Praying for Easter

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EXCLUSIVE: THIS ISN’T AN EMERGENCY — The Department of Homeland Security stopped updating its annual models of the havoc that pandemics would wreak on America’s critical infrastructure in 2017, according to current and former DHS officials with direct knowledge of the matter. Read more from Daniel Lippman.

PRAYING FOR EASTER A month ago, the U.S. had around 50 recorded coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, the U.S. count topped 50,000. Nobody knows how much that figure will multiply in the coming days. Nobody knows how many weeks or months huge sections of the American economy will remain shuttered. Nobody knows which states that seem calm today will be in a frenzy tomorrow.

Yet a wave of optimism is outpacing the eye of the coronavirus storm. President Donald Trump, after hinting Monday that the U.S. economy could reopen by the end of the month, on Tuesday tossed out a new date: Easter Sunday. (“It would be a beautiful timeline,” he said hours after openly imagining church pews packed with people within weeks.) The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged in its largest percentage jump since 1933 (more than 11 percent), shrugging off a cascade of corporate warnings alongside grim reports of the virus spreading in New York and beyond. And leaders on Capitol Hill indicated they’re just yards from the goal line in securing the largest economic rescue package in history: around $2 trillion in congressional spending, with trillions more in new lending from the nation’s central bank, to prop up workers and small businesses and major corporations and even people across America nowhere close to the crisis.

For at least a day, the president and investors and lawmakers seemed to be searching for hope in the unknown.

By evening, surrounded by his leading public health experts, the president recast his Easter timeline as more of an aspiration to loosen up sections of the nation. Trump has taken cues from the markets throughout the coronavirus crisis and called the latest Dow surge “very encouraging,” attributing it to his own words about a timeline to tame the virus alongside hopes for an economic rescue package. Many investors cited their own hope tied to the powerful government response coming from Congress, the White House and the Federal Reserve. But most acknowledged the day’s surge was likely just another bear-market rally, a momentary melt up after a meltdown that we will likely see again in an era of extreme volatility taking cues from the Great Depression. Traders and economists acknowledged the real market optimism will come from the health front — the coronavirus curve peaking and sliding enough for America’s businesses and workers to slowly return to normal.

Top health officials tried to highlight the ray of light above the dark clouds. Testing is finally ramping up — 370,000 total tests completed in the U.S. so far, more than half of them in the past eight days. But they also offered a warning of new troubles ahead: People leaving the New York metro area, home to half the nation’s cases, risk seeding the coronavirus further across America unless they self-isolate for the next 14 days.

The World Health Organization warned today the U.S. could soon become the new epicenter of the global outbreak due to its rapid acceleration in cases — perhaps making Easter seem quite far away.

TRUMP’S STRATEGY — The president is eager to own the only good thing about a crisis that has paralyzed the country and left millions of people in housebound despair: The reality that life will at some point slowly lurch back to normal. “He is determined to make other people — specifically, governors and public health officials — own everything else, including the reality that massive shutdowns will continue long after the Christian holy day on April 12,” John Harris writes in his latest Altitude column. “It has become clear that the gap between Trump’s optimism and impatience and the caution and gravity of other figures in the crisis is exactly the point, in political terms. … Cumulatively, Trump’s appearances in recent days have offered an answer on the briefly in-doubt question of whether a pandemic would force alteration of Trump’s basic rally-his-partisans, blame-his-adversaries political style. The answer: no.”

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition, a nightly intelligence brief from our global newsroom on the impact of the coronavirus on politics and policy, the economy and global health. Reach out: [email protected] and @renurayasam.

Palace Intrigue

YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED that the president’s coronavirus task force was practicing what it preaches today, spreading out in the Rose Garden during its Fox News town hall instead of bunching together as usual in the James S. Brady briefing room. A White House official tells Daniel Lippman: “We’re all trying to practice it. I’ve attended meetings where we stand around a room instead of sit next to each other around a table.” Even in the Situation Room for Coronavirus Task Force meetings, officials now try to leave an empty chair between people around the table, and the White House has sometimes used an overflow room in the Sit Room office suite for people to participate via videoconference, the official said.

“I haven’t seen an elevator full of people like I've seen on Capitol Hill,” this official added. “I haven’t seen 100 old geezers get into a room together” before laughing.

FIRST LOOK: A NEW MAGA TARGET — The far-right’s most zealous Trump supporters have set their sights on Dr. Anthony Fauci, Tina Nguyen reports. To the vast majority of Republicans, the entire medical community and the country at large, Fauci is the government’s leading infectious disease expert, respected for providing Americans with consistent, factual information about the coronavirus pandemic — even if it means contradicting Trump while he hovers feet away. But to a vocal minority of ring-wing blogs and pro-Trump pundits, Fauci is the embodiment of the establishment forces that have been arrayed against the president since he came to Washington. And those voices are getting louder amid rumblings about Fauci’s standing with Trump as the president itches to get the economy restarted in the coming weeks.

“A Deep-State Hillary Clinton-loving stooge,” read a Saturday headline on the American Thinker, a far-right website, latching on to a WikiLeaks-released email that showed Fauci praising Clinton for her Benghazi testimony as secretary of State.

Demographics

DPA MIA? It’s been nearly a week since the president invoked the Defense Production Act and referred to himself as a wartime president, but federal officials have yet to put in an order for much needed equipment, trade reporter Megan Cassella tells us. That’s giving little clarity to states and providers desperate for masks, ventilators and other supplies that they need to test and treat patients with Covid-19.

“There is so much confusion,” said Megan.

The act, which was first used during the Korean War, allows the federal government’s orders of medical equipment from private companies to move ahead of other orders. It would give suppliers a guarantee that if they ramp up production, they won’t be left with unsold goods if the crisis winds down and helps them manage demand from myriad states and health care facilities.

To help speed up production, the federal government could place a mass order and distribute supplies to states and providers that are hard hit and relieve them of the need to secure their own equipment while battling a pandemic. Plus such an order would help guide other manufacturers like auto or defense companies that want to assist in supply efforts.

The White House has pointed to an ideological objection to using the act, saying that they don’t want to be seen as socialist and that nationalizing businesses is “not a good concept.” Administration officials have also downplayed a need to place orders under the act, saying private companies are already stepping up on their own to address the shortage.

CAUGHT IN THE CROSSHAIRS — The pandemic is reopening the battle lines on abortion access with conservative states seeking to halt the procedure and liberal states trying to expand access through telehealth.

Long before the pandemic hit, the ability to obtain an abortion, particularly for low-income women, already varied widely by state. Now travel restrictions are limiting the ability of patients and providers to travel to carry out abortions.

State leaders in Ohio, Texas and Mississippi are arguing that abortions fall under bans on elective procedures. Meanwhile in New York, clinics are working to expand access to abortion using medication. Planned Parenthood is conducting more assessments over its telehealth platform so eligible patients only have to come to centers to pick up medication, as is required by law.

How states are flattening the curve — States have enacted a wide range of policies in an effort to flatten the curve and address the economic effects of the coronavirus. POLITICO tracked seven different metrics using data from the Kaiser Family Foundation to pull apart the differences in how states are responding to the outbreak.

Talking to the Experts

How do we know the food supply is stable?

"At this point in time, there is no reason to believe food supplies are limited. The Department of Agriculture in February projected record meat and dairy production in 2020, and the production of feed grains and oilseeds were projected to increase over prior year levels. The major challenge over the next few weeks is ensuring an adequate labor force. Not only is this impacting businesses that process and distribute food, but farmers too would be impacted by labor shortages as consulates suspend or limit services to only certain H-2 workers for an unknown amount of time. If there are not enough farmworkers to plant the crop now, we will not see a harvest in a few months." — John Newton, chief economist, and Allison Crittenden, director of congressional relations, American Farm Bureau Federation as told to food and agriculture reporter Catherine Boudreau.

"Since our industry is experiencing an unprecedented demand issue, we’re asking shoppers for patience. In the meantime, the industry is using a technique called “pacing” to keep product moving and diversified across stores. Stores and their supplier partners share a commitment to the neighborhoods they serve, and over the next few weeks, we’ll be subject to more demand spikes as quarantine orders are imposed." — Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations, FMI (food industry association).

Nightly Number

34 — Of new Covid-19 cases worldwide, that’s the percentage coming from the U.S. in the last 24 hours. Of the 85 percent of new cases that have been confirmed around the world, 50 percent are from Europe and 40 percent are from the U.S., according to WHO.

Around the Nation

AT ODDS Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott doubled down on his call for state residents to remain at home until the pandemic passes today, openly putting him at odds with Trump and his own Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who have talked about ending social distancing measures in an effort to jump start the economy. Patrick told Fox News Monday night that grandparents like him should risk their health to stave off economic collapse for future generations shortly after the president questioned public health experts’ guidance to keep people at home.

Abbott rarely publicly rebukes Trump and he’s wary of crossing Patrick, a former talk radio host who serves a Texas Trump surrogate and mobilizes far-right voters in the state. But state leaders like Abbott have a lot to lose if pandemic rages unabated and results in thousands of deaths in the state.

When asked about Patrick and Trump’s remarks at a news conference today, Abbott insisted he was on the side of science.

"I will base my decision as governor of the state of Texas on what physicians say," he said. "If the goal is to get the economy going, the best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get Covid-19 behind us."

The Global Fight

INDIA SPLITS FROM TRUMP WHO officials say the future of the pandemic will be determined in densely populated countries like India, Ryan Heath tells us. That led Prime Minister Narendra Modi to today announce a “total ban” on 1.3 billion people leaving their homes over the next 21 days: the most challenging lockdown ever attempted. All public transport and air travel is shut down.

In dense and chaotic India, a successful curfew likely depends on 1.4 million armed police officers and nearly a million reserve security forces. Bollywood stars mobilized to spread the message: Don’t panic. Modi’s safety net: 950,000 active army members. One of the upsides for Modi is clearing the site of a three-month long protest against his government’s discriminatory new citizenship law.

Questions over China’s numbers The Chinese government is declaring victory over coronavirus and ordering the country back to work, but RTHK, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster reported that hospitals in Wuhan are refusing to test patients who show symptoms, while Japan’s Kyodo News reported allegations that the number of Wuhan cases was manipulated before a recent visit by President Xi Jinping. China reported just 78 new cases today (out of over 81,000 known cases).

Parting Words

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY — Negotiations on a coronavirus rescue package are taking place in the halls of a radically different Capitol, where members are increasingly working from home to avoid being infected themselves. It’s a radical shift for a governing body built on face-to-face interactions. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, said the forced isolation was “strangely accommodating” for his job at this moment. “It’s fair to say I’m communicating with more constituents, more broadly and more deeply, right now, than I’ve been able to in a year and a half in Congress,” he said. What is harder — Phillips said, after taking part in several days of nonstop calls with his colleagues — is legislating from afar. “Deliberating is damn hard when 435 members are spread out in every nook and cranny in the country,” he said.

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