Trump Confirms US ‘Holding Back’ Funding for WHO

The United States is “holding back” funding to the World Health Organization, according to U.S. President Donald Trump, who said the WHO “got it wrong” about the advance of COVID-19.Trump and members of his administration accuse the international agency of having a bias in favor of China, where the coronavirus was first reported.“It hasn’t accomplished what it was intended to deliver,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alongside Trump at the Wednesday briefing by the White House coronavirus task force. “We’re reevaluating our funding” with respect to the WHO.Trump said the government would conduct a study about the organization before deciding on future funding for it, which from Washington totals hundreds of millions of dollars per year.It was the second consecutive day the president attacked the WHO and threatened its funding from the United States, which is the largest contributor to the specialized agency of the United Nations.Officials at the U.N. and WHO pushed back on Trump’s threat.“It is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.”“The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future. But now is not that time,” added Guterres in a statement Wednesday. “Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.””Please don’t politicize this virus,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during an emotional briefing in Geneva when he was asked about Trump’s remark. “If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”Some U.S. cable networks have stopped airing the full daily White House coronavirus task force briefings, cutting in and out of live coverage, having made that decision because of the frequent political nature of some of the president’s comments.Earlier Wednesday, Trump criticized that approach to the briefings in a tweet, saying “Radical Left Democrats” had tried to shame “the Fake News Media into not covering them, but that effort failed because the ratings are through the roof.…”  The Radical Left Democrats have gone absolutely crazy that I am doing daily Presidential News Conferences. They actually want me to STOP! They used to complain that I am not doing enough of them, now they complain that I “shouldn’t be allowed to do them.” They tried to shame…..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2020The president, a former host of a reality television program, described viewership as on the level of “Monday Night Football” and the finale of “The Bachelor.”…the Fake News Media into not covering them, but that effort failed because the ratings are through the roof according to, of all sources, the Failing New York Times, “Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale” type numbers (& sadly, they get it $FREE). Trump Derangement Syndrome!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2020That comparison generated criticism.“It takes a certain twisted mind to take pleasure in the fact that more people are watching him because more people are dying,” tweeted a Clinton-era White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart. “It doesn’t even matter that most people who are watching are throwing things at the TV and his ratings for handling the crisis are plummeting.”4. It takes a certain twisted mind to take pleasure in the fact that more people are watching him because more people are dying. It doesn’t even matter that most people who are watching are throwing things at the TV and his ratings for handling the crisis are plummeting. Like— Joe Lockhart (@joelockhart) April 8, 2020The number of U.S. deaths from the virus has topped 14,000 — more than 4,500 of them in New York City. Across the country, 430,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, by far the most of any nation.Government officials have said they expect the pandemic to possibly peak this week in the United States.“We are in the midst of a week of heartache,” Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the coronavirus task force, said at the close of Wednesday’s briefing.

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How Trump Amassed Power in Battling the Coronavirus Pandemic    

In a matter of weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump has assumed extraordinary power and influence at a time of national crisis. In the fight against COVID-19, Trump has declared a national emergency that has enabled him to deploy military hospital ships to New York and Los Angeles, force carmakers to manufacture ventilators and relax vaccination and treatment regulations. These and other steps have been hailed as critical public health measures, but they have come with a cost to civil liberties and democratic governance.   After years of frustration in blocking illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America, the administration now has the power to arrest and immediately deport undocumented immigrants based on the need to protect public health.  And in a signal that his administration can spend trillions of dollars as it sees fit to respond to the coronavirus crisis with diminished oversight from Congress or government watchdogs, Trump is waging an assault on a network of federal inspectors general to weaken their investigative clout and mandate. From left, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Vice President Mike Pence and Rep. Kevin Brady applaud President Trump during the signing of the CARES Act, March 27, 2020.Kimberly Wehle, a visiting professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C., said Trump’s recent firings of two inspectors general appear to be an attempt to “consolidate power” during a national emergency.  “This is a serious affront to the rule of law and an accountable government,” Wehle said. “The IGs exist to protect the public from fraud, waste and abuse.” Conservative constitutional scholars say Trump has carefully avoided invoking any inherent constitutional authority in confronting the pandemic.    Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, said Trump has taken “a very traditional conception” of executive power, relying largely on powers given to him by Congress. “He’s not stretching and straining, as far as I can tell, to read the Constitution as if it granted him a whole host of authorities,” Prakash said. To be sure, as extraordinary as they are, the Trump administration’s actions pale by comparison to the draconian steps taken by some governments around the world. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban replies during a question-and-answer session of the Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, March 30, 2020.In Hungary, nominally a European democracy, the prime minister now rules by decree, thanks to a recent act of Parliament passed recently in the name of combating the lethal virus.  In Britain, the government has been given the power to shut down the borders and detain people suspected of being infected with the virus.   While Trump has thus far resisted calls for a national lockdown and other extreme measures, he has invoked virtually every emergency tool provided by Congress. Among them, the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which allows the president to declare a national emergency and make use of an additional 136 laws.    While these actions, along with measures taken by states, amount to a major expansion of executive power and have raised concerns about civil liberties, they have hardly been met with any resistance.   During a time of war or national peril, Americans traditionally have rallied round their president and allowed him to invoke extraordinary powers, such as President Abraham Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt sending Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II. Still, some warn that the president is using a moment of crisis to expand his power and advance controversial policies.  “COVID-19 is a significant threat to public health, but it should not be a significant threat to civil liberties or democratic government,” said Nick Robinson, a researcher with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks civil liberties violations around the world.  Fear that the new powers might outlast the crisis are not unfounded.  After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the George W. Bush administration assumed sweeping surveillance and other national security powers. It took Congress and the courts more than a decade to roll them back.  Digital signs signal closed at an international bridge checkpoint at the U.S-Mexico border that joins Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, March 21, 2020.ImmigrationNowhere has the effect of the administration’s newly assumed emergency powers revealed itself more directly than immigration.  Last month, the administration restricted all nonessential traffic across the border with Mexico and Canada in the name of public health safety.    “Our nation’s top health care officials are extremely concerned about the grave public health consequences of mass uncontrolled cross-border movement,” Trump said. FILE – Personnel at the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work at the Emergency Operations Center in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus, Feb. 13, 2020, in Atlanta.While Congress rejected an administration proposal to end protections for asylum-seekers, the administration found another way to restrict asylum applications: a designation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that unauthorized immigrants pose a “public health threat.” The designation has enabled the administration to abandon a long-standing policy of not returning asylum-seekers to countries where they might face persecution, according to Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute. Now, virtually all Central American immigrants caught at the U.S. border are quickly “expelled” from the country without seeing an immigration officer, while growing numbers of unaccompanied children are turned away, where once they were handed over to a guardian or family member. Pierce said the COVID-related border restrictions will be hard to roll back, even after the crisis is over. “This is something that the administration has been working toward for so long,” Pierce said.  “I don’t expect them to walk it back willingly.” 
John Malcolm of the conservative Heritage Foundation dismissed the notion that Trump’s actions are politically motivated. “I think there’s no question that the president and every governor are trying to react to a very, very difficult circumstance,” he said. FILE – In this March 16, 2011, file photo, a security fence surrounds inmate housing on the Rikers Island correctional facility in New York.Indefinite detention power 
 
In the lead-up to the enactment of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package last month, the Justice Department asked Congress for emergency powers that alarmed many rights advocates.One proposal would allow judges to halt court proceedings during an emergency.  Another would allow the Bureau of Prisons to hold detainees indefinitely during an emergency.  Robinson said what made the proposed measure to hold detainees “dangerous” was its potential use in the future. “That’s extreme. It’s dangerous. It’s unnecessary,” he said.  A Justice Department spokesperson said the proposed measure was part of “draft suggestions” made in response to a congressional request and that it did not “confer new powers upon the executive branch.”  Challenging inspectors general Long a critic of government watchdogs, Trump has used the crisis to exert authority over independent inspectors general appointed to ensure government transparency.    Last month, Trump vowed that his administration would not cooperate with a key transparency provision of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package he signed into law. “I do not understand, and my administration will not treat this provision, as permitting the (new coronavirus inspector general) to issue reports to Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause,” Trump wrote in a signing document.   The U.S. Constitution’s Take Care Clause states that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Then in the span of four days, Trump ousted two inspectors general and publicly berated a third. FILE – In this Oct. 4, 2019, photo, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, arrives at the Capitol in Washington for closed-door questioning about a whistleblower complaint.The first casualty was Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community watchdog who notified Congress about a whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment last year. Trump fired him last week.     This week, Trump sidelined Glenn Fine, the acting Pentagon inspector general tapped to chair a new coronavirus pandemic accountability committee.  Trump twice criticized the Department of Health and Human Services watchdog over a report that disclosed testing delays and shortages at many hospitals. He called the report a “fake dossier” and questioned the inspector general’s impartiality. 

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Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Trump Assails Push for Mail-In Voting

U.S. President Donald Trump is waging a new political fight against the adoption of mail-in voting rights throughout the U.S., claiming it is rife with possible fraud and would significantly benefit opposition Democrats.Trump himself recently requested an absentee ballot to vote in the Republican presidential primary in Florida, the Atlantic coastal state he now claims as his official home after spending his entire life as a New York resident.But he said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting.”“Democrats are clamoring for it,” he said. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. FILE – Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate, held in CNN’s Washington studios, March 15, 2020.Democrats have long voiced support for expansion of the electorate through mail-in voting, on the theory that given an easier option to vote other than showing up at polling stations on Election Day, more people would cast ballots.  It also would likely help more Democrats win office.  Some polling over the years has suggested Republican voters are more committed than Democrats to showing up at polling places and thus as a group do not necessarily need the added possibility of voting by mail.  Trump claims that if mail-in voting becomes the dominant way to vote, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”In fact, voting by mail already plays an important role in some U.S. elections, but not nationwide and not just in Democratic-leaning states. The National Vote at Home Institute says that in the western part of the country, 69 percent of ballots are already cast by mail, but only 27 percent nationwide.The western part of the country includes the deeply conservative state of Utah, which votes heavily for Republicans, and has moved almost entirely to vote-by-mail in recent years. The Republican secretary of state in the northwestern state of Washington also champions mail-in voting.Democrats failed in their efforts to include financial assistance for states to adopt mail-in voting as it recently approved a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package.  Republicans in Washington remain adamantly opposed, citing security concerns and objecting to transforming election laws as part of the coronavirus aid measure.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline. Embed” />CopyNow, one Democratic activist, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said, “With the insanity of Wisconsin, Democrats have the proof they need to make this a mandate for November.”She urged Democrats to ensure vote-by-mail becomes a possibility throughout the country as a “fallback” in the event the virus limits people from voting in person.Trump pointedly expressed his opposition to mail-in voting at his Tuesday coronavirus news conference, particularly if some activists collect the votes of many people rather than people mailing in their ballots themselves.  “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country, cause they’re cheaters,” he said. “They go and collect them, they’re fraudulent in many cases. You gotta vote. And they should have voter ID, by the way, you want to really do it right, you have voter ID.” 

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Sanders Drops 2020 Presidential Bid, Leaving Biden as Likely Nominee

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who saw his once strong lead in the Democratic primary evaporate as the party’s establishment lined swiftly up behind rival Joe Biden, ended his presidential bid on Wednesday, an acknowledgment that the former vice president is too far ahead for him to have any reasonable hope of catching up.The Vermont senator’s announcement makes Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November.Sanders plans to talk to his supporters later Wednesday.Sanders initially exceeded sky-high expectations about his ability to recreate the magic of his 2016 presidential bid, and even overcame a heart attack last October on the campaign trail. But he found himself unable to convert unwavering support from progressives into a viable path to the nomination amid “electability” fears fueled by questions about whether his democratic socialist ideology would be palatable to general election voters.The 78-year-old senator began his latest White House bid facing questions about whether he could win back the supporters who chose him four years ago as an insurgent alternative to the party establishment’s choice, Hillary Clinton. Despite winning 22 states in 2016, there were no guarantees he’d be a major presidential contender this cycle, especially as the race’s oldest candidate.Sanders, though, used strong polling and solid fundraising — collected almost entirely from small donations made online — to more than quiet early doubters. Like the first time, he attracted widespread support from young voters and was able to make new inroads within the Hispanic community, even as his appeal with African Americans remained small.Sanders amassed the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, which opened primary voting, and cruised to an easy victory in Nevada — seemingly leaving him well positioned to sprint to the Democratic nomination while a deeply crowded and divided field of alternatives sunk around him.But a crucial endorsement of Biden by influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, and a subsequent, larger-than-expected victory in South Carolina, propelled the former vice president into Super Tuesday, when he won 10 of 14 states.In a matter of days, his top former Democratic rivals lined up and announced their endorsement of Biden. The former vice president’s campaign had appeared on the brink of collapse after New Hampshire but found new life as the rest of the party’s more moderate establishment coalesced around him as an alternative to Sanders.Things only got worse the following week when Sanders lost Michigan, where he had campaigned hard and upset Clinton in 2016. He was also beaten in Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho the same night and the results were so decisive that Sanders headed to Vermont without speaking to the media.The coronavirus outbreak essentially froze the campaign, preventing Sanders from holding the large rallies that had become his trademark and shifting the primary calendar. It became increasingly unclear where he could notch a victory that would help him regain ground against Biden.Though he will not be the nominee, Sanders was a key architect of many of the social policies that dominated the Democratic primary, including a “Medicare for All” universal, government-funded health care plan, tuition-free public college, a $15 minimum wage and sweeping efforts to fight climate change under the “Green New Deal.”He relished the fact that his ideas — viewed as radical four years ago— had become part of the political mainstream by the next election cycle, as Democratic politics lurched to the left in the Trump era.Sanders began the 2020 race by arguing that he was the most electable Democrat against Trump. He said his working-class appeal could help Democrats win back Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But as the race wore on, the senator reverted to his 2016 roots, repeatedly stressing that he backs a “political revolution” from the bottom up under the slogan “Not me. Us.”Sanders also faced persistent questions about being the field’s oldest candidate. Those were pushed into the spotlight on Oct. 1, when he was at a rally in Las Vegas and asked for a chair to be brought on stage so he could sit down. Suffering from chest pains afterward, he underwent surgery to insert two stints because of a blocked artery, and his campaign revealed two days later that he had suffered a heart attack.But a serious health scare that might have derailed other campaigns seemed only to help Sanders as his already-strong fundraising got stronger and rising stars on the Democratic left, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, endorsed him. Many supporters said the heart attack only strengthened their resolve to back him.Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren outshone him throughout much of the summer, but Sanders worked his way back up in the polls. The two progressive candidates spent months refusing to attack each other, though Sanders offered a strong defense of Medicare for All after Warren offered a transition plan saying it would take the country years to transition to it.The two longtime allies finally clashed bitterly, if briefly, in January, when Warren said that Sanders had suggested during a 2018 private meeting that a woman couldn’t be elected president. Sanders denied saying that, but Warren refused to shake his outstretched hand after a debate in Iowa.Warren left the race after a dismal Super Tuesday showing in which she finished third in her own state.In 2016, Sanders kept campaigning long after the primaries had ended and endorsed Clinton less than two weeks before their party’s convention. This cycle, he promised to work better with the national and state parties. His dropping out of the race now could be a step toward unity.

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Lawmakers Race to Approve Additional Coronavirus Funding for Struggling Americans

Less than two weeks after U.S. lawmakers passed the largest economic relief package in the country’s history, Congress is set to advance even more funding Thursday to help struggling American workers. The measure would provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a $350 billion program that is part of the broader Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.That $2.2 trillion rescue package was quickly written and passed by Congress late last month, as businesses nationwide dealt with the economic fallout of coronavirus stay-at-home orders.The temporary closure of millions of businesses triggered historic levels of unemployment, with nearly 10 million Americans filing assistance claims in a two-week span in March. That marked the worst period for unemployment filings since 1982. Many analysts predict those numbers could soon reach levels last seen in the United States during the Great Depression in the 1930s.FILE – In this image from video, the final vote of 96-0 shows passage of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package in response to coronavirus pandemic, passed by the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 25, 2020.The CARES Act gives federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week to laid-off and out-of-work Americans in addition to state unemployment benefits. The new bills also make benefits available for the first time to the self-employed and small-business owners. The PPP gives loans to small businesses to cover their payroll and expenses during the economic slowdown. According to the White House, the Small Business Administration has awarded over 220,000 loans totaling $66 billion as of April 7, just five days into availability of the program. In a request to Congress, the White House asked lawmakers for an increase of $251 billion for the program.”It is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding, or this crucial program may run dry,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “That cannot happen. Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in just the last two weeks. This is already a record-shattering tragedy, and every day counts.”The program had a rocky rollout when it opened for applications last Friday. Many business owners were deemed ineligible to apply because their business banks were not on the list of lenders participating in the government program. Others reported long hold times to obtain information on applications that had been quickly written to encompass a rapidly changing situation.In a joint statement Wednesday, congressional Democrats appeared to support the increase, while calling for some of that new funding to be directed to women, minority and veteran-owned businesses.”As Democrats have said since day one, Congress must provide additional relief for small businesses and families, building on the strong down payment made in the bipartisan CARES Act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.FILE – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks during a news conference, on Capitol Hill, Feb.11, 2020.The U.S. Senate is set to vote on the increase Thursday, using fast-track procedures that would pass the measure without requiring most senators to fly back to Washington. The legislation would then move to the House of Representatives for a likely vote on Friday.Republican Congressman Thomas Massie has already tweeted concerns about fast-tracking the legislation in the House. He voiced similar objections to the CARES Act vote last month, forcing many members to fly back to Washington to establish the necessary numbers to overcome his objection.But there appears to be bipartisan consensus to move quickly on the increases and get the legislation to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.”We have days, NOT weeks to address this,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the co-sponsors of the PPP legislation, tweeted Tuesday.  The fear that #PPP will run out of money is creating tremendous anxiety among #SmallBusiness. We have days, NOT weeks to address this. We are working with @USTreasury to make a formal request for additional funds ASAP & with Senate leadership to get fast track vote ASAP.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 7, 2020 Negotiations on a second-round economic relief package are already under way, with lawmakers set to return to session on Capitol Hill on April 20.Pelosi initially proposed legislation heavy on infrastructure initiatives that would address broader problems exposed by the coronavirus outbreak — failures in broadband technology and the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. But that approach did not gain sufficient traction.Democrats will likely ask for another round of direct payments to Americans, even as the first $1,200 payments to many lower- and middle-class Americans are set to be distributed through April. A proposal for vote-by-mail is also likely to receive a renewed push following criticism of Tuesday’s primary election in Wisconsin, the first state to hold in-person elections since coronavirus stay-at-home orders went into effect.In a press call with reporters Tuesday, Schumer also called for $25,000 pay increases for essential emergency and health care workers fighting the coronavirus.”No proposal will be complete without addressing the need for essential workers,” Schumer said. 
 

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Wisconsin Voters Brave Coronavirus

Amid coronavirus fears, Wisconsin voters went to the polls Tuesday after the state supreme court reversed the Democratic governor’s postponement of the election.  Mike O’Sullivan reports, disputes over the voting process foreshadow battles ahead of the presidential election in November.

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US State Voting Despite Coronavirus Threat to Safety

Even with a rising tide of coronavirus cases, the Midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin voted Tuesday in a Democratic presidential primary the state supreme court reinstated after the governor had postponed it.The number of polling places was sharply reduced throughout the state, with hundreds of Election Day poll workers refusing to honor their commitment to work for fear of contracting the deadly virus as they checked in voters off registration lists. In Milwaukee, the state’s biggest city, only five of the planned 180 polling stations were open. But long lines of self-distancing voters quickly emerged at the open polling stations, with healthcare workers handing out masks to people waiting in line. As the day wore on, some voters waited up to 2½ hours to cast a ballot. “We have moved forward with an election,” the top Milwaukee election official, Neil Albrecht, said, “but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin.” Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election, April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.The voting started after the conservative-dominated state supreme court, in a 4-2 ruling Monday, overrode an executive order by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to postpone in-person voting until June. He had called off voting after people throughout the state said it was too dangerous to risk voting as the number of coronavirus cases mounts by the day. Wisconsin has more than 2,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 84 recorded deaths. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams cautioned Wisconsin voters to be careful as they headed to the polls. “I say as a black man that I know that people have died for the right to vote,” Adams told NBC’s “Today” show. “This is very important to our entire country, and if people are going to go out there and vote, then please do it as safely as possible.” More than a dozen U.S. states have postponed Democratic presidential primaries in April and May between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders until weeks from now in hopes that by then the effects of the virus will have dissipated enough to allow voters to show up at polling places to cast ballots without endangering their health.  But Wisconsin was the last holdout refusing to postpone its vote. As Tuesday’s voting started, officials took unusual precautions to try to prevent the spread of the virus, wiping down voting stations every 15 minutes. Plexiglass barriers were installed at voter check-in tables to separate poll workers from voters and the poll workers wore masks and gloves. There were markers two meters apart on floors at polling stations to show voters where to distance themselves from others waiting in line. Workers wipe down tables after each person votes at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election, April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.Tuesday’s Wisconsin vote in the Democratic presidential primary pits Biden against his remaining rival Sanders, but there are other state and local contests being decided as well. The contentious lead-up to the Wisconsin voting could be a precursor of legal fights to come over U.S. voting rights seven months ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Wisconsin Democrats, aside from trying to postpone the vote, wanted to allow absentee mail-in ballots to be tallied for a week after the Tuesday vote and won a federal court ruling to permit them to be counted. But Wisconsin Republicans and the national Republican party fought the ruling and won. On Monday night, hours before the Wisconsin voting started, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority ruled that the late absentee votes could not be counted. National Democratic leaders, including Biden, have been pushing for greatly expanded mail-in voting in the U.S., especially with the uncertainty over the spread of the coronavirus in the coming months. A handful of U.S. states already conduct their elections by mail-in ballots, but Republicans have steadfastly opposed such an expansion of voting nationwide, saying they believe it would invite widespread fraud. Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election, April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.Wisconsin is a politically divided state, with liberal enclaves of Democratic voters in Milwaukee and the state capital of Madison. Vast reaches of more conservative voters reside in rural communities, smaller cities and farming regions. After years of voters favoring Democratic presidential candidates, the state voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, helping him win a four-year term in the White House. Early 2020 polling shows Biden with a slight edge over Trump in Wisconsin, with the November outcome in the state again playing a key role in determining the national election. U.S. presidential elections are not decided by a national popular vote, but rather in the Electoral College, where the outcome of the votes in each of the 50 states determines the national winner.    

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Press Secretary Who Never Held Briefing Leaving Her White House Post

Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary who never held a briefing for the media during her nine months in the position, is shifting from the West Wing back to the East Wing where she will become first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff and spokesperson. “I am excited to welcome Stephanie back to the team in this new role,”said the first lady in a statement released Tuesday morning. “She has been a mainstay and true leader in the Administration from even before day one, and I know she will excel as Chief of Staff.” Grisham, who is 43, will succeed, effectively immediately, Lindsay Reynolds who resigned early this week “to spend time with her family,” according to the White House. “I continue to be honored to serve both the President and First Lady in the Administration,” said Grisham in a statement. “My replacements will be announced in the coming days and I will stay in the West Wing to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed.”Grisham is expected to be succeeded by Kayleigh McEnany, the top spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. McEnany is a 31-year-old Harvard Law School graduate who was previously the national spokesperson for the national committee of the Republican Party. “Grisham will be remembered for what she didn’t do — which was hold one single White House briefing,” noted Joe Lockhart, a White House press secretary during the administration of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. “She managed to kill an important institution in our country in less than a year,” Lockhart told VOA.While Grisham rarely appeared on camera, she was active behind the scenes in the West Wing press office and frequently spoke to White House reporters off camera, including on Air Force One. She won admiration from the traveling press corps when she got into an altercation with North Korean officials who attempted to block access to U.S. journalists covering Trump inside the Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom when the president crossed north to greet the reclusive country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Grisham previously was Melania Trump’s communications director and has a long relationship with the Trump family.  She worked as an assistant on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.“Loyalty and being able to guard the secrets is the single most important job qualification in Trumpworld,” according to Nina Burleigh, author of “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women.” During Grisham’s tenure working in both wings of the White House, she “distinguished herself by never holding a daily briefing — a spectacular snub to fact-based journalism that few standard-issue publicists would have dared to or been able to pull off. In that, she amplified Trump’s contempt for journalism,” Burleigh told VOA. As White House press secretary, Grisham succeeded two higher-profile figures who became household names — Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders for their on-camera sparring with correspondents in the press briefing room. The room remained largely unused during Grisham’s tenure until the president himself began briefing reporters directly as the coronavirus pandemic grew. “I can’t think of a more irrelevant press secretary. Trump is his own press secretary,” University of Texas-Austin Associate Professor of Public Affairs, Joshua Busby, told VOA.Grisham self-quarantined after attending a March 7 dinner at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where she was exposed to two or more people who later tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.  The White House announced on March 24 that Grisham had tested negative and would return to work the next day. The timing of her departure from the West Wing comes with the arrival of the new White House chief of staff, former congressman Mark Meadows, who is said to be interested in restoring regular press briefings. 

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Wisconsin Votes Despite Coronavirus Health Threat

Even with a rising tide of coronavirus cases, the Midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin started in-person voting Tuesday in a Democratic presidential primary the state supreme court reinstated after the governor had postponed it.The number of polling places was sharply reduced throughout the state, with hundreds of Election Day poll workers refusing to honor their commitment to work for fear of contracting the deadly virus as they checked in voters off registration lists.  In Milwaukee, the state’s biggest city, only five of the planned 180 polling stations were open.But long lines of self-distancing voters quickly emerged at the open polling stations, with health care workers handing out masks to people waiting in line.Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election, April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.The voting started after the conservative-dominated state supreme court, in a 4-2 ruling, overrode the executive order by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to postpone in-person voting until June. He had called off voting after people from throughout the state said it was too dangerous to risk voting as the number of coronavirus cases mounts by the day.Wisconsin has more than 2,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and recorded 84 deaths.U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams cautioned Wisconsin voters to be careful as they head to the polls.”I say as a black man that I know that people have died for the right to vote,” Adams told NBC’s “Today” show. “This is very important to our entire country, and if people are going to go out there and vote, then please do it as safely as possible.”More than a dozen U.S. states have postponed Democratic presidential primaries in April and May between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders until weeks from now in hopes that by then the effects of the virus will have dissipated enough to allow voters to show up at polling places to cast ballots without endangering their health.  But Wisconsin was the last holdout refusing to postpone its vote.Workers wipe down tables after each person votes at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election, April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.As Tuesday’s voting started, officials took unusual precautions to try to prevent the spread of the virus, wiping down voting stations every 15 minutes. Plexiglass barriers were installed at voter check-in tables to separate poll workers from voters and the poll workers wore masks and gloves.There were markers two meters apart on floors at polling stations to show voters where to distance themselves from others waiting in line.Tuesday’s featured Wisconsin vote in the Democratic presidential primary pits Biden against Sanders, his remaining rival, but there are other state and local contests being decided as well.Biden appears to have an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates to party’s national presidential nominating contest in August, in Milwaukee as it happens, and is on track to face Republican President Donald Trump in November’s national election. Pre-election surveys in Wisconsin show Biden with a substantial lead over Sanders in the Tuesday voting.   The contentious lead-up to the Wisconsin voting could be a precursor of legal fights to come over U.S. voting rights seven months ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Wisconsin Democrats, aside from trying to postpone the vote, wanted to allow absentee mail-in ballots to be tallied for a week after the Tuesday vote and won a federal court ruling to permit them to be counted.But Wisconsin Republicans and the national Republican party fought the ruling and won. On Monday night, hours before the Wisconsin voting started, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority ruled that the late absentee votes could not be counted.National Democratic leaders, including Biden, have been pushing for greatly expanded mail-in voting in the U.S., especially with the uncertainty over the spread of the coronavirus in the coming months.Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election, April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.A handful of U.S. states already conduct their elections by mail-in ballots, but Republicans have steadfastly opposed such an expansion of voting nationwide, saying they believe it would invite widespread fraud.Wisconsin is a politically divided state, with decidedly liberal enclaves of Democratic voters in Milwaukee and the state capital of Madison, with vast reaches of more conservative voters in rural communities, smaller cities and farming regions.After years of voters favoring Democratic presidential candidates, the state voted for then real estate mogul Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, helping him win a four-year term in the White House.Early 2020 polling shows Biden with a slight edge over Trump in Wisconsin, with the November outcome in the state again playing a key role in determining the national election.U.S. presidential elections are not decided by a national popular vote, but rather in the Electoral College, where the outcome of the votes in each of the 50 states determines the national outcome.

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