Live reporting on the coronavirus in the US continues on Monday’s blog:
Here’s a look at today’s major news items …
- White House blocks Fauci testimony as Trump welcomes Senate return. The administration said it would be ‘counterproductive’ for senior member of the taskforce to discuss response in House hearing.
- Protests sweep California as governor promises changes to lockdown. Gavin Newsom said state would announce changes in coming days, but that move was motivated by data, not political resistance.
- Tara Reade says she didn’t explicitly accuse Biden of assault in report. The former Senate staffer who alleges Joe Biden sexually assaulted her 27 years ago has said she filed a limited report with a congressional personnel office that did not explicitly accuse him of sexual assault or harassment.
- New York mother dies after raising alarm on hospital neglect. Amber Rose Isaac died less than four days after tweeting that she should write an exposé on ‘dealing with incompetent doctors’.
Donald Trump has appeared to confirm that Kim Jong Un is “alive and well” after weeks of speculation over the North Korean leader’s health.
“I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!” Trump wrote, quote-tweeting North Korean state media photos of Kim attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory.
The photos appear to document Kim’s first public appearance in more than three weeks.
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has reiterated his denial of Tara Reade’s allegations in an interview with MSNBC’s Al Sharpton that was recorded on Friday night but aired this afternoon.
“It’s not true,” Biden said. “I’m saying unequivocally, it never happened, period. Believing a woman means taking her claim seriously when she steps forward and then vetting it, looking into it. That’s true in this case as well. Women have a right to be heard and the press should rigorously investigate the claims like these and I’d always uphold those principles. But in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters. And in this case, the truth is these claims are false.”
Biden went on to field a number of topics in the wide-ranging interview, including a harsh criticism of the armed protesters in Michigan who gathered inside the state capitol in protest of Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown orders.
“They’re armed and I’m told one or two of them had Nazi flags or Confederate flags – I don’t know which it was, I can’t swear to that, I didn’t see it,” Biden said. “Such an attempt to intimidate is just beyond the pale and the president should be speaking out and say it’s totally inappropriate to … intimidate a governor who is doing one heck of a job. She’s listening to the scientists, she’s listening to the docs, she’s listening to the experts and that’s her judgment and it should be sustained and not have a bunch of people coming in, in numbers, with loaded weapons sitting in the hallways of the legislative body.”
A man in Florida has been arrested after he was discovered quarantining on a shuttered Disney World island, telling authorities it felt like a “tropical paradise.”
Richard McGuire, 42, was found by Orange County sheriff’s deputies Disney’s Discovery Island on Thursday, telling authorities that he began camping on the island earlier in the week.
“Richard stated that he had made entry to the island to go camping on Monday or Tuesday and had planned on staying on the island for approximately one week,” the police report said.
McGuire claimed that he didn’t know the island, once the site of a zoological park before it was closed to the public in 1999, was restricted despite the closed gates and multiple “no trespassing” signs in the vicinity. “Richard stated that he was unaware of that and that it looked like a tropical paradise,” the report stated.
Orange County Marine deputies on Bay Lake said they used a public address system to tell McGuire he was not allowed to be on the property after his presence was discovered, but the Alabama native claimed he didn’t hear them because he was asleep in a building.
McGuire was arrested on a trespassing charge, banned from all Disney properties and taken to jail without incident.
Disney World has been shut down since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tara Reade, the former Senate staffer who alleges Joe Biden sexually assaulted her 27 years ago, has disputed today’s Associated Press story in which she was quoted as saying her original report against the Democrats’ presumptive presidential candidate did not accuse him of assault.
“This is false,” she said on Twitter, referencing the AP story pushing several hours earlier.
Reade had spoken with the wire service after it had discovered transcripts and notes from interviews with the former Biden staffer last year in which she said she “chickened out” after going to the Senate personnel office.
“I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable,” Reade said. “I know that I was too scared to write about the sexual assault.”
Reade did not specify which elements of the AP story were incorrect beyond her three-word tweet, though she did follow up shortly after with another brief statement.
“No survivor be fearful to come forward,” she tweeted. “And I did file a complaint.”
As Florida’s leaders move to reopen beaches, restaurants and retail stores as part of the governor Ron DeSantis’s phase one, the state’s department of health confirmed 735 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday morning, bringing the overall total of confirmed cases to more than 35,000. The Miami Herald reports:
Saturday’s daily total of 35,463 brings the number of newly confirmed cases back under 1,000, which had been a weeklong trend until Friday’s report topped out at 1,038.
There were also 50 new deaths announced, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,364 — a bump of four more than the health department had reported on Friday morning. Of those latest deaths, 18 were in South Florida.
Nine more people died in Miami-Dade, bringing the county’s death toll to 367, the highest in the state. Five more people died in Broward, raising the county’s death toll to 204. Palm Beach County reported four new deaths, bringing the county’s count to 195. Monroe had held steady at three deaths in the Florida Keys.
The number of deaths being reported by the state Department of Health may be incomplete. The list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by Florida’s medical examiners has shown the death count was up to 10 percent higher than what the Florida Department of Health has released.
In addition to the 18 new deaths in South Florida’s tri-county area, the other 32 people who tested positive and died from Covid-19 were in Charlotte, Clay, Escambia, Flagler, Manatee, Nassau, Orange, Pinellas, St. Lucie, Suwannee and Volusia counties.
Of the statewide total of Covid-19 confirmed cases, 34,555 are Florida residents — a rise of 726 since Friday — and 908 are non-residents who were diagnosed or isolated in the state. That’s nine more non-residents in the count since Friday.
The question of when to reopen schools has been widely discussed over the last few weeks. The closing of schools has not only disrupted education but has also added strain on parents who must look after children who would usually be in a classroom. While fatality rates from Covid-19 are significantly lower among children than adults, Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, told CNN on Saturday that it is not just students who would be taken into consideration.
“One school with 500 individuals [is] connected to a quarter million people,” Beutner told CNN. “We don’t want the quarter million people bringing the virus into the school and the school to spread and be a petri dish to share with the rest of the community.”
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has discussed reopening the state’s schools in July or August. But Beutner said such a move would be complicated. “It’s not just as simple as spreading the desks apart,” he said.
There has been beautiful spring weather across much of the east coast today and the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds completed a flypast over several cities – including Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington DC – in tribute to healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drivers stopped on a freeway in Atlanta to observe the flypast but there were concerns that crowds, already boosted by the good weather, could help the spread of Covid-19. In DC, people flocked to the National Mall to watch the planes overhead.
The former Senate staffer who claims Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 says the original complaint against the Democrats’ presumptive presidential candidate did not accuse him of assault.
“I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable,” Reade told the Associated Press. “I know that I was too scared to write about the sexual assault.”
She added: “The main word I use – and I know I didn’t use sexual harassment– I used ‘uncomfortable.’ And I remember ‘retaliation.’”
The distinction is important because if the original report resurfaces it will not reflect her current allegation, that the former US vice-president sexually assaulted her.
Reade says that in 1993 Biden pushed her against a wall and assaulted her, penetrating her with his fingers. Three people close to Reade have said she mentioned the incident to them in the past. Last year, Reade and seven other women publicly accused Biden of gestures that made them uncomfortable. Reade did not then mention the alleged assault.
On Friday, in a Medium post, Biden said the claims “aren’t true. This never happened.” He also spoke to MSNBC, and appealed to the National Archives to find the complaint Reade mentioned. The Archives said it wouldn’t have the report, which it said would rest with the Senate.
The Trump campaign accused Democrats of a “double standard”, comparing their defence of Biden with their approach to a sexual assault claim against Trump supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in late 2018.
Trump has faced multiple claims of sexual misconduct and assault. At a White House briefing on Friday, new press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought to portray the claims, which the president denies, as old news.
Joe Biden has waded into the dispute between the US women’s national soccer team and the US Soccer federation.
On Friday, US district judge R Gary Klausne threw out the players’ unequal pay claim against US soccer’s governing body.
“Don’t give up this fight,” Biden wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “This is not over yet.” The presumptive Democratic candidate for president then turned his attention to US Soccer. “To @USSoccer: equal pay, now,” he wrote. “Or else when I’m president, you can go elsewhere for World Cup funding.”
In March 2019, 28 members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit in California seeking equal pay and treatment, in addition to damages of $66m including back pay. The group, which included some of the best players in the world such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, also sought compensation for any player who has appeared for the US since February 2015.
“We are shocked and disappointed with today’s decision, but we will not give up our hard work for equal pay,” Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the women’s players, said on Friday after the decision. “We are confident in our case and steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that girls and women who play this sport will not be valued as lesser just because of their gender.”
Klausne said the USWNT players had rejected a chance to be paid under the same terms as their male counterparts. “The history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players,” Klausner wrote.
The judge did, however, allow allegations that the USWNT were subject to discriminatory working conditions, and those claims will now go to trial in federal court next month. Klausner left intact allegations the USWNT players received inferior travel, accommodation and medical treatment compared to the men.
The US won the Women’s World Cup last summer, retaining the title they captured in 2015. The US men’s team, who have supported the USWNT lawsuit, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
CNN has revealed that Michael Caputo, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services and a staunch ally of Donald Trump sent multiple sexist and derogatory tweets over the last few years. He has since deleted them.
Caputo, who worked on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and is now central to the government’s messaging on Covid-19, called multiple women “dogface” and told another one to “go f**k yourself”. He called Alexandra Chalupa, a Democratic consultant, a “crone” and a “nutty hag”.
Caputo responded to CNN’s investigation by telling the broadcaster: “I stopped caring about what handwringing, virtue signaling leftists think of me after their 59th death threat against my family. Have fun with this while I’m fighting a deadly pandemic 24/7.”
Trump did not address the CNN story directly but did respond to a tweet from Caputo on Friday calling the president “a fearless man”. Trump wrote on Saturday: “Thank you Michael. You also!”
A Fox News reporter, John Roberts, has tweeted that a senior intelligence source tells him Covid-19 was created in a Wuhan lab.
The tweet lends support to a theory long put forth by Donald Trump, although the US president has repeatedly declined to provide details to back up his assertion.
In a follow-up tweet, Roberts said: “Sources say not all 17 intelligence agencies agree that the lab was the source of the virus because there is not yet a definitive “smoking gun”. But confidence is high among 70-75% of the agencies.”
On Thursday, a rare on-the-record statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated no such assessment has been made and continues to “rigorously examine” whether the outbreak “began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan”.
The organization that runs the Auschwitz memorial has condemned the appearance at an anti-lockdown rally in Chicago’s Loop district of a picket sign bearing a Nazi slogan displayed above the entrance of the concentration camp.
A demonstrator attending the rally, where hundreds of people protested against the state’s lockdown and social distancing measures, was photographed carrying a sign bearing the words “Arbeit macht frei, JB”.
The German phrase translates as “work sets you free”, with JB referring to the Illinois governor, JB Pritzker, who is of Jewish descent.
The font of both instances of the letter “B” on the picket sign bore a striking resemblance to the shape of the letter “B” on the sign above the gates of Auschwitz, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers, where more than 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered.
The official Auschwitz memorial Twitter account condemned the gesture, writing: “‘Arbeit macht frei’ was a false, cynical illusion the SS gave to prisoners of Auschwitz. Those words became one of the icons of human hatred. It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalised and used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral and intellectual degeneration.”
The New York Police Department has dispatched 1,000 officers this weekend to enforce social distancing amid warmer weather. The Associated Press reports:
Officers set out on foot, bicycles and cars to break up crowds and remind those enjoying the weather of public health restrictions requiring they keep 6 feet away from others.
“I believe with the warm weather people will come outside,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday. “You can’t stay indoors all the time. People will come outside and that’s great, go for a walk. But respect the social distancing and wear a mask.”
The New York City Police Department has made 60 arrests and issued 343 summonses related to social distancing since March 16.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea issued a stern warning after a series of clashes this week between police officers and members of Orthodox Jewish communities over social distancing.
“We will not tolerate it,” Shea said after community members flooded the streets for funeral processions. “You are putting my cops’ lives at risk and it’s unacceptable.”
Enforcement has its limitations when it comes to social distancing, police concede, leaving it up to New Yorkers to play by the rules to help keep infections on the downturn.
“You’ve got to get voluntary compliance,” Benjamin Tucker, NYPD’s first deputy commissioner,” said last month.
Most people are heeding officers’ warnings to keep their distance in parks and around essential businesses like grocery stores, Shea said.
But a stark example of non-compliance came Thursday when officers interrupted a crowded funeral procession in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood. Video posted to social media showed officers in protective masks chasing a minivan and shouting at dozens of people marching behind the van to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk.