Partisan fevers unbroken
President Donald Trump has been getting it wrong a lot about the coronavirus: on how it could be contained in China, or that the 15 known U.S. cases as of Feb. 26 would soon go down to "close to zero," or that a vaccine could be just around the corner or when he said Friday that "anybody that needs a test gets a test."
His fear of political damage has been plain to see, as when he groused that if passengers from a COVID-19-afflicted cruise ship came ashore, it would push up the U.S. numbers and make him look bad. But on the question of how Trump has managed the disease threat, the first test results are in — they're not great, but they're not terrible for him either. They're roughly on par with his overall approval rating.
In a Quinnipiac University poll, 43% approved of his handling of the crisis while 49% disapproved. A CNN survey found 41% approved and 48% disapproved, with views following party lines. Republicans were positive by 79% to 11%. Democrats were negative by 84% to 10%. Among independents, 37% approved and 47% disapproved of Trump's performance.
Quinnipiac found confidence higher — 53% to 43% — in the federal government at large, whose officials have been giving more candid warnings on the challenges ahead as the numbers of those afflicted are expected to rise.
Another Quinnipiac finding that was less comforting for Trump: By 56% to 40%, voters thought Joe Biden would do a better job of handling a crisis. By 50% to 44%, they had more trust in Bernie Sanders.
Trump vented his frustrations in morning Twitter rants, accusing the "Fake News Media" of working to "inflame" the crisis "far beyond what the facts would warrant." He tried comparing the coronavirus outbreaks to a typical flu season where "nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on."
With stocks in their worst free fall yet on Monday morning after an overnight oil price collapse aggravated by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, Trump saw a bright side: "Good for the consumer, gasoline prices coming down!" he tweeted.
Relief on way, Trump says
Trump appeared in the White House press briefing room before Vice President Mike Pence's coronavirus response update to preview a plan to shore up the economy.
The president said he will ask Congress for "very substantial relief” to the payroll tax. Trump also said he was seeking help for hourly wage workers to ensure they’re “not going to miss a paycheck” and “don’t get penalized for something that’s not their fault.”
The president also said the administration was working to create loans for small businesses — as well as coordinating closely with the airline, cruise and hotel industries hurt by the downturn in business. He promised more details in a news conference Tuesday.
Republicans on Capitol Hill were hesitant to sign on, Politico reported. “Well, I usually love tax cuts, but I think it’s a little bit premature,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. As for industries like airlines, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, “It’s just a matter of people hesitant to fly, and I’m not exactly sure how we legislate our way out of that problem.”
Trump at virus risk?
As Trump was leaving the briefing room, he didn't answer shouted questions on whether he has been tested for the coronavirus. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham said later he has not, but it wasn't just idle curiosity.
Trump in recent days has been with two Republican House members now in self-quarantine. A man who has tested positive for the virus had contact with the lawmakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in late February.
One of them, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, rode in Trump's limo and was on Air Force One with the president heading back to Washington when he received notification about his potential exposure, The New York Times reported. Gaetz moved to a part of the plane where he could sit by himself and headed into a 14-day self-quarantine upon landing.
The other, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, shook hands with Trump when the president visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta last Friday.
Gaetz seemed to be making light of coronavirus anxieties when he wore an enormous gas mask during a House floor vote last week on an emergency funding package. Gaetz and Collins are now part of a quarantined quartet of Republicans that includes Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Janison: Trump bubble bursts
Trump credited himself as the creator of a strong economy, hailing the stock market as proof. After Monday's implosion on Wall Street, with the hashtag #TrumpSlump gone viral, he looks quite silly for having done so, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Scream for credit, and you invite blame.
Trump touts his personal ties to the Saudi kingdom. He also makes a show of dismissing those who see Russia’s Vladimir Putin as sticking it to the U.S. more than ever.
Over the weekend, Russia and Saudi Arabia got into a high-stakes battle over oil production. Did Trump's presumed goodwill chits on both sides do the country any good? No sign of it so far. The U.S. appears passive and sidelined.
Trump’s campaign called off a “Women for Trump” Rust Belt bus tour featuring his daughter-in-law Lara Trump and other top election surrogates amid ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, The New York Times reported. A campaign spokeswoman cited “scheduling conflicts.”
First lady Melania Trump has canceled a scheduled March 18 fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Grisham told Politico the decision was due to a “scheduling conflict.”
CBS News reports the White House is discouraging foreign officials from visiting and to instead hold meetings by phone and videoconference when possible, to curb the risk of coronavirus.
Signs of Bern-out?
Polls have been volatile through this primary season. But if a pair of new surveys from Michigan are anywhere near the mark, Sanders will desperately need a last-minute miracle to salvage a win in Michigan, the top contest among six states holding primaries and caucuses on Tuesday.
A Monmouth University poll found Biden leading Sanders by 51% to 36%. Biden's lead was even bigger, 51% to 27%, in a survey for the Detroit Free Press. Four years ago, Sanders narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in the state after polls suggested he would lose by double digits.
There are more ominous signs for Sanders on the Pacific Coast, which is supposed to be a progressive stronghold. He won California last week — his only significant Super Tuesday victory — but two recent polls in Washington state show narrow leads for Biden, Politico reported.
Also voting Tuesday are Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Idaho.
Biden won the endorsement Monday of another ex-rival, New Jersey's Sen. Cory Booker. At a rally with Booker in Flint, Michigan, Biden said of six former opponents: “They’ve all come out and endorsed at one time ... the candidate that they think can win.” Sanders, in Missouri, stuck with an argument that didn't play out on Super Tuesday — that the “energy and excitement” of his supporters make him the Democratic candidate most likely to beat Trump.
Took tips? Call yourselves broker
Trumpworld hasn't been the best place to find investment advice lately.
"Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" Trump tweeted on Feb. 24, along with assurance that "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA." The Dow Jones closed that day at 27,960.80.
His son Eric Trump tweeted on Feb. 28: "In my opinion, it’s a great time to buy stocks or into your 401K. I would be all in." The Dow closed that day at 25,409.36.
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow has been bullish since the crisis began, and he said on Friday, "Long-term investors should think seriously about buying these dips." The Dow closed Friday at 25,864.78.
Time will tell if that's true. As for the short-termers, the Dow closed Monday at 23,851.02.
What else is happening:
- Also in self-quarantine: Incoming White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was advised that he "may have come in contact" with a CPAC attendee. He tested negative for the coronavirus.
- Gaetz said Trump cracked jokes on Air Force One after he learned of his potential coronavirus exposure. “He asked if I needed to be wrapped in cellophane,” Gaetz told The New York Times. “I told him that I was willing to jump out of the plane without a parachute if necessary."
- Israel was going to target a new 14-day virus quarantine mainly at travelers from the U.S. but Pence urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make it worldwide instead, Axios reported. That's what Bibi did.
- Trump and his aides are hoping the coronavirus crisis will give a boost to their longer-standing policy goals of stricter border security, wider tax cuts and reduced reliance on Chinese manufacturing, Politico reports.
- Mike Bloomberg has put $2 million into efforts to boost turnout by African American voters in eight key states. "Voter suppression efforts across the country have been a barely disguised effort to keep black Americans and other Democratic-leaning voters from the polls," Bloomberg said in a statement on Monday.
- Bloomberg’s shuttered presidential campaign is dismissing staffers across the country and inviting them to reapply for jobs on his new independent committee, despite guarantees of being paid through the November election when they were hired, Politico reported.