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National Govt & Politics

    President Donald Trump warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. Public health officials stressed Wednesday that the number could be less if people across the country bear down on keeping their distance from one another. “We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. That would require all Americans to take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease, she said. Added Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, “This is a number that we need to anticipate, but we don’t necessarily have to accept it as being inevitable.” Trump called it “a matter of life and death” for Americans to heed his administration’s guidelines and predicted the country would soon see a “light at the end of the tunnel” in a pandemic that has killed more than 3,500 Americans and infected 170,000 more. 'I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said. “This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country,” Trump added. “We're going to lose thousands of people.” The jaw-dropping projections were laid out during a grim, two-hour White House briefing. Officials described a death toll that in a best-case scenario would likely be greater than the more than 53,000 American lives lost during World War I. And the model's high end neared the realm of possibility that Americans lost to the virus could approach the 291,000 Americans killed on the battlefield during World II. “There's no magic bullet,” Birx said. 'There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic.” Fauci called the numbers “sobering” and urged Americans to “step on the accelerator” with their collective mitigation efforts. “We are continuing to see things go up,” Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.' Birx said pandemic forecasts initially predicted 1.5 million to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. But that was a worst-case scenario, without efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing. She added that states that have not yet seen a spike in cases as New York has could take action to flatten the curve of rising hospitalizations and deaths. It’s not only social distancing that could make a difference, but also the frantic efforts by hospitals around the country to prepare for an onslaught of seriously ill patients. The better prepared hospitals are, the greater the chances of lives being saved. There’s also a wild card when it comes to treatment: whether the experimental drug combination Trump has touted — a medicine for malaria and an antibiotic — will actually make a difference. That combination is already being used on thousands of patients, and Fauci said he would want to see a rigorous test of its effectiveness. Trump's comments came after he announced Sunday that he was extending to April 30 the social distancing guidelines that advise Americans to cease large gatherings, work from home, suspend onsite learning at schools and more in a nationwide effort to stem the spread of the virus. It was an abrupt reversal for Trump, who spent much of last week targeting April 12 as the day he wanted to see Americans “pack the pews” for Easter Sunday services. Trump called the data “very sobering,” saying it was his understanding that 100,000 deaths was a minimum that would be difficult to avoid. He also sought to rewrite his past minimization of the outbreak, saying he rejected those who compared the new coronavirus to the flu — when in fact he repeatedly did so publicly. “This could be hell of a bad two weeks,'” Trump said. He added: “You know 100,000 is, according to modeling, a very low number. In fact, when I first saw the number ... they said it was unlikely you’ll be able to attain that. We have to see but I think we're doing better than that.” Trump played down concerns from New York's Andrew Cuomo and other governors that their states' hospitals don't have enough ventilators to treat an anticipated crush of patients. Trump said the federal government currently has a stockpile of 10,000 ventilators that it plans on distributing as needed. “Now, when the surge occurs, if it occurs fairly evenly, we'll be able to distribute them very quickly before they need them,” Trump said. “But we want to have a reserve right now. It's like having oil reserves.” Birx said the experiences of Washington state and California give her hope that other states can keep the coronavirus under control through social distancing. That’s because they moved quickly to contain the early clusters of coronavirus by closing schools, urging people to work from home, banning large gatherings and taking other measures now familiar to most Americans, she noted. “I am reassured by looking at the Seattle line,” she added. “California and Washington state reacted very early to this.” Many other states and local governments already have stiff controls in place on mobility and gatherings. Trump said he would also ask Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow the docking of two cruise ships with passengers who have had contact with patients suffering from COVID-19. Passengers are anxious to disembark once they reach Florida, but DeSantis said the state's health care resources are already stretched too thin to take on a ship's coronavirus caseload. “They're dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I'm going to do what's right, not only for us for but humanity.” Trump also said he planned to curtail his travel for the month ahead and stay close to the White House to safeguard his health. The president hasn't held one of his signature big-stadium rallies since early March, and it's unlikely he'll be holding another one anytime soon. 'I think it's important that I remain healthy. I really do,' Trump said. “So for the most part we're staying here.” Trump spoke after another troubling day for the stock market, which has been in a free fall as the cononavirus ground the economy to a near-halt and left millions unemployed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 400 points, or roughly 1.9%, to seal the worst first-quarter finish of its 135-year history.
  • President Donald Trump's allies are trying to contain a politically risky election-year fight with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as he struggles to balance presidential politics with a global pandemic in one of the nation's most important swing states. Both sides have tried to de-escalate the feud this week, although Trump's supporters in particular sought to downplay tensions that ratcheted up over the weekend when the Republican president unleashed a social media broadside against Whitmer, a Democrat who had been critical of the federal government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Trump has clashed with other Democratic governors as well, but he saved his most aggressive insults for the first-term female governor who is considered a leading vice presidential prospect for his opponent. “Everyone should be shedding the partisanship and coming together,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in an interview when asked about Trump's attacks, suggesting that some of his criticism had been mischaracterized. “I am rooting for Gov. Whitmer,” said McDaniel, who lives in Michigan. “I think she’s done good things. ... I just didn't like her trying to lay every problem at the president’s feet.” The backpedaling underscores the nature of the dispute, which comes seven months before Election Day in a state that could make or break Trump's reelection bid. Michigan is an elite presidential battleground that has historically celebrated bipartisanship and pragmatism while rewarding candidates who rally behind key institutions in crisis. Four years ago, Trump eked out a win by about 11,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast in the state. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and McDaniel's uncle, lost his home state of Michigan in 2012 after opposing federal efforts to rescue the automotive industry. And Trump, by unleashing a personal attack against the state's governor in the midst of a pandemic, has sparked new fears that he, too, may be hurting himself and his party on the eve of the next election. Michigan Rep. Paul Mitchell, a Republican, said he raised concerns about Trump's political attack with the administration directly. “I did relay to the administration that I didn’t think it was helpful and why play that game,” Mitchell said in an interview. “These are times when the American people look for leaders. Leaders don’t whine. Leaders don’t blame.' He said he raised similar concerns with Whitmer's office, suggesting that her criticisms about the federal response have not necessarily been accurate. 'This is not the time where we need more drama in this country,' Mitchell said. While political fights are common for Trump, Whitmer's rise in Democratic politics has been defined by her decision usually not to attack the president. Whitmer, a 48-year-old longtime state legislator and attorney, ran for governor as a pragmatic liberal, emphasizing her bipartisan work while pledging to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. She rarely talked about Trump before the election or after. But as a frequent guest on national media in recent weeks, Whitmer has criticized the federal response while pleading for ventilators, personal protection equipment and test kits as Michigan has emerged as one of the hardest-hit states. Republicans were especially upset after she implied during a Friday radio interview that the Trump administration was intentionally withholding medical supplies from Michigan. In a weekend tweet storm as the coronavirus death toll surged, Trump called her “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer,' charging that she was “way over her head” and “doesn't have a clue' about how to handle the health crisis. Two days earlier, Trump said publicly that he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, the leader of the White House's pandemic response, not to call “the woman in Michigan.' Trump has since deleted the tweet. And in a press briefing on Tuesday, he said he had a productive conversation with Whitmer earlier in the day. The governor, too, has backed away from the feud this week as the state grapples with the escalating crisis. Michigan reported more than 7,600 cases of coronavirus and 259 deaths as of Tuesday. In a statement, Whitmer declared that her “No. 1 priority is protecting Michigan families from the spread of COVID-19.' “I don’t care about partisan fights or getting nicknames from the president,' she said. Yet Trump's initial fiery response — and the scramble to contain it — is nothing if not consistent. The former New York real estate magnate has showed he cannot help but respond with force when criticized. As first lady Melania Trump noted almost exactly four years ago, “When you attack him he will punch back 10 times harder.” In this case, however, allies quietly note that he did not consider the likely political ramifications in a state he badly needs to win in November. “Anyone with half a brain can see that attacking an incredibly popular governor who's showing real leadership during a crisis is not a net plus,” said John Anzalone, whose firm handles polling for Whitmer and former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign. Biden has stood up for Whitmer repeatedly in recent days. On Tuesday evening, his senior adviser Anita Dunn reinforced Biden's support for the governor, who she said “is fighting hard for her state and setting an example for leaders across the nation.” “Joe Biden prays that Donald Trump can find the strength to live up to her example,” Dunn said. Meanwhile, it was difficult to find a Michigan Republican willing to defend Trump's behavior. A spokeswoman for Republican state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey had this to say when asked about Trump's declaration that Pence should not call Whitmer: “The Senate majority leader believes everyone is coping with an unusual amount of stress during this time.' The clash was particularly sensitive because of the evolving nature of gender politics in the Trump era. Suburban women, including many Republicans, have increasingly fled Trump's GOP, enabling major Democratic victories across the country in 2018 and 2019. His decision to single out Whitmer came the same week he attacked another high-profile Michigan woman, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, whom he jabbed for not working fast enough to help the government produce ventilators. “Always a mess with Mary B,” Trump tweeted. Trump's team hopes to repair the relationship with suburban women before Election Day, at least somewhat, in a state that matters more than most. Democrats will not make it easy. 'It's sad but not shocking that President Trump has attacked Gov. Whitmer for doing her job. He clearly has a problem with strong, competent women,' said Stephanie Schriock, president of the group EMILY'S List, which helps elect women who support abortion rights. Meanwhile, Republican Bill Schuette, whom Whitmer defeated in 2018, praised Trump’s leadership managing the pandemic but also said “we need to lay down the politics' in response to questions about the president's divisive comments and her performance during the crisis. “This is not a time for partisanship,” Schuette said. 'This is a time of working together in an open, honest fashion. That's what people expect and deserve, particularly in a time of crisis.” ___ Peoples reported from New York.
  • The White House on Tuesday released new estimates of a staggering death toll associated with the spread of the Coronavirus in the United States, predicting anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths even if Americans do their best to avoid social interactions, as President Donald Trump warned the nation of a difficult road ahead. 'This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks,' the President said at the White House. 'This is going to be a rough two week period.' In the White House Briefing Room, Mr. Trump fully embraced scientific models championed by experts which show many thousands of Americans are likely to die in the month of April from the virus. 'I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,' the President said. 'We're going to go through a very tough two weeks.' The blunt warning came on the deadliest day yet in the United States as a whole, as nearly 800 deaths had been announced on Tuesday by the time the President reached the podium at the White House. 'It's a matter of life and death, frankly,' Mr. Trump said, as he urged Americans to follow the federal request for people to hold back on their social actions. By his side again at the White House, both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx laid out the figures from a series of studies, which predicted that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die - many in the next few weeks. Birx and Fauci repeatedly emphasized that if Americans do their part to hold down the spread of the virus, that will in turn allow many people to survive. Asked about deaths of 100,000 or more, health officials did not mince words as to whether it might or might not happen. 'The answer is yes,' said Dr. Fauci. 'As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it.
  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. Public health officials stressed that the number could be less if people across the country bear down on keeping their distance from one another. “We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. That would require all Americans to take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease, she said. Added Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, “This is a number that we need to anticipate, but we don’t necessarily have to accept it as being inevitable.” Trump called it “a matter of life and death” for Americans to heed his administration’s guidelines and predicted the country would soon see a “light at the end of the tunnel” in a pandemic that has killed more than 3,500 Americans and infected 170,000 more. 'I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said. “This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country,” Trump added. “We're going to lose thousands of people.” The jaw-dropping projections were laid out during a grim, two-hour White House briefing. Officials described a death toll that in a best-case scenario would likely be greater than the more than 53,000 American lives lost during World War I. And the model's high end neared the realm of possibility that Americans lost to the virus could approach the 291,000 Americans killed on the battlefield during World II. “There's no magic bullet,” Birx said. 'There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic.” Fauci called the numbers “sobering” and urged Americans to “step on the accelerator” with their collective mitigation efforts. “We are continuing to see things go up,” Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.' Birx said pandemic forecasts initially predicted 1.5 million to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. But that was a worst-case scenario, without efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing. She added that states that have not yet seen a spike in cases as New York has could take action to flatten the curve of rising hospitalizations and deaths. It’s not only social distancing that could make a difference, but also the frantic efforts by hospitals around the country to prepare for an onslaught of seriously ill patients. The better prepared hospitals are, the greater the chances of lives being saved. There’s also a wild card when it comes to treatment: whether the experimental drug combination Trump has touted — a medicine for malaria and an antibiotic — will actually make a difference. That combination is already being used on thousands of patients, and Fauci said he would want to see a rigorous test of its effectiveness. Trump's comments came after he announced Sunday that he was extending to April 30 the social distancing guidelines that advise Americans to cease large gatherings, work from home, suspend onsite learning at schools and more in a nationwide effort to stem the spread of the virus. It was an abrupt reversal for Trump, who spent much of last week targeting April 12 as the day he wanted to see Americans “pack the pews” for Easter Sunday services. Trump called the data “very sobering,” saying it was his understanding that 100,000 deaths was a minimum that would be difficult to avoid. He also sought to rewrite his past minimization of the outbreak, saying he rejected those who compared the new coronavirus to the flu — when in fact he repeatedly did so publicly. “This could be hell of a bad two weeks,'” Trump said. He added: “You know 100,000 is, according to modeling, a very low number. In fact, when I first saw the number ... they said it was unlikely you’ll be able to attain that. We have to see but I think we're doing better than that.” Trump played down concerns from New York's Andrew Cuomo and other governors that their states' hospitals don't have enough ventilators to treat an anticipated crush of patients. Trump said the federal government currently has a stockpile of 10,000 ventilators that it plans on distributing as needed. “Now, when the surge occurs, if it occurs fairly evenly, we'll be able to distribute them very quickly before they need them,” Trump said. “But we want to have a reserve right now. It's like having oil reserves.” Birx said the experiences of Washington state and California give her hope that other states can keep the coronavirus under control through social distancing. That’s because they moved quickly to contain the early clusters of coronavirus by closing schools, urging people to work from home, banning large gatherings and taking other measures now familiar to most Americans, she noted. “I am reassured by looking at the Seattle line,” she added. “California and Washington state reacted very early to this.” Many other states and local governments already have stiff controls in place on mobility and gatherings. Trump said he would also ask Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow the docking of two cruise ships with passengers who have had contact with patients suffering from COVID-19. Passengers are anxious to disembark once they reach Florida, but DeSantis said the state's health care resources are already stretched too thin to take on a ship's coronavirus caseload. “They're dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I'm going to do what's right, not only for us for but humanity.” Trump also said he planned to curtail his travel for the month ahead and stay close to the White House to safeguard his health. The president hasn't held one of his signature big-stadium rallies since early March, and it's unlikely he'll be holding another one anytime soon. 'I think it's important that I remain healthy. I really do,' Trump said. “So for the most part we're staying here.” Trump spoke after another troubling day for the stock market, which has been in a free fall as the cononavirus ground the economy to a near-halt and left millions unemployed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 400 points, or roughly 1.9%, to seal the worst first-quarter finish of its 135-year history.
  • The bipartisan partnership that propelled a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package through Congress just days ago is already showing signs of strain, raising questions about how quickly calls for massive followup legislation may bear fruit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and fellow Democrats are collecting ideas for the next stab at stabilizing an economy knocked into free fall by the coronavirus outbreak. Their proposals include money for extended unemployment benefits, state and local governments, hospitals and a job-creating infrastructure program, plus expanded job protections and benefits for workers. “It's a wonderful opportunity,' Pelosi told reporters this week, “because I think our country is united in wanting to not only address the immediate needs of the emergency and mitigation for the assault on our lives and livelihood, but also how we recover in a very positive way.” Congress' top Republicans say not so fast. They want lawmakers to gauge how well the huge, newly minted bailout programs are working and how the economy is behaving. And they're accusing Pelosi of planning to use the next bill to win Democratic priorities like environmental requirements and moving the country toward ballot by mail elections. “Let’s see how things are going and respond accordingly,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday on Hugh Hewitt's talk radio show. He said that could take weeks and added, “I would think any kind of bill coming out of the House I would look at like Reagan suggested we look at the Russians — trust, but verify.' “I'm not sure we need a fourth package,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” Throwing another wild card into the mix, President Donald Trump on Tuesday blindsided congressional Republicans and embraced using the next round for a massive infrastructure package. Many in both parties have supported such a program before, but some Republicans have opposed it as too costly and there have long been crippling disagreements over how to pay for it. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4,” Trump tweeted. Trump later told reporters that the Federal Reserve cutting its benchmark interest rate earlier in March made it an ideal time to pursue an infrastructure deal. “Our interest payments would be almost zero, and we can borrow long term,” Trump said. “People want to be in the United States, they want to be invested in the United States.' There seems little doubt that if the economy remains near its current morbid state, the major question facing lawmakers will be what the next bill should look like, not whether to have one. Growing numbers of business close by the day, consumer spending is plummeting and millions are losing jobs as much of the country shelters at home, a devil's brew that could be lethal for politicians to ignore before November's presidential and congressional elections. “I think there's a deal to be had this time' on infrastructure, said Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Still, he said reaching agreement on another expensive package could be harder after last week's enormous $2.2 trillion bill. “We've already broken apart our grandkids' piggy bank. We're now getting into the great-grandkids' piggy banks, so let's be thoughtful on this,” he said. Stephen Moore, a former Trump senior adviser now with the conservative pro-business Committee to Unleash Prosperity, said he envisioned major problems for Congress in reaching an agreement. He said while the economy will likely need another large cash infusion to recover, Democrats pushing more spending will clash with Republicans eager to use tax cuts instead, such as suspending employers' payroll tax like Trump has proposed. “This will be World War 4,” he said. Clearly the size, contents and timing of the next bill are in play. And the Trump administration, lawmakers, lobbying and ideological groups are all pushing ideas. Discussions within the White House have been limited. Trump has publicly suggested he'd support extra money for state and local governments and for some type of hazard pay for front-line medical workers. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's likely Democratic presidential opponent, has said he wants additional direct payments to people beyond the one-time $1,200 amounts many adults will get. He also wants increased Social Security benefits and some student loan forgiveness. Pelosi's proposals include easing limits on federal deductions for state and local taxes, a curb the GOP-controlled Congress enacted in 2017 that's hit high-income, Democratic-leaning states the hardest. Her suggestion has run into opposition from both parties. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said he'd like to create a federal office for overseeing national supply chains disrupted by the crisis. Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., who chairs the Education and Labor Committee, said he'd like to expand safety regulations to cover airborne pathogens like the coronavirus and to cover essential workers like grocery store employees. Others suggesting ideas include Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said she'd like to address the strains the virus and the resulting confinement of people at home are putting on mental health. “We see domestic violence. We see substance abuse,” she told reporters. “We see levels of addiction that we wish were not present with us. And so it's something that I don't think we have fully factored yet.” Kevin Kuhlman, chief lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation's largest small business trade group, said his group is monitoring how the new bill's $350 billion in small business loans is being administered. For the next measure, he said his group is watching whether additional money is needed and if changes are needed in how the money is distributed. Michael Strain, director of economic studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the next bill could be used to revisit the $2.2 trillion measure if some programs have problems. He said there could be a need for spending another $500 billion or more, or for significantly less support. “There are all kinds of questions about what the world will look like in June,” Strain said. ___ Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
  • For a few moments in the Rose Garden, the coronavirus pandemic is a bucking bronco with President Donald Trump on its back. His arm swings an invisible rope. He seems to be hanging on for dear life. “Ride it like a cowboy,' he growls. 'Just ride it. Ride that sucker right through.” This rodeo riff came during the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing, where science meets all things Trump. It's where the teetotaling president serves a 5 o'clock cocktail of public-health policy, twisted facts, invented achievements, performance art, hectoring, cheerleading, erraticism, improvisation, self-praise, pet theories and a dash of eloquence. Shaken not stirred. Late in starting, finished when he feels like it. The self-styled “wartime president” is, at least, a showtime president. He's enjoying the high ratings of his briefings and boasting they're up there with 'The Bachelor.' Meantime on the streets of the country, people are recoiling in the wake of each passing stranger's exhalation. In jammed hospitals, patients are fighting for life. The death toll arcs upward. Still the show must go on. Trump is the animated star of his production. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the stoic straight man, a venerated infectious disease scientist whose facial expressions are closely watched as if he is one oddball Trump remark away from losing it. He doesn't. But he's very tired on four hours of sleep. Day after day, Trump free-associates, harangues reporters, assails critics and spreads misinformation on all aspects of the crisis, at times overshadowing the fact-based information that public health officials have come to deliver, in the moments when Trump steps aside to let them speak. It was here one day that Fauci broke ranks in Trump's presence to refute his claims about a drug treatment for COVID-19. On this bright Sunday, the briefing was moved to the resplendent garden from the clammy confines of the press briefing room, a long-ago indoor swimming pool that still feels like one. With social-distancing signs posted on the backs of chairs, it has taken on the character of a hazmat zone. It gives literal meaning to the pandemic's cliche that we're all in this together. Out in the garden, Trump shoos away gnats and begins in buoyant fashion. The news is going to turn dark but he will take his sweet time getting there. “Beautiful day in the Rose Garden,” he tells the press corps. “Tremendous distance between chairs. Social distancing. You practice it very well. We appreciate it. That’s great.” Next up is word about a coming diagnostic test, almost instant, he says, and you don't have to get a swab shoved so far up your nose like he did when he submitted to a virus test a few weeks back. He's complained about it ever since. The new test is so easy that he said he just might get another one. Executives step up to say what their companies are doing about producing and shipping critical medical supplies. Praise for Trump's leadership is standard in their brief remarks. This is a president who wants a public display of appreciation and has said he may not call people back if he doesn't get that. We hear some basics about the world: “Think of it: 151 countries. Somebody said to me today ... they didn’t know that we had that many countries. A hundred and fifty-one countries. That’s something.” We hear a series of unverified statements: about an unidentified New York hospital he's been told is hoarding masks, an uncorroborated theory that the fatality rate in the U.S. is lower than in other countries, his conviction that the speedy new tests will be “a whole new ballgame.” He trots out the rhetorical bronco, saying some aides wanted him to just hang on and ride it out until the crisis passed but he felt he should do more. Trump's doggedly positive spin, evident for several months, begins to fray when he announces a month-long extension of social distancing guidelines that were to expire Monday. “The better you do,” he says of distancing, “the faster this whole nightmare will end.” This whole nightmare. As the briefing slips into its second hour, it becomes apparent that Trump is conditioning Americans to expect far more deaths from COVID-19 than anyone would think from his history of minimizing the crisis. Gone is the talk about the virus maybe going away like magic in the warmth of spring. Fauci and other public-health authorities had told him 100,000 to 200,000 people could die in this country from the virus if not enough is done to mitigate the pandemic. The president then invokes a far grimmer number, 2.2 million, an estimated death toll if no steps were taken to fight the pandemic, and summons Dr. Deborah Birx of the task force to explain it. Why introduce an even starker scenario than the already scary one? Because if 100,000 to 200,000 end up dying, Trump still wants history — and voters in the fall — to judge his effort a success. If the toll is in that range, he says, “We all, together, have done a very good job.” Behind such bravado, though, is a president seeing the pandemic — “the viciousness of it” — in increasingly personal and sober terms. “A lot of people are dying,” he says, “so it’s very unpleasant.” He says a friend, “a little older, and he's heavy, but he's a tough person,' landed in a hospital. “I call: ‘How’s he doing?’ ‘Sir, he’s in a coma. He’s unconscious.’ He's not doing well.” He speaks at length of body bags and “freezer trucks” he's seen on TV taking the dead from Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. The building is so familiar from his New York childhood that “I can tell you the color on the outside, the size of the windows. I mean, I know it very well, right?' “I’ve seen things that I’ve never seen before. I mean, I’ve seen them, but I’ve seen them on television in faraway lands. I’ve never seen them in our country.' The sun is slanting low in the garden as Trump brings this briefing to a close. “I want our life back again,” he says. 'I want our country back. 'I want the world back. “I want the world to get rid of this.” ___ Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contriibuted to this report.
  • The captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus is asking for permission to isolate the bulk of his roughly 5,000 crew members on shore, which would take the warship out of duty in an effort to save lives. In a memo to Navy leaders, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said that the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating and that removing all but 10% of the crew is a “necessary risk” in order to stop the spread of the virus. The ship is docked in Guam. Navy leaders on Tuesday were scrambling to determine how to best respond to the extraordinary request as dozens of crew members tested positive. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset our sailors,' said Navy Capt. Brett Crozier in a memo obtained by The Associated Press. A Navy official said Crozier alerted commanders on Sunday evening of the continuing challenges in isolating the virus. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that Crozier wants more isolated housing for the crew and that Navy leadership is reviewing options to ensure the health and safety of the crew. U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino told reporters on Tuesday that the Navy is working to get as many sailors as possible on shore, while still maintaining a core crew to monitor the nuclear reactors and keep the ship running. He said the pace may not be as fast as the commander would like, but it will be done on a rotation, with sailors staying on shore in isolation for 14 days, then returning to the ship virus-free so that others can go ashore. Asked about efforts to isolate sailors on shore, he said the Navy is doing what it can with facilities that are available. Officials are working with the government of Guam to try to get hotel rooms that will allow for greater isolation, Aquilino said. Aquilino would not discuss exact numbers or timelines, but agreed with Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's assertion that about 1,000 sailors have been taken off the ship so far. He added that no sailors are currently hospitalized. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. In Asia, a carrier presence is central to what the Pentagon has identified as a fundamental shift from fighting insurgent and extremist conflicts in the Middle East to a return to “great power competition.' That means, principally, a bigger focus on China, including its militarization of disputed areas of the South China Sea. The outbreak on the carrier may be the Navy’s most dramatic, but it tracks an accelerating upward trend across the military. The Pentagon said the number of cases in the military reached 673 on Tuesday morning, a jump of 104 from the day before and up from 174 a week ago. Since March 20, the total has surged tenfold, even as the Pentagon has taken many steps to try to limit the spread, including halting nearly all movement of troops overseas. The carrier, like other Navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters. The massive ship is more than 1,000 feet long (305 meters long); sailors are spread out across a labyrinth of decks linked by steep ladder-like stairs and narrow corridors. Enlisted sailors and officers have separate living quarters, but they routinely grab their food from crowded buffet lines and eat at tables joined end-to-end. Listing many of those problems, Crozier's memo, which was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, warns that the close quarters means that thousands of sailors now require quarantine. He said sailors have been moving off the ship into shore-based quarters, but much of that is also not adequate. He said much of the off-ship locations available so far are group quarantine sites, and already two sailors housed in an auditorium have tested positive for the virus. To stop the spread of the virus and prevent death, Crozier said they must take a methodical approach, move the majority of the sailors off the ship, isolate them and completely clean it. He said about 10% of the crew would have to stay on board to secure the vessel, run critical systems and sanitize everything. Aquilino declined to confirm that estimate but said he is working with commanders to get people quarantined and tested as quickly as possible. While removing that many may seem like an extraordinary measure, Crozier said it is a necessary risk. “It will enable the carrier and air wing to get back underway as quickly as possible while ensuring the health and safety of our sailors,” Crozier said, adding that finding appropriate isolation for the crew “will require a political solution, but it is the right thing to do.” Modly told CNN that efforts are underway to help the ship while ensuring that the Navy and the U.S. military continue to protect the country. “This is a unique circumstance,” he said. “And we’re working through it and trying to maintain that proper balance to ensure that our friends and allies, and most importantly our foes and adversaries out there, understand that we are not standing down the watch.” ___ AP National Security writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump's impeachment trial distracted the federal government from the coronavirus as it reached the United States in January, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, despite warnings at the time from public health experts and members of Congress about the spread of the deadly virus. The outbreak 'came up while we were tied down on the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything every day was all about impeachment,'' McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. The Trump administration has been severely criticized for its slow response to the pandemic, especially for the shortage of coronavirus testing kits when the infection first spread to the U.S. from China. Trump initially downplayed the virus, comparing it to the seasonal flu and declaring it may go away on its own. The administration also has been criticized for not supplying needed protective medical gear for health care workers. McConnell's argument breaks sharply with assurances that the Trump administration made early on about the virus. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who declared a public health emergency Jan. 31, said at the time that the public 'can be assured the full weight of the U.S. government is working to safeguard the health and safety of the American people.” And weeks after his Feb. 5 acquittal in the impeachment trial, Trump continued to minimize fears as he insisted the U.S. was “very, very ready” for whatever the outbreak brings. On Feb. 25, he told business leaders in India: 'I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away.' Asked about McConnell's comment, Trump said Tuesday that he “certainly devoted a little time to thinking about' impeachment, but added: “I don't think I would have done any better had I not been impeached. ... I don't think I would have acted any faster.” As the pandemic has worsened in recent weeks, Trump has ramped up the federal response. He announced Sunday that he is extending social distancing guidelines through April 30 at least, backing away from an earlier call to have the country “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, April 12. Congress has approved three bills responding to the outbreak, including an unprecedented $2.2 trillion package Trump signed last week. McConnell said Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas was among the first in Congress to raise an alarm. Cotton, an outspoken critic of China's communist government, has said he does not trust China to act truthfully about the virus. “He was first, and I think Tom was right on the mark,'' said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. 'Tom figured this out early, and he was absolutely right.' Cotton, in a separate interview with Hewitt on Tuesday, said he had been studying the virus since mid-January. 'Unfortunately, Washington, especially the Congress, was consumed with another matter ... the partisan impeachment of the president,'' he said. 'I was focused at the time on what I thought was going to be a growing crisis coming out of Wuhan. And, unfortunately, it’s been proven correct,'' Cotton said. The virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has climbed past 3,500, eclipsing China’s official count. The Trump administration briefed the Senate on Jan. 24 — during the impeachment trial — and again on Feb. 5, the day Trump was acquitted. Still, the threat posed by the virus was not widely understood, and some lawmakers complained that Trump wasn’t taking the growing threat seriously. For weeks after the first U.S. case of the coronavirus was confirmed in January, government missteps caused a shortage of reliable laboratory tests for the coronavirus, leading to delays in diagnoses. Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate health and foreign relations committees issued a joint statement after the Jan. 24 briefing, declaring, “We are monitoring the outbreak of a novel coronavirus closely and are in close communication with United States government agencies on actions and precautions needed to prevent further spread of this virus.' The statement said China 'has taken steps to share information with international health experts'' and thanked administration officials for providing an update. Two days later, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on the administration to declare the coronavirus a public health emergency, freeing up $85 million for federal agencies. Azar, in declaring the public health emergency for the entire U.S. on Jan. 31, said: 'While this virus poses a serious public health threat, the risk to the American public remains low at this time, and we are working to keep this risk low.” That same day, Trump imposed travel restrictions on China in response to the outbreak. Most major airlines had already suspended flights to China, following the lead of several major international carriers. An earlier State Department advisory told Americans not to travel to China because of the outbreak. Despite those actions, the administration — and Trump himself — downplayed the virus for weeks before taking more drastic steps this month. Trump speculated last week that the country could reopen by Easter, but now says distancing guidelines should remain in place through April. Cotton called Trump's decision to impose travel restrictions on China “probably the single most important thing the U.S. government has done over the last two months.'' But Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Trump has been slow to respond from the start. “Just left the Administration briefing on Coronavirus. Bottom line: they aren't taking this seriously enough,” he tweeted Feb. 5. His opinion remains unchanged. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration has completely botched the response to COVID-19 so far,'' Murphy wrote Tuesday in Foreign Policy magazine. Trump ”denied the risk of the disease for weeks, failed to ramp up testing measures ... and Americans are paying the price for it. The next virus is not going to wait for the U.S. government to get its act together.' The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened about 800,000 people and killed tens of thousands, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. ___ Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to this story.
  • On the heels of a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help the United States rebound from the negative economic impact of the Coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Tuesday signaled that he would be ready to support an almost equal amount of spending to build new roads and bridges in the United States. 'It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country,' the President wrote on Twitter. Mr. Trump cited low interest rates as one reason to spend extra money - a suggestion made by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well. Since 2015, when he was a candidate for President, Mr. Trump has talked repeatedly about the need for a major infrastructure plan, but has never offered Congress a way to pay for it - which has been the major stumbling block for the past ten years on building new roads and bridges. With less gasoline being used - not enough money is coming into the U.S. Treasury in federal gas taxes to support a major expansion of road and bridge construction - creating the need for a larger funding source. The President's tweet drew an immediate vow of support from the GOP Senator in charge of infrastructure efforts. 'We stand ready to answer @realDonaldTrump’s call,' Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) wrote on Twitter. 'In the Senate, we have a bipartisan bill that will invest billions in America’s highways and is ready to go.' But others, like fiscal hawk Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), weren't ready for a full embrace. 'I agree!' said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) in a tweet directed back at the President. 'Help get your Republican colleagues to agree.' The President's tweet came amid some political maneuvering on what should be in the next Congressional stimulus bill - what many refer to as 'Phase 4' of the Coronavirus response.
  • The Justice Department inspector general has found additional failures in the FBI's handling of a secretive surveillance program that came under scrutiny after the Russia investigation, identifying problems with dozens of applications for wiretaps in national security investigations. The audit results, announced Tuesday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, suggest that FBI errors while eavesdropping on suspected spies and terrorists extend far beyond those made during the investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. They come as the FBI has scrambled to repair public confidence in how it uses its surveillance powers and as lawmakers uneasy about potential abuses have allowed certain of its tools to at least temporarily expire. The new findings are on top of problems identified last year by the watchdog office, which concluded that the FBI had made significant errors and omissions in applications to eavesdrop on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the early months of the Russia investigation. Those mistakes prompted internal changes within the FBI and spurred a congressional debate over whether the bureau's surveillance tools should be reined in. After the Russia report was submitted last December, Horowitz announced a broader audit of the FBI's spy powers and the accuracy of its applications before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The watchdog office selected for review a subset of applications in both counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019. It found problems in each of the more than two dozen applications it reviewed, including “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts.' The audit examined how well the FBI was complying with internal rules that require agents to maintain a file of supporting documentation for every factual assertion they make in an application. Those rules, or “Woods Procedures,' were developed in 2001 with a goal of minimizing errors in the surveillance applications, known by the acronym FISA. Horowitz said in a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray that in four of the 29 FISA applications his office selected for review, the FBI could not locate any of the supporting documentation that was supposed to have been produced at the time the application was submitted. Each of the 25 other applications it reviewed contained “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts,' the inspector general said. In those instances, the facts stated in the applications were either not backed up by any documentation or were inconsistent with the documentation. The watchdog office said it found an average of about 20 issues per application, including one application with about 65 issues. As a result, Horowitz wrote, “we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy, or that the process is working as it was intended to help achieve the ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications.' The inspector general's office did not make a judgment as to whether the mistakes it identified were “material” to the investigation or to the court's decision to authorize the wiretaps. The office recommended that the FBI “perform a physical inventory' to ensure supporting documentation exists for every application in all pending investigations. It also recommended that the FBI examine the results of “past and future accuracy reviews” so that it can identify trends and patterns and develop better training for agents. The FBI and Justice Department say they have begun making significant changes, including additional training and other safeguards meant to ensure the accuracy of surveillance applications. In a response letter, FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate said the FBI agreed with the office's recommendations, and that the errors identified by the inspector general will be addressed by the more than 40 corrective actions that Wray ordered last year after the Russia probe report. “As Director Wray has stressed, FISA is an indispensable tool to guard against national security threats, but we must ensure that these authorities are carefully exercised and that FISA applications are scrupulously accurate,' Abbate wrote. The Justice Department said in a statement that it welcomes the audit, and that it has “been hard at work' implementing the changes demanded by Wray. Attorney General William Barr has also instituted his own changes, including in the handling of politically sensitive investigations. “The Department is committed to putting the Inspector General’s recommendations into practice and to implementing reforms that will ensure that all FISA applications are complete and accurate,” the statement said. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was established in 1978 to receive applications from the FBI to eavesdrop on people it suspects of being agents of a foreign power, such as potential spies or terrorists. Critics have long complained about the opaque, one-sided nature of the application process, and longstanding calls to overhaul the system received a bipartisan push because of the errors identified during the FBI's investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The congressional debate tripped up FBI efforts to renew three surveillance provisions that expired this month, with lawmakers adjourning last week without agreeing on legislation that would renew the tools. The Justice Department urged Congress on Tuesday to revive the provisions as it continues working toward broader reforms. “No one was more appalled than the Attorney General at the way the FISA process was abused. This abuse resulted in one of the greatest political travesties in American history and should never happen again,' Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “However,' she added, “FISA remains a critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of the American people, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism.' Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would ask Horowitz to appear before the panel to explain his findings. ____ Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP