“Scary to Go to Work,” Says a Presidential Adviser, as Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus

Inside the House: “It’s scary to go to work,” White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett admitted on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” Two staffers in the president’s orbit have tested positive for coronavirus: One of Trump’s personal valets; and Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary and wife of senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller. Since getting those results, CNN reports that the White House has scrambled to use contact tracing to identify who may have been exposed and how Miller contracted the virus. The administration has instructed everyone—except the president and vice president—to wear masks at all times inside the White House, except when sitting at their own desks, Rebecca Ballhaus and Alex Leary report for The Wall Street Journal. Three top health care officials, CDC Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, said they would self-quarantine to varying degrees after spending time with Miller, but others who spent similar amounts of time with her, including Dr. Deborah Birx, the administration’s coronavirus coordinator, the vice president, and some of his other top aides, have not.

  • Also: Dr. Fauci testified today before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that reopening the country too soon could be very dangerous. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” he writes in his prepared testimony, according to The New York Times. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” Yet on Monday, the President declared at a Rose Garden press conference: “We have met the moment and we have prevailed.”

Disputing the record: Global cases exceed 4.2 million with more than 288,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. In the U.S. there are more than 1.3 million cases, and the death toll tops 82,000. At least 15 states have had more than 1,000 deaths, and many are not seeing sustained declines in fatalities despite gradually reopening. In California, for example, deaths have averaged about 500 per week over the past month, according to the Los Angeles Times. But Scott Jensen, a doctor and Republican state senator in Minnesota, claims federal guidelines instruct doctors to mark Covid-19 as the cause of death even when it is not, inflating the pandemic’s death toll, one of many on the right who have sought to undermine and change the story of coronavirus. Matthew Rosenberg and Jim Rutenberg report for The New York Times that this is the new battleground in the fight for the electorate’s hearts and minds, and that making scientific issues political ones is a key tactic. And it’s one many of the players know well, after using it for years to downplay and reject climate science. “It’s the same individuals. It’s the same modus operandi, the same organizations and the same backers,” Michael E. Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told the Times. “Right-wing conservative interests that are benefiting from the Trump presidency obviously want to see a continuation with the Trump presidency.”

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Costly delays: The infection rate in the Navajo Nation is among the highest in the world, Robert Klemko reports for The Washington Post. As of this weekend, 3,122 Navajo had tested positive for Covid-19, and 100 people had died, about the number for states with more than 15 times the population. One staff worker at a local school district lost 10 members of his family. “Almost everyone knew someone who was sick, or someone who had died,” Klemko writes. Millions in relief money didn’t arrive until 10 days after it was promised and more than a month after President Trump signed the relief package into law, which Navajo leaders say cost them lives. “If we’d gotten it a month ago, we would have made sure we had the rapid testing we’ve been hearing about,” Myron Lizer, the Navajo vice president, told the Post. “We’d have ventilators…I have to believe that we could have saved more lives if we had the money earlier.”

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Testy Tesla: Elon Musk says he is going to move his company headquarters to Nevada or Texas because he’s had it with California, Russ Mitchell writes for the Los Angeles Times. The announcement by tweet came after Alameda County ordered him not to reopen his Tesla plant until county public health officials lift–which followed Musk telling his staff to prepare for a factory reopening in defiance of stay at home orders. Musk has already tussled with local law enforcement, keeping the Fremont plant open a week after a joint six-county San Francisco Bay Area stay at home order went into effect in March. Musk’s conduct prompted some choice words from California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who tweeted “F*ck Elon Musk.” Gonzalez clarified in the follow-up tweet: “California has highly subsidized a company that has always disregarded worker safety & well-being, has engaged in union busting & bullies public servants. I probably could’ve expressed my frustration in a less aggressive way.” Tesla has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Alameda County’s stay at home order, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports for The Hill, and Musk reiterated his vow to reopen his factory, tweeting: “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” What a hero.

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Tensions are high: The Trace has been tracking gun violence related to coronavirus restrictions. These incidents include: an Oklahoma woman who shot at McDonald’s employees after being told the dining area was closed; a Pennsylvania man who threatened to open fire at a parade honoring nurses, leading to a police chase; a Boston man who pointed a gun at someone in an ATM line after arguing about social distancing; and a group of armed men standing guard over a bar in West Texas that opened against state orders. Some shutdown protesters in Michigan, Las Vegas and North Carolina also carried weapons.

  • Also: Two months after a former police officer and his son shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old African American while he was out for a run in Glynn County, Georgia, the two men have been arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault, Richard Fausset reports for The New York Times. The charges were not brought until a graphic video that showed Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, menacing Arbery with weapons and Travis McMichael’s fatal shots was widely circulated on social media.

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Penalizing protests: Alabama lawmakers have advanced legislation to add new criminal penalties to nonviolent protests against pipelines and other fossil fuel projects, the fourth state after Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia to try to adopt these measures during the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, Alexander C. Kaufman reports for HuffPost. “It would throw a wet blanket on any sort of protest or civil disobedience,” said Michael Hansen, director of a clean-air advocacy group based in Birmingham. “The penalties they included are really draconian.” The legislation in all four states is remarkably similar. The fossil fuel industry’s political allies started promoting harsh new restrictions on protests shortly after the months-long standoff over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline ended when security forces mounted a military-style takeover. Before the pandemic, similar laws were passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas.

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The disappearing Amazon: Preliminary satellite data from the Brazilian Space Agency shows deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose more than 50 percent in the first three months of 2020 compared to the same  period last year, Evan Simon and Aicha El Hammar Castano report for ABC News. During the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil’s environmental agency has scaled back enforcement measures, leaving the forest and its indigenous tribes vulnerable to deadly threats from loggers and hunters. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been promoting development and policies that threaten the environment and undermine indigenous rights since taking office. In April, the indigenous affairs agency passed a law potentially legitimizing land grabs. Illegal logging and violent attacks across the region’s indigenous reserves are on the rise since the rule went into effect.

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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