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What Now?! – March 4, 2020

“Defense Secretary Mark Esper has urged American military commanders overseas not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House or run afoul of President Trump’s messaging on the growing health challenge,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Esper’s directive, delivered last week during a video teleconference call with combatant commanders around the world, is the latest iteration of Mr. Trump’s efforts to manage public fears over the disease, even as it continues to spread around the world.”

“You should never destroy your own credibility. And you don’t want to go to war with a president.” — Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, quoted by Politico, on walking “the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.”

“The Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by a half percentage point on Tuesday morning, delivering a booster shot to stem potential economic disruptions from the spreading coronavirus epidemic,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Tuesday’s cut, which lowered the federal-funds rate to a range between 1% and 1.25%, is the first to occur in between a scheduled policy meeting since the 2008 financial crisis.”

The Dow dropped almost 800 points again today, reversing almost all the gains from Monday.

“A White House lawyer and former counsel to the House Intelligence Committee under Devin Nunes has been named senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council, the latest instance of President Trump elevating a trusted loyalist to control the intelligence community,” Politico reports.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the first major abortion case to come before the court since Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch took the bench.

The case, June Medical Services v. Russo, challenges a 2014 Louisiana law, known as the “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” which requires doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges from a nearby hospital. When the law was signed, one of the state’s six abortion clinics had a physician who was compliant. Today, Louisiana has three abortion clinics and if the Supreme Court finds the law constitutional, all of three of them would stop offering the procedure.

Louisiana’s law is identical to one from Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 when Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was seen as a swing vote on the issue, was still on the bench. A decision in the case is expected by June. (Sources: NBC News / CBS News / CNN / New York Times / Washington Post)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN that he will back the nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) to be the country’s next intelligence chief.

Asked what changed from last year when Ratcliffe was first nominated and GOP senators had concerns then, Burr said: “There was a different pathway in the Senate. I don’t think anybody has changed their opinion of John Ratcliffe. What changed is the pathway to get somebody confirmed. If Democrats want to vote against him and have Richard Grenell stay on as acting is fine with me.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is threatening to issue a subpoena for records related to former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his work for a Ukrainian energy firm — the most significant escalation yet in an investigation that has divided Senate Republicans, Politico reports.

Vice President Mike Pence shook hands last Friday with cadets at the Sarasota Military Academy, where one of the cadets is now under quarantine over coronavirus, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Monday filed his seventh lawsuit in 12 months alleging that he was the victim of defamation or conspiracy, this time suing The Washington Post, the Fresno Bee reports.

During his visit to the National Institutes of Health on Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump touted the apparently excellent relationship he now has with Taliban co-founder and deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with whom he’d spoken on the phone several hours earlier.

“The relationship is very good that I have with the Mullah and we had a good, long conversation today,” he told reporters. “They want to cease the violence, they’d like to cease violence also.”

Trump said that the U.S. and the terrorist organization “all have a very common interest” because “we’re looking to get this ended.” On Saturday, Trump signed a peace deal with Taliban leaders in which the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Wall Street Journal: The Trump administration is considering paying hospitals for treating uninsured patients with coronavirus. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is in discussions about using the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse hospitals and medical facilities as concerns rise over the costs of treating some of the 27 million Americans without health coverage.

New York Times: Public and private labs say they’re not close to reaching the federal government’s promise to produce one million coronavirus test kits by the end of the week. Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA, said that the CDC was working with a private manufacturer to increase the testing capacity of laboratories across the nation. White House officials, however, said that the number of tests actually administered could be considerably lower.

Politico: The CDC blocked a top scientist from the FDA from helping coordinate the government’s stalled coronavirus testing last month. The FDA had dispatched Timothy Stenzel to the CDC in an effort to expedite the development of lab tests for coronavirus, but the CDC made him wait overnight before granting him permission to the campus. Stenzel found evidence of lab contamination, which he reported to HHS officials.

President Trump’s former campaign advisor J.D. Gordon told special counsel Robert Mueller’s team that Trump’s prospective foreign policy team as being run “like a 6th grade student council with no real authority or power” and said that spokeswoman Hope Hicks “lied about contact with Russians,” BuzzFeed News reports.

Gordon also told Mueller’s team that the Trump campaign was “disorganized and chaotic at times” and “believed there were a lot of shenanigans happening at the highest levels.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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