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Newsletter: Trump and Newsom’s quiet cooperation, for now

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the hospital ship USNS Mercy that arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on Friday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the Navy hospital ship Mercy that arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Don’t bother calling the governor of Washington state, President Trump said on Friday as he recalled his recent advice to Vice President Mike Pence. Skip “the woman in Michigan,” said Trump in referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. And then there was the jousting over ventilators and quarantine measures with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But largely overlooked in the president’s squabbles with governors in some of the states now struggling to combat the coronavirus crisisis are the largely positive things he’s said about the Democratic governor of California.

“Look, Gavin Newsom, the governor of California — he’s been, he’s been terrific,” Trump said on Sunday.

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Exactly how the president and the governor who has been one of his most persistent critics arrived at this place of quiet cooperation is one of the more intriguing political story lines of this historic crisis. The two men have rarely shied away from taking shots at each other on social media and in public appearances.

Trump took to Twitter in December to call Newsom “incompetent” on the issue of homelessness and said California “is totally out of control” during his State of the Union speech in January. In February, Newsom fired back by calling California “the most un-Trump state in America” during a national TV appearance, touting the more than five dozen lawsuits the state has filed against Trump administration policies.

Which brings us to the last few weeks and a general sense of cooperation, perhaps borne out of Newsom’s necessity to do whatever it takes to get federal assistance in responding to the fast-moving COVID-19 crisis. He has praised the Trump administration for responding to his coronavirus requests for disaster relief and for the deployment of a Navy hospital ship to Los Angeles.

And when things haven’t gone as expected, Newsom has opted against stoking the mercurial president’s fires. On Saturday, the governor traveled to San Jose to praise the work of a Silicon Valley energy company that is refurbishing ventilators. And he mentioned — somewhat subtly — that some 170 devices the federal government sent to Los Angeles County aren’t usable in their current form.

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“It’s one thing to have one of these yellow kits,” Newsom said, as he pointed to the boxes of federal government machines stacked behind him during an event at Bloom Energy’s makeshift ventilator facility. “It’s another to open them and actually plug them to see that they work. And these batteries haven’t been tested in some time. Some of the batteries need to be thrown out. Some of the components no longer are working.”

Note the lack of criticism over the Trump administration sending non-functioning machines. Nor was there any complaint that while the L.A. request for ventilators was granted, the request made by the state government has gone unanswered.

For his part, Trump seemed to make clear on Friday what he wants from governors in need of federal help. “All I want them to do, very simple. I want them to be appreciative,” he told reporters at the White House. “I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative.” On Sunday, he lashed out at reporters for suggesting he meant it was personal, though he then said, “When they disrespect me, they’re disrespecting our government.”

Trump abandons an Easter ending

Trump announced Sunday that federal social distancing guidelines, which were to either expire or be renewed on Monday, will be extended to April 30. In doing so, he abandoned his earlier suggestions for ending the nationwide effort by Easter, which falls on April 12.

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“That was aspirational,” he said of his earlier stated hopes of restarting the economy by Easter.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease specialist, called the extension a “wise and prudent” decision.

National lightning round

— Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are highly vulnerable to the pandemic but dependent on the U.S. for economic and security assistance. They have little leverage against a Trump administration clearly determined to continue deportations.

— The Pentagon was waging a two-front war against the coronavirus outbreak Saturday, ramping up assistance in hard-hit states as commanders battled to prevent widespread infections in the ranks.

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— Former Vice President Joe Biden is calling for an immediate nationwide stay-at-home order to contain the spread of COVID-19, saying the main mistake that leaders can make in a pandemic is “going too slow.”

— In another warning sign of how hard the coronavirus crisis may punish the U.S. economy, American consumer confidence in March saw its sharpest drop since the Great Recession in 2008.

— Even as Trump ordered General Motors on Friday to begin manufacturing ventilators, the president’s broader strategy to get desperately needed medical supplies to hospitals and doctors across the country remained shrouded in uncertainty.

— We are about to find out if the stimulus efforts are enough to calm nervous markets, experts say.

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California’s cash reserve could be wiped out

The state’s lawmakers have taken pride over the better part of the last decade in erasing billions of dollars in state government debts accrued during the Great Recession and building up close to $21 billion in cash reserves.

The events of the last month threaten to disrupt that fiscal tranquility. Cash could be in short supply by the summer and fall.

A number of the state’s most experienced budget watchers now expect that California might need to use the entire cash surplus, and possibly much more money, to prop up vital government services that could be severely underfunded by a quickly collapsing economy.

“This is a sudden downturn unlike anything we’ve seen,” said Gabriel Petek, the state’s legislative analyst. “We’re kind of flying blind at this point.”

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Today’s essentials

— Newsom and the L.A. City Council on Friday expanded efforts to prevent residential evictions during the pandemic. But they dismissed calls for broader action that housing advocates say would have better protected tenants from losing their homes.

— California faces an unprecedented number of unemployment claims amid the public health crisis, sparking emergency actions by the state agency that handles jobless benefits and a waiting game to see whether the state can keep up.

— Amid a frantic scramble to open hospitals and increase the number of healthcare workers, California nursing schools are warning state officials that an estimated 10,000 nursing students are in jeopardy of not graduating.

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— Faced with concerns among workers about the spread of COVID-19, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has closed all of its more than 170 field offices.

— Despite unprecedented attention and spending on homelessness, tens of thousands of people are still living on the streets of California amid the coronavirus outbreak.

— The federal corruption case against former Los Angeles Councilman Mitchell Englander had all the elements of an overheated crime novel: envelopes of cash, a trip to a Las Vegas casino, a female escort sent to a hotel room. And now, it will have a guilty plea.

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