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Trump's coronavirus speech spreads more confusion than comfort

President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the

President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office on Wednesday night. Credit: Pool / AFP via Getty Images / Doug Mills

Mistakes, he makes a few

The boldest-sounding move announced by President Donald Trump in a prime-time speech to the nation about the coronavirus crisis Wednesday night was a 30-day ban on travel from Europe, except for the United Kingdom. Then the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the restriction applies only to foreign nationals and that some two dozen European countries are exempt. Trump also said it would apply to trade and cargo, but the White House later and a presidential tweet said no, just people.

Whatever and whoever Trump's order, which begins Friday night, does and doesn't cover, it might keep more carriers of the virus from spreading COVID-19 here. But it's no solution to the explosive growth in community transmission of the disease that's well underway in the United States — a crisis Trump long resisted recognizing.

After many weeks of accusing the media and Democrats of fomenting unfounded fear to hurt him politically and of floating magical theories on how the outbreak would all go away soon, a fundamental reality showed up in Trump's remarks. "We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus," Trump said.

There weren't clear answers on how to keep the U.S. health care system from getting overwhelmed, but there were wrong ones. Trump said health insurers "have agreed to waive all co-payment for coronavirus treatments." Not true, said a health insurance group. “For testing. Not for treatment,” said a spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans.

Trump looked to address other symptoms of the crisis, especially the cascading economic costs. He said he was directing federal agencies to provide unspecified financial relief for “for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to coronavirus,” and asked Congress to take action to extend it. He said the U.S. will defer tax payments due from some individual and business filers for three months and make low-interest loans available to disrupted small businesses.

Trump also reiterated his call on Congress to pass a cut to the federal payroll tax in order to stimulate the economy, though that proposal was dismissed by many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He remained silent on his previous calls to provide assistance to industries hard-hit by the pandemic like airlines and cruise ships. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was preparing a package of her own to introduce Thursday that was gaining bipartisan backing, according to The Associated Press.

After Trump spoke, financial markets that entered bear-market territory Wednesday resumed their free fall in overnight trading, unconvinced by Trump's assurances that “this is not a financial crisis. This just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.” Here's video of Trump's speech and a full text.

Like flu? Only in cuckoo's nest

How bad is it? Not as bad as it's going to be, disease experts told Congress on Wednesday.

"I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "How much worse we'll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country."

As for Trump's attempts as recently Monday to compare coronavirus to seasonal flu? "The flu has a mortality of 0.1%. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that," Fauci said.

Congress' attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, told Capitol Hill staffers at a closed-door meeting this week that he expects 70 million to 150 million people in the U.S. to contract the virus, Axios reported.

A forecast from a former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, said that in a worst-case scenario, but not an implausible one, half the U.S. population would become infected and more than 1 million people would die.

MAGA on hold

Trump late Wednesday canceled campaign events scheduled for this week in Colorado and Nevada.

“Out of an abundance of caution from the Coronavirus outbreak, the President has decided to cancel his upcoming events in Colorado and Nevada,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Trump previously opted against canceling his campaign tour as he tried to reassure the nation that the outbreak was not a catastrophic emergency, Politico reported. Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for the Trump campaign, later tweeted that the president also would not make it to a "Catholics for Trump" event on March 19 in Milwaukee.

Sanders: No surrender

Bernie Sanders said Wednesday he's going to stay in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination even as he acknowledged that the brutal results from Tuesday's primaries may make Joe Biden's delegate lead insurmountable.

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” Sanders said. But he will keep arguing he is a stronger choice for Democrats in a Sunday night debate with Biden, their first one-on-one encounter.

Noting he is still stronger with younger voters, Sanders said, “Today, I say to the Democratic establishment, in order to win in the future, you need to win the voters who represent the future of our country. And you must speak to the issues of concern to them. You cannot simply be satisfied by winning the votes of people who are older.”

While Sanders is favored among those under 30, he has not delivered on his strategy of getting them to go to the polls in great numbers, according to The Associated Press VoteCast surveys. The AP said the Vermont senator needs 57% of the delegates that are still available. When he faced Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders got only 55% or more of the delegates in nine of the 32 states or territories that have upcoming contests.

Biden to speak on coronavirus

Biden was expected to speak Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware, about confronting the coronavirus.

His campaign also announced it had formed an advisory committee to provide “science-based, expert advice regarding steps the campaign should take to minimize health risks for the candidate, staff, and supporters." Rally plans in two of the states on next week's primary calendar, Illinois and Florida, were scrapped.

For more on the state of the Democratic race after Tuesday's primaries, see these takeaways from Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump court win on migrants

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that the "Remain in Mexico" asylum policy the Trump administration put in place last year can stay in effect while legal challenges play out.

The court's order is a victory for the administration, which warned there would be a "rush to the border" if the policy was blocked. Immigrant rights groups say asylum-seekers sent back to Mexico are living in dangerous conditions. Lower courts have ruled that the policy probably is illegal.

What else is happening:

  • National security adviser Robert O'Brien suggested Wednesday that China "covered up" the initial outbreak of coronavirus, delaying an effective global response by two months. His comments reflected growing criticism of China from the administration and contrasts with initial praise from Trump, who tweeted on Jan. 24 that the U.S. "appreciates their efforts and transparency."
  • Local and state election officials are scrambling to identify other options besides early voting and absentee balloting if public health leaders ultimately determine that there are risks to visiting polling places, The Washington Post reports.
  • A Michigan autoworker who got cursed out by Biden after confronting him on gun control said on "Fox & Friends" that he thought the former vice president "went off the deep end."
  • Five former New York City tax assessors and a former Trump Organization employee said the president's real estate business paid bribes in the 1980s and 1990s to lower property tax bills, according to a story by ProPublica and WNYC. The ex-city employees were among 18 indicted in 2002 on bribery allegations. Trump denied any wrongdoing at the time, and the Trump Organization reiterated that position in response to questions for the article.
  • It's not a pandemic number, but Trump and his team have made 28 false, misleading or dubious claims about coronavirus, according fact-checking tally by CNN. Most notorious were tweets or statements in late February that the outbreak was "under control" or "contained."
  • Congress has taken a first step toward addressing errors made by the FBI during its investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia, with the House passing bipartisan legislation imposing new restrictions on the federal government’s surveillance tools. It wasn't clear whether Trump was satisfied and would sign it after expected Senate approval.

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