“I know I’ve said the same thing before every major holiday over the past year,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday as he asked Canadians to avoid getting together for Easter or Passover.
“But this time, what’s different is that even if the end of the pandemic is in sight, the variants mean the situation is even more serious.”
By the time Trudeau spoke, Premier John Horgan’s government already had implemented new restrictions in British Columbia after the daily COVID-19 case count in that province reached a record high. On Thursday, with new infections in Ontario exceeding 2,000 each day for the past week, Premier Doug Ford’s government followed suit. Other provinces presumably will go next, however belatedly.
This was the week the third wave’s arrival became obvious. It only remains to be seen whether this wave will be less painful than the last one — or worse.
When government responses to the pandemic are studied in the years ahead, there will be any number of questions to answer and theories to test — particularly related to preparedness and decisions made during the first four months of 2020.
We had time. Why didn’t we use it better?
But there will be important questions to ask about those second and third waves — especially since we can’t claim to have been caught by surprise.
Maybe that first wave a year ago was never going to be the end of the pandemic in Canada. But did it have to be this bad? After what we learned from the first wave, and with the time everyone had last summer to prepare, shouldn’t we have managed the second wave better? And did governments fail to bury the third wave when they had the chance?
During the second wave in Ontario last fall, Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, argued that the Ford government was approaching COVID-19 as if it were a “political problem” instead of the “public health problem” it is.
In the fog of war, it can be dangerous to draw firm conclusions. And each province responded to the pandemic in its own way. But Furness’s words offer a good place to start thinking through what happened over the last seven months.
Politics is reactive. Politicians react to public concerns and crises as they arise. Politicians also tend to seek compromises between seemingly competing interests — such as the greater public interest in curbing the spread of a deadly disease and business owners’ interest in minimizing the effects on their livelihoods.
You can’t make deals with a virus
But an optimal public health response would be proactive and uncompromising in attacking the real problem — the virus.
“A public health approach is marked by proactive, preventative action that can seem unreasonable,” Furness said in an email this week. “A political approach is marked by trying to negotiate between the wishes of the virus and the wishes of people, like having lockdowns take effect after the holidays.”
Trying to calibrate restrictions and policies to find compromises might have been futile. “We’re trying to negotiate with COVID and it’s not working,” Furness said in an interview earlier this year.
Preemptive action can be politically challenging, of course.
“The challenge with this pandemic … is that you really need to react before the problem is apparent and that politically can be really difficult,” said Ashleight Tuite, also an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. “Asking people to make very large sacrifices when it’s not really clear what the sacrifices are being made for can be very challenging.
“It’s a continual problem in public health. Because when it’s working, you don’t see it.”
But more sweeping and faster lockdowns might have offered a greater degree of normalcy to businesses and citizens between outbreaks.
This could have been avoided
Both Tuite and Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, suggest that more could have been done last summer to bolster testing and contact tracing — investments that could have been made last summer. Deonandan also would have gone further to ban non-essential travel when concerns arose about variants that originated elsewhere.
But the larger point might be that the case counts of the current moment and the second wave were not inevitable.
“We understand enough about the virus to mitigate it. We may not be able to eliminate it completely, but we know how to control it,” Tuite said. “And so it’s really a matter of doing all the things that needed to be done. And we just didn’t do that.”
This does not seem to be an exclusively Canadian problem. The line graphs for infections in Germany and France, for instance, look broadly similar; French President Emmanuel Macron just ordered a national lockdown to combat a third wave in his country.
It’s also easy to wonder whether other provinces could have emulated the success of the Atlantic provinces, which have largely kept infections low within their regional bubble. Have we allowed ourselves to accept higher levels of infection outside of that bubble?
If we go back to work out where the collective response fell short — where the pandemic was approached with a political mindset instead of a public health one — we end up talking about things like paid sick leave.
The wisdom of making it easier for people to stay home from work if they’re not feeling well is obvious. The federal government introduced a new sickness benefit last fall that those who fall ill can apply for, but it falls short of full sick leave, which would be automatic and obligatory.
Business owners struggling with the impact of the pandemic would balk at having to pay for new sick leave. Provincial governments might dread introducing a temporary program that would be politically difficult to repeal later. And the new federal program might provide a handy excuse for not doing more.
In politics, that might seem like a reasonable compromise. But once this ordeal is over, we might look back and conclude that the moment demanded more than what we thought would suffice.
On the morning of June 4, a team of Alberta civil servants gathered — as it had nearly every day since the COVID-19 pandemic began — to co-ordinate the province’s response to the crisis.
A few minutes into the meeting in a boardroom in downtown Edmonton, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw weighed in.
The cabinet committee, to which she and the group reported, was pressuring her to broadly expand serology testing, which is used to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in the blood.
The problem was that the tests had limited large-scale clinical value and Hinshaw believed it would overestimate the virus’s presence in the population.
“Honestly, after the battle that we had about molecular testing, I don’t have a lot of fight left in me,” Hinshaw said during that meeting. The province had introduced rapid molecular testing kits at the start of the pandemic to help testing in rural and remote communities. The recordings reveal some tensions about that decision.
“I think we need to draw on our experience from the molecular testing battle that we ultimately lost, after a bloody and excruciating campaign, and think about, how do we limit the worst possible implications of this without wearing ourselves down?,” Hinshaw said.
A few weeks later, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Hinshaw announced the province would pour $ 10 million into targeted serology testing, the first in Canada to do so.
The level of political direction — and, at times, interference — in Alberta’s pandemic response is revealed in 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) obtained by CBC News, as well as in meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.
Taken together, they reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.
“What is there suggests to me that the pandemic response is in tatters,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy.
“The story tells me that the chief medical officer of health doesn’t have control of the pandemic response [and] tells me that decisions are being made by persons who shouldn’t be making decisions,” said Ogbogu, who was given access by CBC News to transcripts of specific incidents from the recordings.
“It tells me that the atmosphere in which decisions are being made is combative, it is not collaborative and that they are not working towards a common goal — they are working at cross-purposes.”
Ogbogu has been a staunch critic of the UCP government. In July, he publicly resigned from the Health Quality Council of Alberta, citing the potential for political interference in its work due to amendments to the Health Statutes Amendment Act.
Shandro did not respond to an interview request.
In a brief emailed statement that did not address specific issues raised by CBC News, a spokesperson for Kenney said it is the job of elected officials to make these sorts of decisions and he said there was no political interference.
Hinshaw also did not respond to an interview request.
But at the daily pandemic briefing Wednesday, as the province announced its 500th death, Hinshaw reiterated her belief that her job is to provide “a range of policy options to government officials outlining what I believe is the recommended approach and the strengths and weaknesses of any alternatives.
“The final decisions are made by the cabinet,” she said, adding that she has “always felt respected and listened to and that my recommendations have been respectfully considered by policy makers while making their decisions.”
Secret recordings reveal tension
The recordings provide a rare window into the relationship between the non-partisan civil servants working for the Emergency Operation Centre and political officials.
The EOC team, comprised of civil servants from Alberta Health and some seconded from other ministries, has been responsible for planning logistics and producing guidelines and recommendations for every aspect of Alberta’s pandemic response.
The recordings also provide context for the recent public debate about the extent of Hinshaw’s authority to act independent of government.
Even if Hinshaw had the authority to make unilateral decisions, the recordings confirm what she has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians.
At the group’s meeting on June 8, the day before Kenney publicly announced Alberta’s move to Stage 2 of its economic relaunch plan, Hinshaw relayed the direction she was receiving from the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee (EMCC). That committee included Kenney, Shandro and nine other cabinet ministers.
“What the EMCC has been moving towards, I feel, is to say, ‘We need to be leading Albertans where they want to go, not forcing them where they don’t want to go,'” Hinshaw told the group.
Hinshaw said she didn’t know if the approach would work, but they were being asked to move away from punitive measures to simply telling people how to stay safe.
More of a “permissive model?” someone asked. Hinshaw agreed.
“I feel like we are starting to lose social licence for the restrictive model, and I think we are being asked to then move into the permissive model,” she said. “And worst-case scenario, we will need to come back and [be] restrictive.”
Soaring COVID-19 rates in Alberta
As a second wave of COVID-19 pummels the province, an increasing number of public-health experts say Alberta long ago reached that worst-case scenario.
The province has passed the grim milestone of more than 1,500 new cases reported in a day. To date, 500people have died. Intensive care units across Alberta are overwhelmed, with COVID-19 patients spilling into other units as beds grow scarce.
On Tuesday, after weeks of pleading from doctors, academics and members of the public for a province-wide lockdown, Kenney declared another state of public health emergency.
However, he pointedly refused to impose a lockdown, saying his government wouldn’t bow to “ideological pressure” that he said would cripple the economy. Instead, he announced targeted restrictions, including a ban on indoor social gatherings.
WATCH | Premier Jason Kenney announces new pandemic restrictions:
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bypassed a renewed lockdown as part of new COVID-19 restrictions, despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Ontario. Restaurants and retail can stay open with reduced capacity, though indoor private gatherings are banned and the school year has been altered again. 2:36
Kenney repeated many of the comments he made on Nov. 6.
Even as Alberta’s case count grew so high that the province could not sustain its contact tracing system, Kenney rejected calls for more stringent measures and downplayed the deaths related to COVID-19.
“What you describe as a lockdown, first of all, constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on not only their personal liberties but their ability to put food on the table to sustain themselves financially,” Kenney said.
Kenney said it was projected, back in April, that COVID-19 would be the 11th-most common cause of death in the province.
“And so currently, this represents a tiny proportion of the deaths in our province.”
High evidence threshold for restrictions
A source with direct knowledge of the daily planning meetings said the premier wants evidence-based thresholds for mandatory restrictions that are effectively impossible to meet, especially in an ever-changing pandemic.
As of Wednesday, no thresholds have been designated publicly.
The source said Kenney’s attitude was that he wasn’t going to close down anything that affected the economy unless he was provided with specific evidence about how it would curtail the spread of COVID-19.
“This is like nothing we have ever seen before. So [it is] very, very difficult to get specific evidence to implement specific restrictions,” said the source who, like the others interviewed by CBC News, spoke on condition of confidentiality for fear of losing their job.
Another planning meeting source said “there is kind of an understanding that we put our best public health advice forward and that Kenney is really more concerned about the economy and he doesn’t want it shut down again.”
CBC News also interviewed a source close to Hinshaw who said she has indicated that, eight months into the pandemic, politicians are still often demanding a level of evidence that is effectively impossible to provide before they will act on restrictive recommendations.
The source said Hinshaw suggested politicians “have tended to basically go with the minimal acceptable recommendation from public health, because I actually think if they went below — if they pushed too far — that she probably would step down.”
Ogbogu said it is clear politicians, who are not experts in pandemic response, are not focusing on what matters most to public health.
“The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it,” he said. “Not the economy. Nothing is more important.”
‘I may have gotten in trouble with the minister’s office’: Hinshaw
The government has often used Hinshaw as a shield to deflect criticism of its pandemic strategy, suggesting she is directing the response. The government has at times appeared to recast any criticism of the strategy as a personal attack on her.
At her public COVID-19 updates, Hinshaw has refused to stray from government talking points or offer anything more than a hint of where her opinions may diverge.
Behind the scenes, however, there were clearly times when Hinshaw disagreed with the political direction — although it was also evident the politicians had the final say.
In April, for instance, the government introduced asymptomatic testing in some parts of the province, and later expanded it.
Hinshaw told a May 22 meeting she had unintentionally started a conversation with Kenney in which she expressed concern about the value of large-scale asymptomatic testing as opposed to strategic testing.
Kenney in turn asked for a slide presentation that would detail the pros and cons of each approach.
“I didn’t intend to have that conversation, so I may have gotten in trouble with the [health] minister’s office today about that,” Hinshaw said at that meeting.
The presentation, she said, would include “how expensive it is to test people when we don’t actually get a lot of value, to go forward with a testing strategy that we can stand behind. So we will see if the minister’s office will allow us to put that [presentation] forward,” Hinshaw said.
The premier, she said, had asked for the presentation for June 2.
But she cautioned the team, “Not to get all of our hopes up or anything.”
A week later, Hinshaw publicly announced the province had opened up asymptomatic testing to any Albertan who wanted it. At a news conference, she said that given the impending Stage 2 relaunch, it was an “opportune time” to expand testing.
‘They don’t want us to enforce anything’
The recordings suggest a desire by Health Minister Shandro to exert control over enforcement of public health orders.
Alberta Health Services (AHS), the province’s health authority, is responsible for enforcing public health orders. It is supposed to operate at arm’s length from government.
On June 9, the same day Kenney announced the Stage 2 economic relaunch, Hinshaw told the EOC meeting Shandro’s office wanted to be informed how AHS would consult with “us” before taking any action on COVID-19 public orders.
Alberta Health lawyers, working with the EOC, were responsible for writing the Stage 2 relaunch order that would outline restrictions on businesses and the public.
Hinshaw said she needed to verify with Shandro’s office, but she thought “they don’t want us to enforce anything. [They] just want us to educate, and no enforcement.”
But the group’s chief legal advisor was adamant.
“Under no circumstance will AHS check with the political minister’s office before undertaking an enforcement action under the Public Health Act,” he said
Hinshaw said Shandro’s office wanted AHS to check with her first, so she could report back to his office.
The legal advisor challenged that, saying AHS was supposed to check with Hinshaw and a colleague “with respect to prosecutions, not enforcement generally.
“So what is going on?” he asked.
Shandro’s office was “mad that AHS has enforced things like no shaving in barber shops,” Hinshaw responded.
Hinshaw said all local medical officers of health and environmental health officers were already expected to tell her and the team about any impending orders or prosecutions.
But a week later, a senior health official told the meeting AHS was “struggling about what they should be doing” regarding enforcement.
The official said AHS had been told: “Don’t turn a blind eye but don’t issue any orders.
“And then come to us, and if push comes to shove, I think it will be up to the ministry to figure out if we are going to do something.”
In mid-September, CBC News reported that AHS had received more than 29,000 complaints about COVID-19 public health order violations since the beginning of April.
A total of 62 enforcement orders, including closure orders, were issued in that period. As recently as last week, AHS has said that “every effort” is made to work with the public before issuing an enforcement order.
In private conversations as recently as this month, Hinshaw has characterized her interactions with Kenney and cabinet as difficult, said a source close to her.
“I would say that she has used the phrase ‘uphill battle,'” they said.
The source said Hinshaw has been understanding of the reasons for the difficulty, “which I think we both see as being rooted in a completely different weighting of the risks of the disease and the risks of, for example, public-health restrictions.”
Hinshaw, however, “did allude to some of the meetings as being very distressing.”
But the source said Hinshaw worries about what could happen if she leaves her role.
“She sees her position, optimally, as trying to do the best she can from inside. And that if she wasn’t there, there would be a risk that things would be worse in terms of who else might end up taking that position and what their viewpoint was on the best direction.”
Ogbogu, the health law expert, said that while Hinshaw may be well-meaning, her willingness to allow politicians to subvert her authority is ultimately undermining the fight against COVID-19.
If the government is not following scientific advice, if it is not interested in measures that will effectively control a pandemic that is killing Albertans, then Hinshaw “owes us the responsibility of coming out and saying, ‘They are not letting me do my job,'” Ogbogu said.
“And if that comes at a risk of her job, that is the nature of public service.”
At the planning meeting on June 4, a civil servant told the team there was concern the province wasn’t giving businesses much time to adjust to shifting COVID-19 guidance.
“I’ve been advocating everywhere I can to move it up, and they moved it back,” Hinshaw replied.
“So you can see I have a lot of influence,” she said sarcastically. “But I will keep trying.”
If you have information about this story, or for another story, please contact us in confidence at email@example.com.
On that fateful day in June 2015 that he rode down a gilded escalator into the world of electoral politics, Donald Trump’s critics saw a pastel-faced buffoon destined to melt away after an attention-seeking stint in the political sun.
How wrong they were.
Trump will never truly go away. A closer-than-expected election makes it only that much clearer that defeat is but a prelude to Trump’s next act as a permanent fixture on the American political scene.
It’s not just that his thirst for the stage has allies predicting that he’ll run again in 2024, and that in the meantime, he’ll keep doing rallies and act as the leader of the opposition.
It’s that Trump has already left an indelible mark on the nation he leads, revealing several truths about it in the process.
WATCH | Americans cheer and denounce Biden victory:
Voters gathered in cities across the United States to celebrate and decry the election of Joe Biden as president. 4:43
The elements of Trumpism
There have been countless newspaper columns, books and academic studies asking what drove Trumpism: Was it economics? Was it racism? A new nationalism? Nostalgia? The joy of an unpredictable carnival?
It was all of the above.
If several years of talking to his supporters has illustrated anything, it’s that human beings can hold multiple overlapping feelings at once.
Take Chip Paquette, for instance.
Early on in the Trump phenomenon, at a 2016 primary rally in New Hampshire, the retired police officer chuckled at the candidate’s antics, elbowing his seat neighbour as if at a comedy show. He howled with laughter when Trump referred to Sen. Ted Cruz as a “pussy.”
In a conversation with a reporter later, he said he missed the good old days — back when a cop could punch a suspect, without controversy.
He questioned the wisdom of free trade and expressed a desire for more tariffs on imports: “We’re losing jobs,” he said.
Then, finally, he casually brought up something else he liked about Trump: “I like the idea of him banning the Muslims.”
The Trump campaign’s proposed Muslim ban evolved after he took office, becoming a travel ban on mostly Muslim countries. It underwent other iterations, amid legal disputes, and triggered protests from people disgusted that this campaign promise ever saw the light of day in a country with religious freedom stamped into its founding DNA.
Trump smashed enough norms that he’ll be studied by future generations in political-science departments around the world.
He also revealed things about the modern-day U.S. — and some of those lessons hold implications far beyond American territory, touching every nation.
The first is that the U.S. will be a less-predictable partner.
Trump’s policy legacy stretches far beyond U.S.
There’s no guarantee agreements with one U.S. administration will survive a change in government. That unpredictability stretches beyond Trump to past examples such as Bill Clinton’s signing of the Kyoto climate accord and George W. Bush shunning it.
“This egg can’t be unscrambled,” wrote Trump critic and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman last month in a New York Times column titled “Trump Killed the Pax Americana.”
“No matter how good a global citizen America becomes in the next few years, everyone will remember that we’re a country that elected someone like Donald Trump, and could do it again.”
Trump turned the page on a chapter of American history written after the Second World War, in which a young superpower helped build new global institutions in the hope of creating a long-lasting peace.
It’s unclear what the postscript to the postwar era would look like.
Trump did shift attention to a new geopolitical challenge: China. His administration struck a more aggressive posture, and accused China of breaking its promises to the West.
There’s a huge audience for this message.
Passionate devotion equals continuing power
One Republican operative said whether or not he runs for president again, Trump’s policies on China, trade and immigration will have a lingering effect.
“We don’t know what Trump’s role in the party is going to be going forward, [and] is he going to be keeping open the option of perhaps running again in 2024,” said Matt Mackowiak, a party organizer and consultant.
“I do think he’s changed the party in significant ways.”
Trump’s message not only drew record turnout from working-class white Americans, but he also made inroads in his second race among groups that rarely vote Republican.
Trump performed better with Black men, Latino and Asian-American voters this year than he did four years ago.
To be clear, he still won only a small percentage of minority voters. But some were among his staunchest defenders.
Sylvia Menchaca, a Mexican restaurant owner near Phoenix, applauded Trump for putting his country first and wanting immigration limits.
She told CBC News she felt sorry for migrant children separated from parents at the border, but, she said, the country needed to get immigration under control.
“I love him,” said Menchaca, who described herself as a religious woman. “Trump is similar to one of the kings in the Bible. Nobody in the Bible is perfect.… But some of them were blessed by God to run a country.”
Nothing would ever rattle her support for him, she said.
WATCH | Trump supporters in Arizona react to Biden win:
In spite of widespread projections for a Joe Biden win, Donald Trump supporters at a pre-planned gathering site in Phoenix, Ariz., Saturday insisted Biden is not the next president and repeated Trump’s unproven allegations of voter fraud. 2:12
Trump sounded real — even when he was lying
One reason Trump engendered uncommon devotion was he didn’t sound like a politician — he sounded real while other politicians relied on scripts and talking points.
Yet his telling-it-like-it-is effect was chronically undermined by one uncomfortable truth: He lied. He lied a lot.
This is different from most politicians who will often exaggerate, and frequently obfuscate, while generally avoiding flat-out lies.
Trump operated on another level.
When it came to spouting untruths, he pivoted from one to another with the same painless strokes reminiscent of his supporter, Bobby Orr, gliding across a hockey rink.
Half the country fumed; the other half brushed it off.
He left Americans split on an uncommon range of issues: COVID-19 mask-wearing; Black Lives Matter; voting by mail. They all became litmus tests of political loyalty.
You were with him or against him, right down to the end, when the polarizing question became whether or not you would support his attack on the accuracy of a U.S. election.
WATCH | Voters with opposing views of Donald Trump converge on Atlanta after 2020 election is called:
Pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters are gathering and, at times, jeering each other on an Atlanta street in the open-carry state amid projections for a Joe Biden presidency from major networks. 5:41
These constant battles divided families, and it’s no exaggeration to say he even had a polarizing effect on mating rituals. Trump fans, and people abhorred by Trump fans, split off into separate dating sites, with names such as Donald Daters and Trump Singles.
One Florida widow said people just simply want to know, before investing time in someone, whether their values are compatible, and she sees Trump support as a test of values.
She was no fan. She said Trump has stoked the country’s divisions and made people angrier, and she didn’t vote for him despite being a Republican.
“Politics used to be a part of your life, but it didn’t consume your life,” said Arlene Macellaro. “But now it seems like the thing to do in my Republican Party is to be angry.”
People in her Florida retirement community tell stories you often hear in the U.S. these days — of old friendships suspended over differences on Trump.
WATCH | Florida voter Arlene Macellaro reflects on how Trump changed Americans’ engagement with politics:
Arlene Macellaro lives in a staunchly Republican retirement city in Florida called The Villages, but says she won’t be voting for Donald Trump this election. 0:31
One final and perhaps most fundamental truth the Trump era exposed is that democracy may be more fragile than assumed — that the rules protecting it may exist primarily on paper but are, in the end, enforced by a civic spirit.
In a bitterly polarized era pitting the blue team versus the red team, old norms were occasionally discarded.
WATCH | Trump accuses Democrats of trying to ‘steal the election’:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday that Democrats could ‘try to steal the election from us’ if ‘illegal votes’ cast after election day were counted. There is no evidence that ballots were cast after Nov. 3. 0:40
Ask a foreign government to investigate Joe Biden? It’s what got him impeached. And there were no real-time consequences.
He lost precisely one Republican in the impeachment vote: Mitt Romney, and for that act of alleged betrayal, the former Republican presidential nominee was quickly shunned by party grassroots members.
Trump became the first impeached president to lead his party into another election.
WATCH | Did Trump deliver on his 2016 promises?:
From boosting manufacturing in the United States to building a border wall, Donald Trump made a lot of promises during his first presidential campaign. CBC News’s Paul Hunter checks in on whether he delivered on them. 6:00
He talks, Republicans follow
And had a few votes broken the other way in a few swing states, had he gotten better control over the coronavirus pandemic, he might have won.
Instead, he’ll be gone from the White House in 11 weeks. It’s unclear he’ll ever concede he lost, or ever follow the tradition of extending grace to his successor.
His niece, a psychologist, author and now a critic of him, wrote a book suggesting he has a pathologically delicate ego and lives in terror of not being admired.
He enjoyed the granite-hard support of the conservative base.
It was illustrated by what happened last week when his son, Don Jr., issued a warning to Republicans: if they had any future aspirations to lead the party, they had better start fighting the election result.
The total lack of action from virtually all of the “2024 GOP hopefuls” is pretty amazing. <br><br>They have a perfect platform to show that they’re willing & able to fight but they will cower to the media mob instead. <br><br>Don’t worry <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@realDonaldTrump</a> will fight & they can watch as usual!
Sen. Lindsey Graham went on Fox News and promised to donate $ 500,000 US to the president’s legal fund for fighting the result.
No matter what the president does next, he’ll remain a kingmaker in the Republican Party, and those party members will keep courting his support.
If, however, he chooses to run again in a primary four years from now, he’d probably beat them — barring some unforeseen twist, such as legal troubles in New York, his former home state.
So there are no political obituaries this weekend, not even for an election loser. Because you can’t eulogize what’s not dead.
WATCH | ‘Let’s give each other a chance,’ Biden tells Trump supporters in victory speech:
President-elect Joe Biden spoke directly to Americans who didn’t vote for him during his victory address in Wilmington, Del., saying it’s ‘time to listen to each other again’ and to stop treating opponents like enemies. 1:42
George Floyd was lovingly remembered Tuesday as Big Floyd — a “gentle giant,” a father and brother, athlete and mentor, and now a force for change — at a funeral for the Black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice.
“George Floyd was not expendable. This is why we’re here,” Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas told the crowd at the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston. “His crime was that he was born Black. That was his only crime. George Floyd deserved the dignity and respect that we accord all people just because they are children of a common God.”
Floyd’s brother, Philonise, told mourners: “Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that’s where he was born at … But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world.”
Floyd, 46, cried out for his mother and pleaded he couldn’t breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck May 25. Video of the encounter ignited protests and scattered violence in cities across the U.S. and around the world.
While the service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside the church to pay their respects.
“There’s a real big change going on and everybody, especially Black, right now should be a part of that,” said Kersey Biagase, who travelled more than three hours from Port Barre, La., with his girlfriend, Brandi Pickney.
Family members speak
Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, were led into the sanctuary by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist.
They gave tearful tributes and made impassioned demands for justice at his funeral. They gathered around the church podium and stepped up one at a time to talk about about their lost loved one.
His aunt, Kathleen McGee, laughed as she remembered the child her family knew as Perry Jr., calling him a “pesky little rascal, but we loved him.”
His sister, LaTonya Floyd, was almost too overwhelmed to talk, wiping away tears and lowering her face mask to say “I’m going to miss my brother a whole lot and I love you. And I thank God for giving me my own personal Superman.”
Brooke Williams, a niece, called for change to what she called “a corrupt and broken system.”
WATCH | Floyd’s niece delivers passionate, political tribute:
George Floyd’s niece, Brooke Williams, says the death of her uncle is not just murder but a hate crime. 3:30
One of several pastors who spoke said Floyd, a man from humble beginnings, has changed the world. “Out of his death has come a movement, a worldwide movement,” said Rev. Bill Lawson, who once marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “But that movement is not going to stop after two weeks, three weeks, a month. That movement is going to change the world.”
In a video eulogy played at the service, former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said: “No child should have to ask questions that too many Black children have had to ask for generations: Why?” He continued, “Now is the time for racial justice. That is the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”
Biden made no mention of politics. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump, who has ignored demands to address racial bias and has called on authorities crack down hard on lawlessness.
“The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about eight minutes and 46 seconds of police murder of George Floyd,” Sharpton said. “He challenged China on human rights. But what about the human right of George Floyd?”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner brought the crowd to its feet when he announced he will sign an executive order banning police chokeholds in the city.
WATCH | Houston mayor brings mourners to their feet:
People all over the world are doing things they might not have done because of George Floyd, says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. 3:07
Following the funeral, Floyd’s body was to be taken by horse-drawn carriage to a cemetery in suburban Pearland, Texas, where he was to be laid to rest next to his mother.
With the service still underway, hundreds of people lined the route to the cemetery. Many said they had arrived hours ahead to secure a spot.
“We’re out here for a purpose. That purpose is because first of all he’s our brother. Second, we want to see change,” said Marcus Brooks, 47, who set up a tent along the route with other graduates of Jack Yates High School, Floyd’s alma mater. “I don’t want to see any Black man, any man, but most definitely not a Black man sitting on the ground in the hands of bad police.”
‘So much for social distancing’
Mourners in the church included rapper Trae tha Truth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from the Houston area, and the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo. Nearly all the pews were full, with relatively little space between people.
“So much for social distancing today,” the Rev. Remus Wright told mourners, gently but firmly instructing those attending to don face masks because of the pandemic.
Many people fanned themselves with paper fans bearing an image of Floyd.
Floyd “often spoke about being world famous one day, and he has managed to make that happen in his death,” the funeral program said.
The hours-long service came one day after about 6,000 people attended a public memorial Monday in Houston, waiting for hours under baking sun to pay their respects to Floyd, whose body lay in an open gold-coloured casket.
Over the past six days, memorials for Floyd were also held in Minneapolis, where he lived in recent years, and Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born.
Four Minneapolis officers were charged in connection with Floyd’s death, which was captured on video by bystanders.
Floyd’s death sparked international protests and drew new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system. In the past two weeks, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place: Confederate statues have been toppled, police departments around America have rethought the way they patrol minority neighbourhoods, legislatures have debated use-of-force policies, and white, black and brown people have had uncomfortable, sometimes heated, discussions about race in a nation that is supposed to ensure equal opportunity for all.
‘We will get justice’
Calls for police reform have cropped up in many communities, and people around the world have taken to the streets in solidarity, saying that reforms and dialogue must not stop with Floyd’s funeral.
The memorials have drawn the families of black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared into America’s conversations on race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
“It just hurts,” said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside The Fountain of Praise church. “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.”
On the weekend, a majority of the Minneapolis city council declared their intention to disband the city’s police force. The move comes in response to the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin — a member of that force — and to other local instances of police brutality. Today on Front Burner, we talk about the growing “defund police” movement that says scaling down police budgets and spending the money on social services could be a way to protect civilian lives. 28:33
Facebook employees critical of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to act on U.S. President Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments about protests across the United States went public on Twitter, praising the rival social media firm for acting and rebuking their own employer.
Many tech workers at companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon have actively pursued issues of social justice in recent years, urging their employers to take action and change policies.
Even so, the weekend criticism marked a rare case of high-level employees publicly taking their chief executive to task, with at least three of the seven critical posts seen by Reuters coming from people who identified themselves as senior managers.
“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavour in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” wrote Ryan Freitas, whose Twitter account identifies him as director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed. He added he had mobilized, “50+ likeminded folks” to lobby for internal change.
Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind.
Jason Toff, identified as director of product management, wrote: “I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.”
A spokesperson said the company is open to employee feedback.
“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our black community,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone wrote in a text, referring to company employees.
“We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”
‘Respect to Twitter’s integrity team’
Twitter affixed a warning label late last week to a tweet from Trump in which he had included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” with respect to Minneapolis protests over the death of George Floyd, which had taken a violent turn. Twitter said the tweet violated its rules against glorifying violence but was being left up as a public service exception.
Facebook declined to take action on the same message, with Zuckerberg saying in a Facebook post on Friday that while he found the remarks “deeply offensive,” they did not violate company policy against incitements to violence and people should know if the government was planning to deploy state force.
In the post, Zuckerberg, who last week took pains to distance his company from the fight between Twitter and Trump, also said Facebook had been in touch with the White House to explain its policies.
But some of the dissenting employees directly praised Twitter’s response.
“Respect to @Twitter’s integrity team for making the enforcement call,” wrote David Gillis, identified as a director of product design. In a long Twitter thread he said he understood the logic of Facebook’s decision, but: “I think it would have been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took more context into account.”
I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable. I’m a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism.
Jason Stirman, in research and development at Facebook, said Trump’s posts “clearly incite violence.”
“There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”
Andrew Crow, head of design for the Portal product, said he disagrees with Zuckerberg’s position and vowed to work to make change.
“Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy,” Crow wrote.
Toff was one of several Facebook employees who were organizing fundraisers for racial justice groups in Minnesota. Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Monday that the company would contribute an additional $ 10 million US to social justice causes.
Mail-in voting tweet got 1st warning
Twitter’s first warning for Trump last week said his claims on a post about mail-in ballots were false and had been debunked by fact-checkers.
The blue exclamation mark notification on May 26 prompted readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and directed them to a page with news articles and information about the claims aggregated by Twitter staffers. Trump, who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter, had claimed in tweets earlier in the day that mail-in ballots for the election in November would be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election.”
“We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this,” Zuckerberg told Fox News in an interview recorded after Twitter’s decision and broadcast on May 28.
Tensions between social media platform Twitter and President Donald Trump escalated today… For the first time ever, Twitter added a warning to two of the president’s tweets saying he violated the platform’s rules of glorifying violence. In one of the tweets he said quote “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” referring to protests in Minneapolis right now. This move comes after Trump signed an executive order that could limit social media companies in how they police content. Ramona Pringle is Here and Now’s technology columnist. 7:33
Zuckerberg has said on more than one occasion that he doesn’t want Facebook to be the “arbiter of truth,” though Facebook announced last year that it would take action on some campaign posts encouraging voter suppression and spreading voter misinformation, which are the areas the Twitter fact-check concerned.
As well, Facebook has banned some accounts and groups related to the QAnon political conspiracy theory, as well as those violating the site’s terms by spreading coronavirus misinformation.
After Twitter’s action concerning the tweet on voting by mail, Trump signed an executive order challenging the liability protections from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms, but it is unclear if the order would survive a likely court challenge.
Technology companies blasted the move, saying it would stifle innovation and speech on the internet. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Trump most of the time with respect to economic policy, shared its objections.
With cases rising rapidly, a military general with no medical experience leading the Ministry of Health, and a president admitting there’s no proof his preferred treatment will work, Brazil has become one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus.
As health systems, from Sao Paulo to the Amazon, strain under the growing number of cases, policy experts say there’s little hope that the country can change course when the president is one of their biggest obstacles.
“It’s unbelievable what’s happening in Brazil. When the biggest science denier in the country is the president himself, what can we scientists do?” said Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist and researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sao Paulo.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been among the world leaders most dismissive of the coronavirus, initially downplaying it as a “little flu,” then later responding “so what” when asked about the country’s rising death toll.
“I don’t see any hope in the short term,” Pasternak said. “I think the numbers are going to keep piling up and a lot of people are going to die until we solve the political situation.”
‘A grave situation’
The World Health Organization (WHO) now considers South America the new epicentre of the pandemic, in large part because this week Brazil overtook the United Kingdom for third place in the overall number of COVID-19 cases.
Brazil has more than 310,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths, according to statistics kept by Johns Hopkins University. The country’s Ministry of Health believes the numbers are likely higher because of a lack of effective testing.
WATCH| Bolsonaro minimizes COVID-19 surge in Brazil, promotes hydroxychloroquine:
The number of coronavirus cases is surging in Brazil, but President Jair Bolsonaro continues to minimize the situation. Bolsonaro is also advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment also promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump. 2:01
“Are people dying? Yes they are, and I regret that. But many more are going to die if the economy continues to be destroyed because of these (lockdowns),” Bolsonaro said earlier this month.
On Thursday, Brazil reported more than 18,500 infections, while also suffering a record 1,188 daily coronavirus deaths, eclipsing its previous high set earlier in the week.
“It’s a very grave situation,” said Humberto Costa, a Brazilian senator and former health minister under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
In Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city, fresh graves continue to be dug up in the sprawling Formosa cemetery. Health officials say they’re losing the battle against the virus and the system will be overrun. City and state officials moved holidays up from June and July to this weekend to create an extended break to encourage physical distancing.
In Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon rainforest, the mayor is warning that Indigenous tribes will be decimated by the coronavirus. Amazonas state, where Manaus is located, is one of the hardest hit regions of the country.
“I fear genocide and I want to denounce this thing to the whole world. We have here a government that does not care about the lives of the Indians,” Manaus Mayor Arthur Virgilio Neto said.
‘Politicizing the Problem’
While other countries have waited for some signs of the virus slowing down before reopening the economy, Bolsonaro has continually pushed for Brazilians to get back to work, putting him at odds with state governors and mayors trying to curb the spread through lockdowns and quarantines.
“He denies the severity of the disease and he only makes political calculations about what’s best for him,” Costa said.
Observers say Bolsonaro is thinking first about re-election in two years, promoting an economic agenda that resonates with the country’s poorest, who can’t afford to isolate themselves at home.
“He’s following his instinct that the economy needs to reopen and the country cannot face an economic crisis so deep,” said Marcio Coimbra, a political strategist in the capital, Brasilia.
“The middle class and upper class are against the president,” Coimbra said. “But on the other side, the poor people who need to work, they are there supporting the president.”
Costa said Bolsonaro’s actions now are laying the groundwork for what will happen in a few months’ time if the country’s economy continues to suffer because of lockdowns meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Bolsonaro “will say, ‘I told you that the virus was a little problem, the governors and mayors made the wrong measures,'” Costa said.
‘Problems at the Health Ministry’
Some of Bolsonaro’s highest profile clashes have been with his own Ministry of Health. In April, he fired Health Minister Luis Henrique Mandetta who had gained in popularity with his daily technical briefings.
His replacement, Nelson Teich, resigned last week, after refusing to promote Bolsonaro’s desire for wider use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello immediately approved the plan, going against the recommendations of WHO experts in Brazil.
WATCH | Brazil’s worsening COVID-19 crisis:
Brazil’s worsening COVID-19 crisis SUMMARY: Brazil’s already weak health-care system and an incoherent response from its political leaders to the COVID-19 pandemic have made it much more difficult for the country’s hospitals to deal with the growing number of cases, says Oliver Stuenkel, a professor and author from the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo. 6:42
“We are at war: Worse than being defeated is the shame of not having fought,” Bolsonaro wrote in a post on his official Facebook page in response to his critics.
Pazuello is a military general known as a logistics expert, with no health background. Costa said Pazuello is staffing the ministry with people with military experience, rather than health expertise, which will further hamper the country’s efforts to fight the virus.
“They are politicizing the problem, it’s not a question of science, it’s not a question of medicine, it’s just a question of politics,” Costa said.
Like his ally U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has pushed hydroxychloroquine as a solution to the pandemic, despite admitting that there’s no proof it works.
Health policy expert Miguel Lago said Bolsonaro’s support for the drug is more about politics than medicine.
“Bolsonaro is a very smart politician and he’s trying to understand what can fit a narrative where he appears to be a great leader,” said Lago, executive director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies, a non-profit group based in Rio de Janeiro.
On Friday, a profanity-laced video showing Bolsonaro expressing frustration at his inability to get information from police and vowing to change cabinet ministers if needed to protect his family was released at the order of a Supreme Court justice.
The two-hour video of a cabinet meeting, with portions redacted, was released as part of a probe into allegations that the president was trying to improperly meddle in the federal police, a claim made by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro when he resigned last month.
Moro told investigators that Bolsonaro openly demanded he make changes in key federal police positions, including the head of the agency. Moro resigned after Bolsonaro fired the federal police director-general without consulting him.
The video shows the president complaining, “I already tried to change our security in Rio de Janeiro and I couldn’t. That is over. I will not wait [for them] to [profanity] my entire family just for fun, or a friend of mine.”
Bolsonaro has insisted he was referring to the head of his security detail, though he had successfully changed that position recently. Moro said the president was alluding to the head of police operations in Rio, who presumably might have been involved in investigations into the president’s sons, who live there.
Hope in local governments
Lago said the only hope for Brazil’s efforts lies in state governors and local politicians ignoring directives from the president. States have enforced their own measures in defiance of Bolsonaro’s views, including mandatory masks in public and limits on traffic in major cities
“After two months, we shouldn’t be expecting anything good from the federal government in the sense we should only rely on our local governments.”
Impeachment has been discussed in Brazil. The speaker of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia, has more than 30 requests to remove Bolsonaro, but hasn’t acted on them.
“If he keeps delivering power for votes in Congress, he’ll be able to stay in power until the end of his term,” Coimbra said.
‘No light at the end of the tunnel’
Costa said the peak of COVID-19 cases could come sometime in the middle of June; some projections show Brazil could end up with more than 100,000 dead and more than a million people infected.
According to statistics from the Brazlian tech company Inloco, just over 42 per cent of Brazilians are practising physical distancing, down from a high of around 62 per cent around the end of March.
WATCH| Bolsonaro minimizes COVID-19 surge in Brazil, promotes hydroxychloroquine:
More than 16,000 people have died due to COVID-19 in Brazil. 0:46
Pasternak said the president’s example, holding rallies, shaking hands and hugging supporters, sends the wrong message to Brazilians who look to him for leadership. She worries about the direction the country is headed.
“I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel right now.”
Warning: Speculating about medical cures on live television during a global pandemic may carry multiple unwanted side-effects.
Just ask U.S. President Donald Trump.
On Friday, institutions in different countries were issuing health warnings about different medical ideas the president of United States had shared with millions of television viewers.
The most attention-grabbing alert came from the British company that makes Lysol disinfectant products, which issued an obvious-sounding admonition: Don’t inject yourself with Lysol.
“Under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body,” said the statement from British company RB.
“[That includes] injection, ingestion or any other route.”
The genesis of this medical warning was an offhand remark by Trump, which his staff says was twisted out of context, and which Trump himself now claims was meant sarcastically.
During Trump’s daily news conference on Thursday, a U.S. official from the Department of Homeland Security made a routine announcement about lab tests indicating that sunlight and cleansing agents drastically weaken COVID-19 on surfaces.
Trump chimed in, suggesting maybe these things could be tested on humans. He talked about possibly hitting the body with a “tremendous” amount of light, and also proposed tests with injections.
He then quickly appeared to contradict himself.
A reporter asked whether the president was really talking about injecting people with bleach and Trump replied that he wasn’t.
WATCH | Trump’s comments about light and disinfectant:
After suggesting what some call ‘dangerous’ ways to combat COVID-19, the U.S. president was once again criticized for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. 3:23
And that’s the exchange that launched hundreds of embarrassing headlines around the world, in a variety of languages. French TV networks, for example, called it “mind-blowing,” and suggested the president was telling people to inject disinfectant.
The office of Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, issued a public alert, after the state received more than 100 calls from people inquiring about ingesting disinfectants to combat COVID-19.
We decided to take the step of posting this alert after receiving more than 100 calls to our hotline.
But a White House spokesperson pushed back on the reporting. “Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines,” said Kayleigh McEnany.
It was just her latest entanglement with the press this week. She also blasted a reporter for not addressing Trump as the “president,” which drew reminders that she herself wasn’t especially courteous to Trump’s predecessor.
Now, about that malaria drug
Warnings emanated from inside the administration about another potential medical solution floated by the president.
The U.S. Food And Drug Administration advised against the use of hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug Trump spent weeks touting as a possible game-changer in the fight against COVID-19.
It released a statement saying hydroxychloroquine, which also treats lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause heart and kidney problems, increase insulin levels, and raise the risk of severe hypoglycemia.
The FDA said it reviewed case reports and found no proof the drug works against COVID-19. Given the side-effects, it said use of the pill should be limited to clinical trial settings or for certain hospitalized patients.
The president’s backers point out that there’s some nuance here.
Early studies are contradictory. And when discussing the drug, Trump put up some caveats, too. He repeatedly mentioned the possible side-effects of hydroxychloroquine, even as he was promoting its use during his news conferences.
However, for weeks, he and an entire ecosystem of supporters touted this cheap generic medicine as a possible solution to the COVID-19 crisis.
Fox News played a significant role.
A devoted Fox News viewer, the president would have seen frequent appearances by celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and segments from Fox host Laura Ingraham talking up hydroxychloroquine.
But those television personalities didn’t just promote the drug on the air: they both personally spoke with administration members about the issue.
Ingraham met with Trump to discuss it, The Washington Post reported. Oz even spoke on-air about how he discussed hydroxychloroquine with senior U.S. health official Seema Verma.
Now, a U.S. study conducted among veterans suggests the drug offers no benefit against COVID-19 — and might be likelier to harm people.
A French study drew similar conclusions. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, issued guidelines that say there are no proven drugs for treating COVID-19.
This week, a U.S. federal official said he was ousted from his senior role in the Department of Health and Human Services for resisting Trump’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine.
The fact is, the hydroxychloroquine research is still at an early stage. Some studies have suggested it might act as an anti-viral agent.
Ingraham this week again defended the drug and pointed to methodological shortcomings in the new U.S. study.
A member of the Trump cabinet also warned against drawing conclusions. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said the U.S. study, conducted in conjunction with his department, is not a definitive conclusion. He called it a non-clinical study, involving a small number of veterans in the last stages of life.
‘Limit the mistakes you’re making’
As for Trump’s daily televised event, Republican strategist Matt Mackowiaksaid it’s understandable why the president views them as useful.
He said the president can communicate directly with voters, around a media filter that sometimes distorts his message.
But still, said the strategist, stricter message discipline might help.
Instead of the freewheeling daily event, he said Trump would be better off doing a brief announcement, then turning the event over to experts.
“Get your message out there. And also limit the mistakes you’re making,” he told CBC News.
“Do … five or 10 minutes at the beginning, then do the substance, then evacuate.”
Which is what happened Friday. A day after the bleach-injection musings, Trump and his team held their shortest coronavirus briefing ever, and the week ended without a fresh controversy.
Israel’s president on Sunday said he has decided to give opposition leader Benny Gantz the first opportunity to form a new government, following an inconclusive national election this month.
President Reuven Rivlin’s office announced his decision late Sunday after consulting with leaders of all of the parties elected to parliament.
The decision raises questions about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future as he leads the country’s battle against the coronavirus threat and prepares to go on trial for corruption charges.
Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party in the March 2 election, Israel’s third in under a year. But with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, he received the support of only 58 lawmakers during Sunday’s consultations, leaving Likud three seats short of the required majority in parliament.
Gantz’s Blue and White received the support of parties representing 61 seats, a slim majority. However, those parties are also divided, and it is not clear whether Gantz will succeed in putting together a coalition. One lawmaker refused to endorse either side.
Rivlin said he would formally designate Gantz with the task on Monday. Once formally tapped, Gantz will now have a month to cobble together a governing coalition.
Given the possibility of continued deadlock, Rivlin summoned both Netanyahu and Gantz to an emergency meeting late Sunday.
Rivlin had earlier suggested the two men form a power-sharing unity government to lead the country through its many crises. If the two rivals cannot reach a unity deal, the country could find itself in a fourth consecutive election campaign.
“Anyone who has watched the news in recent days understands that this is a time of trial, and that these are not regular consultations,” he said. “We must now deal with forming a government as soon as possible … at this complex time.”
Israel’s president holds a largely ceremonial role, but is responsible for designating the candidate he thinks has the best chance of being able to form a government by securing a parliamentary majority.
That task has been complicated by the results of the March 2 election. Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged as the largest single party, but short of a 61-seat parliamentary majority with its allies of smaller religious and nationalist parties.
While Gantz is backed by a slim majority, the opposition is deeply fragmented — with the predominantly Arab Joint List and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu among them — giving Gantz slim odds of being able to form a government.
Yisrael Beitenu’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman, and two members of Gantz’s own Blue and White party have said they would oppose a government that relies on support from the Joint List. Lieberman told the president that he supports Gantz, but also called for the formation of an “emergency” unity government to deal with the coronavirus threat.
Netanyahu, in his caretaker role, has invited Gantz to join him in an emergency government. Gantz has left the door open to such an arrangement, but also dismissed the offers as insincere.
Over the past week, the coronavirus scare has overshadowed the country’s precarious political standoff — which comes as Netanyahu prepares to go on trial for corruption charges.
Netanyahu got an important reprieve on Sunday when the Jerusalem court handling the case postponed his trial for two months because of restrictions connected to the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in connection to a series of scandals. But following the emergency health measures the government enacted restricting the gathering of people in public places, the court announced that it was pushing back the hearing until May 24.
As fears about the coronavirus outbreak roiled financial markets, U.S. political leaders grappled Monday with a public health and economic maelstrom — as well as concerns for their own safety.
The White House said it is “conducting business as usual,” and President Donald Trump sought to project calm as the epidemic poses one of the greatest tests yet to his administration.
Trump officials argued that they had the matter well in hand, and charged political opponents with rooting for an economic collapse. On Capitol Hill, at least three lawmakers were in self-quarantine as discussions were underway on how to address the virus outbreak and economic volatility and keep the government functioning.
Trump dove into shake hands with supporters Monday morning when arriving to headline a fundraiser in Longwood, Fla., that raised approximately $ 4 million US for his re-election campaign and the Republican Party. He ignored shouted questions about the plunging stock market as he boarded Air Force One for the flight back to Washington.
In Monday morning tweets, Trump lashed out at the steep market drop and news that large public gatherings were being called off because of the virus.
“At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths,” Trump tweeted, comparing it to seasonal influenza and the thousands of deaths that causes. “Think about that!”
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
Scientists at this stage don’t know what the death rate of the new coronavirus actually is and whether it will wind up being about the same as flu or worse.
At the same time, administration officials were insistent that they weren’t trying to dismiss public concerns. “This is a very serious health problem,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News.
At the Pentagon, officials have begun “social distancing” measures. On Monday, Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s regular meeting with senior staff, which normally would be held face-to-face in a single room with 40 to 50 participants, was broken up into three rooms, with video-teleconferencing among the rooms, according to the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman. He said Esper and the 15 to 20 people in his room, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sat at least six feet apart, in line with health guidance.
Trump was delegating much of the virus response to U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, who convened a video teleconference to give an update on the federal government’s virus response Monday afternoon with the nation’s governors. Pence was also scheduled to lead a meeting of the administration’s task force on Monday before holding a news briefing.
On Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers are older and have frequent constant contact with the public, leaders were fielding questions from members and staff about how the complex will be secured. Leaders have so far shown little willingness to close the Capitol, but meetings were scheduled throughout the day to discuss preparations.
On Monday, Republican Reps. Doug Collins and Matt Gaetz put themselves into voluntary quarantine after exposure to a person who tested positive for the virus at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
Both said they did not have any symptoms but would wait out the remainder of the 14 days since the contact at home.
Gaetz travelled to Washington with Trump on Air Force One on Monday. Collins met Trump on Tuesday night at the White House and shook hands with Trump on Friday when the president visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Atlanta headquarters.
A day earlier, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar placed themselves in quarantine after coming in contact with the same person at the conservative conference.
As well, Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley said she met last week with a person who has since been diagnosed with the virus. She closed her office and said she and her staff are “self-monitoring and maintaining social distancing practices.”
Vast numbers of visitors come to the Hill, especially at this time of year when advocacy groups arrange “fly-in” trips to lobby and speak to lawmakers, and school groups descend for tours.
Trump was meeting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Larry Kudlow and other aides when he returned to the White House about a range of economic actions he could take. He also invited Wall Street executives to the White House later in the week to discuss the economic fallout of the epidemic.
Kudlow, director of the president’s National Economic Council, told reporters Friday that the administration is not looking at a “massive” federal relief plan. Rather, any federal aid package would be “timely and targeted and micro.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill had barely started to contemplate the economic implications of the spread of the virus and what might be needed to stimulate the economy as people cancel vacations and business trips and stay away from stores. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is “exploring the possibility of targeted tax relief measures that could provide a timely and effective response to the coronavirus,” spokesman Michael Zona said Monday.
“Everything’s on the table,” Grassley told reporters.
Democrats indicated they preferred other responses, like passing legislation requiring employers to give their workers paid sick leave — a longtime policy priority of Democrats — and additional help for those with lower incomes.
“The best way to ensure economic security for the American people right now is to deal with the coronavirus itself, competent and full on,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “Something we haven’t yet seen. Getting a handle on the crisis and containing the spread of the virus is by far the best way to address any effects on the economy.”
A day after saying it was “proceeding as normal,” Trump’s campaign cancelled a three-day Women for Trump bus tour across Michigan that included Mercedes Schlapp, the former White House aide who is married to the American Conservative Union chairman, Matt Schlapp.
Schlapp is under self-quarantine after after he, too, was exposed to the infected person at CPAC. He introduced Trump and greeted him with a handshake on stage before the president’s spoke on Feb. 29.
“The president of the United States, as we all know, is quite a hand washer,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News. “He uses hand sanitizer all the time. So he’s not concerned about this at all.”