The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US death toll nears 100,000 as country grapples with reopening

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday, Memorial Day. We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the daily co-creators, so find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 97,722.

The U.S. is on the verge of registering 100,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus as the nation continues to reopen and respond to the pandemic on this mournful Memorial Day. 


Throughout the weekend, Americans have been out and about after being cloistered at home for more than two months. But with the reemergence comes new fears that the virus could spread further, creating more headaches for state and government officials as they subsequently look to bring back the American economy. 


On the Sunday talk shows, conversation centered around the precautions Americans should take throughout the weekend, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing despite crowded beaches, boardwalks, parks and other highly concentrated localities. 


“You can go out. You can be outside. You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls. You can go to the beaches if you stay six feet apart. But remember that that is your space, and that's a space that you need to protect and ensure that you're social distanced for others," Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told ABC’s “This Week.” 


“We really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical. And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask,” Birx added (The Hill).


The Hill: Birx: “I'm very concerned when people go out and don't maintain social distancing”


The Associated Press: Memorial Day weekend draws crowds and triggers warnings.


As The Hill’s Peter Sullivan writes, the national reopening is entering a risky new phase as some states open up despite case numbers continuing to rise. However, public health experts are acknowledging that stay-at-home orders cannot last forever and are instead urging a slow and measured approach to reopening as the country moves forward. 


Making matters tough is the fact that it is difficult to compare states, as there is wide variation across the country and some use different metrics than others. There are some warning signs in states such as Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina, where cases are continuing to rise. By contrast, large, sparsely populated states such as Vermont and Montana have fared relatively well. Even some more populated states such as Washington and Oregon have done better.


On Sunday, the president took another step to stem the spread of the virus by banning the entry of all non-U.S. citizens from Brazil. As of Sunday, Brazil has the second most reported COVID-19 cases (347,398), trailing only the U.S. According to the White House, the new decision does not restrict the flow of commerce between the two countries (Bloomberg News).


Flashback: Just over a month ago, Vice President Pence predicted that the virus would be “largely” behind us by Memorial Day. 


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic.


The Associated Press: White House goal on testing nursing homes unmet.


Peter Baker, The New York Times: Trump tweets and golfs, but makes no mention of virus’s toll.


Elsewhere, the Senate is out of town this week for its annual Memorial Day recess. However, chatter surrounding the next coronavirus relief package has not let up as Senate Republicans expect to pass a bill in the coming weeks. Despite that expectation, mystery surrounds what could be in any bill, as there remain deep divisions within the GOP caucus on a number of key policy provisions, with some continuing to question whether now is the time to move on to another bill. 


“I don't think there’s a consensus yet on a path forward,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.


Lawmakers have approved roughly $2.8 trillion in COVID-19 relief spending, but the only item that has received a significant amount of support within the caucus for inclusion in the next bill is liability protection for companies (The Hill). 


One item up for consideration, according to The Wall Street Journal, is cash incentives to push Americans back to work, rather than having them seek enhanced unemployment benefits that are in place through July. Unemployed individuals are currently able to collect $600 per week, with Republicans vowing that those benefits will not be extended in the next package despite their broad support from Democrats.


“This will not be in the next bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) said last week in a call with House Republicans, according to the report.


Meanwhile, the White House on Sunday warned that the economic downturn could last through the November election. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the unemployment rate could remain in the double digits come November. He also expects the May unemployment figure to eclipse 20 percent. 


“You’re going to be starting at a number in the 20s and working your way down,” Hassett said. “And so, of course, you could still not be back to full employment by September or October” (The Hill).


The Associated Press: President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE's pitch to voters: Trust me, economy will soar in 2021.


Paul Kane: Quiet at the Capitol is a reminder summer traditions are on hold amid pandemic.


The Hill: New Jersey governor warns of educator, health-care worker layoffs without federal aid.





State of Small Business Report: Insights from 86,000 businesses and employees


A new report from Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable looks at how small and medium-sized businesses are dealing with the impact of COVID-19  — and what they need on the road to recovery.

Go further: Read the full report.


U.S. & CORONAVIRUS: Tensions are boiling over between houses of worship and the government as states continue restrictions on religious gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 


Even as states allow businesses to reopen, restrictions on churches and houses of worship remain in place in some states, frustrating Trump, his administration, and religious conservatives, according to The Hill’s Jessie Hellmann and Julia Manchester


"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend," Trump said Friday during brief remarks at the White House. "Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right.”


In California, the fight boiled over in recent days as 1,200 pastors signed a petition vowing to hold services on Sunday, May 31, in defiance of Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomVaccine skepticism emerges as early test for Biden Mayor of Denver apologizes for holiday travel after advising residents to stay put California, Texas shatter single-day nationwide record for new coronavirus cases MORE’s (D) order to keep churches and houses of worship closed. However, Newsom’s order was supported by a federal appeals court on Friday as the president urged their reopening.


Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) told a local news outlet that the Department of Justice’s warning to state leaders that any plans to reopen must treat religious and secular institutions equally played a large part in his decision to allow houses of worship to reopen at 40 percent capacity in phase one of the state’s plan. 


“The Department of Justice has made very clear to a number of states that people's ability to access church and practice their faith is a constitutional question that they are pushing people at the state level pretty hard on,” Baker said.





State Watch: New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoFor Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty Cardinal Dolan hails Supreme Court decision on churches, COVID-19 Cuomo blames new conservative majority for high court's COVID-19 decision MORE (D) announced on Sunday that professional sports teams in the state may return to their facilities for training after being shuttered since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


"Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,'' Cuomo  said during his Sunday news conference. “I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!''


"Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It's a return to normalcy,” Cuomo continued. “So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we'll work with them to make sure that can happen.''


The comments come as the NBA, NHL and MLB evaluate plans to return to action this summer (ESPN). 


POLITICS: The president continued his criticisms of mail-in voting on Sunday, arguing that Democrats are attempting to use the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a “scam” to implement mailed ballots ahead of the November election. 


"The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history," Trump tweeted on Sunday morning, arguing that some absentee voting was acceptable but that widespread mail-in voting increased the opportunity for fraud. 


"People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and 'force' people to sign. Also, forge names. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!” Trump alleged. He did not cite evidence (The Hill).


As The Hill’s Brett Samuels writes, the president has increased his rhetoric against mail-in balloting throughout the week as a number of states turn to the method to hold elections, with many preparing to do so in November. For years, Trump has cried foul over “voter fraud,” but the grievances reached a crescendo this week as he threatened to withhold federal funding from a pair of key states (Michigan and Nevada) as they took steps to allow voters to cast ballots via mail this year. 


"To really vote, and without fraud, you have to go and you have to vote at the polling place," Trump said Thursday at a Ford factory in Michigan, arguing that mail-in voting is “wrought with fraud and abuse.”


According to experts, now is the time for states to make their moves to ensure they are ready for the onslaught of mail-in ballot requests before it’s too late. 


Bloomberg News: RNC Sues California governor for November mail-in ballot order.


The Hill: GOP senator: “You can do” mail-in voting with laws in place to limit “fraud.”


> Veepstakes: Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.) might be on the shortlist to become former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE’s running mate in the fall. But her shortcomings with black voters and activists are coming home to roost as she engages in damage control in a push to win the coveted spot on the ticket. 


The Minnesota Democrat has long drawn the ire of some prominent black Democrats over her work as a Minneapolis-area prosecutor, which hampered her presidential campaign. However, according to The Washington Post, Klobuchar is urgently courting the black community, having reached out to top African American groups, introduced a voting rights bill and granted multiple interviews to African American journalists, among other things.


Klobuchar’s outreach comes at an interesting time, with Biden saying in an interview with Charlamagne Tha God on Friday that any African American who supports Trump “ain’t black.” Biden walked the comments back only hours later, saying that he had been “too cavalier.


The Hill: Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsDemings on Florida: 'We're excited about what we're seeing' but 'taking absolutely nothing for granted' Why it's time for a majority female Cabinet Sunday shows preview: The final push to Election Day MORE (D-Fla.) hits Trump for campaigning off Biden “you ain't black” comments.


The Hill: Where Biden, Trump stand in key swing states.




The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Ending lockdowns is a decision for the people, not just the experts, by Michael R. Dimino and Charlie Gerow, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2LWCSkk 


The unexpected joys of lockdown, by Kara Swisher, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/2XrF5K4 


Resources and tools to help you and your small business


We know it’s a challenging time for small businesses. Facebook’s Business Resource Hub offers resources to help you manage your business and support your customers and employees through the COVID-19 crisis.

Resources for businesses here.


The House will convene on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. for a pro forma session. 


The Senate will also meet for a pro forma session on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. The full Senate will return to Washington on June 1.


The president will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery at 10 a.m. He will then appear at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore for a Memorial Day ceremony at noon.


The Hill’s Coronavirus Report has updates and exclusive video interviews with policymakers emailed each day. Sign up HERE!


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.


International: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his top aide, Dominic Cummings, for violating the national lockdown in late March when he drove 250 miles across England to drop off his 4-year-old son at his parents’ house while he and his wife showed COVID-19 symptoms (The Associated Press). … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE appeared in a Jerusalem courtroom on Sunday to stand trial for corruption charges. The appearance comes after the new government was finally installed (The Associated Press). … Tensions raged in Hong Kong on Sunday as protestors and police clashed due to Beijing’s plan to impose national security legislation that is considered by its detractors to be a death knell towards the autonomy of the territory (Reuters). … The South Korean government announced Monday that those using public transportation, taking taxi cabs or on domestic and international flights will be mandated to wear masks (The Associated Press).


Tech: Two top social media giants are taking the lead in shifting in-office jobs to remote on a permanent basis due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the last week, Facebook CEO and founder Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Hillicon Valley: Facebook content moderators demand more workplace protections | Ousted cyber official blasts Giuliani press conference | Tech firms fall short on misinformation targeting Latino vote MORE announced that up to half of Facebook’s employees could be working remotely in five to 10 years, while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went a step farther and gave Twitter and Square employees the option to work from home indefinitely (The Hill).


➔ Gator bait: An alligator that is believed to have once belonged to Adolf Hitler reportedly died. The gator, named Saturn, passed away at 84 at the Moscow Zoo on Friday. Saturn was born in the United States and eventually escaped the Berlin Zoo when it was bombed in 1943, according to the Moscow Zoo. British soldiers found the alligator in 1946 and handed the reptile over to the Soviet Union (The Associated Press).





And finally … The Morning Report would like to take a moment to honor the men and women of the U.S. armed services who have died while fighting to preserve our freedom. We thank you.