US coronavirus deaths surpass Vietnam War toll as Florida readies reopening plan

Protesters demanding Florida businesses and government reopen, march in downtown Orlando on April 17, 2020. (AP file photo)
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Updated 29 April 2020

US coronavirus deaths surpass Vietnam War toll as Florida readies reopening plan

  • Florida would become the most populous of about a dozen states forging ahead with economic reopenings

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: The US coronavirus death toll climbed above 58,000 on Tuesday, surpassing the loss of American life from the Vietnam War, as Florida’s governor met with President Donald Trump to discuss an easing of economic restraints.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, among the latest to lock down his state against the pandemic, has been weighing whether to join other states in a relaxation of workplace restrictions and stay-at-home orders that have been credited with slowing the contagion but which have battered the economy.
DeSantis’ meeting at the White House came as Florida reported its highest single-day death toll from the coronavirus, and two days before Florida’s stay-at-home order was due to expire.
Speaking to reporters with Trump in the Oval Office, DeSantis said he would announce a plan on Wednesday for a “phase one” loosening of restrictions on economic activity.
Declining to give details, DeSantis called the plan a “small step,” adding, “we’re going to approach it in a very measured, thoughtful and data-driven way.”
Despite a high proportion of elderly residents, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, and having waited until early April to lock down its economy, Florida has averted the worst of the health crisis seen in other states such as New York and New Jersey.
Still, Florida would become the most populous of about a dozen states forging ahead with economic reopenings despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and the means to trace close contacts of newly infected individuals, as recommended in White House guidelines on April 16.
Public health experts have warned that a premature rollback of social-distancing policies could trigger a resurgence of infections just when those restrictions are showing signs of bringing the outbreak under control.
While DeSantis’ state has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, Florida reported a record 83 new deaths and more than 700 new infections from the previous 24 hours on Tuesday. The state has so far tallied 32,846 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, including 1,171 deaths.
DeSantis has drawn sharp criticism of his handling of the health crisis from Democrats in Florida, a key electoral swing state in Trump’s Nov. 3 re-election bid.
“Apparently Trump and DeSantis find it appropriate to slap each other on the back while Floridians struggle to stay safe during this pandemic and navigate a broken unemployment system,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said.
Economic fallout from the unprecedented clamp-down on social interactions and business has been devastating.
The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits over the past five weeks has soared to 26.5 million — nearly one in six US workers — and the Trump administration has forecast an April unemployment rate exceeding 16 percent.
The larger human toll has likewise been staggering. As of Tuesday, 58,605 have died of COVID-19 in the United States, according to a Reuters tally, eclipsing in a few months the total number of Americans killed during 16 years of US military involvement in Vietnam.
The number of known US coronavirus infections has doubled over the past 18 days to more than 1 million. The actual count is believed to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials have limited testing capacity, leaving many infections unrecorded.
As further evidence that caution may still be in order, an influential University of Washington research model often cited by White House officials and public health officials revised its projected US coronavirus death toll upwards on Tuesday to more than 74,000 by Aug. 4, against its previous forecast of 67,000.


Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Updated 12 August 2020

Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

  • Joe Biden: I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate
  • Trump’s uneven handling of crises has given Biden an opening, and he enters the fall campaign in strong position against the president

WILMINGTON, Delaware: Joe Biden named California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate on Tuesday, making history by selecting the first Black woman to compete on a major party’s presidential ticket and acknowledging the vital role Black voters will play in his bid to defeat President Donald Trump.
“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” Biden tweeted. In a text message to supporters, Biden said, “Together, with you, we’re going to beat Trump”
In choosing Harris, Biden is embracing a former rival from the Democratic primary who is familiar with the unique rigor of a national campaign. Harris, a 55-year-old first-term senator, is also one of the party’s most prominent figures and quickly became a top contender for the No. 2 spot after her own White House campaign ended.
Harris joins Biden in the 2020 race at a moment of unprecedented national crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people in the US, far more than the toll experienced in other countries. Business closures and disruptions resulting from the pandemic have caused an economic collapse. Unrest, meanwhile, has emerged across the country as Americans protest racism and police brutality.
Trump’s uneven handling of the crises has given Biden an opening, and he enters the fall campaign in strong position against the president. In adding Harris to the ticket, he can point to her relatively centrist record on issues such as health care and her background in law enforcement in the nation’s largest state.
Harris’ record as California attorney general and district attorney in San Francisco was heavily scrutinized during the Democratic primary and turned off some liberals and younger Black voters who saw her as out of step on issues of systemic racism in the legal system and police brutality. She tried to strike a balance on these issues, declaring herself a “progressive prosecutor” who backs law enforcement reforms.
Biden, who spent eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president, has spent months weighing who would fill that same role in his White House. He pledged in March to select a woman as his vice president, easing frustration among Democrats that the presidential race would center on two white men in their 70s.
Biden’s search was expansive, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading progressive, Florida Rep. Val Demings, whose impeachment prosecution of Trump won plaudits, California Rep. Karen Bass, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose passionate response to unrest in her city garnered national attention.
A woman has never served as president or vice president in the United States. Two women have been nominated as running mates on major party tickets: Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. Their party lost in the general election.
The vice presidential pick carries increased significance this year. If elected, Biden would be 78 when he’s inaugurated in January, the oldest man to ever assume the presidency. He’s spoken of himself as a transitional figure and hasn’t fully committed to seeking a second term in 2024. If he declines to do so, his running mate would likely become a front-runner for the nomination that year.
Born in Oakland to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris won her first election in 2003 when she became San Francisco’s district attorney. In the role, she created a reentry program for low-level drug offenders and cracked down on student truancy.
She was elected California’s attorney general in 2010, the first woman and Black person to hold the job, and focused on issues including the foreclosure crisis. She declined to defend the state’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage and was later overturned by the US Supreme Court.
As her national profile grew, Harris built a reputation around her work as a prosecutor. After being elected to the Senate in 2016, she quickly gained attention for her assertive questioning of Trump administration officials during congressional hearings. In one memorable moment last year, Harris tripped up Attorney General William Barr when she repeatedly pressed him on whether Trump or other White House officials pressured him to investigate certain people.
Harris launched her presidential campaign in early 2019 with the slogan “Kamala Harris For the People,” a reference to her courtroom work. She was one of the highest-profile contenders in a crowded Democratic primary and attracted 20,000 people to her first campaign rally in Oakland.
But the early promise of her campaign eventually faded. Her law enforcement background prompted skepticism from some progressives, and she struggled to land on a consistent message that resonated with voters. Facing fundraising problems, Harris abruptly withdrew from the race in December 2019, two months before the first votes of the primary were cast.
One of Harris’ standout moments of her presidential campaign came at the expense of Biden. During a debate, Harris said Biden made “very hurtful” comments about his past work with segregationist senators and slammed his opposition to busing as schools began to integrate in the 1970s.
“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”
Shaken by the attack, Biden called her comments “a mischaracterization of my position.”
The exchange resurfaced recently one of Biden’s closest friends and a co-chair of his vice presidential vetting committee, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, still harbors concerns about the debate and that Harris hadn’t expressed regret. The comments attributed to Dodd and first reported by Politico drew condemnation, especially from influential Democratic women who said Harris was being held to a standard that wouldn’t apply to a man running for president.
Some Biden confidants said Harris’ campaign attack did irritate the former vice president, who had a friendly relationship with her. Harris was also close with Biden’s late son, Beau, who served as Delaware attorney general while she held the same post in California.
But Biden and Harris have since returned to a warm relationship.
“Joe has empathy, he has a proven track record of leadership and more than ever before we need a president of the United States who understands who the people are, sees them where they are, and has a genuine desire to help and knows how to fight to get us where we need to be,” Harris said at an event for Biden earlier this summer.
At the same event, she bluntly attacked Trump, labeling him a “drug pusher” for his promotion of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus, which has not been proved to be an effective treatment and may even be more harmful. After Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to protests about the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody, Harris said his remarks “yet again show what racism looks like.”
Harris has taken a tougher stand on policing since Floyd’s killing. She co-sponsored legislation in June that would ban police from using chokeholds and no-knock warrants, set a national use-of-force standard and create a national police misconduct registry, among other things. It would also reform the qualified immunity system that shields officers from liability.
The list included practices Harris did not vocally fight to reform while leading California’s Department of Justice. Although she required DOJ officers to wear body cameras, she did not support legislation mandating it statewide. And while she now wants independent investigations of police shootings, she didn’t support a 2015 California bill that would have required her office to take on such cases.
“We made progress, but clearly we are not at the place yet as a country where we need to be and California is no exception,” she told The Associated Press recently. But the national focus on racial injustice now shows “there’s no reason that we have to continue to wait.”