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Trump gets real: 'It's bad' and could last into summer

President Donald Trump arrives at a White House

President Donald Trump arrives at a White House news conference Monday. Credit: Sipa / Bloomberg / Oliver Contreras

'Not under control'

How bad is it? Bad enough that President Donald Trump's tone took a sharp turn toward the grim on Monday in a White House briefing announcing the most sweeping federal guidelines yet to try to turn the tide against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“It’s bad. It’s bad. We’re going to hopefully be a best case and not a worst case,” Trump said. “It’s bad. It’s bad. We’re going to hopefully be a best case and not a worst case,” but Americans must make “sacrifices now” to “defeat the virus.”

He acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic was “not under control” in the United States or globally, abandoning his past claims. The crisis could persist into the summer, the president said. “People are talking about July, August, something like that … could be longer than that.”

Among the new guidelines: Over the next 15 days, Americans should not gather in groups of more than 10 people. They should not eat out at restaurants or hang out in bars. Children should be kept out of schools and educated at home to the extent possible. Discretionary travel and social visits should be avoided. If anyone in a household tests positive for the virus, everyone who lives there should stay home. 

Trump conceded the economy “may be” headed toward recession, but recovery would follow after the crisis passes. "I think there's a tremendous pent-up demand, both in terms of the stock market and in terms of the economy. Once this goes away, once this goes through and we're done with it, I think you're gonna see a tremendous, tremendous surge," he said. While the news conference was underway, the stock market closed with its worst losses in 33 years.

Trump's candor about the challenges ahead didn't extend to the recent past, including efforts to play down the coronavirus threat while accusing political foes and the news media of playing it up. “We have a problem that a month ago nobody ever thought about,” he said Monday. Trump was first briefed about the virus threat two months ago, Politico reported. On Jan. 22, in a CNBC interview, he was asked if there was worry about a pandemic, and replied: "It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” 

Rejecting criticism about a laggard federal response, including critical delays in rolling out testing, Trump said he would give the government a 10 on a 10-point scale for its response to the virus. “I think we’ve done a great job,” he said. “I would rate ourselves, and the professionals — I think the professionals have done a fantastic job.”

Trump's DIY lecture

A call by Trump with some of the nation's governors had contentious moments, and there was sniping between the president and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy.

Trump was asked for federal government help so states could obtain more respirators for seriously ill coronavirus patients. “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Trump told them, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times. “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves."

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham angrily warned of a situation that forced states to compete against one another for needed equipment.

"If one state doesn’t get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk,” she said. (GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, not on the call, explained in a tweet on the issue that states "don’t have the buying power to generate a swift & massive industrial response.")

In a later tweet about the call, Trump went after Cuomo. "Just had a very good teleconference with Nation's Governors. Went very well. Cuomo of New York has to ‘do more,’ ” Trump said. Cuomo shot back: "I have to do more? No — YOU have to do something! You're supposed to be the President."

Cuomo earlier cited “a lack of federal direction and nationwide standards,” as he announced an agreement with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut on uniform measures to close certain businesses and limit the size of public gatherings to 50.

Crowdless campaigns

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders campaigned at a safe social distance from voters Monday on the eve of Democratic presidential primaries in four more states. Or maybe three.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine backed a legal effort to extend his state's voting deadline through June while encouraging absentee balloting to avoid potential coronavirus exposure. After a court said no, DeWine said late Monday night that the state health director will order the polls be closed as a health emergency.

Florida, Arizona and Illinois planned to keep to their schedules. "You're not going to have large crowds because it's one vote," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. "I think we can do it in a way that protects people."

Biden set a "tele-town hall" Monday night with voters in all four states. Sanders scheduled a "digital rally" with multiple high-profile supporters including rock legend Neil Young. Their campaign staffs are working from home.

Polls have shown Biden ahead in the four states by significant margins, giving him an opportunity to build his delegate lead. Predicting turnout, however, has become more complicated than ever.

SCOTUS puts Trump fights on hold

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it is postponing arguments for the first time in more than 100 years because of coronavirus, including fights over subpoenas for Trump’s financial records.

Arguments scheduled at the high court for late March and early April were put off indefinitely as federal and state courts around the country closed or curtailed their operations as they tried to come to grips with the virus outbreak.

Other business at the Supreme Court will go on as planned, including the justices’ routine private conference on Friday and the release of orders in a week’s time. Some justices may participate by phone. Six of the nine justices are 65 and older, at higher risk of getting very sick if infected.

In 1918, arguments were postponed for a month because of a global flu pandemic.

Cybervillains exploit crisis?

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department suffered a cyberattack on its computer system in what appeared to be an effort, possibly from a foreign source, to undermine the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg News reported.

The Trump administration also is alleging that a foreign disinformation campaign is underway aimed at spreading fear in the country amid the pandemic, three U.S. officials told ABC News on Monday. The perpetrators circulated false reports of a national lockdown and quarantine.

The officials did not name a source for the disinformation. Last week, the Pentagon accused the Chinese government of promulgating “false & absurd conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19 blaming U.S. service members.”

What else is happening:

  • There's no scaring the bullishness out of Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow. In a series of interviews on Monday as the Dow was deep into a plunge of almost 3,000 points, Kudlow said, “for long-term investors, I think it affords a great opportunity to buy.”
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quietly has been urging long-serving Republican federal judges to retire so Trump can nominate replacements this year, The New York Times reports. McConnell's motivation? The chance that Trump could lose the presidency, or that Republicans could lose the Senate majority.
  • The Justice Department moved Monday to drop its two-year prosecution of a Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, charged with orchestrating a social media campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, The Washington Post reported. The prosecutors cited an unspecified “change in the balance of the government’s proof due to a classification determination.”
  • Did Biden and Sanders tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth during their CNN debate on Sunday night? Not always. Here's a fact-check from the news network.
  • Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida was closed to undergo a deep clean on Monday after several visitors tested positive for coronavirus, CNN reported.
  • First lady Melania Trump on Monday made it official that the annual White House Easter Egg Roll has been canceled due to coronavirus.

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