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Washington Report: March 20, 2020 #ActuallyStayHome

20 Mar 2020

Washington Report: March 20, 2020 #ActuallyStayHome

Shout out to the real heroes of this pandemic … the health care workers who are on the front lines. I am awed by their bravery. We can’t show them enough of our gratitude.
Let me amplify their message … #ActuallyStayHome.

Covid -19 Rolls Across The U.S.
NYT “Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 250,800 people, according to official counts. As of Friday afternoon, at least 10,368 people have died, more than half of them outside mainland China. … infected people have been detected in at least 150 countries.
CONFIRMED INFECTIONS in the U.S. have doubled in the last 48 hours to more than 13,000, including more than 170 deaths. The total is expected to climb much higher as long-delayed coronavirus testing rolls out in many communities.
Emergency rooms are struggling to keep up. Medical staff in some cities have been setting up isolation tents in driveways and improvising face masks — or reusing disposable masks in one hard-hit Georgia ER.
California’s 40 million residents have been ordered to stay at home by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). … In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) ordered residents to’stay-at-home’ for non-essential activity beginning Saturday evening. New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) did the same. Mexico agreed to partially close its border with the U.S. on Friday following a similar agreement with Canada this week.
AND … The State Department is warning against all international travel. President Trump canceled the G7 summit planned for June and will instead hold a video conference with world leaders.

 

In Italy
theSkimm “Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed China’s. Whoa.
It’s a grim milestone. Yesterday, Italian officials said that the number of coronavirus-related deaths reached 3,405. And that the total number of known infections topped 41,000. The news came the same day that China reported no new infections for the first time since the coronavirus’s discovery in December.
Why is it so bad in Italy? Preparedness. The country took weeks after its first known infection to set up a lockdown. Now, the virus has pushed Italy’s health care system to the brink, with doctors forced to decide who they can and cannot treat. More than 20% of Italians are smokers, which could be a risk factor. And Italy has the second-largest population of older people in the world, which may have contributed to the high death toll there. But recent numbers show they aren’t the only demo affected.
Explain Data from Italy reportedly shows that young people can experience severe symptoms too. According to the CDC, nearly 40% of patients who’ve been hospitalized in the U.S. fall between the ages of 20 and 54. And nearly half admitted to the ICU were under the age of 65.
How can the U.S. learn from Italy?
Italians have taken to social media to issue a warning to the world: don’t underestimate or take the coronavirus lightly. So practicing things like social distancing, washing your hands, and not touching your face can help. Reminder: the goal is to help flatten the curve so that the US doesn’t see a spike in the number of hospitalizations all at once.
While we knew the coronavirus could infect anyone, new numbers from the CDC and Italy are highlighting that no age group is invincible. And that everyone needs to take the outbreak seriously to help slow its spread.”

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No Confusion
Senator Murphy’s tweet from FEBRUARY 5th (that’s 44 days ago).

AND THIS …Simulations Foreshadowed Infighting Between Agencies in Pandemic Response
WaPost “Before Sept. 11, 2001, government planners had not considered the possibility that hijackers would fly commercial airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. There was no such failure of imagination ahead of this pandemic. Experts have not just warned for years about the inevitability of an outbreak like the novel coronavirus on American soil. They have also sounded the alarm about the risk of the kind of poor coordination between federal and local agencies that has characterized the initial U.S. response to covid-19.

A simulation called “Crimson Contagion,” organized by a Trump-appointed assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services from January to August in 2019, envisioned a respiratory virus beginning in China and infecting 110 million Americans, hospitalizing 7.7 million and killing 586,000. At least a dozen agencies, and another dozen states, were involved in the war-game-style exercise. A draft of the secret after-action report from October, first published Thursday by the New York Times, emphasized challenges related to coordination and highlighted friction between HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Chunks of the 63-page report could easily be cross-applied to describe the dropped balls and mixed messages related to the coronavirus response over the last three months. …
As it relates to the coronavirus, a stream of fresh revelations underscores early mistakes and failures to appropriately coordinate among and between federal and local public health officials. Early efforts to ramp up testing by the CDC were particularly abysmal. The first cases in the United States and South Korea were detected on the very same day, Reuters notes. By late January, though, Seoul had medical companies starting to work on a diagnostic test, and one was approved a week later. Today, Washington is still nowhere close to meeting demand for the tests.
… The CDC now appears to have been sidelined, with its messages increasingly disrupted or overtaken by the White House. Despite the early mistakes, this is still the country’s leading public health agency.”
Jared’s Shadow Coronavirus Response Task Force
WaPo “Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser has added another layer of confusion and conflicting signals within the White House’s disjointed response to the crisis. “Kushner, who joined the administration’s coronavirus efforts last week, is primarily focused on attempting to set up drive-through testing sites with the help of technology and retail executives, as well as experts in health-care delivery. … Kushner regularly briefs the president separately from the rest of the task force.”

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On The Hill
Politico “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has firmly planted his right foot on the accelerator pedal this morning, attempting to move at mach speed to negotiate and pass a massive stimulus bill by Monday — which, if accomplished, would be a herculean legislative feat. BTW: This package is likely to be significantly bigger than $1 trillion, as Congress swims against the tide of ballooning unemployment numbers and an economy that’s all but shut down.
BGov “Senate Republicans unveiled a third coronavirus response package [TODAY] that would provide tax rebates to many Americans, expand small business loans, and aid the airline industry. The bill (S. 3548) would also expand aid to hospitals and allow the Food and Drug Administration to expedite product approvals or use products on an emergency basis.

An initial $8 billion package (Public Law 116-123) was signed into law on March 6. A second package (Public Law 116-127) enacted March 18 provided paid leave to some quarantined individuals, made coronavirus tests free, ensured students continue to receive free lunches, and expanded unemployment insurance. What’s Next? To speed the process, McConnell will file cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill tomorrow — so he can move with speed and dexterity on the floor.
Can McConnell hold his Republicans together? [He] will need 60 votes at some point for this, and there are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats — so you can do the math on how narrow a line they’re walking.
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BGOV Analysis: Individuals would receive checks for as much as $1,200, airlines would receive loans, and Medicare payments would be increased under S. 3548, the third major legislative effort for fighting the outbreak’s effects. The measure was assembled by Senate Republicans and represents a starting point in negotiations with Democrats for the third coronavirus response package. The second legislative effort, which guaranteed paid sick leave for some Americans if they’re infected, also included provisions to make tests free, ensure that students continue to receive free lunches, and expand unemployment insurance benefits.
[IF you have more questions about this legislation, let us know.]

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Unknown Cost of Covid-19 Stimulus
Axios “Despite what you’ve heard from congressional Republicans over the last decade, there’s no limit to how much the government can spend — and that’ll become evident as the federal government prepares its “phase three” coronavirus stimulus package.

Why it matters: U.S. government spending is about to skyrocket, with checks going out to individuals, loans being handed to companies and other attempts to stanch the coming economic pain.
How it works: When Congress passes a spending bill, Treasury borrows all of the necessary funds by issuing Treasury bonds.
– There is no debt ceiling at the moment — it was suspended in last year’s budget deal — so Treasury can issue as many new bonds as it wants.
– Because the U.S. government is considered the safest borrower in the world, there is always ample demand for Treasury bonds.
– The bonds are sold to banks, and if the banks don’t have enough money to buy them, the Federal Reserve will lend them as much as they need. The banks then turn around and sell the bonds, at a small profit, to investors from around the world.
The big picture: The stimulus’ impact on the national debt isn’t a big worry on Capitol Hill, several Democratic and Republican aides tell Axios.
Worth noting: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hasn’t scored either the “phase two” plan or “phase three” proposal, so their ultimate cost to the government is still unknown.

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The Big Q Without An Answer
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI on the Today Show, on when people can leave their homes: “I cannot see that all of the sudden, next week or two weeks from now, it’s going to be over. I don’t think there’s a chance of that — I think it’s going to be several weeks.”
And This … You Are On Your Own
“Trump told state officials on a conference call that states and local governments should procure their own equipment. ‘Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,’ Trump told the governors.
Attention: Young Adults
A CDC report shows that, while older people have the greatest likelihood of dying, of the 508 patients known to have been hospitalized in the United States, 38 percent were between the ages of 20 and 54. Nearly half of the 121 patients who were admitted to intensive care units were adults under 65. The CDC says 20 percent of hospitalized patients and 12 percent of the intensive care patients were between the ages of 20 and 44, according to the Times.

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Senators Call Their Brokers
WaPo “Several senators face public fury over reports that they sold large amounts of stock before the markets crashed last month, after receiving private briefings on the outbreak. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sold up to $1.72 million in hotel stock and other holdings in mid-February, transactions that were disclosed one day after the Dow peaked and less than a week after he wrote a column assuring people the country was prepared for the coronavirus.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) — who is married to the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange — also unloaded stocks before the market plunge. All three say they did not personally make the decisions and deny acting improperly, but calls for investigations and resignations mounted Friday.“

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Commander In Chief?
NBC’s Peter Alexander asked President Trump at today’s White House coronavirus briefing:
“What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”

Trump: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
Watch the Exchange. Click Here.

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A Smart Idea to Help Companies Survive
CEOs are passing around a column by the N.Y. Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin that has a smart proposal for helping businesses survive and even grow during the crisis: Between the lines: Sorkin heard all day from officials in D.C. and Fortune 500 CEOs who were forwarding the column to the White House and Congress. … A number of new iterations of the idea are now moving around the Capitol.

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Tax Day Officially Moved
BGov “We are moving Tax Day from April 15 to July 15,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted. “All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.” It’s a move that follows an earlier decision to delay the payment deadline but not to postpone the filing deadline. Lawmakers of both parties have said that would’ve confused taxpayers.”

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The Jobs Apocalypse Is Here
Axios “Economists see an absolutely historic wave of job losses coming. As the tip of the iceberg, the Labor Department said yesterday that the number of Americans filing for unemployment jumped to its highest in two years — rising to 281,000 last week, far outpacing expectations.
By the numbers: Goldman Sachs predicts that more than 2 million Americans will file for unemployment claims by next week, pointing to “an unprecedented surge in layoffs this week.”

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Craziness, Till Closing Bell
WaPo “The three major U.S. indexes exchanged early-session gains for steep losses — erasing all Trump-era growth — as investors try to fathom where the coronavirus pandemic will eventually leave the U.S. economy. Crude oil, meanwhile, plunged below $20 a barrel.
Investors remain in the same fog they’ve inhabited since markets began their swift drop in February, after the S&P 500 and Dow hit all-time highs. All three indexes are now in a bear market decline of at least 20% from their top. The Dow and S&P have erased more than 30% in a month.”

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Trump’s Ban On Fetal Tissue Research Undermining Efforts to Combat Virus
WaPo DEEP DIVE “A senior scientist at a government biomedical research laboratory has been thwarted in his efforts to conduct experiments on possible treatments for the new coronavirus because of the Trump administration’s restrictions on research with human fetal tissue,” Amy Goldstein reports. “The scientist, Kim Hasenkrug, an immunologist at the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, has been appealing for nearly a month to top NIH officials, arguing that the pandemic warrants an exemption to a ban imposed last year prohibiting government researchers from using tissue from abortions in their work. According to several researchers familiar with the situation, … such experiments could be particularly fruitful.

“Just months ago, before the new coronavirus began to infect people around the world, other U.S. scientists made two highly relevant discoveries. They found that specialized mice could be transplanted with human fetal tissue that develops into lungs — the part of the body the new coronavirus invades. These ‘humanized mice,’ they also found, could then be infected with coronaviruses — to which ordinary mice are not susceptible — closely related to the one that causes the new disease, covid-19. Outside researchers said the scientists who created those mice have offered to give them to the Rocky Mountain Lab, which has access to the new virus that causes covid-19, so the mice could be infected with the source of the pandemic and experiments could be run on potential treatments. Candidates include an existing drug known to boost patients’ immune systems in other circumstances, as well as blood serum from patients recovering from covid-19. …

“Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes NIH, said, ‘no decision has been made’ about Rocky Mountain’s request. … Hasenkrug has been forbidden by federal officials to talk publicly since the administration began to reconsider fetal tissue funding rules in the fall of 2018 at the prodding of social conservatives … The fetal tissue is donated by women undergoing elective abortions, and critics say that it is unethical to use the material and that taxpayer money should not be used for research that relies on abortion.”

Irving Weissman, a leading stem cell researcher at Stanford University, said “it’s stupid not to try” this approach, even if we don’t know what it will yield. “When I hear the vice president saying [they’re] doing everything they can to find vaccines [and treatments], I know that is not true,” another scientist familiar with the situation told Amy. “Anything we do at this point could save hundreds of thousands of lives. If you wait, it’s too late.”

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National Counter Terrorism Center Purge
WaPo “Russell Travers was removed “in what insiders fear is a purge by the Trump administration of career professionals at an organization set up after 9/11 to protect the nation from further attacks,” Ellen Nakashima reports. “Travers, a highly regarded intelligence professional with more than 40 years of government service, told colleagues he was fired by acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell. … Also removed at the NCTC was Travers’s acting deputy, Peter W. Hall, who is returning to the National Security Agency.”

2020 Campaign

A Primary Night In The Middle Of The Apocalypse
Atlantic Politics “Another Tuesday, another big win for Joe Biden. The former vice president wiped out Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, all but ensuring that he’ll capture the Democratic nomination. But, as my colleague Russell Berman writes, with the coronavirus pandemic bringing the country to a collective halt, the primary itself has turned into a second-tier story.”

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Primary Chaos
Politico “The coronavirus pandemic has thrown America’s electoral system into shock, prompting officials in [seven] states so far to move presidential primaries as the federal government urges people not to gather in large groups.

Indiana becomes the seventh state, and latest state to push back its vote on Thursday, and even more states are considering delays. Meanwhile, election officials are also gaming out the changes they can make to voting systems to allow Americans to participate in elections while keeping themselves safe and preventing the spread of the virus. … 23 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and other territories have yet to vote in the presidential contest.
Here’s what has happened so far in all the states that were scheduled to vote from mid-March through the end of April:
Indiana (moved to June 2); Connecticut (moved to June 2); Georgia (moved to May 19); Indiana (moved to June 2); Louisiana (moved to June 20); Kentucky (moved to June 23); Maryland (moved to June 2); Ohio (moved to June 2).

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Bloomberg Makes Massive $18M Transfer to DNC
“The money will support the DNC’s “Battleground Build-Up 2020” program, the DNC’s initiative in 12 swing states across the country. The money could fund potentially hundreds of organizers in those swing states. …

“Bloomberg would not be able to give the DNC such a massive sum of money as a regular donor. But presidential candidates are allowed to transfer unlimited amounts to their national party committee — though usually those candidates have raised the money from donors operating under campaign finance limits. Bloomberg self-funded his whole presidential campaign from his personal fortune.”

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Legacy For The Party That Was Never His
“Bernie Sanders intends for his legacy after the 2020 presidential election “to be not a kamikaze mission but instead something more fruitful for the party that was never his,” writes Robert Draper in a cover story for The New York Times Magazine.

He “has prompted a reckoning within the Democratic Party. He has forced upon it an airing of ideological differences, compelling progressives and moderates to choose their leader and then make the case in public.”
The bottom line, via his wife, Jane Sanders: “It’s never been about only winning the election. … It’s much more satisfying to pick up the paper, go online or watch TV and see town halls of people questioning their senators about Medicare for All from a more informed point of view, using facts rather than vitriol.”

 

Some Thoughts For When This Is Over

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