with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Throughout world history, seniors have rarely led revolutions. It’s often younger idealists who storm barricades, draft declarations and topple established orders. Until Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

The 78-year-old front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination is an unlikely figurehead for a movement that advocates political revolution. The self-described democratic socialist captivates millennials, but he has largely failed to inspire voters in his own generation. At least so far.

Older people tend to be more settled in their political beliefs. They’re more affluent than their younger counterparts, a factor that might make them warier of big structural changes. They tend to worry more about Sanders’s age – and his heart attack – than younger voters who mostly haven’t faced their own serious health struggles yet.

Mostly, though, elderly Democratic voters fear Sanders is too far to the left to defeat President Trump. Unlike the young whippersnappers who flock to Sanders’s rallies, older folks remember the blowouts of 1988 and 1972 when their party nominated candidates who were more liberal than the country was ready to accept. In scores of interviews, they’ve expressed worry about repeating the mistakes of the past.

“I like Bernie, but I’m just afraid him tooting his socialist horn so much is going to hurt him,” said Karen Griffin, 66, a volunteer for the local Democratic Party here who remains undecided about which alternative to Sanders she will vote for in Saturday’s South Carolina primary. “A lot of the people that are my age vote. Growing up, we always heard socialism was scary, scary, scary. When my generation hears that term, it’s scary!”

While Sanders won big in the Nevada caucuses last Saturday, the entrance polls highlighted a striking age gap. The septuagenarian won 65 percent of voters under the age of 30, 49 percent of 30- to 44-year-olds, 27 percent among 45- to 64-year-olds and just 12 percent among voters over 65. In that oldest cohort, which accounted for 28 percent of those voting, Sanders finished fourth – behind former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Sanders similarly underperformed among seniors in the New Hampshire primary. And in the Iowa caucuses, which remain too close for the Associated Press to call even after the state Democratic Party completed a partial recount, the entrance polls show that Sanders received only 4 percent among Hawkeye State Democrats over the age of 65, compared to 48 percent of those under 30. 

A new Monmouth University poll shows Biden leading in South Carolina among likely Democratic primary voters, with 36 percent, and a neck-and-neck contest for second place between Sanders (16 percent) and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer (15 percent). Sanders received 10 percent support among voters over 65 in the Palmetto State, per Monmouth, compared to 18 percent among those under 50.

During a rally on Thursday afternoon, Sanders declared that “we will beat Trump in a landslide” and “we will transform America” – if younger people vote at the same level as those 65 and older. “So I say to young people here, don’t complain about your student debt, don’t complain about climate change, don’t complain about racism or sexism or homophobia. Your complaints don’t mean anything. What means something is standing up and fighting,” the senator told a crowd of 4,700 in Richmond. Virginia is one of 14 states, plus the territory of American Samoa, that vote next Tuesday.

George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign got Bruce Cunningham engaged in politics for the first time. He grew up in a Republican family in a conservative part of New York state, but the massacre of anti-war protesters at Kent State University in 1970 pushed Cunningham hard to the left. Now 65, he and his wife moved a few years ago to this affordable and adorable port city, where they dote on their four grandchildren who live nearby and plan to vote together for Biden in Saturday’s primary.

“McGovern was the Bernie Sanders of his day,” said Cunningham, a retired higher education administrator. “Bernie has also captivated the young folks, too, but I can’t really figure out how. McGovern was a steady guy. He had a real sense of dignity. To me, Bernie seems like a crotchety old man who is just shouting all the time.”

Cunningham remembers his family telling him, as he volunteered for McGovern almost half a century ago, that he’d become less liberal as he aged. He now sees truth in that old cliché, except when it comes to Sanders. “Bernie’s got some interesting ideas. I think they’re very unrealistic, though,” said Cunningham. “Like McGovern, I’m not sure Bernie can win. And, to me, the highest priority has got to be getting rid of the clown in the White House.”

His wife, Carol Cunningham, 62, suffers from multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable form of blood cancer. The retired real estate agent worries that Sanders’s Medicare-for-all proposal could push her off her private insurance plan and jeopardize her access to the doctors who she thinks do a great job taking care of her. “I’m just not sure Medicare-for-all is the right answer to the problems in health care,” she said. “It’s certainly not going to be great for everybody.” The couple considered voting for Cory Booker until the senator from New Jersey dropped out. Now they both believe the former vice president has the best chance to topple Trump. 

McGovern’s name has been coming up a lot lately on the campaign trail, as Sanders’s opponents across the Democratic establishment raise the specter that he’s so liberal that he could get wiped out in a 1972-style landslide. McGovern lost 49 states that year, including his home state of South Dakota, which he represented in the Senate. Massachusetts was the only state Richard Nixon lost as he cruised to reelection for a second term, which he’d serve only 19 months of before resigning in disgrace.

Biden brings the 1972 election up in his stump speech. That’s the year he got elected to the Senate as a 29-year-old. He likes to note that he toppled a GOP incumbent, even as Nixon carried his home state of Delaware with 60 percent. Making the case for his electability, Sanders has taken to reciting polls that show him leading the president in head-to-head matchups across Midwestern battleground states that flipped from backing Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

The Sanders campaign has stepped up efforts to make inroads with older voters. As he discusses Medicare-for-all, for example, Sanders has tweaked his pitch somewhat to emphasize ways that it would help older people. In Richmond, for example, he talked about how the government would now cover hearing aids, eyeglasses and home health care. Sanders’s emphasis on his plan to expand Social Security in digital ads a few weeks ago was aimed at improving his standing with the 65-plus crowd. While Sanders once talked about socialist Eugene Debs as his political hero, now he praises mainstream Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt and his campaign has run commercials suggesting that his bold proposals follow in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy, someone Sanders ridiculed in decades past.

Before Thanksgiving and Christmas, the campaign even blasted out messaging advice to thousands of student supporters on how to persuade their parents and grandparents that they should vote for Sanders. “It’s up to us as … young people to make the moral appeal to our older relatives to join us in voting for Bernie,” the document said, “because let’s face it: they won’t be around for as long to deal with the consequences of this election, but we will be.”

More recent polling, however, shows how much work Sanders still has his cut out for himself as he tries to expand his ceiling of support inside the Democratic Party. Last week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Sanders leading nationally among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters – with twice as much support (at 32 percent) as second-place Biden (16 percent). The survey found Sanders winning 50 percent of those under 50 years old. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was in second place with this under-50 cohort, with only 15 percent. But Sanders got just 14 percent of support from those over 50, putting him in third place behind former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and Biden.

These are warning flags for Sanders because older voters tend to turn out at higher rates. For example, in the 2016 general election, the Pew Research Center calculated that baby boomers, and those in older generations, together accounted for 43 percent of eligible voters but cast 49 percent of the votes.

Sanders’s theory of the case, which he outlines in every speech, is that he would be able to activate millions of young people to vote for the first time and therefore reduce the average age of the electorate. He struggled to do this in Iowa or New Hampshire but showed some evidence of success in Nevada. South Carolina, where most voters in the primary are expected to be African American, will be a tougher test.

South Carolina doesn’t have partisan voter registration, which means Saturday’s Democratic primary is open to everyone. A sizable swath of the electorate will therefore be moderate-minded independents who are uncomfortable with Sanders’s revolutionary rhetoric. 

Max McDuffie, 78, voted for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the GOP primary four years ago but didn’t vote in the general election because he disliked Trump and Hillary Clinton. “I thought I was a Republican – until Trump,” said the retired military officer, who now considers himself an independent and lives in Goose Creek, which is home to a naval installation. He’s voting for Buttigieg because he thinks the 38-year-old former mayor remains “uncorrupted.” 

The two issues McDuffie cares about the most are tackling climate change and reducing the national debt. On the hustings, you often meet highly informed voters like McDuffie who don’t fit neatly in traditional boxes that pundits like to force voters into. Student loan debt isn’t a top-of-mind concern for seniors. They’re not agitating for tuition-free college, universal pre-K or anything that would change how they get their health care. 

The trillions in new spending proposed by Sanders makes McDuffie and many other older voters I’ve spoken with here this week deeply uncomfortable. “All they do in Washington is spend money and money and money, and now he wants to spend more money,” he said. “It’ll catch up with us eventually. I feel so sorry for our children and grandchildren.” 

McDuffie’s wife, Kathy, 75, remains undecided. She said she’s interested in Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer. “There’s three people I don’t want: Trump, Sanders or Warren,” said the retired postal worker. “All the others I’m pretty open to. But Trump, Sanders and Warren are too far out there. They’re too divisive.” 

Biden, 77, has been trying to reach voters like the McDuffies by emphasizing his desire to restore America to what it was like before Trump. When he was asked Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show what it will mean if he doesn’t win the nomination, Biden replied: “It says to me that we have moved away from our roots.” Speaking with a tone of disbelief, he added: “The idea that there’s going to be this revolution? Americans aren’t looking for a revolution. They’re looking for progress.”

Coming Sunday: We will publish a special edition of The Daily 202, with insight and analysis on South Carolina’s primary results and what they mean for Super Tuesday.

More from South Carolina

Black voters here aren't particularly enthused about their options. 

“Wadmalaw Island, about 23 miles south of Charleston, has roughly 5,000 residents, more than half of whom are black. After the Union Army seized South Carolina in the Civil War, white plantation owners fled the islands, leaving behind their lucrative rice fields and enslaved African Americans, many of whom were given plots of land,” Vanessa Williams reports. “Presidential candidates rarely venture out to Wadmalaw or neighboring islands. Voters who want to see the candidates in person usually have to go to Charleston. That’s where Mildred Mitchell first saw Barack Obama … She thought Obama’s policies … were good for the country, and she hates that Trump seems intent on undoing his legacy. That was why she was leaning toward Biden, even though she was concerned about his age. … ‘I want somebody that can beat Donald Trump,’ she said. Right now, she is not sure who that is. … The Wadmalaw families have one thing in common: None expressed excitement about their choices, even as all vow to vote. They said they were frustrated by the large, chaotic field of candidates … Mostly, they said, they felt a duty to participate in the election and a desire to defeat Trump. But there is no swooning like they all recalled from 2008, when they helped boost Obama’s candidacy at a critical moment.”

And they are worried about racism.

“Here in my hometown, voters I’ve talked to are worried and conflicted — and see the stakes in November as going far beyond ideology to involve history, legacy and the return of a kind of frank racism that many hoped was dead and buried,” columnist Eugene Robinson writes from Orangeburg, S.C. “‘It’s like racism is just coming out of the woodwork,’ said Bill Hamilton, 70, the retired sports information director at South Carolina State University, one of two historically black colleges in Orangeburg. … ‘I just have a lot of disdain for Donald Trump,’ Hamilton said. … Across town at the Kuckery — a popular lunch spot where the fried chicken is, well, just as fried chicken should be — I heard much the same thing from Juan L. Maultsby: ‘This election is a referendum on Trump. Trying to get him out.’ … Maultsby said he believed ‘Biden has it in the bag here.’ … The little I’ve heard about Bloomberg will not gladden the hearts of his campaign advisers. His debate performances discouraged a few voters I talked to and even left an impression of Trump-ishness among a couple of others.” 

Miss Black America is trying to help Buttigieg gain support among black voters. 

Ryann Richardson has been canvassing for Buttigieg in Charleston. “This was a packed 68 hours for the pageant queen, including a speech at a Mexican restaurant, two galas, three canvassing launches, a church service and roundtables with black female voters,” Jada Yuan reports. “The folks here take the reigning Miss Black America seriously. … After South Carolina, she will head to Alabama for Super Tuesday. She was also stiletto-boots-on-the-ground for Buttigieg in Iowa, where she appeared at his victory party alongside other black women in the row behind him, cheering him on — which led Twitter critics and media outlets to accuse the campaign of using black women as political props. … ‘It’s rather offensive,’ Richardson says, ‘this notion that adult black women lack the agency to decide where they stand and for whom they stand — and that when they stand there, they must only be stage scenery.’ … She grilled Buttigieg about the shooting of Eric Logan, a black man in South Bend, by a white police officer. ‘I’ve never heard a politician accept accountability for a mistake ever, for a failure ever,’ she says. But Buttigieg did.”

Steyer has bet his campaign in this state on climate change.

“His argument that global warming will be felt most bluntly by black and brown communities is meant to resonate in a state where residents are already feeling its effects and where about 60 percent of voters in Saturday’s Democratic primary are African American,” Dino Grandoni reports. “Steyer may be making his last stand here, where polls show him running third … Steyer’s strong showing in South Carolina is not just because of his message. He spent $52.9 million nationwide on his presidential campaign in January alone. … Elsie Graves, a retired real estate agent who lives in Myrtle Beach, appreciates how she is not pestered with requests for donations when she visits Steyer’s website. ‘So I kind of like rich people in the race,’ she joked. Her bigger concern was depriving Biden of a vote in his bid to beat Sanders. But Graves, whose home suffered more than $20,000 in damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, said she was reassured by Steyer’s commitment to act immediately on climate change. She said she will vote for him.” 

Looking to Super Tuesday and beyond

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) endorsed Biden this morning.

The 2016 vice presidential nominee hopes to give him a boost before Virginia’s primary on Super Tuesday. “He reminds me of Harry S. Truman, an outwardly ordinary man whose work ethic, faith in the goodness of everyday Americans, and love of country made him a great President,” Kaine said in a statement. A Wason Center poll of likely Democratic voters in Virginia released Friday shows Biden with a modest lead in the state, with Sanders in second and Bloomberg in third. (Jenna Portnoy)

Most Virginia moderates are not gravitating toward any particular Sanders alternative.

“In the affluent Northern Virginia suburbs that will be ground zero for Democratic turnout in November, an ‘anybody but Bernie’ movement is struggling to take hold,” Antonio Olivo reports. “Moderate Virginia voters have turned out in droves for Democratic candidates since [Trump’s] election. … Now, those same voters are bouncing between presidential candidates, hoping that someone — anyone — can generate enough excitement to foil a November matchup between Sanders and Trump that they believe would be disastrous. … Outside a Warren rally in Arlington … Marguerite Metzler said that ‘it’s disturbing’ to think of Bloomberg, a former Republican, as the only viable alternative to Sanders. … [She said Warren] may have blown her chances of winning in Virginia … ‘by building such a strong association with free college and Medicare-for-all.’ After ticking off a list of misgivings over the other Democratic candidates — Biden lacks energy, Buttigieg is inexperienced — Metzler, who lives in Springfield, landed on a possible choice: ‘Maybe Amy?’”

Sanders shows few signs of making nice with fellow Democrats.

The front-runner this week has angered Florida Democrats with praise for Fidel Castro, upset some Jewish leaders with sharp criticism of the pro-Israel group AIPAC and preemptively spurned Bloomberg’s offer to help fund his campaign in the general election. “These disputes with other Democrats, even as he cements a position atop the presidential primary field, are prompting nervousness and alarm among many of them over whether Sanders can set aside decades-old habits of combativeness and confrontation and bring the party together to take on a president they revile,” Sean Sullivan and Michael Scherer report. “Adding to the Democratic anxiety, some are concerned about the small number of black voters among his audiences in South Carolina this week, suggesting he still may be struggling to attract that pillar of the Democratic coalition. …

In a recognition of these fractures, Democratic leaders have begun saying openly that some down-ballot party candidates may run on non-Sanders positions if he is the nominee. ‘It is not unusual for a party platform, or candidates for president, to have their own agenda they would put forth,’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday. ‘And it is not unusual for the House of Representatives to have its agenda to win as well.’ Minutes earlier, Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) spoke on the House floor in support of a bill condemning Sanders’s comments praising Castro’s literacy program, which she called ‘misguided, ill-informed, hurtful and unacceptable.’”

Democratic leaders are willing to risk damage to the party to stop Sanders. 

The New York Times interviewed 93 of the 771 superdelegates and reports that the “vast majority" predicted no candidate would clinch the nomination during the primaries, which could result in a brokered convention. Only nine of those interviewed said Sanders should become the nominee purely on the basis of arriving at the convention with a plurality of pledged delegates. “House members share their Sanders fears on text-messaging chains. Bill Clinton, in calls with old friends, vents about the party getting wiped out in the general election. And officials in the national and state parties are increasingly anxious about splintered primaries on Super Tuesday and beyond,” per the Times. Obama said he will “wholeheartedly support” the eventual nominee in a new fundraising pitch for the Democratic National Committee, per John Wagner. 

Warren is in real danger of losing her home state.

“Sanders is outpacing Warren in polls across the Super Tuesday map. But one state stings more than the others: Massachusetts,” Politico reports. “As recently as October, the two-term senator held a 20-percentage point lead over Sanders, according to a WBUR poll. In the latest version of the poll, released Friday, she trailed him by 8 points. Now, in the run-up to the March 3 primary, Sanders is going all in on his bid to pick off Massachusetts, culminating in a four-day music and canvassing festival in Worcester that begins Friday. … It's not clear whether Warren will campaign in Massachusetts in the run-up to the primary.” 

A Ukrainian court has forced a probe into Biden.

"A court ruling in Ukraine has forced state investigators to open a probe into alleged pressure by then-vice president Joe Biden that led to the 2016 dismissal of Viktor Shokin as the country’s prosecutor general,” David Stern and Robyn Dixon report from Kyiv. “Trump last year pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for an investigation of this kind, leading to Trump’s impeachment … Shokin’s firing, however, was not a unilateral action directed by Biden. It was prompted by a push for anti-corruption reforms developed at the State Department and coordinated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Shokin’s lawyer, Oleksandr Teleshetsky, said the probe was launched in response to a court order, after an appeal for action by Shokin. The State Bureau of Investigations confirmed a case was opened. … Shokin has long been angered by what he sees as an unfair dismissal following foreign pressure.”

Bloomberg released information about his heart health.

According to Bloomberg’s doctor, Stephen Sisson at Johns Hopkins, “Bloomberg's left ventricular ejection fraction was ‘normal’ at 60-65%; his left ventricular cavity size and left ventricular function were also deemed ‘normal.’” Bloomberg's campaign said Sanders should release the same left ventricular ejection fraction data. (CNN)

Bloomberg’s campaign dangled the vice presidency in pursuit of Andrew Yang’s endorsement.

Yang “didn’t commit to join forces, as he considers his own political future,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “A senior Bloomberg aide said Mr. Yang wasn’t being seriously considered to be the former mayor’s running mate if he secured the nomination.”

Bloomberg says “stop and frisk” decreased crime. Data suggests it wasn’t a major factor.

“A Washington Post analysis of crime patterns and other academic research found that major felonies declined during Bloomberg’s three terms from 2002 through 2013, but the reduction did not correspond to the increase in stops by police,” Dan Keating and Harry Stevens report. “Crime has continued to fall since a federal judge deemed the practice an unconstitutional violation of civil rights in 2013. The disconnect suggests that an increase or decrease in crime happened largely for reasons independent of the aggressive expansion of the policy.”

As the opioid crisis grew, Bloomberg helped the Sackler family with some PR advice. 

“The billionaire family whose company created and pushed the addictive painkiller OxyContin had managed to escape connection with the opioid crisis for years, but now two magazine pieces were portraying them as pain profiteers. … Mortimer D.A. Sackler … was openly furious. And so he turned to a person he knew and admired in the media industry,” writes Hannah Dreier for ProPublica. “‘I am meeting with Michael Bloomberg tomorrow morning at 10 am to seek his help and guidance on the current issues we are facing,’ Sackler wrote to Purdue’s top executives in December 2017. ‘I plan to discuss the following with him: 1. Current narrative vs the truth. 2. What advice does he have on how best to deal with it? 3. Does he have a journalist that he would recommend who could get the FULL story out there?’ … Bloomberg advised Mortimer Sackler on how to handle negative coverage in 2017, and steered the family to a crisis communications specialist who had been his mayoral press secretary. In 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies staff met with Sackler to discuss launching a joint initiative to combat the opioid crisis.”

An SEC coach became a Trump-loving Senate hopeful. His players no longer recognize him.

Former Auburn University coach Tommy Tuberville is competing with Jeff Sessions and others ahead of the GOP primary in Alabama next Tuesday to take on Sen. Doug Jones (D). At Auburn, Tuberville established a reputation as a mild-mannered coach and charming recruiter who led the Tigers to an undefeated record in 2004. But he's transformed himself, adopting some of the president’s favorite language and Trump’s propensity for exaggerations and falsehoods. "Perhaps more notably, Tuberville, who sold football recruits and built the Auburn program on a foundation of unity, has now taken on many of the president’s more hard-line — and, often, xenophobic — talking points,” Kent Babb reports. “Some of Tuberville’s former Auburn players have noticed, pointing out that his persona on the campaign trail is strikingly different than the man who recruited and coached them. ‘That doesn’t reflect the person that I knew,’ said Devin Aromashodu, a former Auburn wide receiver who usually votes Democrat. ‘It sounds like two different people.’”

The coronavirus

Reacting to the spread of the virus that causes covid-19, Trump administration officials have sometimes contradicted messages from NIH and CDC health officials. (The Washington Post)
Federal workers allegedly assisted evacuees without protective gear. 

“Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services sent more than a dozen workers to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, without proper training for infection control or appropriate protective gear, according to a whistleblower complaint,” Lena Sun and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “The workers did not show symptoms of infection and were not tested for the virus, according to lawyers for the whistleblower, a senior HHS official based in Washington who oversees workers at the Administration for Children and Families, a unit within HHS. The whistleblower is seeking federal protection, alleging she was unfairly and improperly reassigned after raising concerns about the safety of these workers to HHS officials, including those within the office of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. She was told Feb. 19 that if she does not accept the new position in 15 days, which is March 5, she would be terminated. …

“The complaint alleges HHS staffers were ‘improperly deployed’ and were ‘not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation.’ The complaint also alleges the workers were potentially exposed to coronavirus because appropriate steps were not taken to protect them and staffers were not trained in wearing personal protective equipment, even though they had face-to-face contact with returning passengers. … In some instances, the teams were working alongside personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in ‘full gown, gloves and hazmat attire,’ the complaint said. … Several people within HHS voiced objections to sending the ACF personnel to receive passengers, according to a person familiar with the conversations … A second person familiar with the situation said the workers were not tested for coronavirus because none of them met the criteria, which was restricted at that time to people with symptoms and either a recent trip to China or close contact with a person confirmed to be infected with covid19. If the workers had exhibited symptoms, appropriate protocol would have been followed.” 

Vice President Pence took control of messaging amid criticism of his qualifications. 

“Pence tried to project a sense of steady control over the government’s response to the coronavirus,” Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “Pence appointed a doctor, Ambassador Debbie Birx, to serve as White House response coordinator for the virus, enforced tight control of the government’s public communications and added new members to a task force aimed at containing the spread of the outbreak. … Trump on Thursday continued to downplay the threat, blaming the media and Democrats for creating a panic over the virus. … In an effort to combat further fragmented messaging, Pence moved to seize control of all federal communications on the virus, requiring Cabinet officials and government experts to get clearance from his office before making public remarks, according to two senior administration officials.

“The move came after Trump grew frustrated about some of the public statements made by government officials warning the public, which the president viewed as overly alarmist … The move drew immediate criticism from Democrats, who warned that Pence’s attempt at message control could quickly turn into an effort to suppress critical health information that the public needs. … Adding economy-focused figures to the task force, Pence appointed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow … Pence suggested … that both he and Azar would lead the government’s effort … A former senior HHS official … said Azar, public health officials and department employees have been ‘doing the measured playbook response’ to the coronavirus, while the White House has been obsessed with a ‘communications problem.’ For Azar, this created ‘a sense of irritation,’ the official said. … 

One senior administration official involved in the response said many people were confused about how the response will be run. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, used a combination of expletives to describe the situation. The official said problems with a government-created coronavirus test have limited the United States’ capacity to rapidly increase testing."

Trump said he put Pence in charge because he didn’t “have anything else to do.” 

“White House aides, led by Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff, had debated for days whether the administration needed a point person to be the face of the response,” the Times reports. “The decision to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednesday after the president told some people that the vice president did not ‘have anything else to do,’ according to people familiar with Mr. Trump’s comments.” 

Trump said he can quickly bring in coronavirus experts. That's not how it works. 

“The White House official charged with leading the U.S. response to deadly pandemics left nearly two years ago as his global health security team was disbanded ... Despite the mounting threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Trump said he has no regrets about those actions and that expertise and resources can be quickly ramped up to meet the current needs,” Beth Reinhard, Emma Brown and Neena Satija report. Experts disagree:

  • “They have stable jobs with retirement plans,” said physician Cyrus Shahpar, who served at the CDC under Obama and during the first year of the Trump administration. “They are not going to quit their job at the university or quit their job in the local government to go join the U.S. federal government for six months because of coronavirus. It doesn't work like that.”
  • “You build a fire department ahead of time. You don’t wait for a fire,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
  • “What you’re seeing play out is that this response is starting from a standing start instead of a running start,” said Ron Klain, who served as “Ebola czar” under Obama in 2014. Klain noted that Pence and Azar already have full-time jobs. “Running this response is not like driving Uber. You don’t do it a couple hours a day.”

Bigger picture, the virus is pushing Trump to rely on experts he has long maligned. “Throughout his more than three years as president, Trump has obsessed, at times conspiratorially, over what he calls the ‘deep state’ — the thousands of career government specialists in national security, intelligence, science and other areas whose expertise he shuns in part because he suspects they are disloyal saboteurs,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker note. (Our Fact Checker team reviews 13 of the most noteworthy coronavirus comments Trump made during his news conference.)

Trump’s CDC chief, Robert Redfield, is under growing scrutiny, internally and externally. 

“Hundreds of Americans were left stuck on a cruise ship that later became the single biggest source of U.S. coronavirus cases — a CDC decision,” Politico reports. "Dozens of public health labs are still waiting for tests that will allow them to diagnose coronavirus — a CDC responsibility. One of Redfield’s deputies on Monday urged businesses and schools to start preparing for the disease’s inevitable spread — stamping the CDC’s imprint on public fears … Inside the health department, officials have complained that Redfield and CDC have been slow to resolve essential problems, like clarifying whether dozens of public health labs around the nation will soon have diagnostics capable of testing for coronavirus.” 

Virus testing is widening after the first U.S. case of community transmission. 

“The four-day delay in testing a California woman for coronavirus highlights how a faulty test and, until Thursday, a narrow definition of who should be tested have hindered the United States’ ability to track how widely the disease has spread,” Carolyn Y. Johnson and Laurie McGinley report. “Those concerns were stoked by the emergence of the nation’s first case of community transmission in Northern California, where hospital administrators say the patient, a woman, was not tested when clinicians requested it because she did not meet strict [CDC] criteria … ‘We have just a few hundred testing kits in the state of California,’ Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Thursday at a news conference. ‘That’s simply inadequate to do justice to the kind of testing that is required to address this issue head on.’ … Newsom said the state was working with the CDC to get more testing kits and the ability to do tests without shipping samples across the country.” New York is making its own coronavirus test after the CDC's test repeatedly failed, per BuzzFeed News. 

Markets are on track for their worst week since the financial crisis. 

“European indexes fell sharply, led by losses in the travel and resources sectors, continuing the slump in Asia earlier in the day,” Adam Taylor and Rick Noack report. “U.S. futures pointed to further losses on Wall Street at the open.” 

South Korea now has 2,337 confirmed cases, the largest hot spot outside of China. 

There are 78,824 confirmed cases in mainland China. South Korea is trying to rapidly test a large number of people, including more than 200,000 people who are members of a church in Daegu where the virus appeared to have spread widely, per Min Joo Kim and Adam Taylor.

Mongolia's president was put under a 14-day quarantine after traveling to China for one day. (Taylor

Japan is scaling back the Olympic torch relay. It was due to start in Fukushima on March 26. A spokesman says that, though the procession may be downsized, it won’t be cancelled. The International Olympic Committee said it remains fully committed to moving ahead with the Games as scheduled. (Simon Denyer)

Quote of the day

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh (D) was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. Responding to the contention by her defense attorneys that the public humiliation she endured should be considered as part of the punishment, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow said: “Yes, the impact on Ms. Pugh has been great. But the impact on the city is also very great and very tragic.” (Paul Schwartzman)

Social media speed read

Trump tried to pin the spread of the virus on Democrats in a now-deleted tweet: 

Washington's Democratic governor gave this readout of his call with the V.P.:

All the leading Democratic presidential candidates attacked Trump's decisions:

Videos of the day

“The Daily Show” sent two correspondents to check in with black voters in South Carolina:

Stephen Colbert is not impressed by Trump’s coronavirus plan:

Seth Meyers said this situation should give Trump pause about his cuts to health funding: