What Now?! – March 13, 2020

Dan Balz: “In times of national crisis, people look to the president for direction, reassurance and confidence. President Trump’s Oval Office speech on Wednesday night provided precisely the opposite.”

“From the misstatements to the omissions to his labored demeanor, the president sent a message that shook financial markets, disrupted relations with European allies, confused his many viewers and undermined the most precious commodity of any president, his credibility.”

“With the stock markets plunging into bear territory, the health-care system struggling to keep pace with the spreading virus and Americans wondering what’s next, Trump is dealing unsteadily with the greatest crisis of his presidency. The pandemic is a physical and fiscal threat to the well-being of millions of Americans. It also has become a political threat to the president’s hopes for a second term.”

“In the most scripted of presidential settings, a prime-time televised address to the nation, President Trump decided to ad-lib — and his errors triggered a market meltdown, panicked travelers overseas and crystallized for his critics just how dangerously he has fumbled his management of the coronavirus,” the Washington Post reports.

“Even Trump — a man practically allergic to admitting mistakes — knew he’d screwed up by declaring Wednesday night that his ban on travel from Europe would include cargo and trade, and acknowledged as much to aides in the Oval Office as soon as he’d finished speaking.”

“Futures for the Dow Jones industrial average fell in real time with virtually each word Trump uttered.”

“Trump — who believed that by giving the speech he would appear in command and that his remarks would reassure financial markets and the country — was in ‘an unusually foul mood’ and sounded at times ‘apoplectic’ on Thursday as he watched stocks tumble and digested widespread criticism of his speech.”

“The selloff in U.S. stocks gathered pace Thursday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling nearly 10% in its worst day since the 1987 crash, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq joined it in bear-market territory,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The furious falls in share prices on rising fears of a global slowdown due to the rapid spread of coronavirus occurred despite a $1.5 trillion intervention in short-term funding markets by the Federal Reserve.”

Washington Post: “House Democrats released a package of economic measures late Wednesday that included a $2 billion boost to state unemployment insurance programs, more than $1 billion in nutritional aid, a new paid leave benefit for employees affected by the outbreak, and an increase in federal Medicaid spending, as well as a guarantee of free coronavirus testing.”

“But that package met a frosty reception from the White House and congressional Republicans, who were wary of the bill’s costs and its potential burdens on employers. Many openly feared a reprise of the 2009 fiscal stimulus package passed during the global financial crisis, which GOP lawmakers slammed as a wasteful measure that was more about advancing Democratic priorities than boosting the economy.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that Senate will cancel next week’s recess to say in town to craft coronavirus legislation, The Hill reports.

“Lawmakers in Congress are expressing outrage and confusion as to why the United States is not testing individuals for the COVID-19 coronavirus at as fast a pace as other countries, following a closed-door briefing with administration officials who failed to explain the discrepancy,” CNNreports.

“Members were exasperated with what they said was a lack of clarity in the officials’ answers, as lawmakers struggle to understand how the US has been so far outpaced by other countries grappling with the pandemic.”

A source close to Donald Trump said the President is telling people close to him that he is indeed concerned about coming into contact with people who have contracted the coronavirus, including the Brazilian official who tested positive after coming face-to-face with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, CNN reports.

And yet, “President Trump will not be tested for the coronavirus after coming into contact with a Brazilian official who tested positive for the virus just days after participating in meetings with him in Florida,” the New York Times reports. Vox notes that Trump is breaking his own agency’s coronavirus guidelines by not self-quarantining.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is being tested for coronavirus after being at Mar-a-Lago with Brazilian president last weekend, NBC News reports. He’s self-quarantining “in an abundance of caution.”

“Incoming White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was in the West Wing on Thursday, emerging from self-quarantine after encountering a person infected with coronavirus at a political event last month,” Bloomberg  reports. This is curious: “The president held an emergency Oval Office meeting Wednesday to discuss options for dealing with the virus. More than a dozen senior aides attended, but Meadows wasn’t there and wasn’t asked to join by phone.”

“US-led coalition airstrikes are underway against multiple Iranian-backed militia sites in Iraq,” CNN reports. “The strikes come one day after the US assessed an Iranian-backed group was responsible for a rocket attack on a base where coalition forces are located, killing two American service members and one British service member.”

James Hohmann: “The unforced errors in President Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday night captured in miniature his uneven, muddled and often confused response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

“This was not some off-the-cuff riff as Trump prepared to board Marine One. It was a formal speech, read from a teleprompter, in prime time. Networks cut into regularly scheduled programming at 9 p.m. Eastern so that the American people could hear directly from their commander in chief about what is perhaps the gravest crisis of his tenure. It was only the second time during his three years in office that Trump requested the opportunity to address the country this way. Yet he still could not manage to get the basic facts straight.”

Washington Post: “Trump’s obsession with numbers — both publicly and privately — has dominated and shaped the administration’s response to the coronavirus, as advisers and public health experts try to placate a leader who largely views the global pandemic through the political lens of how the statistics reflect on his presidency and hopes for reelection.”

“Privately, administration officials are trying to get Trump more comfortable with the idea of an inevitable rise in the number of coronavirus cases — in part by explaining to him that a higher number of cases overall could potentially result in a lower mortality rate. Sharing the growing number of cases might also demonstrate that many of those who test positive are asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms…Trump is increasingly coming to accept that the number of individuals who have tested positive for the virus is going to rise, even though he’s not happy about it, the official added.”

“New York will ban most gatherings of more than 500 people, including at Broadway shows, and restrict smaller gatherings in an extraordinary step to fight the growing outbreak of the coronavirus in the state,” the New York Times reports.

“The restrictions were New York’s most forceful move yet to try to mitigate the spread of the virus. They are expected to have a profound impact on the city’s cultural institutions, including Broadway, a multibillion dollar industry at the heart of New York’s tourist trade.”

New York Times: “Sean Hannity used his syndicated talk-radio program on Wednesday to share a prediction he had found on Twitter about what is really happening with the coronavirus: It’s a ‘fraud’ by the deep state to spread panic in the populace, manipulate the economy and suppress dissent.”

“As the coronavirus spreads around the globe, denial and disinformation about the risks are proliferating on media outlets popular with conservatives… Where doctors and scientists see a public health crisis, President Trump and his media allies have seen a political coup afoot.”

Susan Glasser: “Crises clarify. The bigger the crisis, the more the clarity, which is why the incompetence, dishonesty, and sheer callousness of the Trump Presidency have been clearer in recent days than ever before. As the coronavirus, as of Wednesday an official pandemic, spreads, the lives of Americans depend on the decisions made—or not made, as the case may be—by a President uniquely ill-suited to command in this type of public-health catastrophe. In that sense, the last few weeks may well have been the most clarifying of Donald Trump’s Presidency…”

“Trump was detached from the unfolding reality of a global crisis that is unlike any in memory. I’ve watched Presidential speeches for a few decades now. I cannot recall one that was less equal to the moment.”

Michael Tomasky: “I had a slightly different reaction watching Donald Trump’s address last night than everyone else. I didn’t think it was a complete disaster. I guess my expectations have been lowered over the years such that the mere act of him successfully reading more than five consecutive sentences off the TelePrompTer seems a triumph worthy of some combination of Churchill and Olivier. And, I thought: Well, he’s actually trying.”

“Then, after it was over, it struck me that that—the fact that he was in fact trying—was exactly the problem. He was trying, and that was the best he could do. This wasn’t the usual flatulent bluster aimed squarely at the fellas at the stupid end of the bar at Moe’s. He didn’t blame Cryin’ Chuck or Nervous Nancy or Christopher Steele or the deep state, although he’s still Trump and he couldn’t help himself, he had to call it a ‘foreign virus.’ But this was his attempt at serious leadership.”

“And all he did was raise more questions than he answered and, of course, pepper in a few stupid lies and smears.”

“The escalating coronavirus crisis is presenting President Trump with a challenge for which he appears ill-equipped, his favorite political tactics ineffective and his reelection chances in jeopardy,” the AP reports.

“A rare crisis battering the White House that is not of the president’s own making, the spreading coronavirus has panicked global financial markets and alarmed Americans, many of whom have turned to the Oval Office for guidance and reassurances. But what they have found is a president struggling for a solution, unable to settle Wall Street and proving particularly vulnerable to a threat that is out of his control.”

Washington Post: “Although he read from a prepared script as he delivered a rare prime-time televised address to the nation from the Oval Office, Trump incorrectly described his own policy.”

Aaron Carroll: “The ability of the American health care system to absorb a shock — what experts call surge capacity — is much weaker than many believe.”

“As a medical doctor who analyzes health issues for The Upshot, I strive to place your fears in context and usually tell you that you shouldn’t be nearly as afraid as you are. But when it comes to the nation’s response to the new coronavirus, I cannot be so reassuring.”

Edward Luce: “On Wednesday night the global pandemic met US nationalism. It will not take long to see which comes off best. As Donald Trump was speaking, the Dow futures market nosedived. His Europe travel ban came just a few hours after the US stock market entered bear territory — a fall of 20 per cent or more — for the first time since the global financial crisis. It also followed the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic. Mr Trump’s address was meant to calm the waters. By the time he finished they were considerably rougher…”

“It is unclear how Europe and other countries will respond to Mr Trump’s dramatic announcement. In an ideal situation, America’s president would have acknowledged that the pathogen knows no borders and has no political loyalties. It poses a common threat that requires a co-ordinated global response.”

“That is not the way Mr Trump thinks. Public health officials say that millions of Americans will probably be infected. The official total now stands at 1,312. Mr Trump has never faced a crisis on anything like this scale — and it is still in its early stages. His remedies so far are cause for deep concern. Who will he blame when they fail?”

CNN: “In 2016, much of the trolling aimed at the US election operated from an office block in St. Petersburg, Russia. A months-long CNN investigation has discovered that, in this election cycle, at least part of the campaign has been outsourced — to trolls in the west African nations of Ghana and Nigeria.”

“They have focused almost exclusively on racial issues in the US, promoting black empowerment and often displaying anger towards white Americans. The goal, according to experts who follow Russian disinformation campaigns, is to inflame divisions among Americans and provoke social unrest.”

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