May 22, 2020 6:15 am
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Categories: Washington Post

with Brent D. Griffiths

It’s Friday. We made it. Have a responsible, socially distanced, and masked long weekend, friends. Thanks for waking up with us. See you on Monday. 

Death toll: As of this morning, at least 93,000 Americans have died and at least 1,570,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported since Feb. 29, per The Post’s tracker. 

At The White House

UNMASKED IN MICHIGAN: Masks are now the most visible partisan flash point in the American fight to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And in Michigan especially — a political and coronavirus hotspot where protests against restrictions on movement and the economy have turned violent — face coverings are emblematic of the political divide. 

President Trump’s decision to go barefaced at a Ford manufacturing plant visit yesterday was yet another shot at the popular Michigan governor who has drawn Trump’s ire. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an executive order mandating the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces — and requires manufacturing facilities in Michigan to “suspend all nonessential in-person visits, including tours.”

New low: The president’s decision to go unmasked in a state he must win in November may not be looked upon warmly by voters, who give him a 39 percent approval rating for his handling of the pandemic in a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday morning. That means 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling the virus, driven by falling numbers among independents.

In Michigan, Trump declined to wear a mask in front of the cameras and claimed it was “not necessary” in a specific part of the factory, which is producing ventilators and masks during the pandemic. The president was surrounded by Ford executives who, in accordance with company policy, wore masks during the entire tour: 

  • “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” Trump said of the decision to ignore the Ford’s CEO’s ask that he wear a mask during his visit to the Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti Township.
  • “People say that’s a very distinct possibility,” Trump said when asked if he was concerned about a second wave of covid-19 deaths. “It’s standard. And we’re going to put out the fires. We’re not going to close the country. We’re going to put out the fires.” 
  • Trump is encouraging the quick end to restrictions on movement and commerce amid a steep economic decline, including the highest unemployment in decades, making masks part of a time period he is trying to leave behind,” writes our colleague Anne Gearan. 
  • Trump did, apparently, wear a mask for at least some of the tour:

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people should use a face covering to help slow the spread of covid-19, the decision to wear a mask has become deeply political. In Michigan, it’s even been the cause of violence. 

  • Earlier this month, a security guard at a Family Dollar store was fatally shot after telling a customer that she could not enter the store unless her child wore a face covering.
  • Armed and maskless protesters, who Trump has called “very good people,” have stormed the Michigan Capitol to protest Whitmer’s stay-at-home guidelines.
  • The president has encouraged the protests: “He has often challenged the governors who have implemented stringent social distancing policies, calling to ‘LIBERATE’ states like Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota,” our colleagues Katie Shepherd and Moriah Balingit report. 

Trump’s feud with the popular governor in an important battleground state for his reelection campaign might be ill-advised: Michigan voters are generally supportive of Whitmer’s handling of the crisis and she’s received higher marks for it from voters than the president. 

  • “It wasn’t surprising but it was disappointing,” Whitmer told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night. “And it’s really important that anyone with a platform has a responsibility to make sure that they model precisely what we’re asking everyone else to do. This is about public health. Not one person’s or another. This is about all of us. And anyone in a position of power, and responsibility, I hope emulates and does precisely what they’re asking everyone else to do.”

Most Michiganders agree with Whitmer: “Overall, 86% of Michigan voters surveyed believed the virus is a threat to public health, with support at that level or higher among self-described Independents, Democrats and even voters who say they lean Republican. Better than three-quarters of women who identified as strongly Republican agreed with that opinion as well. But it was far lower — at only 58% — among strongly Republican men,” according to a poll released last week by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce

  • And they disagree with Trump: “Michigan voters overall also overwhelmingly agreed — by a margin of 69%-22% — that protests at the state Capitol against Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders sent a wrong message,” said the survey.
  • Partisan divides: A Washington Post-Ipsos poll released earlier in May “finds 72 percent of residents overall approve of [Whitmer’s] handling of the outbreak, but the survey sample is not large enough to estimate results by party. A stand-alone Fox News poll in April found 64 percent of registered voters approved of Whitmer’s handling of the situation, including 90 percent of Democrats compared with 35 percent of Republicans.”

Some of Trump’s own campaign advisers “said they viewed [Trump’s] attacks on Michigan in particular as unwise, given internal GOP polling showing he is trailing in the state,” according to our colleagues Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, Jeff Stein and John Wagner. 

  • And Trump’s numbers in the must-win state are starting to sag: “Internal campaign polling has consistently shown Trump trailing former vice president Joe Biden in Michigan, people familiar with the polling said. A Fox News poll in mid-April found Biden leading Trump by 49 percent to 41 percent among registered voters there,” per Amy, Josh, Jeff, and John.

On the heels of Trump’s visit, Whitmer scored a legal victory: a judge ruled she did have the legal authority to extend a state of emergency in response to the pandemic. 

  • “The judge agreed with Republicans in the legislature who sued Whitmer over the extended order that she couldn’t use the state’s Emergency Management Act, but concluded that she did have authority under the state’s Emergency Powers of the Governor Act,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports. “The difference between the two is the former requires legislative approval, while the latter does not. ”

Global Power

CHINA DROPS THE HAMMER ON HONG KONG: “China’s Communist Party will impose a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong by fiat during the annual meeting of its top political body, officials said, criminalizing ‘foreign interference’ along with secessionist activities and subversion of state power,” Shibani Mahtani, Anna Fifield, Tiffany Liang and Timothy McLaughlin report from the city.

Beijing is unilaterally rewriting the ‘one country, two systems’ framework: That approach has allowed Hong Kong, a global financial hub, to enjoy a level of autonomy for the past 23 years. “The new tactic marks an escalation [of the] crackdown in the former British colony and the clearest indication that Beijing views Hong Kong as a restive region to be brought to heel after last year’s protests,” our colleague writes. (Siobhán O’Grady and Miriam Berger have a helpful explainer filling in the gaps on how we got here.)

  • Key quote: “I’m speechless,” Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told our colleagues of the proposed national security legislation. Kwok was singled out for criticism by Beijing and was recently removed from his chairmanship of a key Legislative Council committee. “This is a complete and total surprise and I think it means the end of one ‘country, two systems.’”

The U.S. response: “The city’s future has become a point of contention in the intensifying rivalry between China and the United States,” our colleagues write.

  • Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have directly appealed to Washington: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration is “closely watching what’s going on.” The State Department must certify that Hong Kong retains “a high degree of autonomy” from China, mostly for commercial purposes. The secretary said the most recent decision on that designation is still pending.
  • China has lashed out at any potential interference: “The Chinese Foreign Ministry, through its office of the commissioner to Hong Kong, said that Pompeo was ‘blackmailing’ the Hong Kong government and accused him of ‘blatant interference’ in China’s internal affairs.”

The People

DMV MOVING TOWARD REOPENING: “D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city could begin a phased reopening by next Friday, May 29, and Prince George’s County executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said the county is on track to be ready for a modified reopening June 1, if current trends continue,” Rebecca Tan, Fenit Nirappil and Ovetta Wiggins report.

What a first phase would mean for The District: “Reopening of barbershops and hair salons by appointment, outdoor restaurant dining, parks, fields, golf courses and tennis courts, worship services with no more than 10 people, and curbside service for nonessential retailers,” our colleagues write.

  • But we’re not quite there yet: The National Park Service canceled in-person commemorations for Memorial Day and the traditional concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol is being organized remotely. PBS will broadcast the concert on Sunday from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and it will be live-streamed on YouTube, Facebook and the PBS website.

It may take a lot longer for schools to reopen: “Students in the nation’s capital should not return to full, in-person learning until there is a reliable vaccine or cure for the coronavirus, according to recommendations released by a group of advisers appointed by Bowser,” Perry Stein reports.

  • Bowser is not bound to adopt these recommendations from the task force on reopening: The mayor is expected to lay out more concrete plans for the summer and the coming academic year at a news conference later today.

Outside the Beltway

MAN WHO FILMED ARBERY’S DEATH CHARGED WITH MURDER: “Georgia authorities on Thursday arrested a third person connected to the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, the black 25-year-old whose family says he was jogging when two white men in a pickup truck approached and killed him, prompting nationwide calls for justice,” Michael Brice-Saddler reports.

  • More details: “The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, Jr., 50, who recorded the graphic cellphone video of Arbery’s death in February, which was leaked earlier this month. He is charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, according to the GBI.” 

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