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The Morning Dispatch: Trump Heads Home
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The Morning Dispatch: Trump Heads Home

Plus: The CDC gets with the times on aerosols, and the latest on an EU/UK trade squabble.

Happy Tuesday! As of now, tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris is still on—plexiglass divider and all—which means Steve, Jonah, David, and Sarah will be back on Dispatch Live breaking it all down after the debate concludes. Get all the details here, and we’ll see you tomorrow at around 10:40 p.m. ET. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 34,263 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 3.6 percent of the 956,394 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 345 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 210,155.

  • President Trump was discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday evening, returning home to the White House. Dr. Sean Conley, Trump’s physician, said the president’s condition is improving, but added that Trump is “not out of the woods yet.”

  • White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced on Monday that she tested positive for COVID-19, though she is not experiencing symptoms. Two of her press aides—Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt—have also tested positive for the virus.

  • The Centers for Disease Control updated its COVID-19 guidelines again on Monday, confirming that the virus can spread through the air, especially in enclosed and poorly ventilated areas where viral particles can sometimes linger for hours. “There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away,” the CDC’s website now says.

  • Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania and a principled conservative, announced on Monday he will not seek reelection or run for governor once his senate term ends in 2022. He plans to finish serving out his term, at which point he will return to the private sector.

  • Armenian officials accused the Azerbaijani government on Monday of launching missiles into the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of shelling several towns in Azerbaijan. Iran says it is working on a peace plan between the two aggrieved parties.

Trump Heads Home, and Other Virus News

Yesterday was another day of big developments on COVID-19. Let’s quickly run through three of them.

President Trump is home. The president announced in an afternoon tweet yesterday that he was feeling great and would be returning to the White House that very evening.

As we noted yesterday, Trump is still very much in the thick of his bout with COVID—he continues to be treated with the powerful steroid dexamethasone, among other things. But as far as his care is concerned, heading home to continue his COVID treatment isn’t necessarily the deeply inadvisable act that it would be for a regular American in his iffy condition. White House physician Sean Conley noted as much in his press conference yesterday: “He’s returning to a facility, the White House medical unit, that’s staffed 24/7 with top-notch physicians, nurses, PAs, logisticians. And the team here behind me is going to continue to support us in that nature.” 

The worst-case scenario here is just that Trump ends up having to troop right back to Walter Reed, which wouldn’t be a problem except from a White House messaging perspective. (Returning to the White House does potentially raise the threat of additional COVID spread among the staff who work there, unless President Trump proves more conscientious about keeping his germs to himself in private than he has been in public so far.)

What’s more concerning is what the tweet suggests about Trump’s takeaways from his brush with the virus. In a video posted Sunday, Trump said he’d “learned a lot about COVID” by “really going to school.”

“This is the real school, this isn’t the let’s-read-the-book school,” he said. “And I get it, I understand it.”

If his homecoming tweet is any indication, that understanding amounts to a renewed presidential conviction that the coronavirus is overblown. “Don’t let it dominate your life” might seem a strange thing for a president to say about a virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, but at this point it’s apparently the White House line.

Within the White House, the pandemic is spreading. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was the latest member of President Trump’s senior staff to test positive for COVID on Monday, although she says she remains asymptomatic. Despite prolonged contact with Hope Hicks in the days leading up to her diagnosis, McEnany elected not to isolate and even continued to appear in public and brief reporters without a mask.

“As an essential worker, I have worked diligently to provide needed information to the American People at this time,” McEnany said in a statement following her diagnosis. “With my recent positive test, I will begin the quarantine process and will continue working on behalf of the American People remotely.”

CNN also reported that two of McEnany’s deputies tested positive for the virus, as have two members of the White House residence staff.

The Centers for Disease Control finally acknowledged the role aerosol transmission plays in spreading the virus. Two weeks ago, the CDC sparked widespread confusion by posting—and then removing—guidance from its website that seemed to confirm what aerosol scientists have been saying for months: The coronavirus can at least sometimes be spread via airborne transmission. Yesterday, they posted new guidance confirming exactly that.

“Some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” the guidance reads. “These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.”

The CDC stated that such airborne transmission was seemingly taking place “within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation.” The guidance also stressed that, despite the update, it remains “much more common for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread through close contact with a person who has COVID-19 than through airborne transmission.”

The EU/UK Clash on Boris’s Internal Market Bill

The European Union announced last week the initiation of legal action against the United Kingdom to address the Internal Market Bill, which—by Britain’s own admission—would breach international law. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposed legislation would lay out a new economic blueprint for the U.K.’s four nations after its severance from the Single Market, but includes stipulations that violate the “Brexit” withdrawal terms.

The legal showdown is unfolding amid efforts by both parties to reach a new trade agreement to replace some of the economic ties between Britain and the European Union. Before the Brexit transition period expires at the end of this year, they hope to reach a mutually beneficial agreement to continue free trade. But according to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other critics, the Internal Market Bill overrides the EU’s ability to oversee trade between the U.K. and Northern Ireland.

“The commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the U.K. government. This draft bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement,” Von der Leyen said from Brussels on Thursday. “If adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland-Northern Ireland.”

“We’ve suffered a certain setback with the breaching of the agreement we reached on Northern Ireland,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday. “I have to say simply: That’s bitter.”

When Britain joined the then-European Economic Community in 1973, European trade laws replaced the prevailing economic systems of England, Wales, and Scotland. In an effort to promote unimpeded trade across the U.K., the Internal Market Bill includes a mutual recognition provision, ensuring that goods and services which can be sold in one member nation of the U.K. can be sold in another part. According to the EU, this portion of the bill violates the Withdrawal Agreement by promoting free trade between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mick Mulvaney—President Trump’s former chief of staff and current envoy to Northern Ireland—expressed Washington’s reservations about the bill in a trip through Ireland and Northern Ireland last week. “Concern would imply that we’re worried, and I don’t think we’re at that point yet,” he said on Monday. “I think the better choice of words is that it would break international law, not that it does. I read the thing, I think it’s accurately described as something that only kicks in if there isn’t a larger agreement.”

And indeed, Britain seems to be using the bill to leverage favorable trade terms with the European Union before the negotiation period closes. Johnson’s fear, officials report, is an agreement that allows the EU to disrupt trade between Northern Ireland and other nations of the U.K. “We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the U.K.’s internal market, ensure Ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process,” a British government spokesperson said.

For now, the EU’s letter threatening legal action doesn’t carry much weight. “Fundamentally, the EU action is logical as in its view the bill represents a violation of international law, but will probably not have much impact on the final phase of the negotiations,” Stefan Lehne, a former senior Austrian and European diplomat now with Carnegie Europe, told The Dispatch

“The start of infringement proceedings is largely a symbolic step. The proceedings run in parallel to the concluding phase of the negotiations and it will certainly take many months until the ECJ reaches a decision,” he continued. “If in the meantime an agreement is reached between the U.K. and the EU, the reasons for the legislation are no longer there. I assume the U.K. would withdraw it, as the European parliament would certainly not ratify the agreement unless it does so.”

Worth Your Time

  • American Purposea new magazine whose editorial board includes Francis Fukuyama, Eliot Cohen, Tyler Cowen, and Larry Diamond—launched on Monday with the stated purpose of defending liberal democracy at home and abroad while examining the “tensions within liberal democracy that leave it vulnerable to these attacks.” Fukuyuma wrote a founding essay of sorts, entitled “Liberalism and its Discontents,” that defines the boundaries of this debate. Noting the tensions between liberal ideology and unchecked democracy, he writes that the greatest threat to liberal democracy “arises from populists within existing liberal democracies who are using the legitimacy they gain through their electoral mandates to challenge or undermine liberal institutions.” Liberalism has “been repeatedly challenged by thick communitarians on the right and progressive egalitarians on the left,” he continues. While small-l liberals have much to learn from critics, Fukuyama argues liberalism is more necessary than ever “because it is fundamentally a means of governing over diversity, and the world is more diverse than it ever has been.”

  • For a look at why liberalism is facing particular threat in the United States, check out David Brooks’ latest essay in The Atlantic. Titled “America Is Having a Moral Convulsion,” Brooks’ piece outlines our declining trust in not only institutions, but each other. Citing already low levels of social cohesion—especially among the youngest generations—Brooks argues the tumultuous, tragic events of this year, from the pandemic to George Floyd’s death and nationwide protests, “flooded the ravines that had opened up in American society and exposed every flaw.” He writes that “social trust is a measure of the moral quality of a society,” and “under the stresses of 2020, American institutions and the American social order crumbled and were revealed as more untrustworthy still. We had a chance, in crisis, to pull together as a nation and build trust. We did not.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In Monday’s edition of The Sweep, Sarah explores the latest presidential polls, runs the numbers on both candidates’ campaign spending, and highlights two counties to keep an eye on as we approach November 3. Declan digs into the likelihood of President Trump receiving a sympathy bounce in the polls following his bout with COVID-19, and Audrey analyzes attack ads and their ability to persuade undecided voters.

  • The Supreme Court is back in session, and our Advisory Opinions podcast hosts are nerding out. On Monday’s episode, Sarah and David discuss the evolution of religious liberty and discrimination law, ongoing election disputes in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and the drama at the Texas attorney general’s office. Our hosts wrap things up by poking holes in the 25th Amendment and unpacking what happens when presidents die at different points in the cycle. Their constitutional exercise pairs nicely with Charlotte’s latest piece exploring the weaknesses of our country’s continuity-of-government measures.

  • Nic Rowan recently attended a Boaters for Trump rally in Virginia, and has written a great piece for the site about the experience. “As we plow down the river,” he writes, “Dan Draper tries to induct me into the movement. Boaters for Trump, he explains, is for everyone. You don’t even have to own a boat, or have access to a boat. Just loving the president is enough for membership.”

Let Us Know

The terrible (but understandable) news that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation will be delayed from December 2020 until October 2021 had us thinking: What was the last movie you saw in theaters during the Before Times? Audrey’s was 1917, James’ was Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Andrew’s was A Hidden Life, and Declan’s was The Invisible Man.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Saul Loeb/Getty Images.