June 29, 2020 5:58 am
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Categories: Washington Post

Good morning. It’s Monday. PSA: I’ll be off for the next two weeks but the newsletter will power on through this week and take a break the next, anchored by some of my excellent colleagues (thank you in advance!). I’ll be back on July 15. Thanks, as always, for waking up with us. 

The Campaign

RINSE AND REPEAT: Faced with plummeting poll numbers, a pandemic and continued incendiary tweets — some with not-so-subtle racial signaling — a handful of Republicans are imploring President Trump to change his tone. Again.

A few weeks ago, it was the president’s tweets that featured a phrase used in 1967 by Miami’s then police chief saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts. And yesterday, it was Trump’s retweet of a video featuring a Trump supporter shouting “white power” that prompted Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to go on yet another Sunday show to condemn them.

  • “There’s no question: He should not have retweeted it; he should just take it down,” Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the lone black Republican senator, said Sunday morning before the tweet was deleted.

Responding to Trump’s tweets or controversial statements is a hallmark of the Trump administration that most Republicans have gotten used to, frequently by not responding at all. The reality is that Teleprompter Trump always veers off script and starts tweeting again … and again and again, continuing to cause headaches for Republicans who now fear they might go down with Trump in November.

Shake it up: But four months before the election, with public polls showing him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, U.S. coronavirus cases rising and nationwide protests against police brutality, Trump is reverting to base politics as some Republicans implore him to shake up his message and campaign.

  • Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) warned on ABC News’s “This Week”  if Trump “doesn’t change course both in terms of the substance of what he’s discussing and the way that he approaches the American people, then he will lose.”
  • The trend is obvious,” Christie said. “The trend is moving towards Joe Biden when Joe Biden hasn’t said a word. Joe Biden’s hiding in the basement and not saying anything. No discredit to the vice president — if you’re winning without doing anything, why do anything.”
  • “The president must straighten his campaign out and convey to the American people that he can move forward and lead,” Edward J. Rollins, co-chairman of the pro-Trump super PAC Great America, told my colleagues Ashley Parker, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey. “He’s got to go out and add 10 points pretty quick. If he can do that, he’ll win. If not, Biden is sitting there as the alternative.”
  • “The campaign is hyper-focused on playing to the base — I think it’s a mistake,” Chris Ruddy, chief executive of the conservative Newsmax Media and a longtime Trump confidant, told my colleagues. “Politics are about addition, not subtraction. In this environment, the president has to do a lot of plus plus plus addition signs right now with every group that he possibly can.”

Pandemic politics: Trump’s polarizing response to the coronavirus has become a matter of life or death as outbreaks worsen in Florida, Texas and Arizona. The president has continued to politicize health precautions as simple as wearing a mask (though Vice President Pence urged people to do so yesterday in a shift). Trump went so far as to suggest during an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender that masks are actually counterproductive — a “double-edged sword.” 

  • “People touch them. And they grab them and I see it all the time. They come in, they take the mask. Now they’re holding it now in their fingers. And they drop it on the desk and then they touch their eye and they touch their nose. No, I think a mask is a — it’s a double-edged sword, Trump, who has repeatedly refused to wear a mask, told Bender. 
  • Meanwhile, this happened at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla, where Trump held his first campaign rally in months last weekend: “In the hours before President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, his campaign directed the removal of thousands of “Do Not Sit Here, Please!” stickers from seats in the arena that were intended to establish social distance between rallygoers, according to video and photos obtained by The Washington Post and a person familiar with the event,” report Joshua Partlow and Dawsey.

Read the room: Trump’s campaign pollster still remains skeptical of public polling that most recently shows Trump’s support with white voters in battleground states slipping, according to Ashley, Bob and Josh. 

However, the president’s campaign advisers and allies are pushing for Trump “to be more disciplined in his message and behavior as he derails “his team’s desired themes on an almost daily basis — deploying racist rhetoric and mounting incendiary attacks on critics amid a surging coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis and roiling protests over police brutality, they report.

 “If attitudes about race were vital to Mr. Trump’s appeal with white voters, then a foundation of his strength has been badly shaken,” the New York Times’s Nate Cohn wrote of the president’s dwindling support in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. 

  • “The Times/Siena polls find that white voters in the battleground states support the recent protests and agree with the movement’s major complaints about the criminal justice system, including that the death of Mr. Floyd is part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence, and that the criminal justice system is biased against African Americans. They disapprove of how the president is handling both the recent protests and race relations more generally,” according to Cohn. 
  • “In conservative places like Ohio, you really wonder if what Trump is selling will work again,” former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, told Ashley, Bob and Josh. ­“NASCAR is banning the Confederate flag at races. Military leaders are speaking out against him. If the NFL starts again, you’ll see a lot of people kneeling. This is not the same country that it was in 2016. “

Outside the Beltway

PENCE URGES AMERICANS TO WEAR MASKS: “Vice President Pence implored Americans to wear face masks, practice social distancing and stay away from senior citizens to protect them amid a new spike in infections as the United States surpassed 2.5 million confirmed cases,” Felicia Sonmez, Siobhán O’Grady and Derek Hawkins report.

Pence made the announcement during a visit to Texas, where hospitals are seeing a surge in patients: “Pence praised [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott (R) for scaling back some reopening measures, including ordering bars to close and restaurants to reduce occupancy,” our colleagues write.

  • The VP and other top officials modeled what they were asking for: Pence, Abbott, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson “were wearing face masks as they entered and left the briefing room, a striking contrast with the image Trump administration officials have presented in recent months.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the “window is closing” to get spikes under control: “Things are very different from two months ago … So it is a very different situation, but this is a very, very serious situation and the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control,” Azar told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

  •  Azar claimed country is better suited to handle an outbreak now than it was months ago.

States with largest case increases over last week: 7-day average of daily new reported cases per 100,000 residents

THE GLOBAL DEATH TOLL HAS SURPASSED 500,000: “The worldwide death toll from the novel coronavirus surpassed 500,000 late last night, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University,”  Antonia Farzan reports.

  • The U.S. accounts for the most deaths by far: Nearly a quarter of worldwide fatalities are in this country.

Global Power

DEATHS LINKED TO RUSSIAN BOUNTIES: “Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months,” Ellen Nakashima, Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan and John Hudson report, confirming an explosive New York Times account.

  • The exact details remain unclear: Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year. ”

There was disagreement over what to do with the startling information: “The administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, preferred confronting the Russians directly about the matter, while some National Security Council officials in charge of Russia were more dismissive of taking immediate action, the official said,” our colleagues write. The outcome of those discussions remain unclear.

  • Trump confirmed claims by the White House and other officials that he was not briefed on the intelligence: But his Twitter remarks did little to clarify whether the administration was denying that the assessment existed, or simply denying that Trump knew anything about it. Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence until last month, tweeted that ‘I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence.’”

The People

HOW ZUCKERBERG LEARNED TO LIKE TRUMP: “As Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees,” Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg and Tony Romm report.

  • Among the issues for the pair was how to treat Trump’s post about shooting looters: “To Facebook’s executives in Washington, the post didn’t appear to violate its policies, which allows leaders to post about government use of force if the message is intended to warn the public — but it came right up to the line. The deputies had already contacted the White House earlier in the day with an urgent plea to tweak the language of the post or simply delete it … Eventually, Trump posted again, saying his comments were supposed to be a warning after all. Zuckerberg then went online to explain his rationale for keeping the post up, noting that Trump’s subsequent explanation helped him make his decision.”
  • Change of tune: Now, Facebook says it “will remove posts that incite violence or attempt to suppress voting — even from political leaders — and that the company will affix labels on posts that violate hate speech or other policies.”
  • It remains to be seen how the new policy is enforced.

Zuckerberg used to feel a lot differently about moderating Trump: The company held a meeting after then-candidate Trump rolled out his proposed ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. and what to do about the video of his speech. Zuckerberg expressed disgust in private meetings and wanted the video removed

  • Senior Facebook officials weighed four options: They included removing the post for hate speech violations, making a one-time exception for it, creating a broad exemption for political discourse and even weakening the company’s community guidelines for everyone, allowing comments such as ‘No blacks allowed’ and ‘Get the gays out of San Francisco.’” (A Facebook spokesman said the latter option was never seriously considered.)
  • Ultimately, Zuckerberg backed down: Vice President of Global Policy Joel Kaplan, the company’s most prominent Republican, was among those who convinced him. Kaplan has also watered down other initiatives over fears they will affect conservatives more than other groups, included proposed changes to its news feed algorithm, my colleagues report.

The social network’s concessions to Trump has remade the battle over information: Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers, according to more than a dozen former and current employees and previously unreported documents obtained by The Washington Post.”

  • Facebook’s about face comes during a massive advertising boycott and employee anger: “Starbucks became the latest on Sunday to say it would hit pause on social media advertising … Facebook is also facing a slow-burning crisis of morale, with more than 5,000 employees denouncing the company’s decision to leave Trump’s post that said, ‘the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ up. “

In the Media

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Mississippi lawmakers vote to remove Confederate image from state flag: “The last state flag in the nation to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem is poised to come down across Mississippi, after state lawmakers voted to replace the 126-year-old design,” Brittany Shammas reports.

  • Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has said he will sign the legislation: “With his approval, the flag must be removed from government buildings within 15 days through a process that is ‘prompt, dignified and respectful,’” our colleague writes.

Obama loves you, but he’d rather not be back: “Still, more than three years after his exit, the 44th president of the United States is back on a political battlefield he longed to leave, drawn into the fight by an enemy, [Trump], who is hellbent on erasing him, and by a friend, [Biden], who is equally intent on embracing him,” the New York Times’s Glenn Thrush and Elaina Plott report of the former president’s return to the fray.

  • 👀: “It was not especially easy for the former president to look on as his wife’s book, ‘Becoming,’ was published in 2018 and quickly became an international blockbuster. ‘She had a ghostwriter,’ Mr. Obama told a friend who asked about his wife’s speedy work. ‘I am writing every word myself, and that’s why it’s taking longer.’”

Van Jones praised Trump policing executive order he helped work on: According to a knowledgeable White House source, who expressed satisfaction that there were zero leaks, Jones and California human rights attorney Jessica Jackson, who runs #cut50, a prison-reform group that Jones also founded, actively participated with law enforcement officials and White House staffers to help fashion the order and guide the politics of the discussion to what they considered ‘the sweet spot’ between law enforcement and ‘the reasonable middle’ and ‘the reasonable left,’” the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove reports. 

  • Jones did not disclose his work when praising the order as a CNN commentator.
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