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Trump, 'wartime president,' sends military into virus battle

The USNS Comfort, seen in January, will be

The USNS Comfort, seen in January, will be deployed to New York Harbor to treat noncoronavirus patients to relieve hospitals responding to the virus outbreak. Credit: U.S. Navy via AP / Petty Officer 2nd Class Chelsea Kennedy

The pandemic warrior

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is now "in a sense, a wartime president" for the counterattack against the coronavirus pandemic threatening America's public health and its prosperity.

"I'm looking at it that way,” Trump said during a White House briefing. It's a "war" against an “invisible enemy,” he said, that calls for a response of a magnitude unseen since World War II. He called on Americans to rally in a manner akin to the Greatest Generation.

“Every generation of Americans has been called to make shared sacrifices for the good of the nation,” he said. "To this day, nobody has ever seen like it, what they were able to do during World War II,” he continued. “Now it's our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together." It's light years from his message of not long ago, of a nation doing so well that "you may even get tired of winning."

Trump ordered a bigger role for the military. Navy hospital ships will be sent to the East and West Coast "in the next week or so," with the 1,000-bed USNS Comfort, based in Norfolk, Virginia, going to New York City. NBC News said the ship is currently undergoing maintenance and has no medical crew, and a Pentagon spokesman estimated it would take two weeks. Once it arrives, it would care for noncoronavirus patients to help ease the burden on land-based hospitals taking care of COVID-19 patients.

The Army is preparing to deploy two field hospitals that can provide about 1,000 beds, according to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. A Pentagon official, Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, said reserve medical units are not going on alert because of concerns about taking those personnel out of their civilian jobs in the health care industry.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Army Corps of Engineers was being sent to the state to look at how it could help expand hospital capacity with mobile installations to care for 200 to 250 people.

Trump also invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950, which could be used to order companies to overcome shortages of face masks, ventilators and other supplies. He tweeted the authority would be available "should we need to invoke it in a worst-case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need." For a roundup of major developments by Newsday reporters, click here. For Newsday's complete coverage on the pandemic, click here.

More relief in the works

Trump on Wednesday night signed a second coronavirus response bill after it was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. The $100 billion House-crafted bill includes paid sick leave mandates, expanded unemployment insurance and free testing to people affected by the coronavirus fallout.

The Trump administration and congressional leaders also are rushing to complete and agree on details of a massive stimulus package aimed at preventing the U.S. economy from plummeting into its worst collapse since the Great Depression.

The administration’s $1 trillion proposal includes sending two large checks to many Americans and devoting $300 billion of that plan toward helping small businesses avoid mass layoffs.

Trump distanced himself from the suggestion made Tuesday by his own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, that the nation could face 20% unemployment at least in the short term.

That’s an “absolute total worst-case scenario,” Trump said. “We’re no way near it.” Mnuchin himself told CNBC that it was not a prediction. "We're not going to let that happen," he said Wednesday. "We're going to make sure that companies have money so they can continue to pay their employees."

Janison: Name games

The uproar Trump is stirring by using the term "China Virus" is a sideshow for his base, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. He could call it "Ukraine Virus" if he wished, and it makes no difference in meeting the crisis.

What does matter is that he keeps signing legislative bills crafted by those capable of negotiating and planning them, and lets the professionals run his agencies.

The Senate and House will craft and act on relief bills. Mnuchin negotiated an aid package that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed through the GOP-led chamber on Wednesday. In New York State, Cuomo becomes the relevant face of fact and assurance.

Within the executive branch of the federal government, qualified people are managing to work around the president's frequent misinformation and contradictions.

VIP testing unfair? So is 'life'

Trump reacted with more shrug than outrage when asked about athletes and celebrities with no symptoms who have gotten coronavirus tests while ordinary people who meet the CDC's criteria often have to wait and wait.

The president was asked: Should that happen? "No, I wouldn't say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life," Trump replied.

Meanwhile, with a critical shortage of ventilators looming, a manufacturer's CEO told The New York Times he's received inquiries from a number of wealthy individuals hoping to buy their own personal ventilators.

'Burbs versus Trump

Suburban voters prefer Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders over President Donald Trump, but Trump holds a comfortable lead among independents, according to Hofstra University's new Kalikow Center Poll.

The poll by the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency surveyed 1,500 voters nationwide between March 5-12 — largely before the spread of coronavirus became a major national issue, reports Scott Eidler of Newsday.

The survey, conducted by YouGov, a firm specializing in online polling, oversampled suburban voters.

No Sanders rush to exit

Will Sanders stay in the Democratic presidential race after extending his losing streak to Biden in three more primaries Tuesday?

Don't ask. Seriously, don't ask. When a reporter on Capitol Hill posed a question on when he might decide, the Vermont senator exploded: "I'm dealing with a [expletive] global crisis. You know, we're dealing with."

Earlier, campaign manager Faiz Shakir indicated Sanders would take his time. "The next primary contest is at least three weeks away," a statement from Shakir said. "Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign. In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable."

Biden leads by about 300 delegates, making a Sanders comeback mathematically improbable.

Immigration enforcement on ice

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Wednesday that it would stop making arrests, except when public safety is at stake, such as for criminals on the loose.

“To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, ICE will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning March 18," the agency said.

Fear of an outbreak inside the agency’s detention centers is growing, The New York Times reported.

Keeping up with Conways, COVID-19 edition

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway acknowledged to reporters that it would be wrong if a White House official referred to coronavirus as the "Kung-flu" to CBS reporter Weijia Jiang. But Conway called the incident a “hypothetical” situation while challenging Jiang to reveal the source.

Conway also defended Trump's use of the term "Chinese flu." Trying to claim she'd be sensitive to offense, Conway said, "I'm married to an Asian American. My kids are 25% Filipino."

Her husband, Trump-loathing conservative lawyer George Conway, wrote another blistering op-ed on the president, published in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

"If you think you’ve been hearing a different President Trump this week — more accepting of the reality of the coronavirus pandemic — don’t be fooled," he wrote. "The new Trump is the same as the old Trump. He can’t help it. He’s incapable of taking responsibility for his role in this crisis — and thus incapable of leading us out of it."

What else is happening:

  • Americans have little trust in what they are hearing from Trump about coronavirus, and their confidence in the federal government's response is declining sharply, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Just 46% now say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread, down from 61% in February. And 37% of Americans now say they had a good or great amount of trust in what they're hearing from Trump, while 60% say they had not very much or no trust at all.
  • Biden tweeted Wednesday: "Much has been made of changes in President Trump's tone in recent days. But with our health care system at risk, a virus spreading, our economy on the brink — and so many lives at stake — it’s time to be less interested in his words and more focused on his actions — or inaction."
  • The 5,500-mille U.S.-Canadian border was closed to nonessential traffic Wednesday to combat the spread of coronavirus in both countries.
  • First lady Melania Trump will appear in public service ads designed to tell Americans how to protect themselves from coronavirus, including social distancing measures, Bloomberg News reported.
  • Tucker Carlson, who was a lonely voice among Fox News commentators with early warnings on coronavirus, tells Vanity Fair he met with Trump on March 7 to press his case. "I felt — and my wife strongly felt — that I had a moral obligation to try," he said. Carlson noted partisan fractures lead people to suspect straightforward coverage as propaganda, and a lot of people are to blame, “including probably me."
  • Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah) have become the first members of Congress to test positive for coronavirus, a grim new indicator of the virus's aggressive spread.

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