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U.S. Senate votes to confirm McConnell protege to influential appeals court

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to confirm a federal judge who is a protege of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to an influential appeals court in Washington.

FILE PHOTO: Judge Justin Walker is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be a U.S. circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool

Justin Walker, 38, won Senate approval to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit following a mostly party-line 51-42 vote.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican joining Democrats in voting against confirming the appointee of President Donald Trump.

Walker is being elevated from the U.S. District Court in Louisville, Kentucky, where he has been a judge since October.

Walker, a former academic, is close to McConnell. He was also a vocal ally of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation battle in the Senate in 2018.

Several Democratic lawmakers said during a May 6 confirmation hearing that Walker was too inexperienced for the job.

The D.C. Circuit is considered the second most powerful court in the country, in part because it handles many high-stakes challenges to federal regulations. Four of the current nine justices on the Supreme Court were previously D.C. Circuit judges.

Although based in Kentucky, where he has taught at the University of Louisville’s law school, Walker has Washington ties. He clerked for Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit, where Kavanaugh served for 12 years. He also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh replaced in 2018.

After Trump, a Republican, nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Walker frequently appeared on cable TV, including Fox News, talking up the nominee’s conservative credentials.

Walker defended his qualifications during last month’s hearing, saying “there is a long and rich tradition of academics being nominated” to federal appellate courts.

“We Kentuckians are sorry to lose Judge Justin Walker, but we’re very proud this brilliant and fair jurist will be serving our nation on the D.C. Circuit,” McConnell wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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Jean Kennedy Smith, last surviving sibling of JFK, is dead at 92

(Reuters) – Jean Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of slain President John F. Kennedy, who as U.S. ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s played a pivotal role in the Northern Irish peace process, died on Wednesday at age 92.

Kennedy Smith died at her home in Manhattan, her daughter Kym told Reuters, declining give a cause of death “to keep it private.”

The eighth of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Kennedy Smith was labeled “the shy Kennedy,” long finding herself in the shadow of her famous father and brothers, including U.S. Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy.

Her husband, Stephen Smith, was himself a trusted adviser who helped run the Kennedy family’s business interests, played a senior role in John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign and managed the presidential runs of Robert and Edward.

Kennedy Smith also played family matchmaker, introducing Robert in 1945 to her Manhattanville College classmate Ethel Skakel, whom he later married.

She got her introduction to politics helping with John’s 1946 campaign for Congress. In 1960, by then a wife and mother, Kennedy Smith traveled the country campaigning for him ahead of his narrow victory over Republican Vice President Richard Nixon to become America’s first Catholic president.

John F. Kennedy’s presidency ended tragically with his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas. Five years later, Kennedy Smith and her husband were at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Bobby, two years her senior, was gunned down after winning the California Democratic presidential primary.

Like the rest of her family, Kennedy Smith had already been no stranger to tragedy. Born on Feb. 20, 1928, in Brookline, Massachusetts, she was just 16 when her oldest brother, Joseph Kennedy Jr., was killed in World War Two. Four years later, her older sister Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy died in a plane crash.

She married Smith in 1956 and they settled in New York, where they raised four children. Her husband died of lung cancer in 1990 at age 63. A year later, she was in attendance in Florida at the rape trial of her son William Kennedy Smith, who was acquitted in a heavily publicized case that cast a darker light on the family once considered American royalty.

FILE PHOTO: Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of Senator Edward Kennedy, is seen during funeral services for her brother at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, Massachusetts August 29, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Kennedy Smith also helped care for brother Ted before he died of brain cancer in August 2009, just two weeks after the death of their older sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“It’s the philosophy of our family that you keep moving,” Kennedy Smith told USA Today in a 2010 interview, reflecting on her family losses. “You have to do things and look at the bright side of life — and remember them with love.”

STEPPING OUT OF THE SHADOWS

Kennedy Smith made her own leap into the spotlight in 1993 when she became U.S. ambassador to Ireland, 30 years after accompanying brother Jack on his triumphant visit to their family’s ancestral homeland. Nominated by President Bill Clinton at the suggestion of her brother Edward, she was determined to use the Dublin post, traditionally a sinecure for retired Irish-American politicians or business leaders, to advance the cause of peace in Northern Ireland.

Washington had long deferred to close ally London on efforts to end decades of sectarian violence in the North. But acting on signals that the Irish Republican Army was open to discussions about abandoning its armed struggle to end British rule in Northern Ireland, Kennedy Smith helped spearhead an Irish government-backed effort to secure a U.S. visa for Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing.

Despite fierce opposition from the UK government, Northern unionists loyal to Britain, and even many U.S. officials, Kennedy Smith enlisted the support of brother Edward in persuading Clinton to approve the visa in early 1994. A year later, the IRA declared a ceasefire, leading to negotiations that culminated in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that largely ended three decades of violence that killed more than 3,600 people.

While Kennedy’s five-year tenure in Dublin attracted its share of criticism, she won recognition from all corners as a catalyst for change. Irish journalist Tim Pat Coogan, who has written extensively about the IRA, said Kennedy Smith helped “change Irish history for the better.”

“Her courageous and determined diplomacy helped to bring peace to our island, built bridges, opened doors to all communities, and to all those striving for peace when peace was not a certainty,” Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland, said in a statement on Thursday.

She was awarded honorary Irish citizenship in 1998 for her efforts and told the Washington Post: “I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith during a ceremony at the White House in Washington February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing

For her diplomatic and philanthropic work, including founding Very Special Arts, an organization for the developmentally disabled, Kennedy Smith in 2011 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. In 2016, she published her memoir, “The Nine of Us,” about growing up in one of America’s most famous families.

“We all pitched in for each other. That’s the way we were growing up, and that’s the way we went into history,” Kennedy Smith told Parade magazine. “We were always together. Our best friends were our brothers and sisters.”

(This story corrects the year of Ted Kennedy’s death to 2009 in paragraph 10)

Reporting by Peter Cooney and Gabriella Borter; additional reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio

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Juneteenth, reparations and African-American history with Keisha N. Blain

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ahead of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the holiday marking the abolition of slavery in the United States, Lauren Young and Arlene Washington of Reuters spoke with Keisha N. Blain, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and president of the African American Intellectual History Society, as part of our #AskReuters Twitter chat series.

Below are edited highlights.

Arlene Washington: Can you talk about the Black women activists who paved the way for this moment in time?

KB: I think Black women have always been at the forefront of social and political movements in the U.S. and across the globe. We have not always recognized their work but they have always been there working nonetheless, sometimes behind the scenes.

I think about someone like Jo Ann Robinson who organized the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott with others in the Women’s Political Council. We still tend to focus on Martin Luther King Jr. He is significant but Robinson and others paved the way.

AW: What is the history of Juneteenth as well as the added significance this year?

KB: Juneteenth represents the day (June 19, 1865) that enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had actually gone into effect two and a half years earlier, so the news had been delayed.

Juneteenth effectively marks the end of slavery in the United States. African-Americans have been celebrating this date for decades.

The developments of the past few weeks are painful reminders that we can’t be complacent in the continued struggle for Black rights and freedom. The enslavement of Black people in the U.S. may have ended but the legacies of slavery still shape every aspect of Black life.

I think it’s great to see companies declaring Juneteenth a holiday on Friday, but when workers return on Monday, what exactly will change in these spaces? I think we love symbols as a nation, but I would like to see more tangible steps to bring about necessary change.

LY: Should African-Americans receive reparations?

KB: Yes. I recognize that this would not be easy to facilitate, but we should not shy away from doing so simply because it’s not ‘easy.’ Anything worth fighting for will be challenging. History has taught us that.

I would encourage others to take the time to read the works of economists such as Sandy Darity and Darrick Hamilton. They have presented some concrete and compelling ideas for how this can – and should – be done.

AW: What gives you hope now?

KB: It’s encouraging to see so many people – of all races and backgrounds – standing in support with Black people at this moment. I love the fact that this is a global movement. And I think if we keep pushing, we will win in the end.

Editing by Lauren Young and Rosalba O’Brien

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Democrats consider next steps after Bolton revelations on Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic lawmakers on Thursday said they were considering next steps, including a subpoena, on how to respond to allegations by former top White House aide John Bolton that President Donald Trump sought foreign help to get re-elected.

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton speaks during a lecture at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, U.S. February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

In a new book that paints a withering portrait of his ex-boss, the former national security adviser accused Trump of sweeping misdeeds that included explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aid in winning a second term in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Republican president rejected the book as a “compilation of lies” and called his former adviser a “sick puppy” who was trying to avenge his firing.

Bolton refused to testify in the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment probe and threatened to sue if subpoenaed, but he offered to testify in the subsequent Senate trial. The Republican-controlled Senate did not take Bolton up on his offer.

Democrats were angry that Bolton saved his revelations for a book, rather than participate in the probe.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry late last year, sharply criticized Bolton as unpatriotic for withholding the information.

“We will continue to hold Trump accountable, and work to expose his abuses and corruption. In the coming days, we will be consulting with the Speaker and other chairs on next steps,” he said in a statement.

The new allegations, Schiff said, are “further proof” that Trump’s actions in Ukraine are part of a pattern of abusing his power and the U.S. government for personal political gain.

Asked whether the Democratic-led House would consider subpoenaing Bolton now, U.S. Representative James Clyburn said, “I think that’s something we ought to consider.”

Clyburn told CNN that Bolton cannot claim executive privilege and should “come down and let the American people know that this election this year is under threat of being invaded once again by a foreign power.”

Bolton, who left the White House in September, also said Trump expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations to favor dictators he liked, according to excerpts published in several major newspapers on Wednesday.

The allegations include far more extensive accusations of impropriety than those that drove Trump’s impeachment.

“I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Bolton told ABC News in an interview aired on Thursday.

The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday sued to block Bolton from publishing the book.

In the memoir, Bolton cited multiple conversations in which Trump demonstrated behavior “that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency.”

“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election,” Bolton told ABC News.

Trump told China’s Xi in June 2019 to go ahead and build camps for its mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups despite the Trump administration’s criticism of China’s mass detention.

Bolton also wrote that Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool” even as the U.S. government has said it does not favor using force to topple Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

At a summer 2019 meeting in New Jersey, Trump made some of his most alarming remarks to date on the media, saying journalists should be jailed so they have to divulge their sources and “should be executed,” Bolton said, according to one excerpt.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis

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Bolton says Trump unfit for office as book alleges sweeping misdeeds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said the U.S. president is unfit for office, according to interview excerpts released on Thursday after portions of the top aide’s upcoming book revealed a withering portrayal of his ex-boss.

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton speaks during a lecture at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, U.S. February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

“I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Bolton told ABC News in an interview. “I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job.”

The longtime foreign policy hawk, who left the White House in September, accused the president of sweeping misdeeds in order to seek re-election, including explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help, according to portions of his behind-the-scenes account.

Trump also expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations to favor dictators he liked, Bolton said in excerpts published in several major newspapers on Wednesday that allege far more extensive accusations of impropriety than those that drove Trump’s impeachment.

Trump, a Repulican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, bristled at the allegations and slammed Bolton’s character, calling his former adviser a “liar” and a “dope.”

The U.S. Justice Department has sued to block Bolton from publishing the book, citing risks to national security, but publisher Simon & Schuster dismissed the accusations and said the thousands of copies have already been distributed.

Excerpts were widely published in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

In the memoir, Bolton cited multiple conversations in which Trump demonstrated “fundamentally unacceptable behavior that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency.”

“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election,” Bolton told ABC News.

Trump told China’s Xi in June 2019 to go ahead and build camps for its mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups despite the Trump administration’s criticism of China’s mass detention.

Bolton also wrote that Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool” even as the U.S. government has said it does not favor using force to topple Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

At a summer 2019 meeting in New Jersey, Trump made some of his most alarming remarks to date on the media, saying journalists should be jailed so they have to divulge their sources and “should be executed,” Bolton said, according to one excerpt.

Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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Brussels adds George Floyd memorial to large mural collection

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Brussels added to its large collection of murals on Thursday with a newly commissioned work in memory of African-American George Floyd, whose killing by police has sparked global protests against racism and police violence.

Belgian-Congolese street artist NovaDead, whose real name is Julien Crevaels, completed the work in just over a week in a suburb near the canal that crosses the Belgian capital.

The mural on a street corner, stretching across two buildings, features the face of Floyd, some scenes of nature and two hands clasping a rose.

“For me this picture could be a reminder of the absurdity, as I see it, of racism and the absurdity of such violence over the difference of colour,” Crevaels told Reuters TV.

The Black Lives Matter protests have extended to Belgium and sparked calls for statues of King Leopold II to be removed. The king is known for his brutal colonial rule in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1885-1908.

There are flecks of vivid pink, purple and orange on the face of Floyd but generally grey, a colour city resident Crevaels says he uses in all his depictions of people, whatever their race.

“I always use the same range of grey and it functions very well. It’s really to create this unity of human beings,” said the artist, whose work also features on walls in France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Miami in the United States.

The wall itself is the property of the Brussels district of the Belgian capital, which wanted a mural to honour all victims of racism. The district, which includes the city centre, has some 150 murals, including other NovaDead works.

Reporting by Bart Biesemans and Christian Levaux; writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Gareth Jones

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Months before election, Trump finds himself at odds with most Americans’ views

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The temporary fences that separated protesters from the White House have come down. But its occupant, President Donald Trump, appears to be more isolated than ever.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing an executive order on police reform at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Recent opinion surveys, including a poll from Reuters/Ipsos this week, continue to show Trump trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden significantly with just over four months until the Nov. 3 election.

But more revealingly, they show a president increasingly disconnected from the American electorate whose views have changed rapidly following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.

The lightning-quick shift in public opinion has caused the National Football League and NASCAR to embrace athletes protesting racial injustice, and some companies to rename brands criticized for racial stereotypes, such as PepsiCo Inc’s (PEP.O) Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup.

Trump takes the less-popular side of issues that Americans right now say matter, such as the coronavirus pandemic and police reform, according to an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos polling data since March.

It also shows him steadily bleeding support among a broad swath of voters, even ones that have been most loyal to him such as rural Americans and white evangelicals.

Biden now has a 13-point lead over Trump, the biggest recorded by the Reuters/Ipsos poll since Democrats began their state nominating contests earlier this year, powered by substantial gains among suburban residents, independents and high-income earners.

Even traditionally Republican-leaning groups – men, white suburban women and those older than 55 – have recently flipped for Biden, the polling analysis shows. Trump led elderly voters until May.

Several former White House officials said the president needed to demonstrate more that he understood black people’s challenges in the United States.

“He does need to be more open to (the) legitimate concerns that a lot of minorities and African Americans are facing,” one official said, asking not to be named to speak freely.

Trump’s supporters said there was plenty of time to turn things around, and a likely economic rebound would bolster his re-election bid just in time for November.

Record upside surprises in U.S. economic data in recent weeks have raised expectations for a “V” shaped recovery from the COVID-19 recession that sent unemployment soaring.

But Trump’s apparent reluctance to try to unite a country convulsed by multiple crises, instead endearing himself further to his base of hardcore supporters, would leave him with the economy as his last saving grace, experts say.

In one silver lining for the president, 43% of registered voters in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll said they thought Trump would be a better steward of the economy than Biden, while 38% said Biden would be better. 

“His continued focus on his base is costing him among a handful of moderate Republicans and independents,” said John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who reviewed the polling data. “If this trend continues, this election could end up being very lopsided against the incumbent.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to the poll findings. But Trump has insisted on Twitter he is aligned with the nation’s values, saying his supporters are part of a “silent majority” – a phrase used by Republican President Richard Nixon 50 years ago during a similar period of social unrest.

AGAINST THE GRAIN

The numbers tell a different story.

While polls show nearly two thirds of respondents sympathize with the protesters over police brutality, Trump has openly flirted with deploying the military to “dominate” them. Earlier this month, police in Washington forcibly removed peaceful protesters so that Trump could pose for photographs in front of a church near the White House.

Trump has also rejected growing calls for sweeping police reform proposals in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows 82% of Americans want to ban police from using chokeholds, 83% want to ban racial profiling, 92% want federal police to be required to wear body cameras and 91% support allowing independent investigations of police departments that show patterns of misconduct.

None of those measures were included in a police reform measure Trump signed this week.

Trump dismissed the threat of the coronavirus early on, and sparred with state governors as they tried to slow its spread. He will resume his signature rallies on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as new COVID-19 cases are spiking in the state and 76% of Americans remain concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.

A fresh reminder of Trump’s disconnect came on Monday, when his handpicked choice for the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, penned a landmark decision that granted protection against workplace discrimination to gay and transgender workers. Just last week, Trump’s administration moved to strip healthcare protections from transgender patients.

LOSING RELEVANCE?

Trump has always walked the razor’s edge as a candidate. “His presidency has never been in tune with majority opinion in this country,” Geer said.

But Trump was able to position himself in 2016 as an anti-establishment insurgent, stoking the fears of white working-class voters about jobs leaving the country and an influx of immigrants. That helped him win the state-based Electoral College count, which determines the presidency, even though he lost the popular vote.

Trump’s long-standing pledge to crack down on immigration has been pushed off center stage, however, as the coronavirus and the economy became chief concerns. Even among Republicans, only 8% say immigration is their top concern in the latest poll, a big drop from January 2019, when 34% of Republicans listed it as the most important problem facing the country.

Analysts also say that kind of grievance-centered politics geared toward white Americans may have lost relevance amid a reckoning over the injustices faced by African Americans – and that as president, Trump has struggled to find others to blame for the state of the nation.

Between April and June, Trump’s approval rating among white evangelicals dropped 11 percentage points. Approval among rural voters tumbled 14 points over the past month, with more than half saying they are sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter protesters.

Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, said that the party was bracing for a “very bad” year in 2020, with Trump’s poll numbers affecting other key races in the Senate and down the ballot. But he added that November was not a foregone conclusion.

“Five months is a long time in politics,” he said.

Graphic – Turning away from Trump: here

Reporting by James Oliphant, Chris Kahn and Jeff Mason; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney

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China says it has no intention of interfering in U.S. elections

FILE PHOTO – Former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton adjusts his glasses during his lecture at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, U.S. February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Thursday it has no intention of interfering in the U.S. elections, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, who has said that Trump had sought Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help to win re-election.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the remarks when asked about Bolton’s accusation, made in an excerpt from his book published by the New York Times.

Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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B&G Foods to review Cream of Wheat brand amid debate on racial inequality

LONDON (Reuters) – B&G Foods (BGS.N) is reviewing the packaging of its Cream of Wheat porridge, becoming the fourth brand with an African American mascot to take the step amid a national debate over racial inequality in the United States.

The U.S. brand, featuring a black man in a chef’s hat, made the announcement after news that PepsiCo (PEP.O) was dropping the name and image of Aunt Jemima on its pancake mix and syrup.

“We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism,” B&G said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Other brands under review are Uncle Ben’s rice, owned by Mars Inc, and Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, owned by ConAgra (CAG.N).

Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Mark Potter

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COVID-19 cases surge in Oklahoma, other states ahead of Trump’s Tulsa rally

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Several U.S. states including Oklahoma reported a surge in new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, days before a planned campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Tulsa that would be the nation’s largest indoor social gathering in three months.

An uptick in coronavirus cases in many states over the past two weeks, along with rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, reflected a troubling national trend that has seen daily U.S. infection numbers climbing after more than a month of declines.

Oklahoma reported a record 259 new cases over the previous 24 hours, while Florida reported more than 2,600 new cases and Arizona more than 1,800 – the second-highest daily increases for those two states.

In Arizona, where doctors, nurses and health administrators called for making face coverings mandatory statewide in public places, Governor Doug Ducey said he would let local officials decide whether to impose such rules and how to enforce them.

“If you do go out, wear a mask. It’s the smart thing to do,” he said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego immediately tweeted that a vote on a proposed ordinance to require face masks outdoors in the nation’s fifth-largest city would go on the agenda for the city council’s next meeting.

Texas reported 3,100 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, its biggest single-day tally yet, along with another all-time high for COVID-19 hospitalizations – nearly 2,800 patients. That marks the sixth straight day in which the number of patients currently admitted for the highly contagious respiratory virus has reached record numbers in Texas.

While Texas has not reported how many of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients are admitted to intensive care units, 1,500 ICU beds are available statewide, a state website here said.

The daily count of infections also hit a new benchmark in California, with more than 4,000 cases recorded statewide on Wednesday. Los Angeles County alone reported its largest daily increase, over 2,100 new cases, though several hundred were attributed to a backlog in test results released all at once.

Trump’s political team, meanwhile, forged ahead with plans for a campaign rally on Saturday in Tulsa, his first such event since stay-at-home restrictions were imposed across much of the country in March to fight the coronavirus.

Public health experts worry that assembling thousands of shouting, chanting people inside an arena – particularly if many aren’t wearing masks – could turn the rally into a coronavirus “super-spreader event.”

Trump, in a Fox News interview on Wednesday, repeated an assertion he has made in the past that the coronavirus, with or without the advent of a vaccine or new effective treatment, is “fading away.”

“It’s going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice, and that’s going to happen,” he added.

Trump’s campaign advisers see the rally as a chance to rejuvenate his political base after a string of national and state opinion polls showed the president trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said during a briefing on Wednesday that state officials were doing their utmost to ensure that the event is “safe as possible.”

Oklahoma health officials recommend anyone attending the rally to get tested for the coronavirus before arriving, then to self-isolate afterward and get tested again. The health commissioner urged those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 – senior citizens and people with chronic underlying health conditions – to stay home.

Biden accused Trump of “surrendering” to the coronavirus pandemic and failing to stay prepared for a resurgence that could put a U.S. economic recovery at risk.

HOSPITALS FILLING

In most of the states where cases are spiking, COVID-19 hospitalizations are also rising or at record highs. Unlike increases in new infections, rising hospitalizations cannot simply be attributed to greater testing.

In Arizona, 83% of intensive care beds are occupied, a record high, according to a state website here The outbreak has alarmed the hard-hit Navajo Nation. The Navajo reservation – overlapping parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico – reinstated a weekend-long curfew that closes even essential businesses like grocery stores and gas stations.

In Florida, some of the increase has been linked to newly reopened bars, making for easy virus transmission. In one case, 16 friends who celebrated a birthday at a bar without wearing masks all tested positive, according to media reports.

Texas has also pointed to bars as one cause of its current outbreak. In Oregon, over 200 new cases were tied to events at a single church.

For the United States as a whole, more than 2.1 million people are known to have been infected to date, including 117,000 who have died from COVID-19, by far the most of any country in the world.

(Open tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)

For a graphic on Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.:

FILE PHOTO: Bar manager at The Jackalope talks with agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission as they check that bars are maintaining social distancing protocols to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the first day that bars in Texas were allowed to reopen after they were shut down in March, in Austin, Texas, U.S. May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Nuri Vallbona

here

For a graphic on COVID-19 cases surging in Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma:

here

Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Peter Szekely in New York, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, Ernest Scheyder in Tusla, Oklahoma, and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Leslie Adler; Editing by Bill Berkrot