Trump Signs Executive Order Suspending U.S. Refugee Intake
President Trump signed an executive order Friday that among things suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and bars all Syrian refugees until further notice—an expected move that comes on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which honors the millions of victims of Nazi genocide, including the tens of thousands of Jews who were denied asylum in the U.S. at the time.
The move explicitly appears to target Muslims refugees—though the White House has shied way from calling it a Muslim ban, as Trump had done during the presidential campaign. But in an interview with CBN’s Brody Files, Trump said persecuted Christians will be given a priority over others. The executive order also appears to suspend immigration from some Muslim-majority countries, with some exceptions. The secretary of Homeland Security will submit a report of countries within 30 days.
Officials have previously said the Trump administration will suspend the issuance of visas from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The seven countries account for an insignificant number of people entering the U.S.—though they account for about 40 percent of the U.S. refugee intake. Refugee and human rights groups have sharply criticized the move.
UPDATE: Theresa May Meets Trump at the White House
British Prime Minister Theresa May became the first foreign leader to meet with President Trump at the White House. The two leaders are expected Friday to discuss, among other things, a trade deal, NATO, and Russia. Trump has said he’ll negotiate directly with May over a trade deal, which the U.K. needs following its vote last summer to withdraw from the European Union. Statements from both London and Brussels in recent days suggest the process of withdrawing from the EU is likely to be anything but smooth; a trade deal the U.S. would boost May’s credentials at home ahead of an expected parliamentary vote on Brexit. Both countries remain members of NATO, and while May has called the Atlantic alliance invaluable, Trump has described it as “obsolete.” As for Russia, which Trump has said he wants to work with, May, perhaps paraphrasing a former U.S. president, said: “My advice is to engage but beware.”
Al-Shabaab Attacks a Kenyan Military Base and Kills Dozens
The militant Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on a military base Friday that reportedly killed dozens of Kenyan soldiers. A spokesman for Kenya’s military said the terrorist group had used vehicles laden with explosives to gain access to the base, located in the southern town of Kulbiyow, which is on the border of Kenya and Somalia, then raided it with their fighters. A spokesman for al-Shabaab told Reuters its fighters killed at least 66 soldiers at the base, who were deployed with a regional peacekeeping mission. These numbers have not been confirmed by the Kenyan government, and al-Shabaab’s death tolls typically differ from official counts. The militant group has waged a war in the region near Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia for more than a decade. Recently, as the African Union’s security forces clamp down on the terrorists, they have stuck back with more violence. This week alone, al-Shabaab claimed credit for an attack on a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, that killed 28 people.
President Trump is expected Friday to urge defense officials to devise a plan in 30 days to defeat ISIS. The plan, according to The New York Times, could include “American artillery on the ground in Syria and Army attack helicopters to support an assault on the group’s capital, Raqqa.” Trump makes his first visit to the Pentagon today. On Thursday, Trump renewed his calls for a wall on the southern border with Mexico and addressed Republican lawmakers at their annual retreat.
More young people in the South seem to be dying from COVID-19. Why?
In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has gone from a novel, distant threat to an enemy besieging cities and towns across the world. The burden of COVID-19 and the economic upheaval wrought by the measures to contain it feel epochal. Humanity now has a common foe, and we will grow increasingly familiar with its face.
Yet plenty of this virus’s aspects remain unknown. The developing wisdom—earned the hard way in Wuhan, Washington, and Italy—has been that older people and sicker people are substantially more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19 than their younger, healthier counterparts. Older people are much more likely than young people to have lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease, and those conditions are more likely to transform a coronavirus infection into something nastier. But what happens when these assumptions don’t hold up, and the young people battling the pandemic share the same risks?
The Trump administration has just released the model for the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. We can expect a lot of back-and-forth about whether its mortality estimates are too high or low. And its wide range of possible outcomes is certainly confusing: What’s the right number? The answer is both difficult and simple. Here’s the difficult part: There is no right answer. But here’s the simple part: Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for.
Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Fighting public suspicion of these models is as old as modern epidemiology, which traces its origins back to John Snow’s famous cholera maps in 1854. Those maps proved, for the first time, that London’s terrible affliction was spreading through crystal-clear fresh water that came out of pumps, not the city’s foul-smelling air. Many people didn’t believe Snow, because they lived in a world without a clear understanding of germ theory and only the most rudimentary microscopes.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.
Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET on April 1, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are now overthinking things they never used to think about at all. Can you go outside? What if you’re walking downwind of another person? What if you’re stuck waiting at a crosswalk and someone is there? What if you’re going for a run, and another runner is heading toward you, and the sidewalk is narrow? Suddenly, daily mundanities seem to demand strategy.
Much of this confusion stems from the shifting conversation around the pandemic. Thus far, the official line has been that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could be transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. But recently, news reports have suggested that the coronavirus can spread through the air. After 60 choir members in Washington State rehearsed together, 45 fell sick, even though no one seemed symptomatic at the time. Now people who were already feeling cooped up are worrying about going outside. Many state guidelines are ambiguous, and medical advice can muddy matters further. When the writer Deborah Copaken came down with COVID-19 symptoms, her doctor chided her for riding her bike through New York City a week earlier. Going outside in the city wasn’t safe, the physician implied, with “viral load everywhere.”
Almost 10 million Americans have already filed for unemployment benefits. Congress can still act to stem the tide.
For the second straight week, the U.S. workforce set a dismal unemployment record. On Thursday morning, the Labor Department reported that 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week. That figure is twice as high as the previous record of 3.3 million, set just seven days ago.
This brings the two-week total of initial claims to nearly 10 million. That’s 10 million Americans who have lost their jobs—and, in many cases, their health insurance—in the spiraling chaos of a public-health crisis. Ten million Americans who have been thrust into unemployment-insurance programs, with their company on pause, their start-up ruined, or their business closed, and no clear timeline for reopening. Ten million Americans, many effectively quarantined by local law, simultaneously dealing with sudden confinement and sudden joblessness, separated from their daily habits and prohibited from leaving their apartment to commiserate with colleagues, or seek comfort in the arms of family.
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
America’s political dysfunction is rooted not in ideological polarization, but in the Republican Party’s conviction that it alone should be allowed to govern.
Updated at 4:06 p.m. ET on April 1, 2020.
Deep into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Republican leaders had one question for President Barack Obama, as his administration sought nearly $1 trillion in funds from Congress: How are you going to pay for this?
The unemployment rate was greater than 7 percent in January 2009, and would rise above 8 percent by February. Mitch McConnell, then the Senate minority leader, insisted, “The question is not doing nothing versus doing something,” but “the appropriateness of an almost $1 trillion spending bill to address the problem.”
Others in his caucus made similar points. “If you believe this is a good process to spend $800 billion, we’re on different planets,” Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, declared. Chuck Grassley of Iowa complained that “the package's massive government spending and long-term entitlement commitments … will leave the next generation with trillion dollar deficits.” Lamar Alexander of Tennessee demanded, “Should we ask every American family to increase their $531,000 debt in order to spend money for a stimulus package to try to restart the economy?”
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
Updated at 4:40 ET on March 30, 2020.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored. (It may also turn out to be the case that people who are immune to the disease can still pass it on under certain circumstances.)*
Across the country, social distancing is morphing from a public-health to political act. The consequences could be disastrous.
For Geoff Frost, the first sign of the coronavirus culture war came last weekend on the golf course. His country club, located in an affluent suburb of Atlanta, had recently introduced a slew of new policies to encourage social distancing. The communal water jugs were gone, the restaurant was closed, and golfers had been asked to limit themselves to one person per cart. Frost, a 43-year-old Democrat, told me the club’s mix of younger liberals and older conservatives had always gotten along just fine—but the guidelines were proving divisive.
At the driving range, while Frost and his like-minded friends slathered on hand sanitizer and kept six feet apart, the white-haired Republicans seemed to delight in breaking the new rules. They made a show of shaking hands, and complained loudly about the “stupid hoax” being propagated by virus alarmists. When their tee times were up, they piled defiantly into golf carts, shoulder to shoulder, and sped off toward the first hole.
With this tweet, President Donald Trump summarized a disturbingly common reaction to social-distancing measures. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick expressed the same sentiment when he told Americans to “get back to work,” even if doing so means more death. Fox News commentators, likewise, have argued that Americans should break free of the shackles of quarantine to reboot the economy.
Call it the gospel of growth: the notion that Americans cannot afford to save tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of lives, if it means sacrificing a quarter or two of gross domestic product.