Fires burn near White House in violent U.S. protests

By Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Fires burned near the White House, stores were looted in New York City and Southern California, and a tanker truck drove into marchers in Minneapolis as the United States struggled to contain chaotic protests over race and policing.

A protester runs while looting after marching against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

National Guard troops were deployed in 15 states and Washington, D.C. in an attempt to quell a sixth night of violence on Sunday. The unrest began with peaceful protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody.

“I hate to see my city like this but at the end we need justice,” said 18-year-old Jahvon Craven as he stood on an overpass watching protesters below on Interstate 35 in downtown Minneapolis moments before an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect.

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

His death caused outrage across a nation that is politically and racially divided during a polarizing presidential campaign, reigniting protests that have flared repeatedly in recent years over police killings of black Americans.

A protester rises from his chair as a tear gas canister stops at his feet during nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Authorities imposed curfews on dozens of cities across the United States, the most since the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 — also during an election campaign and in the upheaval of anti-war demonstrations.

President Donald Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice, but has also described the current protesters as “thugs”.

“Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors,” Trump, a Republican, said on Twitter on Sunday afternoon. “These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW.”

In Louisville, Kentucky, WLKY-TV, a local CBS affiliate, reported that a man was shot and killed by police early on Monday. It was unclear if he was protesting. Police said they had been fired on before the shooting, WLKY reported.

A protester pleads with riot police during nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. May 31, 2020. Picture taken May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

CHAOTIC SCENES AROUND WHITE HOUSE

In Washington, D.C., protesters set fires near the White House on Sunday. The smoke mixed with billowing clouds of tear gas as police sought to clear from the area crowds chanting “George Floyd”.

Sporadic violence broke out in Boston following peaceful protests as activists threw bottles at police officers and lit a cruiser on fire. Philadelphia announced a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

On Sunday afternoon, a tanker truck drove into demonstrators on the I-35 highway in Minneapolis, which had been closed to traffic. The driver was pulled from the cab and beaten by protesters before police took him into custody. It did not appear any protesters were hit by the truck.

On the West Coast, there were also clashes in Portland, Oregon, where TV footage showed small fires burning as police fired tear gas at protesters who set off fireworks.

In Santa Monica, California, upscale stores were looted along the city’s popular Third Street Promenade before police moved in to make arrests. The vandalism followed a largely peaceful march.

Further south, in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach, a group of young men and women smashed windows of a shopping mall and looted stores before they were dispersed before a 6 p.m. curfew.

The demonstrations brought out a diversity of people.

“It means a lot to see people other than black people joining the demonstration,” said Candace Collins, a young black woman at a march in Culver City, California.

Thousands of people gathered peacefully on Sunday afternoon for a rally in St. Paul, adjacent to Minneapolis, as state troopers surrounded the state capitol building. About 170 stores in the city have been looted, its mayor told CNN.

Protests spread around the globe, with events in London and Berlin on Sunday and others on Monday including in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.

Police in riot gear keep protesters at bay in Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington, U.S. May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

NO LET-UP

The eruptions of violence have not let up despite the arrest on Friday of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, 44. He has since been charged with third-degree murder.

In New York City, where store windows were smashed, police arrested about 350 people and 30 officers suffered minor injuries during clashes. Mayor Bill de Blasio said police conduct was being investigated, with videos showing a police vehicle lurching into a crowd of protesters who were pelting it with debris in Brooklyn.

De Blasio said he had not seen a separate video showing an officer pulling down the mask of a black protester to spray something in his face.

Among those arrested for unlawful assembly on Saturday night was de Blasio’s 25-year-old daughter, Chiara, according to a New York Police Department source, who said she was issued a “desk appearance ticket” and released.

Protests have also flared in Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Cleveland and Dallas.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Maria Caspani and Sinead Carew in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Zach Fagenson in Miami and Bill Tarrant and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Aakriti Bhalla; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Alex Richardson; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lincoln Feast and Timothy Heritage)

Kudlow says Trump administration looking at ‘back to work bonus’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is looking carefully at a potential “back to work bonus” to encourage Americans who had been laid off as the coronavirus pandemic spread to return to work.

Kudlow, speaking on Fox News Channel, also said he does not think Congress will approve another $600 per week in extra jobless benefits to laid-off workers in a future coronavirus relief legislation.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann, Lisa Lambert and Daphne Psaledakis)

Trump warns governors: let places of worship open this weekend

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday urged state governors to allow the reopening this weekend in the United States of places of worship which have been closed due to the coronavirus, warning that he will override governors who do not do so.

At a short appearance in the White House briefing room, Trump said he was declaring that places of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – are providing essential services and thus should be opened as soon as possible.

Places of worship have been closed along as part of stay-at-home orders most states have tried to control the spread of the coronavirus. With the infection rate declining in many areas, there is pressure to begin reopening.

Trump issued a warning to governors who refuse his appeal but did not say under what authority he would act to force the reopening of religious facilities.

“If they don’t do it I will override the governors. In America we need more prayer, not less,” he said.

(Reporting Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, Editing by Franklin Paul and David Gregorio)

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)

No plans to separate Trump, Pence despite White House coronavirus cases: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration has no plans to keep President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence apart, a person familiar with the matter said on Sunday, as concerns rise about the spread of the coronavirus within the White House.

The New York Times first reported the lack of plans to keep Trump and Pence separated despite concern they both could be incapacitated by the disease, citing two senior administration officials.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Two coronavirus cases in the White House last week spurred fears of contagion for the president and vice president, who are leading the U.S. response to the pandemic, and who have both resumed travel and business schedules even as the U.S. death toll from the virus nears 80,000.

Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, the wife of Trump’s senior adviser, Stephen Miller, tested positive for the coronavirus a day after confirmation that Trump’s personal valet had been diagnosed with the disease.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought on Friday to defend administration efforts to protect Trump and Pence, pointing to new measures taken by the White House including contact tracing and putting in place all guidelines recommended for essential workers.

The White House has also instituted daily coronavirus tests for Trump and Pence.

Anthony Fauci, a high-profile member of the White House coronavirus response team, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, were in self-quarantine on Saturday after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for the disease.

If Republicans Trump and Pence were both to become incapacitated, Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi would assume presidential duties under U.S. law.

Last month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to an intensive care unit after becoming the first leader of a major power to announce he had tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab deputized for Johnson during his convalescence.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Peter Cooney)

White House official warns of negative shocks before rebound later in 2020

By David Lawder and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Trump adminstration officials on Tuesday predicted a strong economic rebound in the fourth quarter as the coronavirus fades, but a senior White House adviser warned that near-term unemployment and GDP data will be a “very grave” negative shock.

Kevin Hassett, senior economic adviser to President Donald Trump told CNN that unemployment could reach 16-20%, and GDP output could fall as much as 30-40% on annualized basis in the second quarter, a prediction in line with Wall Street and Congressional Budget Office forecasts.

“I’m just saying that we’re going to have the biggest shock since the Great Depression,” Hassett told reporters at the White House. “It’s a very grave shock and something we need to take seriously.”

He added that the first quarter GDP growth number being released on Wednesday would likely be negative, telling CNN that this “will be just the very tip of the iceberg of a few months of negative news that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

Earlier, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted that the economy could rebound by late summer as states allow the reopening of businesses that have been closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“As states start opening up, I think you’re going to see a lot of demand come back,” Mnuchin told Fox Business Network. “Now again, the states are going to open up slowly, so you’re going to see June and July pick up, but I think by August and September, you’re going to see a big bounce back from what has been a very rocky period.”

Trump, at a White House event on Tuesday, also shifted the focus away from the near term, saying that the fourth quarter “is going to be really strong and I think next year is going to be a tremendous year.”

“The third quarter is a transition quarter. The second quarter is what it is,” Trump added.

Hassett said that a “prudent” fourth coronavirus rescue bill would be important to securing strong growth later in the year.

In a current program aimed at keeping small business workers from being laid off, Mnuchin said the Treasury will audit all larger loans over $2 million and warned that companies could face criminal liability if it turns out they did not truly need the money.

“Anybody that took the money that they shouldn’t have taken — one, it won’t be forgiven, and two, they may be subject to criminal liability, which is a big deal,” Mnuchin told Fox Business.

Mnuchin’s comments came as more public companies and better-financed entities have decided to return funds or forego their loan allocations after the Treasury put out new guidance last week excluding well-financed publicly traded companies from the forgivable loans meant to fund payrolls and other expenses during virus-related closures.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team returned a $4.6 million loan it received through the program. Mnuchin told Fox Business Network he was “outraged” by the Lakers’ request even though he was a fan of the top NBA team.

After running out of funds in less than two weeks, the Paycheck Protection Program was relaunched on Monday with an additional $310 billion appropriated by Congress, but suffered technical glitches. Mnuchin said that these had largely been fixed on Tuesday.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. deaths top 46,000 after near-record increase previous day: Reuters tally

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 46,000 on Wednesday after rising by a near-record single-day number on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally.

A University of Washington study, often cited by the White House, projected a total of nearly 66,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths by Aug. 4, an upward revision from its most recent previous estimate of 60,000 deaths. At current rates, U.S. deaths could reach 50,000 later this week.

The first U.S. coronavirus death happened weeks earlier than previously believed, according to California county health officials who conducted two autopsies. The first U.S. death was on Feb. 6, instead of Feb. 29, they reported.

In the weeks since, the U.S. death toll has soared to the highest in the world. U.S. deaths increased by 2,792 on Tuesday alone, just shy of a peak of 2,806 deaths in a single day on April 15.

Deaths in New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, continued to decline with 474 new deaths on Wednesday. However, some nearby states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey reported record single-day deaths tolls on Tuesday.

Health officials have said that deaths are a lagging indicator of the outbreak, coming weeks after patients fall sick, and do not mean stay-at-home restrictions are failing to slow the spread of the virus.

The United States has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at over 815,000, almost four times as many as Spain, the country with the second-highest number.

GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.

U.S. cases rose by 25,000 to over 810,000 on Tuesday, one of the smallest increases seen so far in April.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday applauded steps taken by a handful of Republican-led U.S. states, including Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, to start reopening their economies despite warnings of a potential fresh surge of coronavirus infections.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

Trump to announce ‘guidelines’ on reopening U.S. economy Thursday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that data suggested the country had passed the peak on new coronavirus infections, and said he would announce “new guidelines” for reopening the economy at a news conference on Thursday.

“The battle continues but the data suggests that the nation has passed the peak on new cases,” Trump told his daily White House news briefing.

“While we must remain vigilant, it is clear that our aggressive strategy is working and very strongly working, I might add,” Trump said.

The U.S. coronavirus death toll – the highest in the world – surged past 30,000 on Wednesday after doubling in a week.

The coronavirus crisis has hammered the U.S. economy, overshadowing Trump’s efforts to win re-election in November.

The Republican president has been pushing to reopen U.S. businesses and end orders that Americans stay home to fight the spread of the disease. During the lockdown, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and thousands of businesses have been forced to close their doors.

Trump claimed on Monday had the authority to overrule state governors and order businesses across the country to reopen.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Tom Brown)

White House to hold call with banks as hundreds struggle to access small business loans

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House was due to speak with banks on Tuesday, as the administration’s $350 billion program to support ailing businesses continued to confront hurdles, with some of the nation’s largest lenders sitting on the sidelines and others unable to access the system.

As of Tuesday, Citibank  said it was still not accepting loan applications under the program, which began on Friday, while Wells Fargo & Co , which has capped lending under the program at $10 billion, said it had yet to distribute any funds to clients.

The Small Business Administration (SBA), which is jointly administering the program with the U.S. Treasury Department, had not yet launched a promised online system for taking on lenders that have never previously registered with the agency, according to the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA).

“That’s an issue if you’re a non-SBA lender, which is more than half of the lenders out there,” said Paul Merski, an executive vice president at the ICBA.

He said lenders are also still waiting for the administration to produce a compliant loan authorization form which would help speed up the distribution of funds, although he said guidance issued by the Treasury late on Monday night had helped to address some other issues with the program.

A top White House economic adviser, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, said on Tuesday that $50 billion in loans had been originated. However, it remained unclear how much of that money has been distributed since paperwork issues are holding up disbursements at some banks, according to industry sources.

Representatives for the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration did not respond to a request for comment. On Monday, the agency defended its progress, saying the program was unprecedented and pointing out that billions in loans had been authorized by the SBA in a very short time.

Launched on Friday as part of a $2.3 trillion congressionally approved economic relief package to combat the disruption caused by the novel coronavirus, the program got off to a rocky start as the administration rushed to get funds out the door in days without establishing key terms and paperwork.

Speed is critical, since half of small businesses have less than a two-week cash capital buffer. But the resulting confusion, bottlenecks and technology glitches have sparked widespread frustrations among bankers and businesses alike and left the U.S. Treasury and the SBA scrambling to fix the problems on the fly.

“You couldn’t have scripted a better #trainwreck for our nations community banks and the small biz customers we serve!” Brad Bolton, president and chief executive of Community Spirit Bank in Alabama, tweeted on Monday night.

The SBA overnight authorized 30 loans out of hundreds Bank of the West has been trying to process, Cynthia Blankenship, who runs the lender’s operation in Grapevine, Texas, told Reuters.

“We are continuing to be inundated with requests,” she said, adding that many of those are from companies turned away by their big lenders, including Wells Fargo, which has said it is constrained by a regulatory cap on its balance sheet.

Multiple small business owners took to Twitter over the past 24 hours to flag a document they had received from Wells, one of the biggest small business lenders in the country, advising potential applicants to reach out to other banks “to improve your chances of receiving a loan before the funds run out.”

Prominent lawmakers including Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey and Chris Van Hollen also jumped into the fray on Tuesday, raising worries that less savvy small businesses without existing bank lending relationships will be shut out of the program.

With banks and their trade groups warning that funds will run out way before the June 30 application deadline, and with worries over an unfair distribution of the cash, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said on Monday he hoped to quickly authorize a further $200 billion for the program.

Republican President Donald Trump was scheduled to talk with top executives of major banks, including JPMorgan & Co In  and Goldman Sachs Group Inc, and Independent Community Bankers of America members on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the program, according to industry sources.

“We’re calling to make the system more robust, and are supporting additional appropriations for this. … We want to make sure there’s a geographic dispersion to all areas of the program,” said the ICBA’s Merski.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; additional reporting by Imani Moise and Ann Saphir; Editing by Michelle Price, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. health officials say death toll may fall short of most dire projections

By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two senior U.S. health officials have said they now believe the coronavirus outbreak may kill fewer Americans than some recent projections, pointing to tentative signs that the death toll was starting to level off in New York and other hot spots.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday said he concurred with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some research models have projected death totals that may prove too high, though neither would offer an alternate estimate.

The White House coronavirus task force projected a death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 a week ago, saying containing deaths to that range was possible if strict social distances measures were respected, implying it could go even higher.

Adams on Tuesday told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he was encouraged by recent data showing a possible “flattening” of the outbreak in some areas, referring to the shape of the curve when deaths are shown on a graph.

Asked if he believed the death toll would come in below the dire White House task force projection, Adams said, “That’s absolutely my expectation.”

“I feel a lot more optimistic, again, because I’m seeing mitigation work,” he said, adding that he agreed with CDC director Robert Redfield that deaths could fall short of totals that some computer models showed.

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Louisiana pointed to tentative signs on Monday that the coronavirus outbreak may be starting to plateau but warned against complacency.

The coronavirus death toll has surpassed 10,000 in the United States and confirmed cases have topped 367,000.

President Donald Trump, who previously said the coronavirus would miraculously disappear, responded to the recent White House projection by saying any death toll less than 100,000 would be considered a success.

Redfield on Monday told KVOI radio in Tucson, Arizona, that social distancing of the type ordered by nearly all state governors was effective.

“If we just social distance, we will see this virus and this outbreak basically decline, decline, decline. And I think that’s what you’re seeing,” Redfield said. “I think you’re going to see the numbers are, in fact, going to be much less than what would have been predicted by the models.”

A research model from the University of Washington – one of several cited by leading health authorities – forecasts 81,766 U.S. coronavirus fatalities by Aug. 4, down about 12,000 from a weekend projection.

The pandemic has upended daily life around the globe, killing more than 74,000 people and infecting at least 1.3 million.

American hospitals have been overwhelmed with sufferers of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, reporting shortages of personnel, protective garments and other supplies while patients agonize alone, prohibited from receiving guests.

Even so, rates of growth and hospitalizations were slowing, possibly signaling a peak was at hand in three U.S. epicenters of the pandemic, the governors of New York and New Jersey said on Monday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said statewide deaths from COVID-19 had leveled off around 600 per day in recent days, highest in the nation. But hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care units and the number of patients put on ventilator machines to keep them breathing had all declined, Cuomo said.

In neighboring New Jersey, the state with the second-highest number of cases and deaths, Governor Phil Murphy said efforts to reduce the spread “are starting to pay off.” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards likewise expressed cautious optimism, noting that new hospital admissions were trending down.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller)