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How Trump may have flattened the political curve of coronavirus – NBCNews.com

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WASHINGTON — No one needs to “flatten the curve” more than President Donald Trump, and he may have begun to bend the politics of coronavirus on Friday.

Before Trump declared a national emergency, critics insisted, and some allies worried, that his response to the pandemic posed a greater threat to the health of the American public and the stability of the national economy than the disease itself.

If the two-track crisis gets worse, his protestations that he’s not to blame for a slow federal response — “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said — won’t spare him the wrath of voters or the judgment of history. He will look like he shirked accountability after failing to see the threat as it gathered and then spread through society.

But if Americans are able to slow the outbreak of coronavirus — to “flatten the curve” of infection, as epidemiologists say — if equity markets bounce back and the overall hit to the economy is contained, his Rose Garden news conference on Friday could amount to a turning point in which he finally signaled to the public that he would take the threat seriously enough to lead the fight against it.

His relatively somber and focused remarks accompanied a bear hug of congressional Democrats that could help him stabilize his standing if all goes well from here on out. Graded on a curve, Friday was a good day for the president, according to longtime observers of Washington politics.

“America only has one president at a time, and, whatever your partisan affiliation, you should want the one we have to be as efficient and successful as possible — especially in a crisis like this one,” said Michael Steel, a former aide to then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

For those watching the news conference on cable stations with stock-market tickers on the screen, it was obvious the president had done nothing to reverse a rally on Wall Street. It’s hard to pin broad gains or losses on any single event, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped briefly during the president’s remarks before gaining nearly 1,200 points while he continued through the closing bell.

Trump’s new attitude toward the coronavirus appeared to result from — or at least coincide with — a rare bipartisanship around the response from other officials in Washington.

Little more than an hour after his declaration, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that two days of intense negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over a second emergency spending bill on the coronavirus had produced a deal.

“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” she said in a statement sent to the media. That came on the heels of a quick pivot from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the previous day, who went from attacking Pelosi’s plan on the Senate floor to lauding her work with Mnuchin on Twitter in the span of a few hours. Trump was expected to sign off on the deal — though the ink wasn’t quite dry yet.

Likewise, Trump won praise from Democrats on Capitol Hill for declaring the national emergency, freeing up $50 billion in aid for states and granting extraordinary authorities to federal agencies to help the health care system respond to contingencies. As they worked with officials in his administration on emergency spending legislation, congressional Democrats had been troubled by the president’s uneven public posture on a pandemic he often dismissed as “low risk.”

“We have a public health crisis in this country and the best way to help keep the American people safe and ensure their economic security is for the president to focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus itself,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement after Trump delivered an Oval Office address on the disease response Wednesday. “Alarmingly, the president did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States.”

At the time, they called on him and Republican lawmakers to help them pass the legislation Pelosi negotiated with Mnuchin.

But Trump’s decision to give only his second-ever Oval Office address this week was taken by some observers, even amid his misstatements, as a strong signal that he wanted the public and investors to view him as taking the coronavirus threat very seriously.

The slope of everything looked straight down, from historic market drops to suspended major league sports seasons and the availability of hand sanitizer.

It’s unlikely that Trump reversed all that by managing to complete a press conference without giving off the impression he’s unconcerned about coronavirus.

But right now, just flattening the curve a bit is a victory for him.

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The Coronavirus Is Transforming Politics and Economics – The New Yorker

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Just like in wartime, people are frightened, public attitudes are changing, and the circumstances necessitate an expanded role for the government, including the Department of the Treasury.Photographer by Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty

In early March, when health experts warned that the United States risked running short of vital medical supplies, such as masks and ventilators, Donald Trump resisted calls to invoke the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that gives the President broad powers to prioritize the production of certain items when they become important for national security. As recently as last week, he said, “We don’t need it.” Finally, on Thursday, Trump dropped the pretense and invoked the act to order the suppliers of ventilator manufacturers to give them the components they need to speed up production.

Every day, in ways small and large, the spread of the coronavirus is reshaping American politics. As the death toll rises and the economic fallout spreads, measures once considered unthinkable are being adopted, and not just in the public-health sphere. The $2.2 trillion emergency spending bill that Congress passed last week is worth about ten per cent of G.D.P., and in the coming months we are likely to see another stimulus. This dramatic ramp-up in federal spending is comparable to what happened in 1942, the year after Pearl Harbor, when federal spending as a share of G.D.P. rose by more than ten percentage points.

Trump is no F.D.R., of course, and the virus, unlike the Axis Powers, is an invisible enemy. But the record shows that lethal pandemics and major wars can both have enormous political and economic consequences. In his 2017 opus “The Great Leveler,” Walter Scheidel, a Stanford historian, described them as two of the “four horsemen” that have flattened economic inequality throughout human history. (The other two levelling forces that Scheidel identified were revolutions and state failures.) By decimating the population of medieval Europe, the Black Death made labor scarce, which raised wages and undermined the feudal system. The Civil War abolished slavery and gave rise to the Homestead Act of 1862. The First World War changed the role of women in the economy and paved the way for their political emancipation. The Second World War elevated the role of labor unions and led to the explicit adoption of Keynesian full-employment policies, through the 1946 Employment Act. In Europe, it facilitated the creation of a postwar welfare state, including the National Health Service in Britain.

These violent ruptures lasted years. We can hope that this horrible public-health crisis will also be temporary. And yet, the “wartime” metaphor is in many ways apt. Daily life has been transformed; in just two weeks, almost ten million Americans have filed unemployment claims; and earlier this week a White House task force said the death toll could eventually reach two hundred and forty thousand. Just like in wartime, people are frightened, public attitudes are changing, and the circumstances are necessitating a big expansion of the government’s role.

As of today, tens of millions of small and medium-sized firms will be able to take out bank loans to cover all of their running costs, including wages and rent, for the next eight weeks. If they keep their workers on the books, or rehire the ones they have laid off in the past couple of weeks, the Treasury Department will automatically repay the loans in their entirety. (I wrote about the scheme earlier this week.) The involvement of banks disguises the fact that this is essentially a huge, federal grant program, in which Uncle Sam will be paying the wages of tens of millions of Americans who are nominally private-sector employees. For a conservative Republican Administration, this is a strikingly interventionist move. But it doesn’t cover large corporations, and there are doubts about how quickly and widely the loans will be taken up. (The initial reports aren’t encouraging.) If the jobless count keeps rising, pressure will grow for the Administration to go further and copy the emergency job-protection programs that many European countries have adopted, which encompass businesses of all sizes and involve the government paying them directly.

In other policy areas, too, the Overton window—the range of political options considered acceptable—is expanding. The rapid passage of such a big stimulus, with more to come probably, has punctured the idea, assiduously promoted by deficit hawks, that we “can’t afford” more government programs. Despite all the additional spending, the U.S. Treasury is still able to borrow on remarkably favorable terms: on Thursday, the yield on ten-year Treasury bonds was just 0.63 per cent. And as a backstop, there is the Federal Reserve, with its electronic printing press at the ready.

You don’t have to be a convert to Modern Monetary Theory to have noted the alacrity with which the Fed, over the past month, has purchased and placed on its balance sheet about $1.5 trillion worth of Treasury bonds, commercial paper and bonds issued by large corporations, mortgage-backed securities, auto loans, and credit-card loans. In the coming days, it may well start lending directly to big corporations. As the Fed constructs a comprehensive safety net for Wall Street and corporate America, how can anyone argue against an equally comprehensive approach to safeguarding the welfare of medical workers, delivery-truck drivers, grocery-store employees, and other ordinary Americans on the front line of the battle to contain COVID-19?

The public at large may not grasp some of the financial intricacies, but it surely sees the urgent need for universal health care. According to a poll published by Morning Consult earlier this week, net support for Medicare for All—those who support it minus those who oppose it—has risen by nine points. The virus isn’t just raising support for socialized medicine; it is also undermining the finances of the private-insurance model. Caring for COVID-19 patients can be very costly. If the insurers have to recoup these costs next year, they could raise their 2021 premiums by more than forty per cent, according to an analysis by Covered California, the Golden State’s official health-insurance marketplace. Though Elizabeth Warren is out of the Democratic primary and it would be a huge surprise for Bernie Sanders to secure the Party’s nomination, they could well end up winning the debate over health-care policy.

In another important development, the mass layoffs that have resulted from the virus have also laid bare the iniquities of the gig economy, in which Uber drivers and other online-platform workers, temp-agency workers, and a whole variety of freelancers didn’t have access to health insurance, sick leave, or unemployment insurance. During an appearance on CNBC on Thursday, the investor James Chanos said he was selling short the stocks of gig-economy companies because their business model, which is based on classifying workers as self-employed to avoid giving them costly benefits, is likely to be challenged. “I think both political parties are going to be looking at that pretty hard,” Chanos said.

Much depends on the duration of the pandemic, of course. If the associated shutdowns prove to be reasonably short-lived—two or three months—the economy and the markets could rebound fairly rapidly. Congress and the Fed could wind down their emergency programs, and public attitudes could flip back. But the longer the pandemic goes on, and the deadlier it becomes, the greater the pressure will be for more government activism of various forms.

It would be reassuring to think that this pressure will always lead to necessary actions and progressive policies, but that might be kidding ourselves. A new study of the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic on the U.S. and European countries shows that it led to a decline in social trust. The spread of the virus, the confinement measures taken to counter it, and “rumours about enemy spies spreading the infection beyond the lines as a kind of biological weapon created a climate of suspicion and mistrust,” the authors noted.

With some people already calling for residents of COVID-19 hotspots to be confined to their own areas, and Trump referring to “the China virus,” we are already seeing some echoes of this phenomenon. As the pandemic intensifies, it could lead to rising xenophobia, a further accentuation of regional divides, and even demands for authoritarian remedies, which Trump, having settled into the idea of himself as a wartime leader, might be all too eager to exploit.

That is worst-case speculation. But COVID-19 is shifting the tectonic plates that undergird American politics, and, as with the progress of the virus itself, the range of possible outcomes is wide. It is in such circumstances that history is made, for good or ill.


A Guide to the Coronavirus

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Coronavirus: Playing party politics in a pandemic? – BBC News

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“United front.” “Unity of purpose.” “Common ground.”

Take your pick from the bank of phrases used by our politicians when they talk about the need to work together to tackle this deadly pandemic.

Two weeks ago when the executive’s 10 ministers held a joint press conference in Stormont’s grounds, it seemed like they might just be capable of doing it.

But that didn’t last long.

Sinn Féin has been pulling in the opposite direction from its power-sharing partner, the DUP, on many aspects of the response to this crisis.

The first and deputy first ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, may have been standing side-by-side at regular press conferences, but their messages – on everything from school closures and testing to what counts as an essential business – have been entirely contradictory and confusing.

Flawed strategy?

Ms O’Neill’s latest comments, accusing Health Minister Robin Swann of being too slow to act, are significant because she is swiping at her very own government.

In the space of one interview, the concept of collective responsibility practically vanished.

Critics say she’s acting more like an opposition leader playing politics, than the joint head of an administration speaking up on principle.

But Sinn Féin says there is no point presenting a united front on a flawed strategy, and that if the party tried to resolve differences behind the scenes – rather than airing legitimate concerns with strategy in public – it would get slated for that.

Ms O’Neill says she’ll continue to “call out” problems within government, and that argument will hold weight with some, but it will further upset relations with the other four parties, in an already tense executive.

Arlene Foster tried to put out the flames, sounding a calm note when she appeared on Friday’s airwaves, although some within the DUP may have wanted her to take a tougher line.

Fragile relationships

For days now, Stormont sources have been briefing journalists that all is not well on the hill, as ministers and their respective teams go on the defensive.

Around the executive table, the atmosphere’s been repeatedly described as “toxic”, with decisions being taken in silos and even some policy announcements being put on social media before governmental colleagues have been informed.

It’s true the parties are facing challenges they never envisaged, made harder by the fact devolution was only restored in January after a three-year hiatus – relationships were already fragile.

The crisis has also highlighted the shortcomings in the limited powers afforded to the Stormont executive.

Whether it’s relying on Westminster for extra funding, or looking to Dublin for help in securing additional equipment, given the bidding war going on across the world, Northern Ireland only has so many levers to pull and no doubt that is also exacerbating internal strains.

Failure is not an option as lives are depending on the executive and time is short. The peak of the virus is due to arrive in Northern Ireland during the next two weeks.

Over the years the clarion call here has been for politics to be taken out of health. But if the parties couldn’t do that in the past how can anyone expect them to take the politics out of a pandemic?

The DUP-Sinn Féin partnership has always been one of reluctant necessity, due to Northern Ireland’s system of mandatory power sharing.

It’s hard to present a united front if someone doesn’t fully believe in it. Will the executive soon reach a point where the differences in approach to tackling this virus become too much to bear?

For the sake of everyone in Northern Ireland, let’s hope not.

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Trump letter attacking Schumer is sent as President says 'this is not the time for politics' – CNN

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Trump was speaking at the White House daily coronavirus briefing at the same time his staff released the letter to Schumer, in which he blasted the New York Democrat’s request for more streamlined leadership in mandating production to support the coronavirus response.
“I’ve known you for many years but I never knew how bad a Senator you are for the state of New York, until I became President,” Trump wrote to Schumer, disparaging his request as “Democrat public relations letter and incorrect soundbites, which are wrong in every way.”
The exchange highlights Trump’s negotiating strategy once again defaulting to a political clash with a top Democrat as the coronavirus outbreak worsens, forcing the administration to work with key Democrats such as Schumer, a long-standing critic, to establish a federal response.
However, Trump had attempted to keep the letter from being sent out after speaking with Schumer on the phone Thursday afternoon.
Schumer’s office told CNN that the President had told the New York Democrat that he had written a “very nasty letter” to Schumer, and “he would try to stop it from going out and would apologize to Sen. Schumer if he didn’t stop it in time.”
New graf: New York has emerged as the virus’ epicenter in the United States, leading all other states with more than 92,000 cases and more than 2,400 deaths as of Thursday night, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also drawn Trump’s ire after pushing back against the federal government’s response strategy.
In the letter, Trump attacked Schumer for New York’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as what he calls the “ridiculous impeachment hoax.” Trump claimed that if Schumer had spent less time on impeachment, New York might not have been “so completely unprepared for the invisible enemy.”
Schumer’s qualms came after Trump invoked the Defense Production Act — which gives the government more control during emergencies to direct industrial production — last week to compel General Motors to produce more ventilators for increasing coronavirus hospitalizations, and named White House trade adviser Peter Navarro as the act’s policy coordinator for the federal government.
Speaking to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night, Schumer described his plans to call on Trump to name a new point person for management of the Defense Production Act and disparaged Navarro.
Navarro “is not up to the job,” Schumer said. “He’s a very nice man, but he has had no experience doing things like this, and they have no one, that I can best tell, in charge of the distribution.”
He called on the administration to select “one person, a military person, a general who knows how to deal with logistics and order mastering, who knows command and control.”
That person should be “in charge of both production and distribution of all the kinds of needed equipment and get it to the places that need it and have shortages,” Schumer said, recommending that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, select a candidate for the role.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the number of deaths from coronavirus in New York state as of Thursday night.

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