Trump was somewhat less dismissive of the virus yesterday. What will today bring?
Confronting sinking poll numbers and advice from White House officials and campaign aides that he needs to be seen as taking the coronavirus seriously if he wants to win re-election, President Trump on Tuesday returned to the briefing room, mask in hand but not on his face, and acknowledged that the outbreak “will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better.”
Mr. Trump’s statement could be seen as an admission of his weakening position in the presidential race against Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has held a nearly double-digit lead in an average of polls for more than a month.
Mr. Trump has rejected all public polls that show him losing as “fake polls,” and has claimed that he does not believe he is losing. But in reality, aides said, he is aware of his weakened status and coming to grips with the need for a reset.
The shift is nothing new: Mr. Trump’s presidency can be seen as a succession of resets (often at the advice of staff) followed by revert-to-form relapses (often on Twitter). The pattern was established in early 2017 when he followed up his conciliatory first address to Congress with an online tirade.
The question today: Will Mr. Trump stick with the new script, under pressure from panicked party leaders, or default back to defiance?
For months, Mr. Trump has tried to put the virus in the rearview mirror, focusing on reopening churches, schools and returning to the campaign trail, while also making it clear he does not think highly of his government’s guidelines to wear a mask in public. This week, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that it was, in fact, “patriotic” to wear a mask, a change of tone from a president who has been photographed wearing one exactly once.
His shift had its limits, however, as he again congratulated himself on his handling of the pandemic, admitted no missteps and made a number of dubious claims. He included none of his public health experts in the briefing and falsely asserted that he had never resisted wearing a mask.
So it remains to be seen whether he can stick to this new message of putting a slightly greater emphasis on the dangers of the health crisis, with record case numbers regularly emerging around the country. On Monday night, hours after he tweeted a picture of himself wearing a mask, Mr. Trump appeared at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a fund-raiser with his face uncovered, as he greeted supporters and aides indoors.
And while his briefing on Tuesday was shorter and more subdued than the two-hour sessions he held in March and April, it is unclear whether he can keep them brief and on topic as he goes forward.
There was no presidential briefing scheduled for Wednesday, but the president indicated he planned to do them on a semiregular basis going forward.
Former President Barack Obama had his first face-to-face — at times mask-to-mask — interaction with Mr. Biden of the pandemic earlier this month, and a video of their “wide-ranging conversation” will be posted online Thursday.
The meticulously socially distanced chat, shot about a week ago at Mr. Obama’s office in Washington, hit the themes both men have struck in their joint appearances online, including Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as systemic racism and the economy, the Biden campaign said.
A one-minute teaser video released Wednesday shows the two men arriving for their conversation, masks on, then talking to each other, masks off, while seated far apart.
“Can you imagine standing up when you were president and saying, ‘It’s not my responsibility, I take no responsibility’?” Mr. Biden says.
“Those words didn’t come out of our mouths while we were in office,” Mr. Obama replies.
It was the first time the two men saw each other in person since Mr. Biden secured the nomination this spring; they talk on the phone frequently as Mr. Obama ramps up his involvement in a campaign he sees as central not only to the country’s future but a defense of his own legacy.
The forthcoming conversation will be one of Mr. Obama’s most visible acts in the presidential race so far. Mr. Obama endorsed Mr. Biden in April, after the primary had effectively ended, and held a grass-roots virtual fund-raiser for him in June.
The two are planning another online fund-raiser next week, with tickets ranging from $250 to $250,000.
Mr. Trump’s deployment of federal agents to Portland, Ore., has led to scenes of confrontations and chaos that he and his White House aides have pointed to as they try to push a false narrative about Democratic elected officials allowing dangerous protesters to cause havoc.
At the same time, his re-election campaign is spending millions of dollars on ominous television ads that promote fear and dovetail with his message of “law and order.”
One new ad tries to tie its dark portrayal of Democratic-led cities to Mr. Biden — with exaggerated images intended to persuade viewers that lawless anarchy would prevail if Mr. Biden becomes president. The ad simulates a break-in at the home of an older woman and ends with her being attacked while she waits on hold for a 911 call.
So far, the campaign has spent almost $20 million over the last 20 days on that ad and two other similar ones, more than Mr. Biden has spent on his total television budget in the same time frame, and a relatively large sum for this stage of the race. Though the ads predate the federal actions in Portland, they convey a common theme of lawlessness under Democratic leadership.
“Clearly what they’re looking to do here is scare the living hell out of seniors,” said Pia Carusone, a Democratic ad maker. But, she said, the new Trump ad falls short in the realm of believability. “You’re making the assumption that the voter that you’re hoping to convince is going to relate and think that this could happen. And then you have to make the leap to blame Biden or the Democrats or whoever. And I think it fails that first test.”
Twitter is cracking down on QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
Twitter said Tuesday evening that it had removed thousands of accounts that spread messages about the conspiracy theory QAnon, saying their messages could lead to harm and violated company policy.
The social media giant said it would also block trends related to the loose network of QAnon conspiracy theories from appearing in its trending topics and search, and would not allow users to post links affiliated with the theories on its platform.
It was the first time that a social media service had taken sweeping action to remove content affiliated with QAnon, which has become increasingly popular on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It has also trickled into the mainstream of the Republican Party, with numerous congressional candidates this campaign cycle expressing support for the theory.
Mr. Trump has paved their way, repeatedly retweeting QAnon supporters and cheering on candidates who openly support the movement, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican House candidate in Georgia.
Over several weeks, Twitter has removed 7,000 accounts that posted QAnon material, a company spokeswoman said. The accounts had been increasingly active, and had been involved in coordinated harassment campaigns on Twitter or tried to evade a previous suspension by setting up new accounts after an old account was deleted.
An additional 150,000 accounts will be hidden from trends and search on Twitter, the spokeswoman added. The takedowns were reported by NBC News.
Mr. Trump’s White House briefing on Tuesday took an unusual detour when he offered warm words for Ghislaine Maxwell, who is facing federal charges of helping Jeffrey Epstein recruit, groom and sexually abuse girls.
Mr. Trump’s comment about Ms. Maxwell came in response to a reporter’s question about whether he expected her to go public with the names of powerful men who have been accused in lawsuits of taking part in the sex-trafficking ring that Mr. Epstein allegedly ran.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said. “I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly.”
“I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach,” the president continued, referring to the Florida town where his Mar-a-Lago resort is and where Mr. Epstein had a home. “But I wish her well, whatever it is.”
The remarks renewed attention on Mr. Trump’s ties to Mr. Epstein, who was charged with sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of girls and women and hanged himself in his jail cell last year.
Last July, Mr. Trump told reporters that he knew Mr. Epstein “like everybody in Palm Beach knew him” but that they had fallen out. “I haven’t spoken to him in 15 years,” he said. “I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you.” The circumstances of the apparent rupture in their relationship have never been made clear.
Those comments were a reversal from the opinion he expressed in 2002, when he told New York magazine that Mr. Epstein was a “terrific guy” whom he had known for 15 years.
“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Mr. Trump said then. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Mr. Epstein was never a dues-paying Mar-a-Lago member, but Mr. Trump treated him like a close friend and the men were photographed together at the club in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, one of the nation’s most prominent progressive lawmakers and a frequent target of Republicans, sought on Tuesday to turn a G.O.P. congressman’s insults to her advantage.
In a confrontation on Monday on the steps of the Capitol, which was reported by The Hill, the congressman, Ted Yoho of Florida, approached Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and told her she was “disgusting” for suggesting that poverty and unemployment were driving a rise in crime in New York City.
After a brief and tense exchange, The Hill reported, Mr. Yoho walked away from Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, uttering a pair of expletives.
She confirmed the exchange on Twitter, though a spokesman for Mr. Yoho later denied that the congressman had called her any names, saying he had instead used a barnyard epithet to describe what he thought of her policies.
“He did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in The Hill or any name for that matter,” the spokesman, Brian Kaveney, said in an email. “Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her policies to be.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who arrived on Capitol Hill in 2019 with an outsize profile — a Hispanic progressive who is the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress — wrote on Twitter, “I never spoke to Rep. Yoho before he decided to accost me on the steps of the nation’s Capitol yesterday.”
She added: “Believe it or not, I usually get along fine w/ my GOP colleagues. We know how to check our legislative sparring at the committee door. But hey, ‘b*tches’ get stuff done.”
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the Republicans’ third-ranking House leader and a staunch conservative, has managed a tricky balancing act in a party that prizes total loyalty to the president, repeatedly breaking with him without drawing the ire of the right.
But on Tuesday that changed.
In an extraordinary closed-door meeting of House Republicans, more than a half-dozen of Mr. Trump’s most loyal supporters took aim squarely at Ms. Cheney.
What began with a complaint from Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida about Ms. Cheney’s recent support for a primary challenger to a sitting House Republican exploded into a full-blown pile-on that included accusations that Ms. Cheney was personally hurting Republicans’ chances of retaking the House with her defense of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert; her criticism of Mr. Trump’s policies in the Middle East; and other contrarian stances.
At least one lawmaker, Mr. Gaetz, called for her to step down as the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the position that has made her the highest-ranking Republican woman in Washington. And Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio flatly said that Republicans would be better served by a leader who was helping Mr. Trump instead of going after him.
Ms. Cheney punched back and departed with the apparent support of her fellow Republican leaders.
But the ugly familial showdown, which was described by four people in the room and was first reported by Politico, reflected a simmering power struggle and sour mood among Republicans. They are watching their electoral prospects sag and pondering their future in the minority, potentially without Mr. Trump in the White House — and looking for people to blame.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Luke Broadwater, Kate Conger, Nick Corasaniti, Nicholas Fandos, Maggie Haberman, Thomas Kaplan, Annie Karni, Glenn Thrush and Ed Shanahan.