Trump prepares to hit the road

Stuck in the White House compound and deprived of boisterous rallies, the president wants to send a message that America is reopening for business.

Trump prepares to hit the road

President Donald Trump is eager to hit the road.

As his own health officials continue to warn against non-essential travel, Trump has privately urged aides over the past week to start adding official events back to his schedule, including photo ops and site visits that would allow him to ditch Washington for a few hours. The day trips would be similar to those Vice President Mike Pence has made visiting businesses during the viral pandemic, according to three people familiar with the planning.

Speaking at a coronavirus task force briefing this week, Trump noted he hasn’t “left the White House in months,” except to send off the USNS Comfort from a Virginia naval base and visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s headquarters in March. The president has otherwise stayed within the executive complex for six weeks, an extraordinary stretch of confinement for a president who — even while stuck in Washington — loves to golf and visit his businesses. Trump's last big trip outside the beltway to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta ended with a three-day fundraising swing in Florida, during which he stayed at his Mar-a-Lago beach club and golfed at a nearby course he owns.

His itch to get away from Washington comes as his administration pressures governors to begin loosening restrictions on interstate travel, business operations and public gatherings — part of a three-phase plan the federal government released last week to reopen the U.S. economy after a near-total shutdown due to Covid-19. The roadmap has been criticized by some state officials who say they lack the testing capacity needed to safely reopen communities in accordance with the president’s timeline. Trump officials insist enough testing is already available to handle the first phase of reopening.

The first step of the administration’s “Opening Up America Again” strategy maintains restrictions on small gatherings if physical distancing measures cannot be adhered to and discourages Americans from pursuing non-essential travel, setting Trump on a potential collision course with swing-state governors who are reluctant to host him or presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for official or political events in the near future.

“If we’re listening to our best medical minds in this country, political events are going to be some of the last activities that are phased in as we reboot our economy,” said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has sparred with Trump over his response to the health crisis and his administration's ability to provide test kits, ventilators and other critical supplies to her state.

“I think it’s going to be a long time before anyone thinks it’s safe to have big gatherings,” Whitmer said in an interview. “It’s important that we’re all very mindful, and that goes for campaign rallies on both sides of the aisle.”

Other officials from 2020 battleground states said they would hesitate to permit events that do not comply with the federal government’s guidelines. Trump is almost always accompanied by an entourage of advisers and U.S. Secret Service personnel during official and political trips, making it difficult to practice social distancing guidelines in line with the administration's current recommendations.

During his trip last month to the Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., he spoke to an empty parking lot and traveled with a limited group of aides and reporters on Air Force One. Still, the combined presence of security, staff and media on the ground exceeded the size limits his administration placed on group gatherings in mid-March.

“If there was a situation where the president was trying to violate his own guidelines, we would certainly have a conversation about that,” said an aide to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.

A Trump campaign official said the president’s 2020 operation will remain in the digital sphere for the time being and does not currently have any “Keep America Great” rallies — a hallmark of Trump’s reelection strategy — or physical fundraisers planned for the remainder of April or May. But the same official said the White House is in charge of the president’s schedule and could add events at any given moment.

On Friday, Trump abruptly announced his plans to deliver this year’s commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His June 13 appearance will occur on the academy’s campus 50 miles north of New York City, which has seen more than 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths since March 1. The White House declined a request for additional details about the president's schedule.

“I understand they’ll have distancing. They’ll have some big distance, and so it’ll be very different than it ever looked,” Trump said at a White House briefing.

Pence delivered a commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Saturday. Nearly 1,000 cadets sat eight feet apart on the school’s parade field during the event, offering an eerie glimpse into what Trump’s own appearance at West Point could look like if strict social distancing measures remain in place through mid-June.

Pence also recently traveled to a Walmart distribution center in Virginia and told reporters aboard Air Force Two on Tuesday, during a trip to a Wisconsin factory, that he will visit a General Motors plant in his home state of Indiana next week. The vice president has used these visits to highlight the role of the private sector in manufacturing and distributing vital equipment and supplies for healthcare facilities across the country.

In some cases, state officials said White House aides have provided limited notice prior to a visit from the president or vice president. According to the Evers aide, Pence’s team notified the Wisconsin governor’s office of the vice president’s visit to the Madison-based GE Healthcare plant only after they had already finalized the trip.

“We got a notice after it was already planned, like, ‘by the way, we’ll be in town,’” recounted the aide. “It’s not a good idea to bring a bunch of people into a facility right now and they did not coordinate with us at all.”

A White House official disputed this account and said Pence's team first contacted Evers' chief of staff on April 12 to alert them of Pence's upcoming visit to Wisconsin and to offer an in-person meeting between the governor and vice president. The two men ended up speaking by phone Tuesday morning, hours before Pence arrived in Madison.

“The Office of the Vice President reached out to the governor’s office multiple times, both last week and early this week, as we began forming our plans. The governor’s office did not indicate that they would like an in-person meeting while the vice president was in Wisconsin,” said Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller.

Other states that will determine the outcome of the November election don’t yet appear to have even considered guidelines related to campaign events or presidential visits in the coronavirus era. Asked about the permittance of political activities in the coming months, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf referred POLITICO to the Pennsylvania Department of State, which said the state’s Department of Health was best equipped to respond.

“The Department of State does not in any way permit or prohibit or even offer guidance regarding political rallies,” communications director Wanda Murren wrote in an email.

In lieu of the high-energy campaign rallies he normally holds, lately Trump has turned the James S. Brady briefing room into his own political roadshow — hijacking briefings by his own coronavirus task force to single out political opponents and battle with members of the media. According to data compiled by the C-SPAN Video Library, Trump has made 41 appearances at the daily briefings as of Tuesday evening, more than any member of the Covid-19 task force, including its leader Mike Pence.

A Republican who speaks to the president regularly said Trump has been in good spirits throughout the public health crisis, but like many Americans is eager to get out of his house. This person said Trump is expected to soon follow Pence’s lead and begin traveling again, but only for official trips and not political events. The Trump campaign has canceled in-person events and fundraisers because of the pandemic, and has instead held virtual weeknight gatherings with supporters and prospective voters.

“I hope we can do rallies. It’s great for the county. It’s great spirit. For me, it’s a tremendous way of getting the word out. We win where we have rallies,” Trump said at a task force briefing last Friday.

A White House spokesperson declined to say if the president has additional events on his schedule besides his appearance at West Point in June. But Trump’s recent focus on field hospitals built by the Army Corps of Engineers — combined with his penchant for patriotic settings — could mean he could lean into military options as he did with the Norfolk visit.

In what was perhaps a tell-tale sign of his own feelings as he entered another weekend holed up in the White House residence, Trump broke from top U.S. health officials at a White House briefing on Friday to lend support to demonstrators who gathered in state capitals to protest stay-at-home orders.

“They seem to be very responsible people to me,” he said with a shrug.

Anita Kumar contributed reporting.

Source : Politico USA More   

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‘The map is bigger now’: Coronavirus rewires 2020 election

The pandemic and the economic dislocation it has caused is expanding the number of states in play.

‘The map is bigger now’: Coronavirus rewires 2020 election

The economic and political impact of the coronavirus crisis is beginning to reverberate across the presidential battleground states, creating unforeseen red-state opportunities for Joe Biden but also offering promise for Donald Trump in several Democratic-leaning states where his prospects once seemed limited.

Interviews with more than 30 political strategists, campaign advisers and officials in both parties paint a portrait of an expanded swing state electoral map, upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dislocation it has caused.

In the industrial Midwestern states that unexpectedly flipped to Trump in 2016, Democrats have more cause than ever to believe they can win back states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. In Arizona and Georgia, traditionally red states, party officials see the virus’ disproportionate effect on communities of color enhancing conditions for victory.

At the same time, the widespread disruption has presented the president with an opportunity to improve his standing in competitive states such as Nevada and New Hampshire, where Trump was presumed to be at a slight disadvantage.

The only certainty about the fall election, it seems, is more uncertainty about the state of the post-coronavirus political landscape.

“In an economic and economic-only election like we’ve never in modern day seen, it certainly puts on and takes off some battleground states that didn’t previously exist,” said Jeff Roe, a prominent Republican Party strategist.

In states significantly affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout, he said, “it will certainly go to the economics, and when that happens, how those states fared, how many job losses and losses of life happen — that could be an opportunity to reshape the lens.”

Some of the first signs of electoral upheaval are materializing in Florida, where GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally, is one of the few big-state governors who has seen his approval ratings erode over his handling of the pandemic.

The nation’s largest swing state — which Trump carried narrowly in 2016 — has become Democrats’ Exhibit A in their case for the GOP’s mishandling of the pandemic. Spring breakers were allowed to crowd the state’s beaches. The virus spread to the state’s nursing homes and to The Villages, a Republican-rich retirement community. And as hundreds of thousands of Floridians applied for unemployment benefits, they were stymied by a system Republicans privately acknowledge was designed by the previous Republican administration to make it harder to get benefits — a measure to lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims.

As of last week, only about 5 percent of applicants had received benefit payments. And that was before the state felt the full effect of the devastation to its travel and tourism industries, as Walt Disney World furloughed tens of thousands of employees.

“I am the biggest Florida skeptic on the planet,” said Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way. “Before the crisis, I was of the view that Florida was a complete lost cause,” after “that godforsaken swamp broke my heart in 2000 and then again 2016.”

Now, he said, between DeSantis’ delayed stay-at-home order and the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system, “I think that puts Florida back in play.”

An University of North Florida poll from early April supports that assessment: Biden led Trump by six percentage points — his biggest lead in any Florida poll this year.

“DeSantis might f---k Florida up for Trump … Everybody saw all the spring breakers on the beach. That’s an indelible image. Once people see that, they don’t forget it,” said Pete Giangreco, a Democratic strategist who has worked on nine presidential campaigns.

Nationally, Giangreco said, the virus has, at a minimum, put Trump “in more of a defensive posture.”

In neighboring Georgia — where communities of color appear to have been disproportionately affected and where the rate of jobless claims earlier this month were tracking second only to Michigan, according to Tax Foundation calculations — Democrats see a similar opportunity to tap into the electorate’s unrest.

A senior Biden campaign official said the campaign sees a widening path into states with high numbers of working-class voters and people of color, such as Arizona and Georgia, noting unemployment claims that have hit Georgia particularly hard.

Three-quarters of black voters in competitive states say their lives have been affected by the coronavirus, and 46 percent of them have lost a job or work hours because of it, according to a survey of 800 registered black voters in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin released last week by the progressive-leaning advocacy group BlackPAC.

“In places where we’ve gotten a lot closer, like Georgia and Florida, could that also spur young black voters to vote?” said Amelia Matier, a Democratic strategist who worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. “Florida has f--ked up so bad … [and] North Carolina is definitely in play.”

She said, “People think that it’s all about having someone better, and you do need a very good candidate. But what you need first and foremost is a goddamn good reason to fire them.”

In the Midwest, many Democrats saw the party’s victory in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race earlier this month as a reflection of a map tilting away from Trump. The contest, in a swing state that will be critical to Trump’s fortunes this fall, was important enough that the president himself endorsed the GOP’s preferred candidate.

“The map is bigger now,” said Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “It doesn’t mean it’s easier. It just means that there’s a bigger play.”

Herman said, “It’s an expansion. It does not mean we can all of a sudden go from winning seven battleground states to 12 battleground states. But it does mean that instead of 10 battleground states, it’s maybe mid-teen states on an expanded map … And when you have a bigger map, you have more pathways to victory.”

Michigan and Pennsylvania — both of which voted Republican for president in 2016 for the first time in three decades — have been two of the states hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic fallout. Biden is running ahead of Trump in polling in both states.

Jill Alper, a Michigan-based Democratic strategist and veteran of multiple presidential campaigns, pointed to an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found Trump’s overall approval rating dropping among people whose lives have been most disrupted by the crisis. “His approval is lower in states with higher-per capita infection rates, and one of those states is Michigan,” Alper said.

In a solid-Democratic or solid-Republican state, that likely wouldn’t make a big difference. But in a battleground or near-battleground state, it could single-handedly change the outcome.

“People here need look no further than their Facebook feed to see stories of friends and family suffering joblessness, closing a business, or worse yet, noting loved ones who are sick or who've lost their lives,” she said. “I see it, everyday. That matters a great deal in a state like Michigan that could be won or lost on the margins."

Still, in an election that is likely to be framed almost exclusively around issues of an economic recovery, even a slight positive shift in public opinion about Trump’s handling of the economy could be enough to tilt a marginal state, such as Nevada or New Hampshire, in his favor.

“You could see a 2- to 4-point movement in any state, frankly,” said former Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

In that uncertain environment, many Democrats have become increasingly anxious about defending states that once appeared more comfortable for them.

“I don’t know how a 15-plus percent unemployed population is going to view this race when it becomes a race,” said Megan Jones, a former Harry Reid adviser and Nevada-based Democratic consultant who advised Kamala Harris' presidential campaign. “There’s no oxygen right now to even have a discussion about the choice in front of voters because they’re too worried, and rightly so, about their health and their job.”

Noting that Trump won six key states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — by just more than 455,000 votes in 2016, and that unemployment claims have risen in those states by more than 4 million, Cowen Washington Research Group’s Chris Krueger wrote in a note for clients Tuesday that “recessions generally destroy Presidential re-elects.”

However, while the “data looks awful,” he asked, “does it look this bad in 8 weeks & who do people blame?”

Republicans are not unaware of the challenges confronting Trump. But if the pandemic is receding by fall and the economy is recovering, the tide may shift — and he may be able to influence the narrative in some states through his bully pulpit or by administrative fiat.

After many Nevadans fumed about rules prohibiting small casinos from accessing emergency small business loans. Trump called Nevada a “great state,” adding that “they do a great job. So, I’m going to look at it very strongly.”

On Sunday, he said he expects administration officials to make a ruling next week, after a previous adjustment to the rules failed to mollify Nevada lawmakers. “It’s a big topic,” Trump said. “Got a lot of people involved.”

Until now, Nevada had appeared to move further out of reach for Republicans in recent years, with Hillary Clinton carrying the state in 2016, and Democrats now controlling the statehouse.

But the financial reverberations of the pandemic are likely to be felt more acutely in Nevada than in many other states, as the hospitality industry waits for visitors to first become comfortable leaving their houses — and then become comfortable traveling and spending money.

For the election, said former Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Miller, “a lot of it will depend on what happens with the economy, and obviously, whatever happens, he’s going to take credit for it, and he’s going to take credit for more than what actually is.”

Miller said, “If we are on the road to recovery, will he get credit for that? Or will people still look into the disaster of the response … I don’t know. You’re talking to a hard-core Democrat who hates the man, but there are people who like him.”

Of the states that Trump lost in 2016, Trump’s campaign and his allies have suggested that he could flip Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire or Minnesota this year. A Dartmouth College-UNH Survey Center New Hampshire COVID-19 Study found New Hampshire residents without college degrees were more likely to have lost a job or have had their hours reduced as a result of the coronavirus — and placed a greater emphasis on restarting the economy than maintaining social distancing.

Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist, said that in Pennsylvania, “My sense is that people really, really want to get back to work.”

By Labor Day, he said, Trump will be able to point to the pre-coronavirus economy as evidence of success, while comparing his response to the pandemic to that of a Democratic nominee who is out of office and making public appearances only via livestream from his house.

“The only thing that could really go wrong” for Trump, said Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Colorado, “is if the whole attempt to reopen goes into the dumper.”

The more likely outcome, he said, is that voters see Trump as “taking you through a war,” judge his performance favorably and conclude “you can’t change horses.”

Source : Politico USA More   

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