The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

President Trump Cancels Republican National Convention in Florida

President Donald Trump takes questions during a coronavirus news briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 23, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I’m Jimmy Quinn, one of National Review’s Buckley Fellows, filling in for Jim Geraghty. On the menu today: Trump moves most of the Republican National Convention online, the Labor Department reports a new rise in unemployment claims, and Mike Pompeo takes on the Chinese Communist Party in a landmark address.

Acknowledging Coronavirus Reality, Trump Moves RNC Online

“It’s time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida, component of the GOP convention,” said President Trump during a press briefing yesterday afternoon. Despite previously downplaying aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has in recent days pivoted to echoing the recommendations of public-health officials as polls have shown him losing to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. In addition to endorsing the use of masks on Twitter for the first time this week, he admitted Wednesday, in a reversal from his previous messaging, that the virus will probably “get worse before it gets better.”

The convention was initially supposed to take place in Charlotte, N.C. But that changed when Trump and North Carolina governor Roy Cooper found themselves at loggerheads over whether public-health restrictions would be implemented for the 50,000-person event. While the Jacksonville portion of the convention will now be moved online, a day of previously scheduled official RNC meetings will still take place in Charlotte. Meanwhile, “The 2020 Democratic National Convention is being re-imagined to connect with voters from across America using satellite events from the swing states that are linked to a working convention floor in Milwaukee,” according to a DNC document obtained by the Daily Beast.

Florida has been battered by the coronavirus. NPR has the latest developments from the state:

Florida reported its largest number of deaths in a single day from the coronavirus: 173 on Thursday. The state says 10,249 people tested positive for the virus.

Florida is behind only California and New York in total cases. Other states, including Texas and California, also posted record deaths this week as the nation’s total number of COVID-19 cases topped 4 million.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis met with hospital leaders and administrators Thursday at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne. He said hospitals are stressed statewide, but that there is adequate capacity.

The decision to move most of the convention online puts a fine point on Trump’s shift toward more stringent public-health measures as much of the country begins to face a situation similar to New York in the spring. While the president initially resisted some of the new realities of coronavirus-era life, it seems that he now recognizes the high political cost of not acknowledging this new normal.

New Labor Numbers: Over 30 Million People Collecting Unemployment

The Labor Department came out with new unemployment statistics Thursday, reporting for the first time in 15 weeks a rise in applications for unemployment insurance. In the week ending on July 18, some 1.4 million Americans sought unemployment, joining the more than 30 million people who currently receive benefits. As much of the country grapples with the pandemic, reopening plans have been rolled back, contributing to a surge in joblessness.

The new numbers come as lawmakers negotiate a new unemployment aid package as the $600 federal payment to jobless Americans is set to expire at the end of the month. Politico has more on this:

Republicans were originally opposed to continuing the extra $600-a-week jobless benefit, but are now on board with offering more federal unemployment aid — at a lower amount.

However, it’s already too late to prevent a lapse in benefits for millions of workers. Some states with antiquated systems won’t be able to update their computers in time to prevent a gap.

The rise in jobless claims confirms economists’ fears that despite declines in the unemployment rate in May and June, the economy is still scrambling to recover from the pandemic-induced shock.

The End of Engagement with China?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a highly anticipated address on U.S.–China relations yesterday. Appearing at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California, Pompeo castigated the Chinese Communist Party as an unmatched enemy of freedom around the world, calling for a strong global response to change its behavior. The remarks might not get too much play right now, but it’s the kind of landmark speech that historians will return to as they try to explain this moment in U.S.–China relations.

Although Pompeo did not use the address to unroll any new policy initiatives, he put a fine point on where we are right now, suggesting an official end to the era of no-strings-attached U.S. engagement with China:

What do the American people have to show now 50 years on from engagement with China? Did the theories of our leaders that proposed China’s evolution toward freedom and democracy prove to be true? Is this China’s definition of a win-win situation? And indeed centrally from the Secretary of State perspective, is America safer?

Pompeo’s remarks followed a spate of actions taken by the administration in recent weeks amid a significant downturn in U.S.­–China ties. Earlier in the week, the United States demanded that Beijing close its consulate in Houston, alleging that it is a center of economic espionage that facilitates illicit technology transfers to China. The Chinese consul general in Houston indicated that Beijing will refuse the order, and last night it returned the favor, shuttering the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. In addition, the administration has also taken steps to push back against China’s South China Sea territorial claims and to respond to the CCP’s draconian Hong Kong security law and human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Pompeo’s speech was the capstone in a series of speeches on China by other Trump administration officials. National-security adviser Robert O’Brien focused on the ideological dimension of the strategic competition with China, while FBI director Chris Wray discussed Chinese espionage and Attorney General William Barr warned about how Beijing uses its economic heft to influence Americans. Their remarks contrast with the positions of administration officials, such as Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who prefer to prioritize commercial engagement with China. That perspective has lost cachet, though, as the Trump campaign has played up a “tough on China” message and the chances of negotiating Phase Two of a trade deal between the countries have all but evaporated.

Pompeo concluded with a call for “a new alliance of democracies,” arguing that “if the free world doesn’t change, Communist China will surely change us.” His California swing came immediately on the tail of a trip to London, where he met with U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson, British lawmakers, and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law.

ADDENDUM: Europe is also getting tough on China. The U.K.’s recent move to ban Huawei from its 5G networks got a lot of press, and it’s been joined by France and Italy. But Germany remains a notable exception to this shift — I have more on this in a recent Corner post.

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