Pence says looking at other venues for Trump Tulsa rally

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Officials are considering other venues in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for President Donald Trump’s first campaign rally since the coronavirus shutdown, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, as virus cases climb in Oklahoma and other states.

Pence acknowledged the health risks of bringing so many people together – the campaign said it had received more than 1 million ticket requests – during an interview with Fox News.

“It’s all a work in progress. We’ve had such an overwhelming response that we’re also looking at another venue. We’re also looking at outside activities, and I know the campaign team will keep the public informed as that goes forward,” Pence said. “But it’s one of the reasons that we’re going to do the temperature screening and we’re going to provide hand sanitizers and provide masks for people that are attending.”

Pence said officials were discussing options with Oklahoma’s governor.

The campaign rally will be Trump’s first since early March, when the coronavirus pandemic led to quarantines and the shuttering of the U.S. economy. Trump is seeking re-election in November against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“One of the reasons we chose Oklahoma is because Oklahoma has done such a remarkable job in reopening their state,” Pence said.

However, coronavirus infections are on the rise in the state, particularly around Tulsa. The city’s chief health officer has expressed concern about holding such a large indoor and said he wished the rally could be postponed.

An editorial in Tulsa’s largest newspaper said the rally will risk lives and bring no benefit to the city. It called Trump “a divisive figure” who is likely to attract protests and said there was no reason to think a rally would affect the November election in the state, which is heavily Republican.

“This is the wrong time and Tulsa is the wrong place for a Trump rally,” the Tulsa World said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump says he will sign police reform executive order on Tuesday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he will sign an executive order on police reform and hold a news conference on Tuesday, after several weeks of nationwide protests sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

In comments to reporters, Trump also said the shooting by police of a black man in Atlanta was a terrible situation and very disturbing.

An Atlanta police officer was fired and the police chief resigned after the killing of Rayshard Brooks on Friday night.

No details on Trump’s executive order on police reform have been released. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are working on separate proposals on the issue.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; writing by Eric Beech; editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump calls for shift in coronavirus strategy to allow for end to lockdowns

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday called for a shift in strategy against the coronavirus pandemic to focus resources on protecting “high-risk populations” as he pushes for a total end to stay-at-home orders in states throughout the country.

“The best strategy to ensure the health of our people moving forward is to focus our resources on protecting high-risk populations, like the elderly and those in nursing homes, while allowing younger and healthy Americans to get back to work immediately,” Trump said in remarks at the White House Rose Garden.

More than 108,000 Americans have died and more than 1.8 million have been sickened in the United States in the pandemic.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Does drug touted by Trump work on COVID-19? After data debacle, we still don’t know

By Kate Kelland and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists are resuming COVID-19 trials of the now world-famous drug hydroxychloroquine, as confusion continues to reign about the anti-malarial hailed by U.S. President Donald Trump as a potential “game-changer” in fighting the pandemic.

The renewed research push follows widespread criticism of the quality of data in a study published by The Lancet, an influential medical journal, which found high risks associated with the treatment.

The World Health Organization, which had last week paused trials when The Lancet study showed the drug was tied to an increased risk of death in hospitalized patients, said on Wednesday it was ready to resume trials.

The WHO’s change of mind is “a wise decision”, according to Martin Landray, co-lead scientist on the Recovery trial, the world’s largest research project into existing drugs that might be repurposed to treat COVID-19 patients.

“What all this episode really reflects is that without randomized trials, there is huge uncertainty,” said Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Oxford University.

Randomized studies are the gold standard in research, randomly assigning a treatment to one group of people and a dummy to another group so that the two can be compared. The Lancet study was a “retrospective observational” study, using a data set from an analytics firm, to see what effects the drug had had on some COVID-19 patients, compared to those who did not get it.

The WHO’s about-face came after nearly 150 doctors signed a letter to the Lancet outlining concerns about the study’s conclusions. The journal itself published an expression of concern about the research this week, saying “serious scientific questions have been brought to our attention”.

Some scientists said the episode had set back efforts to determine whether hydroxychloroquine was an effective or risky treatment for COVID-19, as some other trials around the world had also halted following the WHO’s initial decision to pause.

“It’s really impacted quite negatively the sort of studies that would be able to say if there is a benefit or harm,” Will Schilling told Reuters. He is co-lead on the UK COPCOV study which was paused last week, just days after its launch.

“At the moment, we don’t really know. That’s why these studies are needed, and now they’ve been slightly waylaid by all of this.”

Scientists acknowledge, though, that studies are being conducted at break-neck speed while garnering unprecedented levels of attention that could give findings unwarranted weight.

THE PRESIDENT’S TAKING IT

The drug has hit global headlines in large part because of its promotion by Trump, who said in March it could be a game-changer and last month revealed he was taking it himself, even after his own Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had advised that its efficacy and safety were unproven.

In the absence of clear scientific evidence, some authorities and consumers are buying up stocks of the drug in case it turns out to be effective. Britain, for example, is spending millions of pounds bulk-buying tablets.

Hydroxychloroquine has been shown in laboratory experiments earlier this year to be able to block the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, but this effect has not been replicated in rigorous trials in people.

A separate study by University of Minnesota scientists of the potential preventative effect of hydroxychloroquine against the new coronavirus found it did not protect patients who had been given it prior to being exposed to COVID-19.

Here again, though, the waters have been muddied. The New England Journal of Medicine, which published the research on Wednesday, noted in an editorial, however, that there were limits to the scope of the study.

The University of Minnesota study also was limited in the scenario it tested, said Richard Chaisson, a Johns Hopkins researcher who is running a separate trial of the drug to determine whether it is effective in treating patients with moderate to severe versions of COVID-19.

There is still a need for robust studies looking at whether it might work in low doses before or after exposure, as well as against mild cases, moderate cases, hospitalized patients and seriously ill ones, he added.

WHO’S KNOCK-ON EFFECTS

The WHO decision to halt its trials last week had knock-on effects across the drug industry and medical profession.

French drugmaker Sanofi temporarily stopped enrolling recruits to its own study and pulled supplies of the drug for treatment. The UK COPCOV trial, aimed at establishing if hydroxychloroquine can prevent healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19, hit pause just a week after its launch.

Those studies are yet to resume.

Several European countries also have stopped using the drug for treating some COVID-19 patients.

Some trials have, however, continued despite the WHO’s move.

Novartis has not changed course with its study and the UK Recovery trial paused only briefly before moving ahead after safety checks. It is still enrolling patients and has signed up 4,500 recruits so far – 1,500 patients who are on the drug and around 3,000 who aren’t.

In short, the jury’s still out on hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19, according to Landray at Recovery.

“People can quote data, people can quote experts, but there is continuing huge uncertainty,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Erman in New York; Writing by Josephine Mason and Peter Henderson; Editing by Pravin Char)

Senate opens controversial probe of Trump-Russia investigation

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican allies of President Donald Trump attacked the FBI’s probe of his 2016 presidential campaign on Wednesday, but failed to get a key witness to agree that former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was unfounded.

At the opening hearing in a Republican-led Senate probe that Democrats called politically motivated, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended his 2017 decision to appoint Mueller to investigate Russian election interference and numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“I still believe it was the right decision under the circumstances,” Rosenstein told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“All the charges that were filed were legitimate,” he said when asked about cases filed against a half-dozen campaign officials and Trump associates.

The committee is examining the surveillance of Trump campaign officials during the FBI investigation code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” which led to Mueller’s appointment.

Trump and his Republican allies say the president’s campaign was treated unfairly by officials involved, including former FBI Director James Comey.

“This investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, was one of the most corrupt, biased, criminal investigations in the history of the FBI,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said.

But the panel’s top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, warned that Senate Republicans were trying to help Trump attack both the Russia probe that overshadowed his presidency and Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee who was vice president at the time of Trump’s campaign.

“Congress should not conduct politically motivated investigations designed to attack or help any presidential candidate,” she said.

The Justice Department inspector general found numerous errors in the Crossfire Hurricane probe, including mistakes in seeking surveillance approval, but no political bias.

Rosenstein said he was unaware of problems with warrants allowing surveillance, saying he would not have given his approval had he known at the time.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball; editing by Grant McCool, Alistair Bell and Tom Brown)

Trump, attorney general to meet as U.S. cities smolder amid protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with his top law enforcement officer behind closed doors on Monday as cities nationwide awoke from a smoldering weekend of violent protests over race and policing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaotic demonstrations from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles swelled from peaceful protests – sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody last Monday – into scenes of violence that drew National Guard troops in at least 15 states and Washington.

Dozens of cities across the United States faced curfews at a level not seen since the riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as fires burned near the White House and stores were looted in New York City and other major cities.

Floyd’s death is the latest in a string of similar incidents involving unarmed black men in recent years that has raised an outcry over excessive police force and racism, and re-ignited outrage across a starkly politically and racially divided country just months before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Video footage has shown a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died on May 25.

Trump has made no major public statement to address the growing crisis but has issued a flurry of tweets, describing protesters as “thugs” and urging mayors and governors to “get tough.” He has also threatened to utilize the U.S. military, but his national security adviser on Sunday said the administration would not yet invoke federal control over the National Guard.

The Republican president was scheduled to hold a call with governors, law enforcement and national security officials later on Monday following his Oval Office meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr.

Critics have accused Trump, who is seeking re-election, of further stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the nation together and address the underlying issues.

Washington and other cities had been set to restart some normal economic activity over the weekend after more than two months of stay-at-home orders aimed at stemming the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has killed nearly 103,000 people nationwide and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.

Many states had already activated National Guard troops to help manage the pandemic, further straining local budgets with no immediate sign of relief from Congress as many weary Americans, particularly in urban areas, remain sheltered.

The demonstrations brought out a diversity of people in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, among other cities, and have spread around the globe with demonstrations in New Zealand on Monday following events in London and elsewhere.

Hundreds of storefronts were smashed and buildings vandalized in multiple cities as protesters and police clashed. But the mayor of St. Paul, which is adjacent to Minneapolis, told CNN on Monday that thousands had gathered there peacefully on Sunday. Other cities also saw more peaceful demonstrations, sometimes with police support.

The arrest of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was charged with third-degree murder in Floyd’s case, has not quelled the demonstrations amid calls for the other three officers involved to also be charged.

Public health experts and local officials have also expressed concern the gatherings could trigger more cases of COVID-19, the highly transmissible and potentially deadly infection tied to the coronavirus.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Global COVID-19 trial of hydroxychloroquine, which Trump takes, begins

By Kylie MacLellan and Kay Johnson

LONDON/BANGKOK (Reuters) – Healthcare workers in Britain and Thailand have started taking part in a trial to determine whether two anti-malarial drugs can prevent COVID-19, including one that U.S. President Donald Trump says he has been taking.

The study, involving more than 40,000 healthcare workers across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, seeks to determine whether chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could play a role in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Demand for hydroxychloroquine surged after Trump touted it in early April. He said this week he was now taking it as a preventive medicine against the virus despite medical warnings about its use.

The lead investigators in Thailand and Britain said their ‘COPCOV’ trial, in the works for several months, would cut through the heated and unhelpful debate.

“We still do not know whether anything is beneficial in COVID-19,” the University of Oxford’s Professor Nicholas White, the study’s co-principal investigator, told Reuters.

“The only way we can find out if things are beneficial overall is to do large, well-conducted clinical trials,” said White, who is based at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok. “These are extremely well-established drugs.”

The COPCOV team said laboratory evidence showed the anti-malarial drugs might be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19 but there was no conclusive proof. Accord Healthcare has donated the hydroxychloroquine and matched placebo.

Medics who have tested positive will not be able to take part. More details can be found here.

Trump said on May 18 that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine and many frontline medical workers were too, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about its use.

“I’m taking it — hydroxychloroquine,” Trump said. “I’ve been taking it for the last week and a half. A pill every day.”

Professor Martin Llewelyn, the lead UK investigator, said many health workers were relying on social distancing and personal protective equipment but the measures were not perfect.

“Anything that can be done to reduce that risk further would be an enormous breakthrough,” he told Reuters.

(Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Catherine Evans)

Trump wants California to let automaker Tesla reopen assembly plant

By Nathan Frandino

FREMONT, California (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged that Tesla Inc be allowed to reopen its electric vehicle assembly plant in California, joining CEO Elon Musk’s bid to defy county officials who have ordered it to remain closed.

“California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

On Monday, Musk said production was resuming at the automaker’s sole U.S. vehicle factory, defying an order to stay closed and saying if anyone had to be arrested, it should be he.

Musk tweeted “Thank you!” in response to Trump on Tuesday.

Tesla shares were up 1.1% at $820.44 in late trading.

At Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, employee parking lots that were deserted on Friday were packed with cars on Tuesday. Trucks could be seen driving in and out of the factory grounds.

About a dozen workers, some masked, some not, were seen standing by a red food truck on the factory grounds.

At the factory’s outbound logistics parking lot, where only a dozen Tesla cars stood on Friday, hundreds of Tesla vehicles were seen on Tuesday.

The company, which on Saturday sued Alameda County, where the plant is located, over its decision that the plant should stay closed, did not comment on Trump’s tweet.

Late on Monday, county health officials said they were aware Tesla had opened beyond the so-called minimum basic operations allowed during lockdown, and had notified the company it could not operate without a county-approved plan.

A county health official on Friday said the county had asked all manufacturers, including Tesla, to delay operations by at least another week to monitor infection and hospitalization rates.

Scott Haggerty, the Alameda County supervisor for the district where Tesla’s factory is located, told the New York Times on Saturday that the county had been working to permit Tesla to resume operations on May 18 – the same day other U.S. automakers have been permitted to resume production in other states.

Haggerty on Tuesday accused Musk on Twitter of misrepresenting what he had told the newspaper.

Tesla on Saturday released a plan to keep workers returning to the factory safe.

The measures, which include temperature screenings, the installation of barriers to separate work areas and protective equipment for workers, are similar to those set up by Detroit-based automakers General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler.

Trump is eager for the U.S. economy to reopen and for Americans to return to work.

He has sparred with California for years over a series of issues, including immigration, vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, funding for high-speed rail and numerous environmental issues. Trump has met with Musk on several occasions during his presidency.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday said he had spoken with Musk several days ago and that the Tesla founder’s concerns helped prompt the state to begin its phased reopening of manufacturing last week.

States and cities around the United States are experimenting with ways to reopen their economies safely after the coronavirus outbreak shuttered businesses and forced tens of millions of Americans out of work.

Musk over the weekend threatened to leave California for Texas or Nevada over his factory’s closure. His move has highlighted the competition for jobs and ignited a rush to woo the billionaire executive by states that have reopened their economies more quickly in response to encouragement from Trump.

Tesla also has a vehicle plant in Shanghai and is building another in Berlin. Its lawsuit on Saturday alleged that Alameda County had violated California’s constitution by defying Newsom’s orders allowing manufacturers to reopen.

Newsom’s office did not immediately comment on Tuesday.

In the past, Musk has discussed opening a second U.S. factory outside California. In a tweet in February, he solicited comments on potentially opening a factory in Texas.

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino in Fremont, Additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by David Gregorio, Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)

‘There is a real risk’ of new outbreak if U.S. states reopen too soon: Fauci

By Makini Brice and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned Congress that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed 80,000 Americans and brought the economy to its knees.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. Senate panel that states should follow health experts’ recommendations to wait for signs including a declining number of new infections before reopening.

President Donald Trump has been encouraging states to end a weeks-long shuttering of major components of their economies. But senators heard a sobering assessment from Fauci, when asked by Democrats about a premature opening of the economy.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Fauci said.

The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has infected more than 1.3 million Americans and killed more than 80,600.

Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the nation’s efforts to battle the deadly virus and the COVID-19 disease it triggers should be “focused on the proven public health practices of containment and mitigation.”

Fauci, 79, testified remotely in a room lined with books as he self-quarantines after he may have come into contact with either of two members of the White House staff who were diagnosed with COVID-19. He noted that he may go to the White House if needed.

“All roads back to work and back to school run through testing and that what our country has done so far on testing is impressive, but not nearly enough,” Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate committee, said in an opening statement to Tuesday’s hearing.

Alexander is also self-quarantining in his home state of Tennessee for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive. Alexander chaired the hearing virtually.

Democrats on the health committee largely concentrated on the risks of opening the U.S. economy too soon, while Republicans downplayed that notion, saying a prolonged shutdown could have serious negative impacts on people’s health and the health of the economy.

Trump, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.

His administration has largely left it to states to decide whether and how to reopen. State governors are taking varying approaches, with a growing number relaxing tough restrictions enacted to slow the outbreak, even as opinion polls show most Americans are concerned about reopening too soon.

Senator Patty Murray, the senior committee Democrat, criticizing aspects of the administration’s response to the pandemic, said Americans “need leadership, they need a plan, they need honesty and they need it now, before we reopen.”

Others testifying on Tuesday included U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn. Each testified remotely.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters that a Democratic bill to provide significant new federal aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic could be unveiled later on Tuesday, with a possible House of Representatives votes on it on Friday.

(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html)

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Makini Brice, Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

White House directs staff to wear masks after officials contract coronavirus

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Monday directed all people entering the West Wing, where the daily operations of President Donald Trump’s administration are carried out, to wear masks after two aides tested positive for the coronavirus, administration officials said.

The new guidelines, released in a memo to the president’s staff on Monday afternoon, reflect a tightening of procedures at the highest levels of the U.S. government over fears that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence could be exposed to the virus.

Trump’s military valet and Pence’s press secretary both tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

The 73-year-old president said on Monday he did not think those cases suggested the White House system had broken down.

“I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” Trump said, adding he felt the situation was controlled “very well.”

Still, the president said he would discuss maintaining some distance from Pence, perhaps by communicating with him by phone, for a period of time. Pence worked at the White House on Monday but did not attend a news conference held in the Rose Garden. Officials who attended wore masks, and speakers used a different podium from the one used by Trump.

ABC News first reported about the memo, which also said unnecessary visits from other parts of the White House complex to the West Wing area, which includes the Oval Office and workspace for senior advisers, are being discouraged.

Officials who work near the president have been getting tested for the coronavirus but previously had not been wearing masks on a regular basis.

“Common sense has finally prevailed,” one senior administration official told Reuters.

Trump has been resistant to wearing a mask himself and has not put one on in public, though he said he tried some on backstage during a visit to a mask factory in Arizona last week.

On Saturday he met the top leaders of the U.S. military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and members of his national security team in the White House Cabinet Room. The officials did not wear masks but had been tested for the virus in advance, a Pentagon spokesman said, adding that social distancing measures appeared to have been met. Secret Service agents in the room wore masks.

The president is in the age group that is considered high risk for complications with the coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States alone and ravaged countries and economies worldwide.

Staff members including Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, wore masks on White House grounds on Monday.

The White House said last week it was stepping up precautions for people who spend time around Trump and Pence, both of whom have resumed travel outside of Washington. The two men are being tested for the virus daily.

“In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitizer, and regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, every staff member in close proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for COVID-19 as well as any guests,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

After Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus last week, Trump was asked whether people in the West Wing would begin to wear masks. He responded that people already were doing so. But he and his guests that day had not donned masks, and staff in the West Wing were not wearing them either.

Miller is married to Stephen Miller, a senior White House aide and speech writer for the president.

Some who had contact with Katie Miller have gone into partial quarantine. An administration official said Pence worked from the White House on Monday but would be maintaining distance from the president for the immediate future, in consultation with the White House medical unit.

“We can talk on the phone,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Diane Bartz and Phil Stewart; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)