The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 97,722. Tuesday, 98,223. Wednesday, 98,929.
At a time when Americans could use a diversion from the agonies of medical science, political science and economics, this afternoon’s planned launch of the first U.S. astronauts into orbit in nearly a decade fits the bill.
For President Trump, who will be in Florida with Vice President Pence to witness the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, and for NASA, the stakes are enormous. If things go as planned, it will be a triumph to be shared. If things go wrong, “the whole world stops,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said two years ago (The Washington Post).
In the parlance of public relations boasts, the United States says it will “usher in a new era of space flight,” reinvigorating manned missions for the first time since 2011, when NASA retired the space shuttle program. The Trump administration’s ambition to return to the moon by 2024, a plan that has not wowed congressional appropriators, could be bound up in what happens today. At a time when the government is throwing every borrowed dollar it has to stop a lethal virus and help rescue earth bound economies, the idea of going back to the moon, last visited by U.S. astronauts in 1972, may ebb as a priority.
But seven months ago, Trump enthused about the administration’s aim to revisit the moon in order to make a much more ambitious trip. “We’re going to the moon, and then we’re going to Mars. We’re launching from the moon most likely,” he said. “They seem to think that’s the best way of doing it, Jim,” Trump told the NASA administrator. “So, we’re launching from the moon.”
The SpaceX rocket, created by Elon Musk’s company, is designed to take two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (pictured below with Musk and Bridenstine), to the International Space Station, a relatively routine trip in the context of Russia’s dominance as a commercial leader in space. The U.S. mission today is intended to help close that chapter on Moscow’s prowess (The Hill).
The Washington Post: Meet the SpaceX astronauts.
The launch also comes at a time when the administration is championing the creation of the Pentagon’s Space Force as a branch of the military prepared to put defensive assets and national security priorities assertively into space. The administration early this month released its first recruitment video for the Space Force, playing up the ambiguity of U.S. goals: “We have to imagine what will be imagined” (News3LV).
To watch the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, spectators have choices on live television, including Discovery Channel and Science Channel, beginning at 2 p.m. ET (Space.com).
In-person viewing may depend on how confident people feel about physical distancing during the coronavirus crisis (The Associated Press).
CNN: Everything you need to know about today’s planned launch.
CBS News: Musk, in an interview, said today’s launch will be “the culmination of a dream.”
More from the administration: Next year, most seniors on Medicare plans who suffer from diabetes may be able to pay no more than $35 for a month’s worth of insulin under a new agreement announced on Tuesday that was reached by insurers, drug manufacturers and the Trump administration. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one in three seniors has diabetes (The Hill). … Pentagon Inspector General (IG) Glenn Fine will leave the government after being demoted by Trump last month during the president’s replacement of at least four federal watchdogs. The president’s action disqualified Fine, a veteran IG with a reputation for assertive investigations, from continuing to serve as the just-named leader of a committee of inspectors general that Congress created to coordinate oversight of the administration’s pandemic spending (The New York Times).
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LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Republicans are exploring a potential move of the national convention from Charlotte, N.C., and GOP governors from across the country are making public plays for the quadrennial confab to be moved to their cities.
The president said on Tuesday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) must decide within a week whether the GOP can host a full-scale convention in Charlotte, arguing that the Democratic governor is withholding giving the green light for political purposes.
“We’re talking about a very short period of time,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “It’s a massive expenditure, and we have to know. Yeah, I would say within a week, certainly, we’d have to know. Now if he can’t do it, if he feels he’s not going to do it, all he has to do is tell us, and then we’ll have to pick another location” (The Hill).
Cooper has said that health experts will guide the decision of whether to allow the convention amid concerns that allowing thousands of guests to pack into an arena could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.
The president’s comments brought a number of governors knocking on the door — if the GOP does decide to move the convention site. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) both made public calls to bring the GOP convention to their states, with Republican National Convention Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saying that others are doing the same (The Hill).
Elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of voters to request their ballots by mail, a change that will increase pressure on the already-strained United State Postal Service (USPS) and alter the dynamics of the 2020 general election.
As Reid Wilson writes, voting rights activists are raising questions about whether the USPS can handle the millions of ballots that will enter their processing centers in the lead-up to the November election. Just as pressing are the risks of errors and what happens if voters do not receive ballots in time or if ballots do not reach elections administrators in time.
Adding to the situation are the near-daily comments by the president, who is pleading for states to avoid mail-in ballots and for in-person voting to take place. Trump continued his remarks on Tuesday, arguing that there is “NO WAY” mail-in ballots “will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.” The president’s remarks also drew the attention of Twitter, as the social media giant added a fact check under the tweet, urging readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” (The Hill).
With the balloting issue serving as an example, the 2020 race has quickly turned into an ugly contest before the calendar even turns to June. In recent days, Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have engaged in a nasty back-and-forth on a number of topics, with Trump tweeting a video of Biden in a coffin on Tuesday after Biden’s comments about black voters. The posting illustrated how nasty the race is already, as The Hill’s Amie Parnes writes.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump tweets cross into new territory.
The Washington Post: The widower of a former congressional staffer for Joe Scarborough seeks removal of Trump tweets that promote a baseless conspiracy theory.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board: A presidential smear.
The Hill: House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) “cringed” at Biden’s recent “you ain’t black” remarks.
The Wall Street Journal: Biden weighs new climate proposals, despite GOP attacks.
U.S. CORONAVIRUS: The United States is entering a “slow burn” period of coronavirus cases as it approaches the summer. As the country nears a confirmed 100,000 deaths this week, the virus continues to circulate in all 50 states. Some regions are experiencing rising numbers of cases and warning signs of outbreaks ahead as businesses nationwide continue to reopen (The Hill).
The Associated Press: What does a tally of 100,000 fatalities mean in the United States, among the more than 1.6 million people in the country who have contracted the pathogen as of this morning?
More than 62,000 U.S. health care workers, including nurses and doctors, contracted COVID-19 and at least 291 have died, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NBC News).
Meanwhile, U.S. hospitals and certain medical providers that serve the poor complain they are left out of crucial federal assistance, frustrating advocates who worry about the future of the safety net. Medicaid providers — from mental health and substance use treatment clinics to children’s hospitals and disability service providers — are missing from funding formulas devised by the Department of Health and Human Services during implementation of the CARES Act. “We need significantly more investment if we want to keep our system whole, let alone being able to serve more people,” said Chuck Ingoglia, the president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, a network of mental health and substance use providers that primarily service Medicaid patients (The Hill).
Wall Street: The trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange reopened on Tuesday for the first time in two months (under new pandemic rules), and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rang the iconic bell (The Associated Press and The Hill).
Entertainment: Six Flags America announced it will reopen its first park on June 5, also under new precautions during the pandemic (NPR). … Live music is returning to Nashville as the second phase of reopening begins there (WSMV).
Sports: The National Hockey League became the first major U.S. sports league to roll out a return-to-play plan on Tuesday, announcing it will forgo the rest of the regular season in favor of a 24-team playoff. Twelve teams from each conference will be included, with the bottom eight seeds playing in a qualifying round. However, no dates have been announced and the league must still establish health and safety protocols. The playoffs will take place in two unidentified hub cities (NBC Sports). … Meanwhile, Major League Baseball remains a field of dreams as owners propose major pay cuts for the highest-paid players. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, players “bristled” at the proposal. … The National Football League season will “definitely” happen with plans for fans in stadiums, according to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (ESPN).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS: House Republicans filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a bid to stop the proxy voting system House Democrats are set to debut this week.
According to The Hill’s Juliegrace Brufke, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is expected to spearhead the legal action, which has also earned the support of 20 members of his conference, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), GOP conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), along with four constituents from different regions. The suit is expected to be filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The House is scheduled to reconvene this morning, with votes expected this week to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and on legislation to change parts of the small-business loan program that was launched in late March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Republicans believe the new system is unconstitutional, bucks precedent and places too much power in the hands of certain members. One member is able to serve as a proxy for up to 10 lawmakers. House Democrats consider proxy voting a necessity to keep members and staff safe during the health crisis, noting that lawmakers intended votes are put in writing ahead of being cast. As of this morning, 63 Democrats plan to vote remotely this week (The Hill).
Meanwhile, the House plan to vote on FISA reauthorization today was thrown into question after the president urged GOP lawmakers to vote against the bill. After the House passed reauthorization of FISA in March, the Senate included new legal protections for some applications, a nod to civil liberties-minded lawmakers, much to the chagrin of the Justice Department. The move forced a second vote this week
Politico: McCarthy asks Dems to pull FISA bill.
The Hill: Key Senate Democrat withdraws support from House measure on web browsing data.
> Investigations: The Department of Justice is closing insider trading investigations into Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) for stock trades made in the run-up to the coronavirus pandemic.
The three senators (or their family members) made a number of trades in the days and weeks prior to the country and stock market being affected by the coronavirus. Of the three, Loeffler has been under the most scrutiny, after she attended a Jan. 24 briefing on the virus and made nearly $20 million in transactions in late February and early March. She said that the trades were made by a third-party adviser (The Hill).
> COVID-19 relief: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that Congress will “probably” have to pass another coronavirus relief package, with talks expected to take place “in the next month or so” on a bill.
“Many of you are asking, what next? I think there’s likely to be another bill. It will not be the $3 trillion bill the House passed the other day. But there’s still a likelihood that more will be needed,” McConnell said during an event at a hospital in Louisville, Ky. “In the next month or so, we’ll be talking about possibly another bill,” McConnell added about “what may lay ahead” for Congress’s response to the coronavirus.
McConnell’s comments come amid the Senate GOP’s self-imposed “pause” on negotiations on further COVID-19 relief, with Congress already approving $2.8 trillion in spending since the start of the pandemic. House Democrats recently passed a $3 trillion package, but Senate Republicans labeled the bill “dead on arrival” and a non-starter, as it was filled with items on a Democratic wishlist (The Hill).
The Hill: Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight.
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Get ready for the “careful” economy, by John H. Cochrane, opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3c2gDnH
Summer travel will be back, but we’ll be seeing it from the road, by Jennifer Hawkins, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2X1J3tI
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House will convene at 10 a.m.
The Senate will meet on Thursday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The president will meet with Gov. Cuomo at the White House to discuss infrastructure and job creation (The Hill). Trump, Pence and first lady Melania Trump will fly to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the scheduled flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which will send astronauts into space from the United States for the first time since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.
➔ Supreme Court: The ever-present curiosity about a justice potentially retiring has generated little buzz heading toward summer, and no voluntary vacancies are expected. Justice Clarence Thomas, the subject of much retirement speculation earlier during Trump’s term, has no plans to leave the bench any-time soon, sources say. “He will die on the court,” Armstrong Williams, Thomas’s friend and confidante, adds. Thomas will be 72 next month (The Hill).
➔ Crime: A graphic video showing a Minnesota police officer pinning a black suspect to the ground while the suspect, who died later at a hospital, gasps in front of witnesses and other officers and says he cannot not breathe set off a chain of public protests, an FBI investigation and a law enforcement inquiry in the state (The Associated Press). Four police officers were fired on Tuesday, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the firings were “the right call.” The mayor apologized to the community on Facebook. “Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” Frey posted. Officers wearing riot gear used tear gas on Tuesday night against demonstrators who protested the death of George Floyd (NBC News). The initial Minneapolis police account omitted mentioning that an officer’s knee pinned Floyd to the ground. Bystander videos are increasingly policing the police (The New York Times).
➔ International: Worldwide, there are at least 5.6 million cases of coronavirus infection this morning and at least 350,752 reported fatalities. … In Hong Kong, police fired pepper pellets today to disperse protesters and arrested about 240 individuals as lawmakers prepared to vote on legislation criminalizing disrespect of the Chinese national anthem (Reuters). …The European Union today will unveil a massive stimulus plan to deal with the impact of COVID-19 (Reuters). … Madeira, a Portuguese island, is set to welcome tourists back on July 1 as it positions itself as a coronavirus-safe holiday locale, with all tourists being tested before coming to the island (Daily Mail). … The German government extended social distancing guidelines until June 29 in an effort to slow the virus’s spread (Reuters). … According to a new study, deaths from the coronavirus in Brazil could exceed 125,000 by August as the South American nation’s daily COVID-19 death rate climbs to the highest in the world (Reuters). … France today revoked authorization for the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment in COVID-19 patients, one day after halting human clinical trials over safety concerns (The New York Times).
➔ Escapism: J.K. Rowling’s new book, “The Ickabog,” will be available online at no charge. The “Harry Potter” author said Tuesday she wrote the fairy tale for her children as a bedtime story more than a decade ago. Set in an imaginary land, it is a stand-alone story “about truth and the abuse of power” for children from 7 to 9 years old and is unrelated to Rowling’s other extremely popular works (The Washington Post). Find chapters of “The Ickabog” HERE (The Associated Press).
And finally … A loyal dog that arrived with his elderly owner in February at Wuhan Taikang Hospital in China did not understand that his human died after five days of treatment for COVID-19. The 7-year-old canine waited for his master for three months in the hospital lobby, defying efforts to get him to move on, especially as patients began to feed him. A woman who runs a supermarket in the building renamed the pooch “Little Treasure,” or Xiaobao, and brought him into the shop. Nurses, concerned about the wandering dog and their hospital patients, eventually contacted Wuhan Small Animal Protection Association, which said it recently rescued the pining pooch in hopes of rehoming him (New York Post).