We’ll be shutting down today’s blog shortly. Here’s a glance at today’s major news items:
- Trump claims Anthony Fauci ‘wrong’ about cause of Covid-19 surge. The US president launched an extraordinary attack on his own top infectious disease expert, arguing against the doctor’s claim that high rates of infection in the US stem from a less aggressive reaction to the virus in terms of economic shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
- Florida closes beaches as Hurricane Isaias barrels through Bahamas. Hurricane Isaias ripped shingles off roofs and blew over trees as it carved its way through the Bahamas early on Saturday and headed toward the Florida coast, where officials in Miami said they were closing beaches, marinas and parks.
- Democratic congressman issues blistering attack on Republicans after Covid-19 diagnosis. Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva, who revealed Saturday he tested positive for the coronavirus, has condemned Republican politicians for their carelessness around Congress and blamed them for spreading the virus.
- Trump heads to his own golf club as Covid-19 surges and jobless benefits expire. The US president prompted a familiar barrage of criticism on Saturday by visiting one of his own golf clubs as the country remains caught in numerous intensifying crises from the raging coronavirus epidemic to anti-racism protests to the failure to extend benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.
- UK lobbies US to support controversial new nuclear warheads. The UK has been lobbying Congress in support of a controversial new warhead for Trident missiles, claiming it is critical for “the future of Nato as a nuclear alliance”.
- Portland: 1,000 peacefully protest amid withdrawal of federal agents. More than a thousand people showed up in downtown Portland early on Saturday to peacefully protest, about three days after the announcement that the presence of US agents there would be reduced.
- Texas ‘wide open for business’ despite surge in Covid-19 cases. Four months into the pandemic a mandatory mask order is finally in place in the Lone Star state, but some express concern that it’s too little, too late.
- Trump impeachment witness says nation’s values under threat. Lt Col Alexander Vindman, the 21-year US army veteran who reported concerns about Trump’s 2019 phone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to fellow members of the National Security Council, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post condemning the US president.
The coronavirus forced baseball’s 17th postponement in 10 days on Saturday, prompting at least two more players to opt out of the season entirely and casting doubt on whether the league can complete a truncated 2020 season.
A game between the Cardinals and Brewers in Milwaukee was postponed for the second straight day after one more player and three staff members with St Louis tested positive for the coronavirus. Friday’s series opener between the midwestern rivals had been scuttled only hours before the first pitch due to two Cardinals players testing positive.
Major League Baseball said Thursday it was updating its coronavirus safety measures after a 17th player on the Miami Marlins tested positive for Covid-19, a mere seven days after all 30 clubs opened a shortened, delayed season in empty stadiums.
The Marlins outbreak, which first came to light on Monday after the team played a three-game series on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies, prompted MLB to postpone all of the team’s games through at least Sunday amid doubts the team will be able to reopen its season as planned Tuesday at home.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has reportedly ordered all teams to use surgical masks instead of cloth ones, encouraged players not to leave hotels in road cities except for games and mandated every club to travel with a virus protocol compliance officer to ensure rules are followed. According to an ESPN report, Manfred has warned players union’ executive director Tony Clark that baseball could shut down for the season if it doesn’t do a better job of managing the spread.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the US’s top infectious disease expert, expressed concern over the outbreak when asked about it during an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday morning.
“This could put [the season] in danger,” Fauci said. “I don’t believe they need to stop, but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.”
The pandemic had already forced MLB to delay and truncate the familiar 162-game, six-month season to a 60-game, 67-day sprint with a number of rule changes designed to speed up the game and protect the players and umpires.
On Saturday, Miami second baseman Isan Diaz and two-time All-Star center fielder Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers became the latest of the more than a dozen major leaguers to opt out of the season entirely, citing the health risks stemming from Covid-19. Others who are playing, like Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, have expressed ambivalence over baseball’s return as case numbers continue to surge throughout the country.
“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” Doolittle said on 5 July. “We’re way worse off as a country than we were in March when we shut this thing down. And, like, look where the other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back.
“Sports are like the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”
At least 14 members of the House of Representatives and Senate – seven Republicans and seven Democrats – have tested positive or are presumed to have had Covid-19 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic after Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva and Texas’s Louie Gohmert became the latest this week, Reuters reports.
Representative Morgan Griffith, 62, a Virginia Republican and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said in mid-July that he had tested positive. His office said he did not have significant symptoms.
The South Carolina Republican representative Tom Rice, 62, said on Facebook in mid-June that he, his wife and his son had all tested positive for the coronavirus but that all were “on the mend”.
The Utah Democratic representative Ben McAdams caught the virus in March, was hospitalized and needed oxygen.
After his release, he warned others to take the virus seriously. “I’m young, I’m 45 years old, I’m healthy, I exercise every day and it hit me really hard,” he told ABC.
Other affected lawmakers include Nydia Velazquez, 67, a Democrat from New York, the Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, 41, the Republican Florida representative Mario Díaz-Balart, 58, and the Republican Kentucky senator Rand Paul, 57, who had said on 22 March that he had tested positive and was in quarantine.
Arizona congressman Raúl Grijalva, who said Saturday he tested positive for the coronavirus, has condemned Republican politicians for their carelessness around Congress and blamed them for spreading the virus.
The Democratic representative issued the fiery condemnation from self-quarantine at his residence in the Washington area.
“While I cannot blame anyone directly for this, this week has shown that there are some members of Congress who fail to take this crisis seriously,” he said. “Numerous Republican members routinely strut around the Capitol without a mask to selfishly make a political statement at the expense of their colleagues, staff, and their families.”
The attack comes after Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who has frequently refused to wear a mask, tested positive for coronavirus last week. In shunning a mask, Gohmert is following the lead of Donald Trump, who is rarely seen wearing one either in the White House or on presidential visits.
Grijalva had presided over a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee which Gohmert attended on Tuesday.
In a TV interview after the diagnosis, Gohmert even suggested he may have contracted coronavirus by incorrectly wearing his mask.
“I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, that if I might have put some germs or some of the virus on to the mask and breathed it in,” Gohmert said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Saturday the coronavirus pandemic was likely to be “lengthy” after its emergency committee met to evaluate the crisis six months after sounding the international alarm.
The committee “highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this Covid-19 pandemic”, the WHO said in a statement, and warned of the risk of “response fatigue” given the socio-economic pressures on countries.
The panel gathered on Friday for the fourth time since the coronavirus crisis began, half a year on from its 30 January declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) – the WHO’s highest level of alarm.
“WHO continues to assess the global risk level of Covid-19 to be very high,” said its latest statement.
“The committee highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this Covid-19 pandemic, noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.”
The coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Mexico also overtook Britain to became the third hardest hit country for virus deaths after Brazil and the US with over 46,600 fatal cases.
Going into the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic’s effects would be long-lasting.
“It’s sobering to think that six months ago, when you recommended I declare a PHEIC, there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China,” he said on Friday.
“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.”
Trump contradicts ‘wrong’ Fauci over cause of surge in US coronavirus cases
Donald Trump has again publicly contradicted Dr Anthony Fauci, claiming the US’s top infectious disease expert is “wrong” to attribute the surge in US coronavirus cases to the country’s failure to sufficiently shut down its economy.
The US president came in hot on Saturday after a lengthy-for-him 15-hour hiatus from Twitter, responding to a clip of Fauci’s testimony before Congress from Friday with the largely debunked claim that Covid-19 cases in the US are surging exclusively due to increased testing.
“Wrong!” Trump said. “We have more cases because we have tested far more than any other country, 60,000,000. If we tested less, there would be less cases. How did Italy, France & Spain do? Now Europe sadly has flare ups. Most of our governors worked hard & smart. We will come back STRONG!”
Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, had made the claim before the House’s special select committee investigating the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
“When they shut down, they shut down to the tune of about 95%, getting their baseline down to tens or hundreds of cases a day,” he told the House panel, adding that only about 50% of the United States shut down against a much higher baseline of daily cases.
The idea that case numbers are high only because diagnostic testing has expended has been continually shot down by Trump’s own top public health officials, as the increase has also revealed the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is climbing across nearly the entire country.
“A high rate of positive tests indicates a government is only testing the sickest patients who seek out medical attention and is not casting a wide enough net,” according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, a primary source of updated information on the pandemic.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is removing its top intelligence official from his post after it was revealed the office has been surveilling the work of American journalists reporting on the unrest in Portland, circulating “intelligence reports” on them to other federal agencies in a move that has been decried as a clear violation of the constitutional right to a free press.
Brian Murphy, who has been the acting chief of a unit known as the “office of intelligence and analysis”, is being removed from that role at the behest of acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, Politco reported on Saturday.
The department has faced criticism since the Washington Post revealed on Thursday that the intelligence reports, which referred specifically to two prominent US journalists whose reporting had revealed the disarray within the Trump administration’s contentious deployment of federal agents to Portland, were distributed in the past week to law enforcement and other agencies.
One of the journalists, Mike Baker of the New York Times, had disclosed a leaked DHS memo that discussed the confusion prevalent among the federal agents sent to Portland. The memo showed that the camouflaged officers had little understanding of the nature of the demonstrations they were being asked to police.
As our Washington bureau chief David Smith has written, members of the media have become targets for both police and protesters in cities across the country amid this summer’s national uprising.
Donald Trump departed his golf club in Virginia at 1.57pm, according to the White House press pool.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Loudoun county property in what’s become a regular occurrence as the president’s twice-weekly visits have continued over the past several months.
A much larger crowd was assembled as the motorcade departed en route to the White House compared to when the US president arrived. A number of Trump supporters holding “Trump-Pence” placards stood one side of the street, while protesters with “Biden for President” signs gathered on the opposite side.
Nearer to the protesters’ side, “TRUMP KILLED HERMAN CAIN” was written on the ground in chalk.
CNN, which tallies Trump trips to his golf clubs, reported that the visit was Trump’s 283th trip to a golf course while in office and his 376th day at a Trump property.
The motorcade arrived back at the White House at 2.36pm. The president has no public events scheduled for the rest of the day (or Sunday).
More than a thousand people showed up in downtown Portland early Saturday to peacefully protest in the wake of an announcement that the presence of federal agents in Oregon’s largest city would be reduced.
The Associated Press reports:
Friday’s overnight protest mimicked that of Thursday, which was the first time in weeks that demonstrations ended without any major confrontations, violence or arrests. The change in tone outside a federal courthouse that’s become ground zero in clashes between demonstrators and federal agents came after the US government began drawing down its forces in the liberal city under a deal between Democratic governor Kate Brown and the Trump administration.
As of midnight on Saturday, no federal agents had emerged from the courthouse, which has been the center of protests for weeks, and there was no noticeable law enforcement presence surrounding the area.
The fence that has separated protesters and U.S. agents stationed at the courthouse was decorated with balloons and upside down American flags sewn together with “BLM” painted across, an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.
At one point in the night a small firework was shot over the fence. As it sizzled out on its own, protesters pleaded with others to remain peaceful. Later, a few small fires were occasionally started outside the courthouse, with at least one put out by other protesters.
Unlike previous weeks, protesters were not centered mainly outside the courthouse, but scattered throughout downtown.
Trump, who has largely hitched his political fate to his image as the “law and order president”, downplayed the withdrawal in a tweet on Friday night, insisting the Department of Homeland Security “is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”
Protests have roiled Portland for more than two months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Florida reported more than 9,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, and hospitals in the state are making preparations as Hurricane Isaias beats down on the US coast.
Cape Canaveral Hospital, which is located on a barrier island, said it had made plans before the storm hits and had moved its Covid-19 patients to other facilities before the storm hits.
“[S]hould there have been an evacuation, we wanted to make sure we took every necessary precaution,” a statement from the hospital said. “As we have prepared for the storm, we have contingency plans in place to care for all of our patients during this public health crisis, keeping them as safe as possible from not only the virus but the storm.”
Meanwhile, the storm is passing over the Bahamas and the winds are picking up:
Our senior political reporter Daniel Strauss has news on why a Silicon Valley billionaire trying to get an immigration hawk elected to the US Senate:
In usually deep-red Kansas, Democrats have the luxury of a sleepy primary contest for US Senate. Republicans do not.
That’s because in the Democratic primary the Kansas state senator Barbara Bollier is the heavy favorite to win her party’s nomination and then run a competitive general election campaign fueled by a large war chest of cash.
That prospect is sharpened because Republicans are having to go through a bloody primary between the Kansas congressman Roger Marshall and former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, the immigration hardliner and former Republican nominee for governor whose unpopularity – should he win the nod – could hand the Democrats a vital Senate seat they would never normally hope to win.
Kobach’s candidacy is notable for its support from the billionaire Peter Thiel, the libertarian venture capitalist who has at times expressed the same type of hardline immigration stances as Kobach.
You can read the full story below:
There have been fears that large outdoor gatherings will spark a resurgence of Covid-19 in New York City, where thousands of people died during the early stages of the pandemic.
On Saturday, Andrew Cuomo said 34 establishments in the city were given Covid-19 related violations on Friday night, and seven had their liquor licenses revoked.
“We need the NYPD to step up and do enforcement,” Cuomo said.
There were four reported deaths from Covid-19 in New York state on Friday. More than 82,000 tests were conducted and 753 of those came back positive for the virus.