Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
The conservative media had to really scramble this week to defend Donald Trump’s rambling soliloquy about possibly bringing a “tremendous light within the body” or injecting people with disinfectant to vanquish the coronavirus. First, they employed a go-to tactic: Carefully parsing Trump’s disjointed sentence fragments to claim that the media had fabricated the embarrassing story. But their “fact-checks” soon became moot when the White House first said that Trump was just being sarcastic and trolling the press and finally when they settled on the narrative that he had just been riffing off of some information experts had provided him shortly before the briefing.
It was a thankless task, as all of those things would have been equally inappropriate during a briefing that was ostensibly to convey important information to the public about a pandemic that’s killed over 50,000 Americans in the past two months.
It got even worse on Friday, when The Guardian reported that “the leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week. In his letter, Mark Grenon told Trump that chlorine dioxide – a powerful bleach used in industrial processes such as textile manufacturing that can have fatal side-effects when drunk – is ‘a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body.’ He added that it ‘can rid the body of Covid-19.'”
Almost all prominent Democrats–from Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden to Nancy Pelosi–responded by using their platforms to warn the kind of people who believe Trump is a “very stable genius” not to drink bleach. This was clearly the responsible thing for serious people to do, and also emblematic of why Democrats seem to lose the messaging wars to their Republican counterparts so frequently.
What they should have done–and what the GOP surely would have done if their positions were reversed–was use Trump’s gibberish as an opportunity to force a national debate about the mental acuity of the guy holding the nuclear codes and his basic fitness to govern the nation during a historic crisis.
If every elected Democrat, from small-town mayors to the Speaker of the House, called on Trump to resign or demanded that his cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office–and if every liberal or progressive media outlets echoed those calls–the mainstream press would cover it like any other partisan controversy–by offering both sides of the argument. They’d quote psychologists and presidential historians and other relevant experts to support the argument that Trump is totally bonkers, and Republicans would be cornered into defend Trump’s nonsense. Pundits and editorial boards would have to weigh in.
Obviously, this wouldn’t lead Republicans to abandon Trump, or to conclude that he’s lost it, but simply having that debate would be salutary in an election year and would force Trump out of his comfort zone and off of his preferred talking-points.
Most of this week’s roundup consists of stories about how those with connections to Trump are using the pandemic to loot the treasury.
A digital technology company that specializes in the mass collection of smartphone location data and is working for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign received millions from the federal coronavirus relief fund for small businesses.
The company, Phunware, which now has about 60 employees, was eligible for the low-interest loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, which is aimed at businesses with less than 500 workers. There is no allegation of illegality associated with its loan.
But the size of the loan — $2.85 million — is nearly 14 times the current PPP average of $206,000. Meantime, hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses got nothing, because the nearly $350 billion loan program ran out of money in just two weeks. (Congress is allocating another $310 billion to the PPP loan fund this week.)
In late March, real estate investment firm Ashford Inc. was on the verge of financial ruin. But it had an ace in the hole: a pair of D.C. lobbying firms stacked with Trump fundraisers and White House alumni.
A few weeks later, Ashford is now the top recipient nationwide of coronavirus relief aid from the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Act.
The Dallas-based Ashford does extensive business in the hotel industry through a pair of real estate investment trusts. Its chairman, Monty Bennett…. is a huge Trump donor.
In early March, Mike Bowen, the executive vice president of the medical mask manufacturer Prestige Ameritech, found the perfect way to drum up some federal business: He went on Steve Bannon’s podcast, which is highly popular at the White House…
A month later, at the explicit request of the White House, Prestige Ameritech had a $9.5 million contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency….
For the White House, the episode is a perfect example of how the president’s coronavirus task force cut through red tape to reward a domestic manufacturer at a time when supplies are limited and the task of obtaining them from overseas is fraught with rapidly rising trade barriers and the risk of receiving substandard products.
But it also shows something else: how Trump and his top aides have played favorites in awarding contracts and allocating scarce resources.
Using the unilateral authority of the White House, Trump and his aides have consolidated power in a period of national crisis, picking winners and losers based in part on personal relationships, ideological affinity and partisan loyalty.
Based on CREW’s review of his public financial disclosures, there is reason to be concerned that Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff, Marc Short, may be participating in the government’s coronavirus pandemic response while holding significant conflicting financial interests.
As Chief of Staff, Short manages the staff of the Vice President’s office. But the financial disclosure report he filed when he entered government in March 2019 shows he may own stocks in companies directly affected by the pandemic response that the Vice President’s office is leading.
When President Donald Trump revealed his guidelines for “opening up America again” last week…tucked near the bottom of the list, right above a warning that bars should stay closed, was a curious inclusion: gyms…
Their inclusion follows a last-minute lobbying push by an industry not known for flexing its muscles in Washington. While not every major company was part of the effort, conversations with 10 leaders in the fitness-club business reveal an influential network of relationships that kicked into gear over the past few weeks and helped move gyms to the front of the line — even to the surprise of many in the industry.
Noteworthy figures in events leading up to the President’s announcement include a Trump-loving fitness-center owner in Pennsylvania, Rudy Giuliani’s son Andrew, billionaire real-estate mogul Steve Ross and the US Surgeon General.
While many small businesses have found it difficult or impossible to get one of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loans, a company owned by a prominent Chicago family with close ties to the Trump administration was able to get a $5.5 million loan under the program, according to documents the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.
U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz, who was appointed in 2018, was then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign finance chair for Illinois in the 2016 presidential campaign. According to filings with the SEC, Gidwitz’s family owns the majority of Continental Materials Corp., which secured the 1% interest loan.
In other news, “The National Labor Relations Board has suspended all workplace union elections because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic…The indefinite postponement of all elections is likely to further hamper ongoing organizing and unionization efforts.”
And The Washington Post reports that the Trump regime is “planning to launch a sweeping effort in the coming days to repeal or suspend federal regulations affecting businesses.”
The White House-driven initiative is expected to center on suspending federal regulations for small businesses and expanding an existing administration program that requires agencies to revoke two regulations for every new one they issue, the two people said.
While the plan remains in flux, changes could affect environmental policy, labor policy, workplace safety and health care, among other areas.
Trump accused by ex-Defense Secretary of putting US on ‘the trail toward a dictatorship’
During an appearance on CNN on Friday morning, former Defense Secretary William Cohen - who also served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican -- denounced Donald Trump in no uncertain terms, saying his use of military personnel against anti-police brutality protesters is a sign he has set the country on the path to a dictatorship.
To emphasize his point, he later called Trump the "dictator-in-chief."
Speaking with host Jim Sciutto, Cohen didn't mince words after the CNN host noted that the president and his former attorney called the protesters "terrorists."
"What does it mean for you to hear a sitting president dismissing a whole range of protesters, who in fact were largely peaceful around the White House, dismissing a whole range of them as terrorists? What does that mean to you?" the CNN host asked.
Trump ‘crossed the line’ with the military this week — leading retired officers to revolt: former general
Appearing on CNN's New Day with host John Berman, retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute explained that Donald Trump finally went a bridge too far this week with retired military officials when his administration deployed military police to turn on peaceful protesters in a Washington D.C. park.
Speaking with the host, Lute -- who also served as U.S. ambassador to NATO -- said tension between the president and military officials has gradually increased over the past three and a half years, but that the past week's incidents led to a "tipping point."
After host Berman read off a list of high profile ex-military officials who have either criticized Trump or defended their former colleagues from attacks from the president, Lute was asked what had changed.
Trump is bleeding support from the only voters who have stuck with him since 2016
President Donald Trump is losing support from his evangelical base as he lurches from one crisis into another.
Numerous polls show that religious Americans, like most other Americans, disapprove of the president's performance, and that could imperil his re-election chances, reported the New York Times.
Nearly 80 percent of white evangelicals -- a group that's already shrinking as a share of the electorate -- approved of Trump's performance in March, but his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has bled 15 points from their support, according to a new poll from Public Religion Research Institute.