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Inside Wuhan's virus lab, Trump's executive actions under fire, and evicted during a pandemic

NBC News became the first foreign news organization to be granted access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology since the outbreak began.
Image: A medical staff member gestures inside an isolation ward at Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province
A medical staff member gestures inside an isolation ward at Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 10, 2020.AFP - Getty Images file

President Donald Trump has blurred the lines between his campaign and his official duties, watchdogs and officials from past administrations warn. Plus, inside Wuhan’s Institute of Virology and evictions in South Carolina signal dire straits for renters nationwide.

Here's what we're watching this morning.


How Trump erased the election-year line between politics and policy

Presidents running for re-election have traditionally worked to balance official government business with campaign activity. But government watchdogs and officials from past administrations warn that President Donald Trump has smashed that norm, showing an unusual willingness to use his presidential platform for political purposes.

Trump's penchant for blurring the lines between his campaign and his official duties came to a head last week when he confirmed that he was considering giving his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination — one of the most anticipated moments of the election season — from the White House South Lawn.

Meanwhile, top Democrats on Sunday criticized Trump's executive actions on coronavirus relief as "absurdly unconstitutional" and "way off base."

The measures, which Trump signed on Saturday and that sidestep Congress after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on Friday, provide an additional $400 per week unemployment benefits among other relief measures such as a temporary payroll tax cut.

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Inside the Wuhan lab at the center of an international firestorm

Cloistered off a major thoroughfare, the Wuhan Institute of Virology could pass for a college campus, its red brick buildings distinguishable from their busy surroundings only by a long, imposing driveway lined with cameras, with a security guard standing sentry.

On the neatly manicured grounds beside a small man-made lake is a newer structure with silver sidings and few windows. This, the institute's BSL-4 lab, stands at the center of an international firestorm of recrimination over China's role in the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, NBC News became the first foreign news organization to be granted access to the institute since the outbreak began, meeting with senior scientists working to pinpoint the origins of the virus. The Wuhan institute and its scientists have become the focus of intense speculation and conspiracy theories — some emanating from the White House — about China's alleged efforts to downplay the outbreak's severity and whether the virus leaked from the facility.

During the roughly five-hour visit, Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said she and others felt unfairly targeted. She urged that politics not cloud investigations into how the coronavirus spilled over into humans.

"It is unfortunate that we have been targeted as a scapegoat for the origin of the virus," she said. "Any person would inevitably feel very angry or misunderstood being subject to unwarranted or malicious accusations while carrying out research and related work in the fight against the virus."

NBC News' Janis Mackey Frayer tours the Wuhan Institute of Virology with Dr. Yuan Zhiming, Director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory.NBC News

Evictions in one state show how imminent homelessness could be for thousands

When Sineeka Latimer of Greenville, South Carolina wanted to renew her lease, collecting all the documents she needed proved a challenge. She got an eviction notice days later.

She is one of thousands of people who face or will face eviction as the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic has led millions across the United States to find their housing situations complicated or to miss their housing payments.

Now, with tens of millions in the United States out of work and the sudden disappearance of the unemployment relief and eviction moratoriums provided by the expired CARES Act, the pain caused by the pandemic could reach a whole new dimension.

Meanwhile, as the start of the new school year nears, 53 Bureau of Indian Education schools run by the federal government are set to reopen on Sept. 16, despite the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Native Americans.

Fears are running high among educators that it’s not safe right now to do so.

Here are other coronavirus developments:

  • Track U.S. hot spots where COVID-19 infection rates are rising

COVID-19 changes to voting could disproportionately affect people of color

Voting by mail has been championed as the safest way to participate in the 2020 election while the nation remains under threat from the coronavirus.

But the changes that states are scrambling to make ahead of November to help protect voters from COVID-19 — expanding their mail and absentee voting systems while reducing the number of polling locations — risk supersizing the issues of racial discrimination and disenfranchisement that Black, Hispanic and other voters of color have already spent generations fighting.

Meanwhile, Former Vice President Joe Biden is closing in on a final decision on his choice of a running mate, four sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. As he does so, women’s groups are mobilizing and issuing warnings about the kinds of attacks they expect to be made against a woman running mate.

“We’ve all been to this movie before,” Tina Tchen, President and CEO of the advocacy group Times Up, told NBC News.


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Plus


THINK about it

As the nation debates reopening schools during the pandemic, the focus has been on creating physically safe environments. But that does not guarantee students’ psychological well-being, writes psychologist Maggie Mulqueen in an opinion piece.


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What’s the best food for your cat? We consulted experts and compiled some of the best cat food options around.


One fun thing

Millions were awed by Anthony Madu’s talent after a video of him dancing in the rain in Lagos, Nigeria went viral.

“It make me feel strong and happy when I’m dancing,” said the 11-year-old who wants to be a professional dancer when he grows up.

When actress and singer Cynthia Erivo saw the video she got in touch with the American Ballet Theatre. Their ballet dancers are now offering encouragement from half a world away. And more than that too -- the dance company offered Madu a scholarship.

“I think it’s extremely important because I think boys are not encouraged to do this incredibly hard craft that actually encourages strength and stamina and beauty,” said Erivo.

The Leap of Dance Academy, which offers free lessons to kids, has also seen other offers of support pour in. With one viral video, many lives changed.


Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

I’m filling in for Petra Cahill while she’s taking a break. If you have any comments — likes, dislikes — send me an email at: rachel.elbaum@nbcuni.com

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Thanks, Rachel