U.S. President Donald Trump said he would “absolutely” impose tariffs on oil imports if Russia and Saudi Arabia can not reach an agreement to cut crude oil production.
U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on April 4 that the inspector-general of the intelligence community he fired the previous day had taken "a fake report and took it to Congress with an emergency," lending weight to accusations that the dismissal was retaliation connected to Trump's congressional impeachment over pressure he put on Ukraine.
In a reversal of the bravado voiced last month by Russian officials in its standoff with Saudi Arabia, President Vladimir Putin said the drop in oil prices represented a "very serious challenge" for the country's economy. This comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed willingness to help bring the Russians and Saudis back to the negotiating table. But even if Washington and Moscow are willing, is Saudi Arabia prepared to talk?
India on Saturday completely banned the export of hydroxychloroquine, of which it is the world’s biggest producer, even as President Donald Trump urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send the medicine to the United States.
Donald Trump’s exchanges with Democratic politicians usually go something like this: He picks a petty fight, almost always lobbing a tweet with a low-grade schoolyard taunt. The politician he targeted makes some bland statement about not engaging, but slips in a few passive-aggressive comments to needle him back. Political reporters lap it up.
That’s what’s been playing out between Trump and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer over the past week.
Except this time is different, Whitmer says. This time, Trump’s routine is going to lead to Americans dying.
While Trump is taking shots at her from the White House, Whitmer told me, “more people are going to get sick and more lives are going to be lost because we don’t have enough testing, because we don’t have enough [personal protective equipment], because there aren’t enough ventilators, because the national stockpile, I understand, is getting close to being depleted. And we’re not even close to meeting the needs of people that are already sick, and more and more are going to get sick.” This isn’t a normal political fight, she said. “There’s going to be a horrible cost.”
Whitmer is trying to be diplomatic, even as she tries to negotiate for lifesaving equipment with a president who seems ready to let his personal vendettas guide his public-health response. She’s worried not just as the governor of a state that’s been shorted, but as the daughter of a man with COPD who’s living in Florida and who’s potentially put at more risk by the governor there, Ron DeSantis, who until earlier this week was taking more of a trust-his-gut approach to the pandemic. Whitmer said she’s dismayed by “the inconsistent messaging and the lackadaisical attitude at the national level, [which] really undermined the seriousness of the issue for a lot of people,” and by the “staggered inconsistent response we’ve seen nationally.”
Trump is often influenced by raw, self-interested politics. He’s looking to win votes in Michigan in November, but right now he’s depriving Michiganders of the help they need, because of his feelings about their governor. How does she make sense of that?
“I’m not sure how to answer the question,” Whitmer said.
Our full interview can be heard on the latest episode of The Ticket.
Subscribe to The Ticket: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher (How to Listen)
What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: Do you remember the first you heard about the coronavirus?
Gretchen Whitmer: You know, in January and February, [thinking] This is a global phenomenon that it's really just a matter of time. In February, my sister really started sounding the alarm. She was watching it very closely. Our dad is in Florida and we’ve been consistently, for a couple of months, trying to get him to come back to Michigan—frankly, because we’re so concerned about his ability to get the care he might need. He has COPD. And we really started working on him. We still have not been successful. And that’s why I’ve been watching what that governor’s not been doing, increasingly alarmed.
Dovere: What may turn out to be the final “normal” rally of the campaign happened in Detroit on March 9, the night before the Michigan primary. It was a Joe Biden event, and you were there endorsing him. The next day, things started to shut down. Why did that rally go on?
Whitmer: We were getting so much inconsistent messaging from the federal government and we hadn’t seen it occur in Michigan at that juncture. Now, the next day were the first two cases. And that’s when everything went to hyper-speed. But, you know, I’ve thought about that evening, because I’d told people, “We’ve got this virus. We’ve got to stop shaking hands.” We’re doing fist bumps, doing elbow bumps. You know, people were kind of teasing me about it, because they say, “Oh, I can shake your hand,” you know? I think that the inconsistent messaging and the lackadaisical attitude at the national level really undermined the seriousness of the issue for a lot of people. I think it still is.
Dovere: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself the morning of that rally, would you have said to cancel it?
Whitmer: I would say: Start buying every N95 mask I could get my hands on. I would say: Start shutting things down immediately. You know, despite all that, we’ve been more on the aggressive side and have moved faster than a lot of states. And each of those decisions has hurt. It weighs on you. You worry about people losing their jobs and not having money, and businesses that may not open again, and kids that you’re pulling out of school. And even at that juncture, there was conflicting advice even in the medical community.
Dovere: In 2018, when you were running in your primary, single-payer health care was an issue. You were not for it. Your primary opponent, whom you beat by quite a lot, was for it. Has anything over the last couple weeks made you think differently about that question or other questions about health-care access from where you were before this outbreak began?
Whitmer: I’ve always been for getting everyone covered. The debate in my primary, I thought, was not an honest one, because the state isn’t going to do this on our own. The ability for a governor who’s going in with a Republican legislature—I couldn’t tell people I can single-handedly do something that I know I couldn’t do. I just don’t think it’s intellectually honest. And that’s precisely why I took a more thoughtful approach to the same goal, which is getting more people covered.
Dovere: It’s impossible to talk with you about what’s going on here without getting into what your relationship has been with President Trump. He doesn’t want to talk to you. If you were on a call with him right after this one, what would you say to him to try to break through?
Whitmer: You know, it’s interesting. He did call me on Tuesday. And you know, I just reiterated: I don’t want to fight. We need to join together in the fight against COVID-19. We can’t afford to fight each other. We all have to be fighting this virus. And so I would say: Thank you for the 400 ventilators that FEMA sent. I’d say: I need about 5,000 more immediately. Every one of us has a job to do here. And the federal government, I think, really should be taking more of a national strategy. Having this patchwork of policies makes it more porous in terms of our ability to fight COVID-19 as a nation. We need to focus on bringing manufacturing back into the United States. We’re waiting on swabs from Italy and masks from China. Global trade is not all bad, but the fact of the matter is, we are at a disadvantage in terms of fighting COVID-19. And I would say we need to deploy the Defense Production Act in a meaningful, real way to meet the needs of Americans right now. These are the things I’ve said consistently on television. I’ve seen other governors say essentially the same thing and not have the same reaction. I’m not going to spend a lot of energy analyzing the difference there. But I will just say this: I’m doing my job and I’m doing the same job that governors across the country are doing. We are trying, in this untenable environment, to do as much as we can for the people we serve.
Dovere: Are people going to die because of the government’s shortfalls?
Whitmer: More people are going to get sick and more lives are going to be lost because we don’t have enough testing, because we don’t have enough PPE, because there aren’t enough ventilators, because the national stockpile, I understand, is getting close to being depleted. And we’re not even close to meeting the needs of people that are already sick, and more and more are going to get sick. And so I do think that there’s going to be a horrible cost because of all of these pieces.
Dovere: Joe Biden has been talking with a lot of people about what’s going on. One of the things that puts you into the conversation is, of course, you get talked about as a potential running mate for him. He said he’s going to pick a woman. You’re from a swing state. Even aside from that, you’ve generated a lot of national political interest. If he called and asked you to do it, what would your answer be?
Whitmer: Well, I’ll just say this: I am 15 months into my job as governor. I worked for two years to earn the opportunity to have this job. And no one could ever have anticipated that we would be here in this moment. I didn’t go out looking for the national spotlight. I know that the most important thing, where I’m spending all my energy right now, is trying to help my frontline health-care providers and trying to educate Michiganders so that we can slow the spread of COVID-19. I don’t like being attacked in national news. I didn’t go out of my way looking for all of this conversation. I just know that I need assistance and I need to use my voice at every opportunity to try to highlight what’s happening in Michigan so that I can help my nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists who are doing superhero work.
Dovere: The president called you “that woman from Michigan.” When you did your Daily Show interview, you were wearing a T-shirt that had that written on it. So there’s some of this fight that you seem to have identified with.
Whitmer: I have been called many things in my lifetime. And I know that if you can, try to keep it in perspective ... Someone sent me that shirt and I thought it kind of said, This is not something that was going to hold me back. I’m going to keep trying to forge every alliance I can, whether it’s with the administration or it’s with a Michigan business that can produce some of these needed things or it is someone who will reach in and contract with me to help me get this critical equipment in. We’re gonna keep perspective because that’s what’s most important. And that means we are not one another’s enemies. The enemy is COVID-19.
“We want our country back. We’re not going to be wearing masks forever,” Donald Trump said this week when asked whether his administration would consider calling on Americans to wear masks en masse as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the nation, signaling that he wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea.
His comments came amid reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is rethinking guidance it’s been issuing for months: that people who aren’t sick or caring for someone who is need not wear face masks when they venture out in public.
The president seemed to be implying that a masked country couldn’t be our country—that such a sight would be alien and alarming, and thus hopefully a short-lived ordeal. It was an expression of the stigma long attached to mask-wearing in the Western world, unlike in many Asian countries, where those who don’t wear masks during public-health crises are the ones who are stigmatized. While an American might walk into a grocery store these days and view the proliferating number of masked shoppers as crushing confirmation that the apocalypse is nigh, someone in Hong Kong or South Korea might see the same scene as an uplifting indication that the community is coalescing to fend off catastrophe.
It would be simplistic to state that the stigmatization of mask-wearing in the West, and the corresponding lag in Westerners adopting the practice, are responsible for the struggles to contain the coronavirus. The science on the efficacy of face masks just isn’t there. But these factors do illustrate a number of the challenges—the failure to take the threat of pandemics seriously and prepare accordingly, the lack of social solidarity during public-health emergencies, the absence of comprehensive government containment strategies—that proved disastrous as the virus moved westward.
[Read: Everyone thinks they’re right about masks]
“In the West, I think we need to overcome—I wouldn’t call it a fear of the mask, but [the] stigma with a mask,” Christos Lynteris, a medical anthropologist at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, told me. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I was carrying a mask in the airplane but I was too ashamed to wear it.’ Where does this shame come from? Is it because people will think you are a wimp? Because people will think you are ill?”
That shame simply doesn’t exist in East Asia. China has had an ethic of wearing masks during public-health emergencies since the outbreak of the pneumonic plague in 1910, and Japan has a long tradition of doing so as well. In other East Asian countries, the public practice was first forged in 2003 as SARS, another lethal coronavirus, spread from China, pummeled the health systems of neighboring countries, and left a terrifying, indelible impression of the damage that viral respiratory diseases can inflict.
Judy Yuen-man Siu, a medical anthropologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told me by email that mask-wearing went from being uncommon in Hong Kong before SARS to being widely adopted afterward—as an important component of containing a viral outbreak, and as a civic duty and a signal of “support to health-care providers.” Today in Hong Kong, “if you do not use a face mask in public areas, you will be stigmatized and discriminated against, not just because people would [be] afraid of you as a potential virus-spreader, but [also because] it can mean you have low civic responsibility,” she wrote. Siu noted that face-mask usage has been thoroughly “socialized” in the semiautonomous Chinese region, by public-health officials who stressed the need for it in the throes of the SARS crisis as well as by schoolteachers. Governments “can create culture,” she observed, just as the Trump administration has during the coronavirus crisis by advising Americans not to wear masks unless they are sick.
Lynteris said that ever since SARS, Westerners have associated mask-wearing with China and East Asia more broadly. He attributed the resulting stigma in the West in part to xenophobia and the idea of “China being the origin of infectious diseases and Chinese people spreading them.”
If you wear a mask in a British supermarket, he noted, “people react strangely,” for a number of possible reasons: the association with East Asian countries, a suspicion that you’re using something that others are more in need of, a concern that you’re wearing it because you’re ill and shouldn’t be there, a conviction that you’re “unnecessarily spreading panic.”
Still, face masks likely “played an active role in slowing down the disease transmission progress in Asian countries” relative to Western countries, Elaine Shuo Feng, a University of Oxford epidemiologist who has studied countries’ varying face-mask policies during the COVID-19 outbreak, told me. But their usage should be part of a package of containment measures, including social distancing, school closures, and possibly lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus through communities.
In places such as Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, which have had relative success so far in containing COVID-19, the public and its leaders understood this reality from the start of the outbreak. As my colleague Ed Yong has cautioned, the fact that several countries that have made the most progress in containing the coronavirus also have robust mask traditions doesn’t necessarily imply causation. “China advocated mask use early on and still struggled to contain the disease,” he points out, while “Singapore reserved them for health-care workers but still flattened the curve of infections.” What can be said more definitively is that mask-wearing tends to be widespread in countries that view disease outbreaks with the gravity that comes from firsthand experience with the horror of an epidemic.
[Read: We don’t have enough masks]
There’s plenty of debate among experts about the risks and rewards of people wearing homemade or surgical masks in public. And in a country such as the United States, which is currently grappling with an acute shortage of masks (a reflection of the government’s failure to prepare for a pandemic by stockpiling personal protective equipment), priority for the most effective ones must go to health-care and other essential workers who are most at risk of exposure, along with those segments of the population that are most vulnerable to the virus. In such an environment, an Oprah-esque “everyone gets a mask!” policy works only as a hypothetical exercise.
Nevertheless, the general consensus among experts is that while wearing some type of mask might not do much to protect you from catching the coronavirus, it might help prevent you from infecting others if you have COVID-19. Relative to measures such as social distancing, diagnostic testing, and better equipping hospitals, public mask-wearing (even if it’s a DIY kind) is an inexpensive intervention in the midst of a pandemic—maybe not as effective as good hand-washing hygiene, but probably better than the alternative of no one covering up. And it may be especially effective when combined with other hygienic practices such as hand-washing. Plus, it has sociocultural advantages that go beyond the narrow scientific question of masks’ capacity to disrupt the transmission of the virus.
“Whether the masks actually work or not, having a community wear them brings it together symbolically, visually against this disease,” which is particularly vital during periods of social distancing and isolation, Lynteris said. For the general public, masks are less a reliable prophylactic against a virus than a sign that a society has learned painful lessons about taking epidemics seriously—more seriously than many in the United States and Europe have, until very recently at least.
Already, the threat of COVID-19 has eclipsed the stigma of mask-wearing in several nations, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, and Israel, where governments have instructed everyone to cover their face outside the home. The United States could be next; sporting a black cloth mask yesterday as he urged all of his constituents to follow his lead, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “I know this looks surreal [but] we’re going to have to get used to seeing each other like this.” Even Trump, within the space of a day this week, went from reluctantly contemplating mask-wearing to telling Americans that “there’s certainly no harm” in covering their face with a scarf. Taiwan is now donating millions of face masks to the U.S. and around the world.
It’s possible that Americans and Europeans will emerge from the current crisis, as East Asians emerged from the traumas of SARS and subsequent epidemics, with the conviction that an object they once associated with overreaction and otherness can actually be a means of cultivating prudence and togetherness.
President Donald Trump’s promise to begin reopening the economy in the coming weeks faces an immovable obstacle: The big cities that drive America’s economic growth and innovation are the same places straining under the heaviest burden of the coronavirus outbreak.
The counties confronting the largest number of cases are primarily large urban centers that account for a disproportionate share of America’s gross domestic product and jobs, according to a new analysis conducted for The Atlantic by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. As of Tuesday morning, the 50 counties with the most cases accounted for more than one-third of the nation’s economic output and nearly one-third of its jobs, Brookings found.
That dynamic underscores the implausibility of Trump’s repeated claim that jobs and growth will come back “very quickly” once the worst of the outbreak passes. So long as these regions are largely sidelined, the national economy will remain mostly stalled too, no matter what happens in smaller places now facing less-urgent threats.
“The U.S. recovery is dependent on the recovery of these places,” Mark Muro, the MPP’s research director, told me flatly. “If we want to have a discussion about when to restart the nation’s economy, we better check in with the nation’s major economic hubs … because they are literally, at this point, the most paralyzed, contending with the greatest number of life-and-death cases and the greatest stress on their core systems, starting with public health.”
In interviews with me this week, the mayors of several of those big cities told me that it will take much longer than a few weeks to restart their economy—and that even when economic activity resumes, the process will be gradual and halting.
In other words, they counsel, Americans shouldn’t expect the equivalent of a V-E or V-J Day when the virus is vanquished and life goes back to normal, as if turning on a light switch. Instead, the mayors envision something more like a dimmer switch that gradually grows brighter.
[Read: How the coronavirus became an American catastrophe]
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told me that he believes the city’s shelter-in-place order will need to remain in force at least through mid-May, two months after he issued it. “Easily, the worst thing you can do is kind of crush people’s hopes by setting up early expectations [of lifting restrictions], when we are going to be in this for a long haul,” he said. “The best thing” people can do is understand that the outbreak “won’t come in one fell swoop and one wave—and prepare for that.” That means that any easing of restrictions on economic and social activity later this year will be gradual, Garcetti said.
Or as Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson put it: “No one can be sure, but I have a hard time imagining that there will be a day when everything goes back to normal: just one day everyone is sheltering in place, businesses are closed; the next day, it’s all over.” His city is operating under strict shelter-at-home regulations. “What I can more easily envision is a gradual unwinding of the most restrictive emergency orders or regulations and a ratcheting back to normal.”
And even that gradual process, Johnson told me, is unlikely to start as soon as the president hopes.
“I’m not certain by any stretch that we will be out of the woods by April 30,” he said. “I think that’s for public-health experts to prognosticate about, and it’s going to be up to the virus to determine when we are out of that.”
Two intersecting trends explain why these large metropolitan centers are positioned to play such a pivotal role in the pace and extent of any economic recovery from the outbreak.
One is long term: As the nation transitions deeper into an information-based economy, skilled workers, venture-capital investment, scientific research, and new-business formation are all concentrating more heavily in the nation’s biggest urban areas. Those regions include many cities, from Seattle to New York, that appeared to face terminal decline during the final decades of the 20th century. As Muro and his colleagues have repeatedly documented, those areas now account for a growing share of the nation’s total economic output and jobs.
“Sure, there are important [economic] clusters everywhere,” Muro said. “But ultimately, if we’ve learned one thing in this decade,” it’s that the American economy is now powered by “the intense concentration of advanced economic activity” in the biggest cities, “and the multiplying effect of that concentration” on productivity.
The other trend is near term: The coronavirus outbreak is most intense in those same urban centers. While epidemiologists are somewhat divided on whether the virus will reach heavily into small-town and rural areas, Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s outbreak coordinator, said on Meet the Press this week that “every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York.”
To understand the effect of these intersecting dynamics, Brookings, at The Atlantic’s request, analyzed the economic impact of the hardest-hit counties. It tracked the incidence of disease by county as of Tuesday morning, according to a database updated several times daily by The New York Times. Then, Brookings used federal Bureau of Economic Analysis data to calculate counties’ contribution to the nation’s total economic output and job pool. The results dramatically underscore how heavily the burden of disease has fallen on the big communities that drive America’s economy.
[Read: Red and blue America aren’t experiencing the same pandemic]
While there are about 3,100 counties in America, the 15 counties buckling under the largest number of coronavirus cases account for just over 16 percent of the nation’s economic output, and nearly 13 percent of its jobs, or nearly 26 million jobs in all, Brookings found. That list includes New York City and the surrounding suburban counties of Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk in New York State; Bergen in New Jersey; and Fairfield in Connecticut, as well as the counties centered on Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Miami. These counties alone generate $3.3 trillion of the nation’s $20 trillion economic output.
The impact grows from there. The 50 counties with the most cases account for 36 percent of the nation’s total output and 30 percent of its jobs—some 60 million positions. That list brings in the counties centered on other major cities—including Boston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Diego—as well as Macomb and Oakland Counties, two suburbs of Detroit, and Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley.
The 100 counties facing the most cases generate 51 percent of the nation’s total output and 44 percent of all its jobs—more than 88 million. That longer list includes Washington, D.C., and the counties centered on St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Charlotte, North Carolina; Hartford, Connecticut; and Columbus, Ohio, as well as the suburbs of major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
The distribution of the caseload also helps explain the continuing political divergence around the outbreak. The Brookings analysis found that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won more than three-fifths of the vote in the 100 counties facing the most cases. (Those 100 counties accounted for more than three-fourths of all U.S. cases as of Tuesday morning.) That illuminates the continuing partisan divide: Though Americans in all political camps have displayed increasing concern about the coronavirus in public polling, in surveys released over the past few days, self-identified Republicans were still much more likely than Democrats to say that Americans are overreacting to the virus, and less likely to say that it has changed their life in a major way.
One irony, as Muro and others have noted, is that many of the same traits that have elevated these cities to the very top of the country’s economic ladder have increased their exposure to the virus. The highest-flying cities are almost universally among the nation’s most globally connected—the most likely not only to receive foreign visitors but to have residents who travel internationally. “Everything that makes them powerful and irreplaceable also exposes them to the vicissitudes of a globally connected economy where viruses can be both technological and human,” Muro said.
For the mayors I spoke with, the road to restarting economic activity is murky. While Trump keeps identifying dates for possible restarts—first Easter, now April 30—they uniformly resist definitive proclamations, arguing that the pace of reopening will depend on the course of the outbreak. “The truth is we just don’t know … and we should be okay with telling the public that,” Johnson said.
Any restart will inevitably vary industry by industry, several of the mayors told me. Garcetti is optimistic that the entertainment industry, for one, may resume activity sooner than most others. “I see them as a place that has the resources, the family-like, club-like [dynamic] that people know who they are working with [that] they may have the ability to get back on their feet faster than others,” he said.
Garcetti is less confident that tourism, another key industry for L.A., will recover quickly even after the restrictions are lifted—which he worries will mean continued hardship for the many low-paid workers in that sector. In Miami, also heavily dependent on tourism, Mayor Francis Suarez shares those concerns. But if anything, he told me, he’s facing pressure from workers in the tourism industry to tighten restrictions.
“A lot of employees are calling me complaining that they are being forced to go to work and being exposed to health risks,” he said. “It’s a little counterintuitive: You would think that people who live paycheck to paycheck would be desperate to get back to work, and what I’m seeing is exactly the opposite.”
One potential source of protection for some cities is that a significant portion of their workers are white-collar professionals who are working remotely and still receiving paychecks that generate tax receipts. That’s the case in Columbus, a growing center of finance, education, and medicine. There, retail, manufacturing, and logistics are disrupted, “but many of our largest employers have folks working,” Mayor Andrew Ginther told me. “They are working remotely and are continuing to pay income-tax revenues.”
[Read: What you need to know about the coronavirus]
But overall, all of the mayors I spoke with are preparing for a lengthy siege that may include a subsequent wave (or waves) of disease later this year. “The last thing we ought to do right now is to take our foot off the gas in terms of stay-at-home orders,” Ginther said.
The mayors also said they are relying heavily on local public-health and hospital officials to make decisions in the absence of stronger guidance from the federal government. Garcetti seemed to speak for all of them when he told me, “To me, it’s a very lonely place,” especially when deciding “when we turn the spigot on and how we do that.”
One of the toughest decisions looming for local leaders will be when to permit the resumption of the large-scale sporting events that contribute so much to both the economy and the identity of their city. The coronavirus has already forced the suspension of professional basketball and hockey, and a delay in starting Major League Baseball. None of the mayors I spoke with said they could commit, at this point, to allowing even college and professional football games to go on in the stadiums within their jurisdictions. Those seasons are due to begin in late summer.
Johnson offered an “educated guess” that bans on major sporting events will be “one of the last restrictions to go … Those seem to be the most likely way you could undo what good you’ve done—allowing people to go back into a confined space with 50,000 people in it.”
Garcetti was even more dubious that Los Angeles would host baseball or football games this fall unless somehow scientists develop either a vaccine or a foolproof testing system by then. “My strong sense is that we will see a second spike of this in October, November, December … And if that’s the scenario, I can’t imagine that public-health professionals are going to say, ‘Let’s put tens of thousands of people back together in a stadium,’” Garcetti said.
Trump would likely view starting the National Football League schedule on time this fall as a powerful symbol of the country returning to normalcy just a few weeks before the election. And the many political conservatives among the league’s owners would likely be inclined to support him, as one former league executive—who talked to me on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly—told me this week. But depending on the outbreak’s course, that could steer the NFL into direct confrontation with the mostly Democratic leaders in the jurisdictions where their stadiums are located.
That potential collision marks just one of the many ways in which the nation’s economic (and even spiritual) recovery will be determined above all by what happens in the big cities now bracing for the most furious onslaught of the disease.
It shouldn’t be all that remarkable when two leaders talk in a crisis. On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump got on the phone with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss what New York City needs to survive a white-hot outbreak that is only getting worse. De Blasio asked him to send more ventilators and military personnel, warning that in a week’s time, the health-care system could be overwhelmed.
Yet with these particular leaders at this particular point in history, it is remarkable. Until recently, de Blasio told me, none of his calls to the upper reaches of the White House were returned. Two weeks ago, the Democratic mayor said publicly that Trump was “betraying” his native city by not sending more life-saving medical equipment. Ever sensitive to criticism, Trump said, in turn: “I’m not dealing with him.”
Defeating a pandemic is hard enough, but Trump has introduced another layer of complexity: He has personalized the battlefield. He calls COVID-19 “the invisible enemy,” but he also seems fixated on the visible variety—all Democratic leaders, who in his view have been insufficiently grateful for the federal government’s response. A stray complaint about equipment shortages invites a public feud with the man controlling the spigot. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” the president said at a news conference last week.
But Democrats can be useful foils for only so long—the virus is already moving beyond blue-state hot spots into the rural red states that are the pillars of Trump’s support. As more people become infected in broader swaths of the country, Trump will face a fresh wave of calls for ventilators, masks, and money. It won’t be so easy to demonize a handful of discontented governors and mayors. Complaints will be coming from friends.
Indeed, appeals from Republican governors are already starting. In a conference call with governors yesterday, Trump fielded requests for more medical equipment from leaders from both parties. Like their Democratic counterparts, Republican leaders will need to navigate Trump’s shifting moods—something they may be more suited to handle.
His proclivities have left some Democratic state officials flummoxed. They’ve been casting about for strategies to win his cooperation. De Blasio told me he looks to commend Trump when it’s deserved. “If he does something that helps my people, I will praise it and be thankful,” the mayor told me. “If he doesn’t, I’ll say it out loud and call for action.” For others, there may be no hope. Trump has called Washington Governor Jay Inslee a “snake” and said he won’t speak to him. Inslee’s team sounds utterly baffled about what to do. “We’re trying to act as if we’re interacting with a normal president, or at least a normal Republican president,” an aide in Inslee’s administration told me.
“The administration’s response in general has been an abysmal failure, and he compounds that failure by regularly attacking the governors to whom he has passed the buck,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told me. “I just don’t think we can allow ourselves to normalize a president who is politically attacking the very governors who are trying to save lives right now in the absence of real federal leadership.”
Inside the White House, there seems to be little sympathy for some of the Democratic governors who have complained the loudest. One White House aide described a pattern in which some governors privately praise the administration and then, later, publicly scorn Trump’s handling of the pandemic. “We have a really productive call with Governor X, who is incredibly complimentary, and then he goes out and does a press conference and kicks the shit out of us,” this person told me.
[Read: Trump is on a collision course]
“The president has been willing to talk to anyone, without regard to party, geography, or infection rates,” the presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told me. “He’s talking to anybody and everybody who wants to get a handle on our federal response effort. We’re all navigating this unprecedented, unanticipated pandemic together.”
Trump, though, is sensitive to anything he sees as ingratitude. If his administration sends planeloads of ventilators—a national resource—he wants a thank you, not a complaint about why it didn’t come sooner.
He’s ridiculed Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose state has one of the largest outbreaks in the nation, over her requests for medical supplies. He’s said she’s “way in over her head” and “doesn’t have a clue.” “We send her a lot,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week. “Now she wants a declaration of emergency, and we’ll have to make a decision on that.” The relationship isn’t likely to mend soon. After Trump approved the disaster declaration for Michigan on Saturday, Whitmer called the move “a good start.” But she said it wasn’t sufficient to cover Michigan families’ need for meals, housing, and rental assistance.
“It’s unprecedented that a president in the middle of something like this would ask you to bow down and kiss his you-know-what in order to get things that every citizen in the United States should get right now,” Jim Ananich, the Democratic leader of the Michigan state Senate, told me. (When I asked her about Whitmer, Conway replied: “If she spent less time on TV auditioning to be Joe Biden’s vice president and more time on the ground with FEMA and medical professionals, that would be helpful to the people of Michigan.”)
[Read: Anthony Fauci’s plan to stay honest]
One Democratic governor who’s forged what seems a durable rapport with Trump is New Jersey’s Phil Murphy. The reason may come down to how he speaks about the president. He’s generous in his praise, gentle in his criticism.
When I spoke with Murphy last week, he lauded Trump for providing support for four federally run makeshift field hospitals in his state. Should Trump have said that he wants to restart the economy by Easter? I asked. Another Democrat might have used the question to skewer the president’s judgment. Murphy didn’t. Instead, he told me: “If we think we’ve broken the back of the coronavirus by Easter, I’ll be the happiest guy maybe not even in New Jersey, but America.” (Trump scuttled his Easter goal on Sunday.)
“We’ve got one president right now,” Murphy added, “and we can’t do what we need to do without the White House.” Murphy isn’t looking for a fight with Trump—and he’s not getting one. Trump called him “a terrific guy” at a news conference on Sunday.
The virus’s spread will create political pressures Trump has so far escaped. At first the disease took root in densely packed blue states where many residents travel internationally and to which tourists flock. Trump seized on that fact, pointing to red states that have had comparatively few infections. He singled out Republican Governor Jim Justice, whose rural state of West Virginia was the last in the nation to report any cases of infection. “Big Jim, the governor—he must be doing a good job,” Trump said at a news conference earlier this month. (Trump on occasion has also praised some blue-state governors for their performance, like Murphy.)
Conservative pundits have amplified Trump’s message. “These spreads are mainly in the blue states,” the author Dinesh D’Souza said in a recent Fox News appearance. “What I find kind of interesting is these blue-state governors and mayors, they’re criticizing Trump, but they also have the outstretched hand.”
Over time, though, Trump may find even some of his closest political allies demanding more help from the White House. Republicans’ traditional aversion to government intervention and economic aid will face a severe test as more and more of their constituents fall ill. Health experts expect infections to appear more widely as people living in red America travel out of state and then return home, and as people in stricken areas venture out. West Virginia, which had done little testing, now has more than 100 confirmed cases. “New York is the hardest-hit state right now only because New York has been doing more testing per capita pretty much than anyone else, and New York has a much higher population density, which is what we would expect,” Michael LeVasseur, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at Drexel University, told me.
Before long, Republicans may be the ones with the outstretched hands. How Trump responds will prove revealing. Will he see pleas for help as more legitimate when they’re coming from red states rather than blue?
Editor’s Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.
On March 13, President Donald Trump promised Americans they would soon be able to access a new website that would ask them about their symptoms and direct them to nearby coronavirus testing sites. He said Google was helping.
That wasn’t true. But in the following days, Oscar Health—a health-insurance company closely connected to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—developed a government website with the features the president had described. A team of Oscar engineers, project managers, and executives spent about five days building a stand-alone website at the government’s request, an Oscar spokesperson told The Atlantic. The company even dispatched two employees from New York to meet in person with federal officials in Washington, D.C., the spokesperson said. Then the website was suddenly and mysteriously scrapped.
The site would not have helped many Americans even if it had launched. Today, more than two weeks after the president promised a national network of drive-through test sites, only a handful of such sites have opened, and fewer than 1 million Americans have been tested.
The full extent of Oscar’s work on the project has not been previously reported. The partnership between the administration and the firm suggests that Kushner may have mingled his family’s business interests with his political interests and his role in the administration’s coronavirus response. Kushner’s younger brother Joshua is a co-founder and major investor in Oscar, and Jared Kushner partially owned or controlled Oscar before he joined the White House. The company’s work on the coronavirus website could violate federal ethics laws, several experts said.
For the past several weeks, Kushner has led a “shadow task force” on the coronavirus, separate from Vice President Mike Pence’s official committee, according to The Washington Post. Kushner’s team, composed of federal officials allied with Kushner and outside corporate executives, has met in the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services. A senior official at that agency called Oscar to ask for its help on March 13, the day of Trump’s press conference, the Oscar spokesperson said.
Kushner’s group has focused on expanding and publicizing coronavirus testing, especially at drive-through locations. Oscar’s website would have asked users if they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and surveyed them about other risk factors, including their age and preexisting conditions. It also would have listed a limited number of testing locations nationwide, including some of the drive-through sites that Trump promised. It was designed to look like a government-developed product, provided freely by the Department of Health and Human Services to the American public. Oscar posted the source code for the site to Github, where The Atlantic reviewed it.
[Read: How the pandemic will end]
The site resembled a version of a tool Oscar had already built for its customers in response to the crisis, but it was “adjusted to meet the specifications and requirements set by the federal government,” Jackie Kahn, the Oscar spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. That Oscar had already been working on a coronavirus-testing website when HHS called to ask for help was a coincidence that had nothing to do with Kushner, Kahn suggested. She declined to say whether Oscar had discussed that site with Joshua Kushner or any board members or investors before Trump’s March 13 press conference.
Oscar donated its work freely and never expected to be paid for the project, Kahn said. The company is “not, nor has ever been,” a contractor or subcontractor for the government, she said, which would make it harder for the government to pay Oscar for its work. The work was “all at the direction of HHS,” she said. “The website never saw the light of day,” she added in an interview today.
That may not matter from an ethics perspective. The ad hoc nature of Kushner’s task force has already collided with federal laws. Oscar’s involvement deepens Kushner’s ethics and conflict-of-interest problems.
“It’s not typical. It’s usually not allowed,” Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at the George Washington University School of Law and an expert on anti-corruption law, told me.
Oscar’s relationship with the Trump administration could breach federal law in two ways, Tillipman and other experts told me. First, companies are generally not supposed to work for the federal government for free, though some exceptions can be made in a national emergency. “The concern, when you have some free services, is that it makes the government beholden to the company,” Tillipman said.
More important, she said, any Kushner involvement may have violated the “impartiality rule,” which requires federal employees to refrain from making decisions when they even appear to involve a conflict of interest. The rule also prohibits federal employees from making a decision in which close relatives may have a financial stake. Such a situation would seem to apply to Kushner and Oscar. In 2013, Jared and Joshua were the “ultimate controlling persons in Oscar’s holding company,” according to a New York State report that Mother Jones dug up earlier this month. When the elder Kushner joined the White House, he disclosed that he had been on the board of Oscar’s holding company from May 2010 to January 2017. He also said that he had sold his shares in the holding company for somewhere between $1.2 million and $7 million. Joshua still holds a stake in the company. When Jared joined the administration, he sold his shares to either Joshua or a trust controlled by their mother, according to his financial disclosures.
Kushner did not divest all the assets that he owned jointly with his brother when he joined the White House. Earlier this month, he sold his stake in Cadre, a real-estate investment firm that he owned with Joshua. The stake was worth tens of millions of dollars as recently as last year, Kushner said in his disclosures.
There was nothing wrong with Oscar’s arrangement with the government, Kahn argued. “This was the right thing to do, both legally and ethically, and if anyone has any doubt that COVID-19 is an emergency, he’s lost his mind,” she said. “We are enormously proud of our people who put serving the nation ahead of everything during this time of crisis.”
Oscar’s description of its work for the administration has changed over time. Two weeks ago, the company told Business Insider that it had “shared code” with the Department of Health and Human Services, but it did not disclose that it had actually made a website. Last week, Kahn told me in an interview that the company had merely “shrink-wrapped” its code, a piece of jargon that meant it had disconnected the code from its in-house technical platforms so that it could work on other servers. Her statement today admitted that Oscar had gone much further.
[Read: This is how Donald Trump will be remembered]
When viewed earlier today, the URL coronavirustesting.gov offered an Amazon Web Services error, suggesting that someone with access to the .gov domain had registered the website.
The Department of Health and Human Services declined to produce paperwork authorizing Oscar’s donation of the website work. “Multiple vendors worked on proposals, and we appreciate their work,” an HHS spokeswoman said. “Ultimately, Apple launched the new tool.” But Apple’s COVID-19 tool is a page on Apple.com, not a stand-alone government site like the one Oscar built.
Oscar’s creation more closely resembled the website Trump described on March 13. The site would “determine whether a test is warranted and … facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location,” Trump said, adding that Google had 1,700 engineers working on the project. Google, it was quickly revealed, didn’t have any such plans.
Google’s parent company is a major investor in Oscar. And Oscar, which has roughly 1,500 employees, did build a site like the one Trump described.
The White House declined to comment.
Listen to Robinson Meyer discuss this story on an episode of Social Distance, The Atlantic’s podcast about living through a pandemic:
Subscribe to Social Distance on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (How to Listen)
On January 24, a few days after the United States confirmed its first coronavirus case, President Donald Trump expressed his gratitude for China’s “efforts and transparency” in combatting a virus that the country’s leadership tried for weeks to cover up. On behalf of the American people, Trump wrote, “I want to thank President Xi!”
By then, the pandemic was on its way to wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy and its citizens’ way of life—not least because of the actions of Xi Jinping’s own government. Yet in February, Trump again praised for Xi on Twitter, writing that “he is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus … Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation.”
Since then, cases have skyrocketed across the United States, which now has the highest number of confirmed cases anywhere in the world, with more than 100,000 people infected. Yet Trump’s comments reflect a propaganda victory for Xi. And as the U.S. approaches the height of its outbreak, scrambling to spend trillions of dollars to save its economy, asking other countries to make up for its device shortages, soliciting doctors from overseas, and still struggling to bring stranded citizens home, it has no credible claim to be the responsible superpower leading everyone out of the crisis. Xi, the ascendant authoritarian with a massive surveillance state and a ruthless security apparatus at his disposal, wants to pick up the mantle.
[Read: Why America is uniquely unsuited to dealing with the coronavirus]
With combatting the virus the most immediate concern, the U.S. has not figured out how to compel China to own up to its shortcomings in managing this crisis—ham-handed attempts to brand the disease the “Chinese virus” notwithstanding. Xi is now maneuvering for a propaganda and diplomatic victory, offering aid and advice around the world.
The U.S., meanwhile, is entering what’s perhaps the darkest phase of its own crisis—its domestic problems hobbling it from providing significant international aid or coordinating a comprehensive response. (The U.S. announced on Thursday that it had made available $274 million in emergency aid to 64 countries.)
“On the global stage, [China is] hoping to fill the void of U.S. leadership,” Rush Doshi, the director of the China Strategy Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told me. “They have a long way to go, but they’re trying."
Never mind that China put the world in this predicament in the first place. Two months into a massive societal lockdown in China, with new cases of the disease slowing down—at least by official statistics—Xi is ready to declare victory at home.
He made a valedictory visit to Wuhan, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, in mid-March. The lockdown on the surrounding province has lifted; public transit is running in Wuhan again. Xi has also sent millions of masks and thousands of ventilators to Europe, getting praise from the Italian foreign minister for helping “save lives in the first stages of the emergency.” As recently as yesterday, Xi offered Chinese support to the U.S. in a phone call with Trump.
“This is happening all around the world now,” says David Shullman, a China expert at the International Republican Institute. “[There] is a really long list of places where China is offering this equipment and assistance … It also comes with a message that, ‘Look what’s happening in the established democracies.’” Chinese-backed accounts have flooded Twitter with praise for the country’s response; a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has pushed the false claim that the U.S. Army brought the disease to China; and Xi has encouraged Chinese media to push positive stories about China’s response.
But both China’s purported success against the virus, and its help to others in similar circumstances, may prove less than meets the eye. For one thing, the Chinese model of mass roundups of citizens and extensive surveillance with no real public-health purpose is not, or shouldn’t be, exportable to democracies—and democracies like South Korea and Taiwan have, through their own successes against the virus, proved that authoritarianism is not the required ingredient. The crackdown may not even have succeeded as well as China wants to advertise. Nurses in Wuhan have told the Financial Times of “hidden infections” going unreported in China’s official statistics. “If China prematurely declares victory and they’re wrong, that could lead to a second wave of infections,” Doshi said. “It’s quite sobering to think what that would mean for the world’s pandemic response and the global economy.”
[Read: China is avoiding blame by trolling the world]
Most immediately, it could mean that the coronavirus ground zero continues to generate and export more cases.
Desperate countries were happy to accept Chinese help. But it hasn’t always provided the lifesaving equipment expected. In Ukraine, for example, Andrey Stavnitser, who is helping coordinate the coronavirus response in the Odessa region, told the Atlantic Council that one center there ordered thousands of coronavirus tests from China at great expense—only to receive “ordinary flu tests” that had “nothing to do with coronavirus.”
The real short-term risk of China’s leadership exercise is that, should the country make the calculation to prize its economic health over public-safety concerns, other countries contending with the pandemic’s economic devastation may find themselves tempted to follow suit. Trump has already said he’d like to get the United States back to work by Easter, about three weeks from now—though China’s lockdown lasted months. As the crisis drags on, more and more leaders will find themselves facing gruesome calculations about the severe economic toll of keeping a low death toll. At that point, the China model may look even more tempting.
At about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Bill de Blasio had just finished a live interview on MSNBC when he heard from someone who, just hours earlier, the New York mayor had viciously attacked for deserting his city in its hour of desperation.
President Donald Trump was on the phone.
It was the first time the two leaders had spoken in months. After badgering the president on television for weeks, de Blasio was finally able to appeal to him directly for the ventilators, hospital beds, face masks, gowns, and other supplies New York City needs imminently as it becomes the frightening epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
“The president of the United States is from New York City, and he will not lift a finger to help his hometown, and I don’t get it,” de Blasio had said that morning on Meet the Press. “I can’t be blunt enough. If the president doesn’t act, people will die who could have lived otherwise.”
Later that night, after a phone call with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that aides said lasted more than 30 minutes, de Blasio’s tone toward the White House softened. He gave Trump and Pence credit for “a serious, detailed conversation.” The next morning, the first 400 additional ventilators had arrived in New York City, with hundreds more on the way.
The delivery was but a tiny first step, a fraction of what city hospitals will need from the federal government in the coming weeks, according to de Blasio and his unchosen partner in this scramble to save New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Coronavirus cases in New York City have soared past 20,000 in the past week, making up more than a quarter of infections nationwide. Calls to the city’s emergency-response system have surged to levels not seen since 9/11, and the sound of ambulance sirens fills the air every few minutes. But as New York struggles to suppress a pandemic that is rapidly overwhelming its health-care system, de Blasio—and the 8.6 million people he leads—can only hope that a phone call between two men who despise each other will mark a turning point.
Over the past few weeks, New Yorkers confined to their cramped apartments have probably seen and heard more from their two main leaders, de Blasio and Cuomo, than they have in the past year or longer. Millions more Americans watching on cable news have gotten to know them, too.
The pair of Democrats share a party, but little else. De Blasio, in the second half of his second and final term at city hall, is a movement progressive whose focus turned national almost as soon as he was elected in 2013, culminating last year in a run for president that was remarkable only for how little support it generated. Cuomo, on the other hand, has rarely strayed far from the Empire State in nearly a decade as governor; more feared than loved by Democrats, he’s racked up an impressive streak of progressive policy wins—and two relatively easy reelection victories—even while alienating the party’s left wing with his fiscal restraint and domineering style. Within New York City, Cuomo has been known as the governor who neglected the city’s once-vaunted subway system and then tried to cast off blame for its descent into disrepair. The de Blasio–Cuomo relationship, meanwhile, is almost comically dysfunctional, marked by rifts both important and petty. (The two once fought over the handling of a single deer loose in Harlem; the buck died.)
[Read: Andrew Cuomo sealed his primary victory with one last power move]
Now, however, the mayor and the governor are joined in the most consequential crisis of their careers. Their leadership styles in the unfolding pandemic have been a study in contrasts, and the reviews of their performances have been just as divergent. Cuomo has won nearly universal adoration, his daily press briefings hailed as a master class in public communication. With clear charts and stats on PowerPoint, the governor has delivered bad news calmly but frankly, mixing his oddball sense of humor with notes of reassurance and confessions about his own worries for the health and safety of his family. Cuomo has pressured—and criticized—both the Trump administration and congressional Democrats, but without the heightened rhetoric and personal attacks de Blasio has heaved at the president.
To that end, Cuomo has drawn praise from his critics on the right (Lindsey Graham, Nikki Haley) and on the left. A swooning Jezebel blogger confessed she might be falling in love with the governor, while a former top adviser to de Blasio called for Democrats to push aside Joe Biden and make Cuomo their presidential nominee this summer
Multiple New York Democrats I spoke with in recent days have reached for a comparison that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago: They’ve favorably likened Cuomo’s performance to Rudy Giuliani’s after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, resurrecting an image of “America’s mayor” that had long since given way to the more cartoonish presidential henchman Giuliani has resembled to Democrats over the past year.
“I am mesmerized,” David Paterson, Cuomo’s predecessor as New York governor and a onetime rival, told me. He praised as masterful the mix of administrative skill and creativity, crisis management, and “personal humanity” that Cuomo has brought to bear. “He’s been governor of the state, a friend, and a therapist all rolled into one,” Paterson gushed. “Who needs Dr. Phil? They should put Andrew on from 2 to 3 p.m.”
There’s been no such love for de Blasio, and no one is calling him America’s mayor.
De Blasio angered New York parents and some of his own allies by resisting for days a decision to close schools, acting only following pressure from Cuomo and after a near-revolt by advisers and top public-health officials. “He’s both a bad decision maker and not good at communicating about it,” said an elected New York Democrat and former ally of the mayor’s, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve a working relationship with the de Blasio administration.
At a press conference announcing the decision, the mayor looked and sounded like a man defeated. “I am just distraught having to take this action,” de Blasio said.
The next day, the mayor went to his beloved gym, the Park Slope YMCA.
It was a stunning move, even for a leader whose regular 30-minute, cross-borough chauffeured trips to a mid-morning workout have been the source of mockery for years. Here was de Blasio, clinging to his own routine just hours after ordering millions of New Yorkers to abandon their own in the name of public health.
After former aides slammed him on Twitter, de Blasio dug in. “There’s something wrong in the world where this kind of very small matter gets blown up like that by people, you know, who live in a world of public relations,” the mayor said. “I don’t live in that world. I live in the regular world.”
To de Blasio’s disillusioned allies, the incident was a microcosm of the mayor’s wholesale rejection of the role of image and example as a fundamental part of public leadership, especially as compared with Cuomo and never more so than in a crisis. “It’s not just what you’re communicating. It’s how you’re communicating it,” Rebecca Katz, a former de Blasio aide who worked for Cuomo’s 2018 primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, told me. “And Cuomo fundamentally understands this in a way that de Blasio frankly refuses to.”
[Read: The equalizer: Bill de Blasio vs. inequality]
Cuomo and de Blasio have also differed markedly in their approach to Trump. While the governor has tangled with the president at times during the crisis, he’s also praised him and largely directed his demands and criticism at “the federal government” rather than at the president himself. “Andrew is a four-pitch pitcher,” observed Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College and a longtime commentator on New York politics. “He’s got a full range of pitches, and he’s used several of them in his relationship with the president. It’s more indirection than frontal assault.”
Until the past few days, by contrast, de Blasio has been throwing only fastballs at Trump, with little visible effect. “It looks like a political stunt,” Lis Smith, a Democratic consultant who worked for both de Blasio and Cuomo before steering Pete Buttigieg’s presidential bid the past two years.
“He was the loudest, most strident, most provocative,” Paterson said of the mayor, surmising that de Blasio might have toned it down after watching Cuomo’s performances win raves.
Yet for all of their difference in tone, the substance of de Blasio’s and Cuomo’s public response has been more aligned than it might seem. Neither Democrat was particularly quick to order major shutdowns; both were initially reluctant to close schools, and as recently as mid-March, both waffled on whether to scrap the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. And it was the mayor, not the governor, who began calling for a “shelter in place” order days before Cuomo ultimately acted.
“The governor is a genius at deflecting blame, and the mayor is a genius at attracting blame,” the New York elected official said. “That has been true for a long time.”
Katz told me: “For the most part, they’re saying a lot of the right stuff now. Cuomo in particular is rising to this moment. The biggest concern now though is, was it too late?”
Despite a few notable disagreements, aides to both Cuomo and de Blasio told me the two are working well together during the pandemic, speaking nearly every day and sometimes multiple times. And while de Blasio’s spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein, noted that the mayor had changed his tone toward Trump after speaking with him Sunday night, she said he would not hold back if the president did not continue to deliver. “This is life and death in New York, and our tone and rhetoric and response will match that,” she said. “We just don’t have time for niceties.”
And even de Blasio’s critics acknowledged that in a dire situation, the mayor’s stridency might be a necessary complement to Cuomo’s more nuanced approach to the mercurial president. A good cop, bad cop routine, though certainly unintentional, might be effective, and de Blasio’s repeated shaming of Trump on national television did ultimately get the president’s attention.
“Maybe America needs both of them,” Katz told me. “Maybe the best thing for New York right now is for de Blasio to sound the alarm and for Cuomo to come in and be soothing. Maybe that’s not great for de Blasio in the long run, but this may be the only thing standing between New York and tens of thousands of deaths.”
On March 13, President Donald Trump announced that Google was building a coronavirus website. It never panned out. The Atlantic staff writer Robinson Meyer investigated how such a website was nearly built by a company closely connected to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
Listen to the episode here:
Subscribe to Social Distance on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or another podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they’re published.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
Robinson Meyer: “Look at the track record of some of the people in the Trump administration leading the pandemic-response effort and then look at the outcome. Jared Kushner, one of his first goals in the White House back in 2017 was to keep the U.S. in the Paris Agreement. The U.S. is not in the Paris Agreement. Then one of his goals was to have peace in the Middle East—to work out this deal with the Israelis and Palestinians. Didn’t work. And now he’s leading part of a project in the federal government to develop a website and oversee part of the coronavirus response, and guess what? We didn’t get a website at the end of it.
Jim Hamblin: It’s hard to overstate the importance of a website like this. In an emergency public-health response, communication is so key. And if there’s going to be one website where everyone goes to determine how our health care is allocated, as in do you need to seek treatment or can you ride this out at home? And where should you go and how do we avoid overloading our hospitals and how do we avoid people dying at home and how are we most clearly communicating what symptoms need to be prioritized and when? It’s hard to think of a higher-stakes contract than for a website like this. So it’s very concerning to me to hear that this even might have been just something where you turn to whoever seemed available or you knew firsthand, or there was anything less than an extremely deliberate and and competitive aboveboard and transparent process to develop the best possible site we could.
Meyer: The end product of this whole mess is not only did the Trump administration do all these shady, possibly unethical things, but we got an incompetent government response at the end of it. People weren’t helped, Americans weren’t helped, at the end of it.
President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire the top watchdog of the U.S. Intelligence Community, saying Michael Atkinson did "a terrible job" in handling the whistleblower complaint that triggered an impeachment probe of Trump last year.
Michael Atkinson, the outgoing top watchdog of the U.S. Intelligence Community, on Sunday said he was fired by President Donald Trump for acting impartially in his handling of the whistleblower complaint that triggered an impeachment probe of the president last year.
U.S. President Donald Trump's pick for the new watchdog overseeing $2.3 trillion in coronavirus-related fiscal spending is not independent enough to do the job, congressional Democrats said on Saturday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday he would ask Congress for more money to make loans to small businesses struggling with the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak if the original $349 billion allocated in a fiscal stimulus bill runs out.
U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday that he is firing the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community who was involved in triggering an impeachment probe of the president last year.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday announced plans to nominate a vocal ally of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to an influential federal appeals court in Washington.
With the coronavirus contagion spreading, the White House said on Friday that anyone expected to be near President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence will be given a rapid COVID-19 test out of an abundance of caution.
White House advisers have been discussing the possibility of a coronavirus-related U.S. Treasury bond, President Donald Trump's economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday.
President Donald Trump expressed hope on Sunday that the United States was seeing a “leveling-off” of the coronavirus crisis in some of the nation's hot spots, but some of his top medical advisers took a more tempered view.
In mid-March, President Donald Trump personally pressed federal health officials to make malaria drugs available to treat the novel coronavirus, though they had been untested for COVID-19, two sources told Reuters.
President Donald Trump on Saturday doubled down on his support for a drug that is still being tested to treat the coronavirus, saying he might take the medicine himself and encouraging others with doctor approval to do the same.
President Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a big spike in coronavirus fatalities in the coming days, as the country faces what he called the toughest two weeks of the pandemic.
In defending his strategy against the deadly coronavirus, President Donald Trump repeatedly has said he slowed its spread into the United States by acting decisively to bar travelers from China on Jan. 31.
Donald Trump defended decision by saying intelligence chief had done 'terrible job'
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has warned Donald Trump that his decision to stop a US manufacturing company from sending respirators to Canada could prompt retaliatory measures.
Like Donald Trump, right-wing populist under fire for handling of crisis after dismissing outbreak as 'a little flu' and snubbing social distancing appeals
Donald Trump warns of trying times to come: 'Difficult days are ahead for our nation'
California congresswoman Maxine Waters blasts Donald Trump as 'incompetent idiot' over situation
Donald Trump claimed Wednesday that Iran is planning a "sneak attack" against US forces in Iraq, without providing any evidence or sourcing for the assertion.
Donald Trump admitted what many Democrats believe to be true
Donald Trump has tried to take credit for governor's soaring popularity
We are told by everyone from the United Nations to Donald Trump that the US is a ‘developed’ economy. The statistics suggest otherwise
When Susan Finley developed flu-like symptoms, she didn’t go to the doctor because she was frightened about the cost. Finley’s grandparents later found her dead in her apartment. She was 53.
Finley did not die as a result of Covid-19. She died in 2016 as a result of America’s healthcare system – a system that led her to avoid treatment for the common flu in order to avoid debt. It is that same system that is currently creaking under the pressure of a pandemic that experts warned was coming but governments failed to prepare for. It is a system that does not qualify for the term “developed”. Continue reading...
The anti-malaria drug could be ‘one of the biggest game-changers’, Trump claimed, but there is no magic cure
Faced with a global coronavirus pandemic that is increasingly centered upon the US, Donald Trump has touted several drugs that he claims can help tackle the outbreak.
In March, the US president used a press conference to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine, a common anti-malaria drug, to treat Covid-19, saying: “I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try.” Continue reading...
US president Donald Trump has again urged Americans to try the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus. Though the drug has not undergone tests to prove its effectiveness in treating the virus, Trump has continued to advocate for it, telling reporters: ‘What do you have to lose?’ Dr Anthony Fauci, the top doctor on infectious diseases in the US and a key member of the White House task force, told CBS Face the Nation program there was nothing to suggest the medicine had any benefit against coronavirus. ‘The data are really just at best suggestive. There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect’. When asked at the daily press briefing, Trump refused to allow Dr Fauci to answer questions about the drug’s effectiveness
Donald Trump has warned Americans that the toll from coronavirus in the US will be 'the toughest' during the next two weeks, saying there will be 'a lot of death'. According to the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, by Saturday evening more than 305,000 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in the US, resulting in more than 8,000 deaths Continue reading...
With Donald Trump under increasing scrutiny over his approach to the coronavirus crisis in the US, the president has used his daily press briefings to lash out at the media. With more than 165,000 recorded cases, the US is now the worst-affected country in the world. Continue reading...