Sunday, 20 Sep 2020

Trump heads to coronavirus-stricken Florida for political fund raiser

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – US President Donald Trump is heading to coronavirus-stricken Florida as he ramps up public appearances ahead of the election.

But the trip on Friday (July 10) for a political fund raiser and an anti-drug-trafficking event seems certain to be overshadowed by surging cases of the virus that has killed more than 4,000 Floridians.

Mr Trump – eager to restart economic activity before November’s election – claimed earlier this week the country was “in a good place”. He disagreed with public health officials who blamed the resurgence on states opening up too quickly.

Florida was among the most aggressive in easing restrictions, with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis allowing bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues to resume operations in early June.

The ongoing crisis has taken a toll on Mr Trump’s political standing, with polls showing him trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden substantially and a majority of Americans disapproving of his handling of the outbreak.

The president has intensified his travel schedule in recent weeks, hoping to demonstrate a return to normal and to divert attention to more favourable topics.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Thursday defended the decision for the president to travel, dismissing concerns about Mr Trump’s safety.

“Life comes with risk” and Mr Trump needs to govern, Mr Meadows said.

“We can’t operate in the spirit of fear.”

Mr Trump’s visit includes a stop at US Southern Command in Doral, where he’ll be briefed on recent efforts to intensify drug interdictions in the Caribbean Sea and east Pacific Ocean.

The White House says that a surge of military assets – announced earlier this year – has led to the seizures of more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in drugs, including more than 70,000kg of cocaine and 13,500 pounds of marijuana.

Mr Trump has sought to highlight counter-narcotics efforts as part of his re-election campaign, hoping to build support in communities that have been devastated by the opioid epidemic. But the official event also means taxpayers will largely foot the bill for his travel, reducing the cost of attending a fund-raising dinner at the home of a supporter in nearby Hillsboro Beach.

That event – with tickets setting supporters back US$580,600 per couple, according to the Washington Post – comes as Mr Trump has been outraised by Biden for two consecutive months. The former vice-president banked US$141 million in June, according to his campaign, besting Mr Trump’s US$131 million haul.

The fund raiser also comes as Republican officials are scrambling to raise money for the party’s convention, which Mr Trump moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville last month after being told that attendees could face social distancing requirements due to the virus in the Tar Heel State.

But the New York Times reported on Thursday that Mr DeSantis has asked his supporters not to go to the convention because of a dispute with Ms Susie Wiles, his former campaign manager who is now working with convention planners.

Organisers are still working out the logistics for the Aug 24-27 event, with Mr Trump expected to accept his party’s nomination on the final night at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. But the rapid spread of the virus has led the RNC to examine the feasibility of using an outdoor minor league baseball park or the stadium of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars instead.

On Thursday, Florida’s Department of Health announced 8,935 new cases, bringing the state’s total to more than 230,000. In Miami-Dade County some 92 per cent of intensive care hospital beds were full.

Mr Trump’s trip to the Miami area may also highlight a brewing controversy over comments attributed to Ms Katie Miller, communications director to Vice-President Mike Pence, in a new book by NBC News reporter Jacob Soboroff.

In the book, Ms Miller is quoted as saying “Why do we need to have ‘Little Havana’?” as the south Florida native argues that immigrants in the US should do more to assimilate.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Wednesday that Ms Miller told her the quote was “not true as described in the book” and defended the president as an “ally of the Cuban community”.

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