Walsh-Shields and Mr. Shields bought a $2 million beach house in the Florida panhandle. Asked about the house, Ms. Walsh-Shields referred a reporter to her mother, who said the down payment and mortgage payments had come mostly from her. Mr. Shields had also recently sold the house he owned before their marriage.

That Ms. Walsh-Shields has endured is noteworthy. While Vice President Mike Pence said, in a statement, that “we are grateful for her hard work, loyalty and professionalism,” Mr. Trump has privately referred to her as a ‘leaker,’ blaming her for unflattering media coverage during her brief tenure as White House deputy chief of staff in 2017. He has pressed Ronna McDaniel, the party chairwoman, about Ms. Walsh-Shields’s role in recent days. And during a meeting last summer, after prodding by his longtime security consultant, Keith Schiller, the president asked if Ms. McDaniel trusted her, according to people with knowledge of the exchanges. “I do,” Ms. McDaniel replied. “She works for me.”

Start-ups have proliferated around the Trump campaign.

A company called Excelsior Strategies, run by employees at Mr. Shields’s firm, Convergence, was contracted to rent Mr. Trump’s crown jewel, his list of some 20 million donors; Mr. Shields said that only the campaign profited from the arrangement. And Opn Sesame, a start-up run by Gary Coby, a Parscale protégé, is being paid $200,000 to $300,000 a month through the R.N.C., according to campaign filings.

When the Trump campaign’s digital operation recently moved to its own floor at the campaign’s Northern Virginia headquarters, much of it was being run by Mr. Coby, who recently merged his operations with the R.N.C.’s data team. Opn Sesame’s specialty is texting voters, a burgeoning and lightly regulated field that is expected to be a factor in the 2020 campaign.

To allay Mr. Trump’s concerns, tens of millions of dollars worth of campaign advertising that once ran through Parscale Strategy has been redirected to a new company, American Made Media, which is run by a Parscale lieutenant. There are no public records detailing the company’s financial structure; Mr. Parscale and other advisers said they did not profit from it. Mr. Parscale has declined to provide detailed accounting of his network of interlocking businesses, and has told associates he follows Mr. Trump’s directive, relayed through Ms. McDaniel, that he make no more than $700,000 or $800,000 for his campaign work.

Even to insiders, the campaign’s activities can seem opaque.

Last fall, Mr. Pence’s office scheduled his first visit to the headquarters, to get a firsthand look. But when the day came, Mr. Parscale canceled, even though the visit was already on the vice president’s official schedule. Mr. Parscale, who spends much of his time working from his Florida home — though he recently said he would relocate to Washington — told Mr. Pence’s office that the campaign’s landlord had vetoed the idea, fearing a vice-presidential visit would disrupt other tenants. Mr. Pence was puzzled not to learn sooner, and the visit has not been rescheduled, two officials with knowledge of the episode said.

For the moment, such concerns are muted as the Trump campaign, the R.N.C. and other affiliated committees raised $155 million in the final three months of 2019, a 23 percent increase over the previous quarter that was buoyed by the impeachment proceedings. The digital operation overseen by Mr. Coby and Mr. Parscale has been developing a series of new products, including a news app for volunteers to dole out Trump-friendly content, republish Trump-world tweets and raffle MAGA hats. An arm of the campaign has also hired a company called Phunware, which specializes in tracking cellphone locations; a senior campaign official said the company was hired to develop an app, not track people.

The Democrats are trying to regroup, but their efforts have been scattershot. A year ago, the party installed its former chairman, Howard Dean, to create a Data Trust for the left, but the momentum around the venture has lagged.

“We’re very far behind right now,” said Mikey Dickerson, a former Obama administration official who is chief technology officer at Alloy, a nonprofit tech venture on the left. “They got motivated by the stories from the 2008 and 2012 campaigns saying that the Democrats had an insurmountable advantage,” he said, adding that it “caused our side to be complacent.”

Most Republican officeholders have succumbed to the WinRed pressure campaign. One late convert was Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who learned the power of being linked to Mr. Trump’s money machine when WinRed unexpectedly sent out a joint fund-raising appeal that brought in a “six-figure sum in a single day, which is huge in a down-ballot race,” said Tim Cameron, a Tillis adviser and former digital director at the Republican senatorial committee.

Without Mr. Trump’s victory, “there’d be nothing at the scale of WinRed,” he said. “All of a sudden, it’s one election, and we have the upper hand.”

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State Dept. Tells Americans to Avoid Cruise Ships, Despite Trump’s Misgivings

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The State Department on Sunday advised Americans against traveling on cruise ships, warning that they presented a higher risk of coronavirus infection and made U.S. citizens vulnerable to possible international travel restrictions, including quarantines.

The decision came after President Trump resisted requests from administration officials to publicly urge older travelers to avoid cruise ships and plane travel, saying he thought it would harm those industries, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the State Department wrote in an alert posted to its website Sunday.

Americans should not rely on being evacuated if other countries subject them to quarantine, the department said.

The guidance signaled another escalation in the Trump administration’s efforts to ward off the fast-growing spread of the virus, and another instance of what appeared to be separation between health officials and the president, who has repeatedly registered skepticism over making statements he believes are alarmist.

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It came as federal and state officials scrambled to contain a cluster of cases on the 3,500-passenger Grand Princess, which has idled off the coast of California. Twenty-one people onboard tested positive for the coronavirus, and it was on its way to dock on Monday at the Port of Oakland, the vessel’s operator said.

The decision to caution Americans capped weeks of discussions on the Trump administration’s interagency task force about how to communicate alarm about cruise ships after hundreds of Americans, including some who tested positive for the virus, were evacuated from the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan, a process rife with confusion and disorder.

It was Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the federal government’s coronavirus efforts, who signed off on the State Department’s announcement and Stephen E. Biegun, the deputy secretary of state and another task force member, who formalized it, a senior official familiar with the decision said. The final call on Sunday did not reach Mr. Trump’s level, the official said.

The White House did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The State Department guidance came a day after Mr. Pence held a meeting with cruise ship industry officials about what, if anything, the federal government might do. Some executives were surprised to see the department’s warning after it emerged. One senior administration official familiar with what was said at the meeting said industry officials seemed to be looking for the federal government to take action as opposed to cruise ship companies instituting their own more rigorous policies.

According to an official with knowledge of the task force talks, at least four members of the group pushed for the State Department to caution Americans against cruises: Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Robert P. Kadlec, the assistant health secretary for preparedness and response; and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the new coronavirus response coordinator.

The talks picked up last week as the Grand Princess waited for a confirmation of possible infections on the ship. A 71-year-old man died after traveling on a previous leg of the cruise, a round trip from San Francisco to Mexico. Another passenger from that leg of the trip also tested positive for the virus and is being treated in California.

After the Grand Princess docks, those aboard will be taken to military facilities around the country to be tested and quarantined for 14 days, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

About 1,000 passengers who are California residents will go to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., or the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Residents of other states will be taken to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga.

More than 500 coronavirus infections have been confirmed by lab tests in the United States as of Sunday, and 22 people have died so far from them.

“This is a fluid situation,” the State Department notice said, adding that the C.D.C. recommends that older adults, in addition to those with underlying health problems, should avoid any setting that makes them more vulnerable to disease.

“This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding nonessential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships,” the alert said.

In response to the State Department, Carnival Corporation said in a statement on Sunday that its brands, which include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard, enhanced its health screening protocols to include thermal scans and temperature checks before boarding and onboard.

“We are currently in discussions with the C.D.C., World Health Organization and other health officials,” the statement said, noting that the cruise industry committed to an aggressive response plan when it met with Mr. Pence on Saturday. “The health and safety of our guests and crew is our highest priority, and cruising remains one of the most attractive vacation options available.”

On Sunday morning, Dr. Fauci appeared to preview the State Department’s announcement, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that older Americans in poor health need to avoid large crowds and plane travel.

“Absolutely don’t get on a cruise ship,” he said.

Tariro Mzezewa contributed reporting from New York.

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For Trump, Coronavirus Proves to Be an Enemy He Can’t Tweet Away

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Defending against criticism of his handling of the coronavirus, President Trump suggested the other day that he could hardly have been expected to be ready for such an unexpected crisis.

“Who would have thought?” he asked during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nerve center for the government’s response to the outbreak. “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”

Actually, quite a few people would have thought, and did — including the officials in his own White House who were in charge of preparing for just such a pandemic only to have their office shut down in a reorganization in 2018. “The threat of pandemic flu is the No. 1 health security concern,” one of the officials said the day before that happened two years ago. “Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.”

For a president who lives in the moment, rarely planning too far ahead, the coronavirus has proved to be a leadership challenge he was not prepared for either. The outbreak that has rattled the nation does not respond to Mr. Trump’s favorite instruments of power: It cannot be cowed by Twitter posts, it cannot be shot down by drones, it cannot be overcome by party solidarity, it cannot be overpowered by campaign rally chants.

Mr. Trump, who is at his strongest politically when he has a human enemy to attack, has seemed less certain of how to take on an invisible killer. The role of calming natural leader is not one that has come easily as he struggles to find the balance between public reassurance and Panglossian dismissiveness. He has predicted that the virus will “miraculously” disappear on its own with warmer weather, suggested a vaccine will be available soon and insisted anyone who wants to be tested can be — all overstated or inaccurate.

He has expressed an astonishing lack of knowledge while at the same time claiming to be a medical savant. He has treated the crisis as a partisan battle, wearing his red Keep America Great campaign cap to the C.D.C. and calling the governor presiding over the state with the highest death toll a “snake.” He even admitted that he wanted to leave passengers stranded on a cruise ship rather than see statistics for the number of cases on American soil go up because it would look bad.

“If we really want to talk about what is going to potentially create panic in this country, it’s an administration that’s just not being straight with the American public about the extent of this epidemic and the real-life consequences that could be put upon Americans,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

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Dr. Jonathan S. Reiner, a prominent cardiologist who treated former Vice President Dick Cheney and wrote a book with him, said he was convinced that the Trump administration failed to move more quickly to test for the virus after it emerged in China because the White House did not want to admit the scope of the threat.

“When the story is finally written,” he said on Sunday, “we’ll come to understand that tens of thousands of lives were placed at risk because of a political decision made by the president.”

Mr. Trump, who was spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, rejected the criticism on Sunday, pointing to the travel restrictions he imposed early on China, later adding limits or warnings to other affected places like Iran and parts of South Korea and Italy.

“We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus,” he wrote on Twitter moments after arriving at his golf club in West Palm Beach, where he played with several members of the World Series champion Washington Nationals. “We moved VERY early to close borders to certain areas, which was a Godsend. V.P. is doing a great job. The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!”

After initially brushing off warnings by his health secretary as “alarmist,” Mr. Trump in the last two weeks has taken a more assertive public role on the coronavirus, assigning Vice President Mike Pence to lead the government efforts and making multiple appearances to signal that he takes the threat seriously.

But he has also taken a business-as-usual approach to the rest of his schedule, refusing to cancel campaign rallies, fund-raisers or social events even as other large gatherings of Americans are scrubbed. Asked by a reporter on Saturday night if he was worried that infections were getting closer to the White House, Mr. Trump said, “No, I’m not concerned at all.”

The president then went inside Mar-a-Lago to host a lavish birthday party for the former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating Donald Trump Jr. and turns 51 on Monday, a preview perhaps of the celebration that may be held next month when Melania Trump turns 50. Among those spotted at the revelry were boldface names from Mr. Trump’s circle, including Mr. Pence, Lindsey Graham, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Tucker Carlson and Matt Gaetz.

Mr. Trump happily introduced his visitor, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, to Mr. Carlson and other guests in a video shared on social media, boasting that he “gave him a good gift” by not imposing tariffs on Brazil and “that made him much more popular.” Mr. Bolsonaro laughed and said, “Sí.” A smiling Mr. Pence turned to the camera and playfully repeated, “Sí.”

The first lady did not make the trip to Florida, but she faced a fiddling-while-Rome-burns blowback of her own over the weekend after posting online photographs of herself in a hard hat overseeing the privately financed construction of a new tennis pavilion at the White House.

“I encourage everyone who chooses to be negative & question my work at the @WhiteHouse to take time and contribute something good & productive in their own communities,” she wrote on Twitter on Saturday, adding her anti-bullying slogan, “#BeBest.”

By the president’s own account, the coronavirus has been an education for him. He has acknowledged that “I didn’t know people died from the flu” — tens of thousands, in fact, each year in the United States — even though, as The Washington Post pointed out, his own grandfather died of influenza during the 1918 epidemic.

But he has credited himself with instinctive understanding of the science. “I like this stuff. I really get it,” he said at the C.D.C. on Friday. “People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

Mr. Trump rejected criticism of the slow distribution of test kits, framing it in terms evoking his battle against impeachment. “The tests are all perfect,” he told reporters, “like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect, right?” — a reference to the rough transcript of his telephone call with Ukraine’s president that led to his own impeachment for abuse of power.

The president’s less-than-perfect pronouncements, however, left public health officials straining to reconcile them on the Sunday talk shows. Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” about a White House aide’s assertion that the coronavirus had been “contained,” Dr. Jerome M. Adams, the surgeon general, said: “Well, this is a novel virus. It’s a new situation. And the messaging, quite frankly, is hard.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also appeared to walk back the president’s claim that “anyone who wants a test can get a test,” saying on “Fox News Sunday” that it would actually be up to a doctor.

Mr. Trump has become such a polarizing figure that even when he is not necessarily wrong, many do not trust him. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last week, he called the World Health Organization’s estimated fatality rate of 3.4 percent “a false number,” saying “my hunch” was that it would be under 1 percent. It sounded as if he were substituting his uneducated “hunch” for the judgment of professionals.

But in fact, he was reflecting what he had been told by health experts, including Dr. Fauci and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director, who have concluded that once the full scope of unreported infections is known, the number of deaths will most likely represent a smaller share, possibly “considerably less than” 1 percent. The W.H.O. has also said the rate may fall.

Still, at his appearance at the C.D.C., Mr. Trump had no explanation for why his White House shut down the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense established at the National Security Council in 2016 by President Barack Obama after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, stammering to suggest the coronavirus had been a surprise.

“Well, I just don’t think — I just don’t think that somebody is going to — without seeing something, like we saw something happening in China,” Mr. Trump said. “As soon as they saw that happening, they essentially — not from the White House. I mean, you know, we don’t need a lab in the White House. But they saw something happening.”

Elizabeth Cameron set up the global health security directorate at the White House for Mr. Obama before turning it over to Rear Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer, who ran it for Mr. Trump until May 2018, when he was pushed out and the directorate folded into other parts of the National Security Council. Had it still been around, it would have been charged with preparing for exactly the situation now facing the country.

“I think it would have made a difference,” Ms. Cameron said on Sunday. “Monitoring and preparing for every eventuality and having a person and a directorate accountable for that is really important and could have been important in this case.”

Chris Cameron contributed reporting from Washington.

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Miscommunication, Confusion and Fear Mar White House Response to Coronavirus

Westlake Legal Group merlin_170022120_97321499-691b-4808-8a73-6c4688fe2b0d-facebookJumbo Miscommunication, Confusion and Fear Mar White House Response to Coronavirus United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Fauci, Anthony S Epidemics Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Azar, Alex M II

WASHINGTON — After weeks of conflicting signals from the Trump administration about the coronavirus, the government’s top health officials decided late last month that when President Trump returned from a trip to India, they would tell him they had to be more blunt about the dangers of the outbreak.

If he approved, they would level with the public.

But Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, got a day ahead of the plan. At noon on Feb. 25, just as Mr. Trump was boarding Air Force One in New Delhi for his flight home, she told reporters on a conference call that life in the United States was about to change.

“The disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she said. Schools might have to close, conferences could be canceled, businesses might make employees work from home. She had told her own children, she said, to prepare for “significant disruption to our lives.”

The stock market plummeted, cable news blared apocalyptic headlines and by the time Mr. Trump landed at Joint Base Andrews early the next morning, his critics were accusing him of sowing confusion on an issue of life or death.

The president immediately got on the phone with Alex M. Azar II, his secretary of health and human services. That call scared people, he shouted, referring to Ms. Messonnier’s warnings. Are we at the point that we will have to start closing schools? the president added, alarmed, according to an official who heard about the call.

To health officials, the message needed to change with the outbreak. “The epicenter was shifting” as the number of cases outside China surpassed those inside, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the C.D.C. “The issue of what this might mean to us became more important.”

From the beginning, the Trump administration’s attempts to forestall an outbreak of a virus now spreading rapidly across the globe was marked by a raging internal debate about how far to go in telling Americans the truth. Even as the government’s scientists and leading health experts raised the alarm early and pushed for aggressive action, they faced resistance and doubt at the White House — especially from the president — about spooking financial markets and inciting panic.

“It’s going to all work out,” Mr. Trump said as recently as Thursday night. “Everybody has to be calm. It’s going to work out.”

Health experts say that telling people to remain calm is an effective message in an epidemic, and it is appropriate that it come from the president. Clear, honest communication is also crucial, and the United States has at times criticized China and other governments for being less than transparent.

But from Mr. Trump’s first comments on the virus in January to rambling remarks at the C.D.C. on Friday, health experts say the administration has struggled to strike an effective balance between encouraging calm, providing key information and leading an assertive response. The confused signals from the Trump administration, they say, left Americans unprepared for a public health crisis and delayed their understanding of a virus that has reached at least 28 states, infected more than 300 people and killed at least 17.

Get an informed guide to the global outbreak with our daily coronavirus newsletter.

Mr. Azar was at his home in Bethesda, Md., on Friday, Jan. 3, when Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C.’s director, called to tell him China had potentially discovered a new coronavirus. Mr. Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive who helped manage the response to earlier SARS and anthrax outbreaks, told his chief of staff to make sure that the National Security Council was aware.

This is a very big deal, Mr. Azar told him.

The Trump administration had eliminated the global health unit that had been part of the National Security Council, but within days, a team was meeting daily in the basement of the West Wing, pleading with Chinese officials to allow doctors from the C.D.C. into their country.

For weeks, the Chinese refused offers of public health cooperation. “China nice-talked it for a month,” said Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, a top official at the Department of Homeland Security who was working on the coronavirus effort. “‘Oh, well, thank you for the offer. Blah, blah.’”

On Saturday, Jan. 18, a day after the C.D.C. dispatched 100 people to three American airports to screen travelers coming from Wuhan, China, Mr. Azar made his first call to Mr. Trump about the virus, dialing him directly at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate. The president insisted on talking about e-cigarettes first, but Mr. Azar steered him to the virus.

Four days later, during a two-day trip to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the president chose to focus on the positive.

“We have it under control,” he said. “It’s going to be just fine.”

On the evening of Jan. 28, a new kind of crisis broke out in the skies.

The State Department had ordered the evacuation of the American Consulate in Wuhan and a 747 was in the air. But as it headed for the United States with hundreds of passengers who possibly carried the virus, administration officials in Washington were in a frantic scramble about where it should land.

Dr. Robert Kadlec, the assistant health secretary for preparedness and response, tried to secure some kind of military base in California, but was struggling to cut through Pentagon red tape. In a panic, his staff started booking hundreds of rooms at three hotels in the Los Angeles area, asking for full floors so they could separate potentially infected evacuees from other guests.

One idea was to land the plane at the Ontario airport outside Los Angeles, and officials went so far as to schedule, then cancel, a briefing for some members of the California congressional delegation. After hours of wrangling, and with the plane still in the air, Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, said the plane could land at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, which had space to house all of the passengers.

Inside the White House, a debate broke out, centered on concerns that had become ever-present since the virus first emerged: How would the government’s actions be perceived by the public? And what would the president think?

At issue was whether to impose a federal quarantine order on the evacuees to prevent them from leaving for 14 days. Such authority had not been used since a smallpox outbreak in 1969. But officials had to find some way to make sure the passengers did not leave the base until it was clear they were not infected.

Mr. Azar pushed for the order but others were wary, concerned it could cause panic. They decided to ask the passengers to voluntarily stay at the military base. One woman balked, so California officials, who use quarantine authority more often, stepped in and forced the passengers to stay.

By the end of January, the virus was veering out of control in China, the source of 23,000 visitors to the United States each day. Any one of them could be the trigger for a new and undetected American outbreak.

Over four days in the White House Situation Room, the nation’s top public health and national security officials engaged in a fierce debate over whether to take the extraordinary step of banning travel from China.

Public health officials were initially wary. Experts have long recommended against restricting travel during outbreaks, arguing that it is often ineffective and can stymie the response by limiting the movements of doctors and other health professionals trying to contain the disease. A ban would anger China, they worried, ending any hope of cooperation with American medical teams.

Officials at the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security argued that China had already proved unwilling to cooperate. A third group inside the White House was worried that the move would incite panic and could roil the financial markets.

By Thursday, Jan. 30, the public health officials had come around. Mr. Azar, Dr. Redfield and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agreed that a ban on travel from the epidemic’s center could buy some time to put into place prevention and testing measures. “There was so much we didn’t know about this virus,” Dr. Redfield said in an interview. “We were rapidly understanding it was much more transmissible, that it had a great ability to go global.”

The debate moved that afternoon to the Oval Office, where Mr. Azar and others urged the president to approve the ban. “The situation has changed radically,” Mr. Azar told Mr. Trump.

Others in the room urged being more cautious, arguing that a ban could have unforeseen consequences. “This is unprecedented,” warned Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor. Mr. Trump was skeptical, though he would later claim that everyone around him had been against the idea. The two countries were in delicate trade negotiations. Was this the time to provoke China? he asked. And what about the consequences on the economy?

The president sided with his more aggressive aides, and announced the ban next day.

Still, Mr. Trump was publicly upbeat about the effects of the virus. At a campaign rally in New Hampshire in early February, as the World Health Organization was announcing new cases by the tens of thousands, he said of the coronavirus, “By April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

In fact, the fight against the virus was already beginning to stumble.

A system used to track travelers returning from China went offline just as state officials were told to begin monitoring them. Mr. Azar said at a congressional hearing that he needed at least 300 million respirator masks for health care workers, but the national emergency stockpile, the government’s reserve of disaster supplies, held only 12 million, and many of those had expired.

And a C.D.C. coronavirus test distributed to state labs had a flawed component that led to sometimes inconclusive results, crippling the nation’s testing capacity for weeks, despite assurances by the administration that it was quickly being resolved.

Americans stranded in Japan on a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, were finally returned home Feb. 17, but the president became enraged when he learned that 14 of the passengers had tested positive for the virus in the process of being transferred to government planes.

He later said that he was worried that bringing back people who tested positive for the virus would increase the public tally of people infected in the United States.

The month ended with a whistle-blower’s claim that workers from the Department of Health and Human Services had been sent to greet returning Americans from China at two military bases in California without the personal protective gear that is required for anyone coming into contact with potentially exposed patients. None of the workers tested positive for the virus, but the allegation shook Congress.

The president’s motorcade pulled onto the main C.D.C. campus in Atlanta just before 4:30 p.m. on Friday, passing protesters holding signs that said “Have faith in science” and “We need a vaccine against Trump.”

Ten weeks after the virus first emerged in China, the total number of confirmed cases in the world surged past 100,000 and public health experts warned darkly that the outbreak was far from over. The United States, they said, faces weeks, if not months, of uncertainty and continued disruptions in education, businesses, commerce, medicine, government and daily life.

“Time matters,” Dr. Redfield said in an interview on Friday.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was given control of the public messaging, and although Mr. Pence has had some mixed messages of his own — he promised more tests before they were available — the White House has since displayed more discipline. Mr. Pence holds twice daily conference calls with officials from across the country, and a virus task force he leads issues daily talking points, with comment from the health professionals, to make sure the message is consistent.

But the president still has his bullhorn. During his visit to the C.D.C., Mr. Trump told reporters that he was not inclined to let 21 people who tested positive for the virus on a cruise ship off the coast of California onto American soil.

“They would like to have the people come off,” he said. “I would like to have the people stay.” The president said he would allow health experts to make the final decision, but he made clear again where he stood.

His concern? It would increase the tally for the number of people infected in the United States. “Because I like the numbers being where they are,” the president said.

Michael D. Shear and Noah Weiland reported from Washington, and Sheri Fink from New York. Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker from Seattle; Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Emma Fitzsimmons from New York; Katie Thomas from Chicago; and Emily Cochrane, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lara Jakes and Abby Goodnough from Washington.

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Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups

Westlake Legal Group 05dc-prince1-facebookJumbo Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Suits and Litigation (Civil) Spanberger, Abigail project veritas Prince, Erik D Organized Labor O'Keefe, James E III Halderman, Robert Joel Espionage and Intelligence Services British Secret Intelligence Service Blackwater Worldwide American Federation of Teachers

WASHINGTON — Erik Prince, the security contractor with close ties to the Trump administration, has in recent years helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence-gathering operations that included infiltrating Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda, according to interviews and documents.

One of the former spies, an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, helped run a 2017 operation to copy files and record conversations in a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the nation. Mr. Seddon directed an undercover operative to secretly tape the union’s local leaders and try to gather information that could be made public to damage the organization, documents show.

Using a different alias the next year, the same undercover operative infiltrated the congressional campaign of Abigail Spanberger, then a former C.I.A. officer who went on to win an important House seat in Virginia as a Democrat. The campaign discovered the operative and fired her.

Both operations were run by Project Veritas, a conservative group that has gained attention using hidden cameras and microphones for sting operations on news organizations, Democratic politicians and liberal advocacy groups. Mr. Seddon’s role in the teachers’ union operation — detailed in internal Project Veritas emails that have emerged from the discovery process of a court battle between the group and the union — has not previously been reported, nor has Mr. Prince’s role in recruiting Mr. Seddon for the group’s activities.

Both Project Veritas and Mr. Prince have ties to President Trump’s aides and family. Whether any Trump administration officials or advisers to the president were involved in the operations, even tacitly, is unclear. But the effort is a glimpse of a vigorous private campaign to try to undermine political groups or individuals perceived to be in opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda.

Mr. Prince, the former head of Blackwater Worldwide and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has at times served as an informal adviser to Trump administration officials. He worked with the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn during the presidential transition. In 2017, he met with White House and Pentagon officials to pitch a plan to privatize the Afghan war using contractors in lieu of American troops. Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, rejected the idea.

Mr. Prince appears to have become interested in using former spies to train Project Veritas operatives in espionage tactics sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign. Reaching out to several intelligence veterans — and occasionally using Mr. Seddon to make the pitch — Mr. Prince said he wanted the Project Veritas employees to learn skills like how to recruit sources and how to conduct clandestine recordings, among other surveillance techniques.

James O’Keefe, the head of Project Veritas, declined to answer detailed questions about Mr. Prince, Mr. Seddon and other topics, but he called his group a “proud independent news organization” that is involved in dozens of investigations. He said that numerous sources were coming to the group “providing confidential documents, insights into internal processes and wearing hidden cameras to expose corruption and misconduct.”

“No one tells Project Veritas who or what to investigate,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr. Prince declined to comment. Emails sent to Mr. Seddon went unanswered.

Mr. Prince is under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he lied to a congressional committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and for possible violations of American export laws. Last year, the House Intelligence Committee made a criminal referral to the Justice Department about Mr. Prince, saying he lied about the circumstances of his meeting with a Russian banker in the Seychelles in January 2017.

Once a small operation running on a shoestring budget, Project Veritas in recent years has had a surge in donations from both private donors and conservative foundations. According to its latest publicly available tax filing, Project Veritas received $8.6 million in contributions and grants in 2018. Mr. O’Keefe earned about $387,000.

Last year, the group received a $1 million contribution made through the law firm Alston & Bird, a financial document obtained by The New York Times showed. A spokesman for the firm said that Alston & Bird “has never contributed to Project Veritas on its own behalf, nor is it a client of ours.” The spokesman declined to say on whose behalf the contribution was made.

The financial document also listed the names of others who gave much smaller amounts to Project Veritas last year. Several of them confirmed their donations.

The group has also become intertwined with the political activities of Mr. Trump and his family. The Trump Foundation gave $20,000 to Project Veritas in 2015, the year that Mr. Trump began his bid for the presidency. The next year, during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump claimed without substantiation that videos released by Mr. O’Keefe showed that Mrs. Clinton and President Barack Obama had paid people to incite violence at rallies for Mr. Trump.

In a book published in 2018, Mr. O’Keefe wrote that Mr. Trump years earlier had encouraged him to infiltrate Columbia University and obtain Mr. Obama’s records.

Last month, Project Veritas made public secretly recorded video of a longtime ABC News correspondent who was critical of the network’s political coverage and its emphasis on business considerations over journalism. Many conservatives have gleefully pounded on Project Veritas’s disclosures, including one particularly influential voice: Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son.

The website for Mr. O’Keefe’s coming wedding listed Donald Trump Jr. as an invited guest.

Mr. Prince invited Project Veritas operatives — including Mr. O’Keefe — to his family’s Wyoming ranch for training in 2017, The Intercept reported last year. Mr. O’Keefe and others shared social media photos of taking target practice with guns at the ranch, including one post from Mr. O’Keefe saying that with the training, Project Veritas will be “the next great intelligence agency.” Mr. Prince had hired a former MI6 officer to help train the Project Veritas operatives, The Intercept wrote, but it did not identify the officer.

Mr. Seddon regularly updated Mr. O’Keefe about the operation against the Michigan teachers’ union, according to internal Project Veritas emails, where the language of the group’s leaders is marbled with spy jargon.

They used a code name — LibertyU — for their operative inside the organization, Marisa Jorge, who graduated from Liberty University in Virginia, one of the nation’s largest Christian colleges. Mr. Seddon wrote that Ms. Jorge “copied a great many documents from the file room,” and Mr. O’Keefe bragged that the group would be able to get “a ton more access agents inside the educational establishment.”

The emails refer to other operations, including weekly case updates, along with training activities that involved “operational targeting.” Project Veritas redacted specifics about those operations from the messages.

In August 2017, Ms. Jorge wrote to Mr. Seddon that she had managed to record a local union leader talking about Ms. DeVos and other topics.

“Good stuff,” Mr. Seddon wrote back. “Did you receive the spare camera yet?”

As education secretary, Ms. DeVos has been a vocal critic of teachers’ unions, saying in 2018 that they have a “stranglehold” over politicians at the federal and state levels. She and Mr. Prince grew up in Michigan, where their father made a fortune in the auto parts business.

AFT Michigan sued Project Veritas in federal court, alleging trespassing, eavesdropping and other offenses. The teachers’ union is asking for more than $3 million in damages, accusing the group of being a “vigilante organization which claims to be dedicated to exposing corruption. It is, instead, an entity dedicated to a specific political agenda.”

Project Veritas has said its activities are legal and protected by the First Amendment, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in the fall.

Other Project Veritas employees on the emails include Joe Halderman, an award-winning former television producer who in 2010 pleaded guilty to trying to extort $2 million from the comedian David Letterman. Mr. Halderman was copied on several messages providing updates about the Michigan operation, and in one message, he gave instructions to Ms. Jorge. Project Veritas tax filings list Mr. Halderman as a “project manager.”

Two other employees, Gaz Thomas and Samuel Chamberlain, were also identified in emails and appeared to play important roles in the Michigan operation. Efforts to locate Mr. Thomas were unsuccessful. A man named Samuel Chamberlain who matched the description of the one employed by Mr. O’Keefe denied he worked for Project Veritas. He did not respond to follow-up phone messages or an email.

Last year, Project Veritas submitted a proposed list of witnesses for the trial over the lawsuit. Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Thomas were on the list. Mr. Seddon was not.

Ms. Jorge, 23, did not respond to email addresses associated with her Liberty University account. In an archived version of her LinkedIn page, Ms. Jorge wrote she had a deep interest in the conservative movement and hoped one day to serve on the Supreme Court after attending law school.

In a YouTube video, Mr. O’Keefe described the lawsuit as “frivolous” and pointed to a portion of the deposition in which David Hecker, the president of AFT Michigan, said that one of the goals of the lawsuit was to “stop Project Veritas from doing the kind of work that it does.”

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement: “Let’s be clear who the wrongdoer is here: Project Veritas used a fake intern to lie her way into our Michigan office, to steal documents and to spy — and they got caught. We’re just trying to hold them accountable for this industrial espionage.”

In 2018, Ms. Jorge infiltrated the congressional campaign of Ms. Spanberger, posing as a campaign volunteer. At the time, Ms. Spanberger was running to unseat a sitting Republican congressman in a race both parties considered important for control of the House. Ms. Jorge was eventually exposed and kicked out of the campaign office.

It was unclear whether Mr. Seddon was involved in planning that operation.

Mr. Seddon was a longtime British intelligence officer who served around the world, including in Washington in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He is married to an American diplomat, Alice Seddon, who is serving in the American consulate in Lagos, Nigeria.

Mr. O’Keefe and his group have taken aim at targets over the years including Planned Parenthood, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Democracy Partners, a group that consults with liberal and progressive electoral causes. In 2016, a Project Veritas operative infiltrated Democracy Partners using a fake name and fabricated résumé and made secret recordings of the staff. The year after the sting, Democracy Partners sued Project Veritas, and its lawyers have since deposed Mr. O’Keefe.

In that deposition, Mr. O’Keefe defended the group’s undercover tactics, saying they were part of a long tradition of investigative journalism going back to muckraking reporters like Upton Sinclair. “I’m not ashamed of the methods that we use or the recordings that we use,” he said.

He was asked whether he had provided any of the group’s secret recordings of Democracy Partners to the Republican National Committee or any member of the Trump family. He said that he did not think so.

In 2010, Mr. O’ Keefe and three others pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor after admitting they entered a government building in New Orleans under false pretenses as part of a sting.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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With Test Kits in Short Supply, Health Officials Sound Alarms

Westlake Legal Group 06VIRUS-TESTING1b-facebookJumbo With Test Kits in Short Supply, Health Officials Sound Alarms your-feed-healthcare Trump, Donald J Tests (Medical) Redfield, Robert R Pence, Mike Medicine and Health Laboratories and Scientific Equipment Food and Drug Administration Epidemics Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Azar, Alex M II

President Trump claimed again on Friday that anyone who needed a coronavirus test “gets a test.” But from Washington State to Florida to New York, doctors and patients are clamoring for tests that they say are in woefully short supply, and their frustration is mounting alongside the growing number of cases around the country.

In California, where thousands are being monitored for the virus, only 516 tests had been conducted by the state as of Thursday. Washington health officials have more cases than they can currently process. And in New York, where cases have quadrupled this week, a New York City official pleaded for more test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The slow federal action on this matter has impeded our ability to beat back this epidemic,” the official said in a letter Friday.

More than 300 cases have been confirmed, at least 17 have died, and thousands are in self-quarantine. Public health officials are warning that no one knows how deeply the virus will spread, in part because the federal government’s flawed rollout of tests three weeks ago has snowballed into an embarrassing fiasco of national proportions.

The latest two deaths were announced late Friday night in Florida, marking the first time fatal cases were not on the West Coast.

In the last week, Mr. Trump and his top officials repeatedly promised that 1 million to 1.5 million tests would be sent around the country, even though labs — government and private ones alike — have struggled to get the tests running amid a growing number of infections and rising demand for tests. Despite an order Wednesday by the C.D.C. to greatly expand criteria for who can be tested, many hospitals and state health authorities continued to limit tests to those at the highest risk for infection, adding to the confusion and frustration, especially in hot spots like California and Washington.

In California, Cindy Homen, 58, followed the advice she had heard from public health officials this week and emailed her primary care doctor about getting tested, at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., when she started to come down with coughing fits and a sore throat.

She received a reply Thursday telling her she did not need to get tested, that most people exposed to the virus recover after experiencing mild symptoms. She was advised to wash her hands and stay home. “At this point, testing is very limited,” her doctor wrote.

“This whole thing is just a big joke,” Ms. Homen said. “How do they track the coronavirus if there aren’t enough test kits and they don’t even want you to come in?”

Over the past few days, Vice President Mike Pence has been moderating expectations about how quickly the tests would be widely available. On Friday, Mr. Pence said it would be a “matter of weeks” before Americans could get easy access to a coronavirus test.

And on Thursday, he seemed to acknowledge that the administration’s estimates were high. Speaking at a 3M plant in Minnesota where another item in short supply — respirator masks — are made, he said, “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.” Mr. Pence added: “For those who we believe have been exposed, for those who are showing symptoms, we’ve been able to provide the testing.”

On Friday, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, was prompted to speak by the president at the White House signing of the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill for the coronavirus. Mr. Azar told reporters: “I just want to make it clear that in terms of tests, we have provided all the tests to the state of Washington and the state of California that they’ve asked for. The production and shipping of tests that we’ve talked about all week is completely on schedule.”

Mr. Azar said the C.D.C. had shipped out materials capable of testing 75,000 people to state and local government labs. In addition, he said, Integrated DNA Technologies, the private contractor working with the C.D.C. to ship to the private sector and hospitals, has already distributed enough materials for 700,000 tests.

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At a short news conference during the president’s visit to the C.D.C. lab in Atlanta on Friday, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., said the agency had never denied a request by local public health officials. “All of our state labs now have the ability to test for this virus,” he said.

Mr. Trump interjected at one point, as administration officials explained the timetable for rolling out tests to the states. “Anybody right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test,” the president said. “They’re there. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.”

But states and public health experts are warning that access is still limited and varies from state to state, hampering the ability to know how far the virus has spread or for how long it has gone undetected in some regions of the country.

“We’re going to need millions and millions and millions of tests,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a CNN town hall Thursday.

After weeks of delays by the C.D.C. because of a “manufacturing problem” in one component of its test, and the Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to lift testing restrictions for large academic centers or private companies until Feb. 29, many laboratories have begun to process tests only in the last few days. There still is no central reporting system to track the number of tests conducted or the number of patients who have been tested.

It is nearly impossible to know precisely how many people in the United States have been tested for the coronavirus. The C.D.C. reported Thursday that it had tested 1,583 patients since the beginning of the outbreak, but it is not making public how many tests are being done at state and local public health laboratories, despite publishing similar data on the seasonal flu. Many local labs are just beginning to receive long-delayed test kits and, even at full capacity, will be able to run only about 100 tests per day.

A total of 71 public laboratories in 47 states and the District of Columbia had the capacity to test for the coronavirus as of Friday afternoon, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which represents government laboratories around the country. That’s up from just eight labs able to process tests last Thursday.

“We’ve seen major progress with essentially the lights coming on across the country,” said Scott Becker, the association’s chief executive.

But the delays mean that “we’re absolutely a few weeks behind where we should be,” he said, adding, “There is no way you can sugarcoat that.”

Maine said it was still bringing its state laboratory online. Pennsylvania officials said they would have the capacity to test 150 specimens a day at the state laboratory beginning this weekend. Arkansas can process eight to 10 tests daily, and has so far tested six patients.

Large, private laboratories are also ramping up. LabCorp, a major diagnostics company, began offering a coronavirus test Thursday evening. Another firm, Quest Diagnostics, said it would launch a similar product on Monday.

“The reason that’s important, the reason that meets future demand is because the enormous capacity of these commercial laboratories and others in the country are precisely how we will make coronavirus tests available for your local doctor, available to your pharmacy and broadly available to the American public,” Mr. Pence said at the White House coronavirus task force briefing Friday.

But Wendy Bost, a Quest spokeswoman, sounded a more cautious tone. “While we believe we have capacity to accommodate initial demand, this is an evolving situation and we anticipate building additional capacity over time,” she said in a statement.

Dr. Alex Greninger, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak, said the university’s lab had tested about 400 patients since it set up operations earlier this week under new federal guidelines. The lab can yield results in about eight hours and is testing patients from several hospitals around Washington State. “I’m entirely focused on testing and building out operations that can handle thousands of tests a day,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state laboratories in Washington have more cases than they can currently process.

“We have a small backlog that we hope to be through very soon,” said Danielle Koenig, a spokeswoman for that state’s health department. The agency had tested 91 patients as of Wednesday, and attributed the backlog to both a lack of staffing and physical capacity. Their facilities can currently handle 200 samples per day, with each patient requiring between one and three tests.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis cautioned that the state had not yet received enough testing kits. “I know they have tens of thousands that will eventually be en route,” he said. “We’d like to get them, obviously, as soon as possible.”

So far, the state is conducting tests at three public health labs in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville.

The C.D.C.’s decision to remove most criteria for testing took some state officials and large health systems off-guard.

“Everyone under the sun who is going to develop a cough is going to want to get a test for coronavirus,” Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of Vermont’s health department, said on the day the changes were announced. On Friday, Vermont health officials said they had run eight tests in the state. Many states reported on Friday that they had run only a handful of tests.

In several states, health officials have been sending out guidance to physicians encouraging them to first test for other likely causes, such as the flu, before sending samples to state laboratories.

“We realize people are scared — we recognize that,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist in Oregon, but he added that it was important to prioritize people at the highest risk.

Mr. Becker, of the public health lab association, said he worried that mixed messages from the Trump administration could create demand for testing that “has the potential to overwhelm the public health system, and the country.”

In Colorado, Scott Bookman, the incident commander overseeing the coronavirus for the state’s health department, warned: “We don’t have unlimited supply going forward, so we want to be careful with that.”

Mr. Bookman said Colorado had tested samples from 100 patients, and its lab could test samples for 160 patients per day, if needed. State health officials announced Colorado’s first two infections on Thursday, with additional cases on Friday.

Utah, where one patient has been treated for coronavirus, can test about 30 people daily. That’s enough to keep up with current demand but there are potential bottlenecks: Parts of the test are conducted manually, and supplies that come from outside vendors may become scarce.

“We’re not turning away tests, but our capacity right now is limited by the fact that we have a human being extracting the DNA,” said Jenny Johnson, a Utah spokeswoman.

Doctors and lab officials alike say that the lack of clear communication from the government was hampering rather than helping their efforts.

Dr. John Strayer, an emergency doctor at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Wash., where some of the patients infected with the virus had been admitted, said the loosened criteria have “added to my work.”

He said he now has to triage patients based on whether they were sick enough to need a test urgently. Most people are sent back home and told to quarantine until they get better.

Dr. Strayer said the new policy had certainly created “lots of very angry patients.”

Kate Mannle, 37, of Seattle spent a week trying to get tested. Ms. Mannle returned Saturday from an overseas trip that included a layover in South Korea, which is experiencing an outbreak of the new virus. On Sunday, she developed a fever and a cough, but was told by her doctor and hospitals that she was not sick enough to get tested.

Ms. Mannle, the director of training programs for a conservation nonprofit, quarantined herself inside her one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, where she spent the week sleeping, doing a little yoga and trying to recover from her 101-degree fever and respiratory infection. She plans to stay inside until 24 to 48 hours after her cough goes away. She suspects she did indeed contract the virus, but she will probably never know for sure.

“They’ve put up so many barriers,” she said. “I’m tired of it and I’m ready to move on.” She added: “But what about the next one? What if this had been Ebola?”

Reporting was contributed by Jack Healy, Patricia Mazzei, Knvul Sheikh, Sheila Kaplan, Farah Stockman, Reed Abelson, Denise Grady and Timothy Williams.

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