September 20, 2020

A New Reason for Coronavirus Anxiety

Trump tries out a new tone, and Biden unveils a major proposal to support caregivers. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that the country’s official statistics were significantly lowballing the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

  • Across the nation, the actual number of infected people has been anywhere from two to 13 times as high as the reported rates, depending on the region, according to new data published by the C.D.C.

  • “These data continue to show that the number of people who have been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 far exceeds the number of reported cases,” Dr. Fiona Havers, the C.D.C. researcher who led the study, said in an email.

  • The United States now tests roughly 700,000 people each day, out of a population of roughly 330 million. But with roughly 40 percent of people infected by the virus showing no symptoms, the study’s findings highlight the need to increase testing levels to contain the viral spread in parts of the country.

  • The news comes just a week after the Trump administration wrested control of virus data from the C.D.C., putting the Department of Health and Human Services in charge of collecting numbers from hospitals about patients, available beds, ventilators and more.

  • Joe Biden yesterday unveiled a $775 billion plan to create jobs for caregivers and increase access to affordable home health care workers. “Families are squeezed emotionally and financially,” Biden said in a speech near his home in Delaware. “They need help, but too often they can’t afford it.”

  • The health care sector is the largest employer in the country, and a huge chunk of those jobs belongs to domestic caregivers. But there is still a need for more: For one thing, about 800,000 Medicaid recipients are on a waiting list for home and community care.

  • Beyond that, tens of millions of Americans — predominantly women — provide caregiving work each year without receiving compensation.

  • The Biden proposal seeks to address each of these issues in varying ways. It would fund 150,000 new community health care jobs, end the Medicaid waiting list, and give tax breaks and Social Security credits to informal caretakers who don’t work in order to care for a family member.

  • Trump yesterday instructed the federal government to exclude undocumented immigrants when allotting House seats to each state after this year’s census results come in.

  • The move would exclude millions of people, largely racial and ethnic minorities. It counteracts longstanding federal policy, which has been to count all census respondents regardless of citizenship or legal status. In a memo to the Commerce Department, Trump wrote that “the radical left is trying to erase” the idea of citizenship,

  • Last year, the Supreme Court blocked Trump from adding a citizenship question to the census, ruling that the administration’s reasoning “appears to have been contrived.”

  • Republicans have reached an agreement on their opening terms as they step into negotiations with House Democrats on the next round of coronavirus stimulus legislation.

  • But among themselves, Republicans acknowledge that these negotiations are likely to stretch into August, meaning that expanded unemployment insurance benefits would expire before the new bill is passed.

  • Republicans are seeking over $100 billion for schools, additional funding for a popular small-business loan program, and another round of checks to Americans, according to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. It is not clear whether the education funding would be tied to a requirement that schools fully reopen for in-person classes, as Trump has insisted.

  • McConnell said he would also demand that the stimulus bill include liability protections for businesses that have reopened during the pandemic, something Democrats have staunchly opposed.

  • Twitter is taking aim at QAnon, the elaborate conspiracy theory whose followers are among Trump’s most extreme supporters. The social media company has banned over 7,000 accounts associated with the movement in recent weeks.

  • Yesterday Twitter announced that it would stop recommending accounts and content related to QAnon, and would limit the reach of such content on its trending search pages.

  • According to the beliefs of QAnon followers, Trump is the hero in a plot to overthrow the so-called deep state, a cabal of intelligence officials, politicians and media elites.

  • QAnon followers have been involved in armed standoffs, kidnappings and killings. The conspiracy theory was designated as a domestic terrorism threat by the F.B.I. last year. Many of the accounts that Twitter suspended had been involved in coordinated harassment campaigns, the company said.

  • The movement has begun to seep into the Republican Party mainstream, and a number of congressional candidates this year have openly embraced it.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump at his White House news conference yesterday.

It was a presidential briefing all right, just like the ones he’d held in the spring. But something felt oddly different about the president yesterday evening. He seemed almost — dare we say it — calm.

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Updated 2020-07-22T23:33:29.808Z

The president spoke to reporters yesterday evening at the White House in the first of what he said would be regular coronavirus briefings, returning to the format after a nearly three-month hiatus. He shelved the briefings in late April after aides expressed concern that his unmoored, pugilistic appearances — viewed by millions of Americans each day — might be harming his political standing.

Yesterday, at least, that dogfighting tone was almost entirely gone. The prideful, race-baiting persona who spoke beneath Mount Rushmore over the Fourth of July weekend was gone, too — almost.

Trump continued to refer to the disease as “the China virus,” and he later said it “should have never been allowed to escape China.” At another point, he seemed concerned that White House security guards might be more prone to spreading the virus than white-collar employees. And, OK, there was also the moment when he offered well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, the accused co-conspirator of Trump’s disgraced former friend Jeffrey Epstein.

But otherwise, the president spoke in relatively measured tones, promising to “shield the vulnerable” while offering guarantees of international cooperation. “The relationship with other countries has been very strong, we’re all working together,” he said.

Trump departed from his typical habit of insisting the virus was entirely under control, acknowledging that there were “things that we can do better on” and saying: “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better. Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”

And rather than letting the event roll on for over an hour, jousting with reporters and lobbing insults at them as he often did in the spring, Trump took only a few questions and wrapped things up before the half-hour mark.

When asked about his recent reversal on mask-wearing, he said: “I’m getting used to the mask. The reason is, think about patriotism. Maybe it is. It helps.”

A major caveat to all of this: Trump has briefly moderated his tone many times in the past, only to fall back into old habits.

But at least for the moment, it seems that he may have finally decided that, after months of antagonistically questioning health experts and downplaying the virus’s threat, he needs a course correction — at least in terms of optics, if not policy. Polling certainly suggests as much: Since the onset of the pandemic, wide majorities of Americans have said they want to emphasize caution, and since the spring, Trump’s average approval rating on handling the virus has dropped from being about even to nearly 20 percentage points in the red.

The questions are whether he can maintain the new level of poise and whether it will be enough to win back persuadable voters — many of whom started out the pandemic giving him the benefit of the doubt, before growing disillusioned as the spring stretched into summer.

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