with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

A national survey published Thursday by the Pew Research Center showed that 73 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe “self-centered” describes President Trump either very or fairly well. Overall, 8 in 10 U.S. adults agree.

Eighty percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they agree with Trump on many or nearly all of the important issues facing the country; the same percentage approve of his job performance in the poll. But only 31 percent said they like the way Trump conducts himself as president. Half said they have mixed feelings, and 16 percent say they don’t like his conduct.

Among the Republicans and GOP-leaning independents surveyed by Pew, 35 percent said he’s prejudiced, 49 percent said he’s even-tempered, 62 percent said he’s morally upstanding and 71 percent said he’s honest. But 87 percent said he fights for what they believe in. That’s the key to his reservoir of support on the right.

Trump’s town hall on Thursday night in Scranton, Pa., which aired live on Fox News and focused extensively on the novel coronavirus outbreak, captured these dynamics in miniature. The first audience question came from Katherine Pugh, an undecided voter, who said the Trump administration’s initial response to the coronavirus “seemed to some as being confusing or minimizing.” She wondered “what plans are being considered on a federal level for the possibility of a long-term disruption” from its spread. Rather than discuss what’s next, Trump focused on touting his initial response.

He credited his own moves with the relatively small death toll – he said 11 Americans have died, though the number is now 12 – compared to other countries. “Well, actually, we are being given really tremendous marks – you look at Gallup, you look at other polls – for the way we have handled it,” he said. “And one of the things I did is I closed down the borders to China and to other areas that are very badly affected. … And I closed them down very early against the advice of almost everybody. And we have been given rave reviews.”

There is no public evidence that there was widespread opposition to the travel restrictions in the administration. Moreover, the Gallup poll Trump referred to, conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 16, did not ask about Trump’s handling of the situation. Instead, it asked Americans about their confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle an outbreak in the United States. A lot has changed in the past three weeks, including the seesawing stock market and a spike in the number of confirmed cases in the country. The Dow fell 700 points Friday morning in the first few minutes after the opening bell.

An Economist-YouGov poll conducted earlier this week found that 41 percent of Americans thought Trump’s policies were not taking the risks seriously enough. Another 34 percent said his policy was appropriate. This poll finds that 68 percent of Americans are now either “somewhat” or “very” concerned about a coronavirus epidemic in the United States, up from 62 percent in an Economist-YouGov survey last month.

Trump himself has emerged as the administration’s greatest obstacle to sending a clear and consistent message about the coronavirus. Leading public health experts from across the government have found their messages undercut, drowned out and muddled by Trump’s push to downplay the outbreak with a mix of optimism, bombast and pseudoscience, Toluse Olorunnipa reports: “The president has repeatedly misstated the number of Americans who have tested positive for the virus and claimed it would ‘miraculously’ disappear in the spring. He has given a false timeline for the development of a vaccine, publicly questioned whether vaccinations for the flu could be used to treat the novel coronavirus and dismissed the World Health Organization’s coronavirus death rate estimate, substituting a much lower figure and citing a ‘hunch.’ On Wednesday night, Trump made an uncritical reference to people who continue to go to work while infected with the coronavirus — placing himself at odds with doctors who have strongly urged those with even minor symptoms to stay home.”

Over the past four months, President Trump has regularly sought to downplay the coronavirus threat with a mix of facts and false statements. (The Washington Post)

Fox News anchor Bret Baier told Trump during the town hall that, while he’s said he wants to take politics out of the crisis, the president also keeps blaming former president Barack Obama for delays in distributing test kits. “Well, I don't blame anybody,” he said, before blaming Obama. “I want to get everybody to understand they made some decisions which were not good decisions. We inherited decisions that they made.”

Trump added that his own performance will get criticized no matter what. “If we found a cure, and everybody's better tomorrow morning at nine o’clock, they would say, he's done a terrible job,” he said. “It's just automatic. … And we have done a great job. Again, we have gotten the highest poll numbers of anybody for this kind of a thing.”

Fact-checker Glenn Kessler awards Four Pinocchios to Trump for his “bogus” effort to blame Obama for sluggish coronavirus testing: “The administration has been under fire for its failure to quickly expand testing for coronavirus across the United States; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had distributed flawed tests to state and local health departments. The lack of tests, compared with countries like South Korea that have tested tens of thousands of people, has meant the possible spread of the virus in the United States may be hidden.

“Trump suggested the problem instead was an ‘Obama rule’ on testing that his administration had recently overturned. But this turns out to be completely wrong. …There was no Obama rule, simply ‘guidance’ that was never acted on because Congress stepped in and decided it would craft the necessary legislation, according to experts we consulted. The Trump administration, in fact, has been working with Congress on such legislation.”

Baier asked Trump why he didn’t expedite testing when the world learned of the virus spreading in January. “I'm thinking about a lot of other things too, like trade and millions of other things,” the president answered. “I mean, we are doing some job with the economy and all. So I'm not thinking about this. But as soon as I heard that China had a problem, I said, what's going on with China? How many people are coming in? Nobody but me asked that question. … And we were given A-pluses for that. … Saved a lot of lives.” 

Later in the town hall, a self-described “big supporter” of the president – identified by the network only as Robert – thanked Trump effusively for “everything that you have done for this country and continue to do for this country.” But then he lamented how “insult politics have become a staple of this political environment.” And he wondered: “Could there be a way that we can deliver your message without the controversial rhetoric in efforts to reunite this country during these divisive times?”

Trump’s answer boiled down to no. “When they hit us, we have to hit back,” he said. “I wouldn't be sitting up here if I turned my cheek.” He added that Fox News wouldn’t be interviewing him if he wasn’t a counterpuncher because it’s good for ratings. “We get hit so hard,” Trump added. “If we don't fight back, you won't be a fan of mine very long. But I appreciate the question. Thank you.” The crowd cheered. Robert applauded. And the Trump campaign war room quickly blasted out the clip.

The latest on the spread of coronavirus

The California National Guard delivered coronavirus test kits on March 5 to stranded passengers aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship. (California National Guard via Storyful)
A cruise ship with thousands aboard awaits test results.

“The Grand Princess, which was returning to San Francisco after a two-week cruise to Hawaii, remained offshore and in limbo at the request of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). About 100 people were expected to be tested, among them 11 passengers and 10 crew members who have shown potential signs of covid-19,” Reed Albergotti, Hannah Sampson and Brady Dennis report. “Even as the military ferried tests to the cruise ship and thousands of passengers waited uneasily on board, public health officials on land were investigating a cluster of coronavirus cases among the roughly 2,500 people who had taken an earlier cruise on the same ship. One of those passengers, a 71-year-old man, has since died of covid-19. …The virus spread to new states — including three cases in Montgomery County, Md. … Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday voted nearly unanimously to approve emergency spending to combat the coronavirus outbreak [and the president signed the measure on Friday morning.] 

“But many questions remain about just how prepared the country is for an expanded outbreak. Vice President Pence, who on Tuesday said that any American with a doctor’s orders could get tested for the coronavirus, acknowledged Thursday that ‘we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.’ Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers Thursday that the government will have shipped enough tests by the end of the week for 75,000 people to be tested. … Earlier in the week, the Trump administration said it could have 1 million tests ready by the end of the week.” 

Pence is reportedly sidelining Azar. The health secretary wasn’t at a Wednesday televised briefing because officials wanted to make space for housing secretary Ben Carson on stage, Politico reports. He was also left out of a Thursday trip to Washington state, which Pence and Azar allies said was because of “other commitments.”

Globally, the virus has infected nearly 100,000 people and caused 3,200 deaths. 

“A French lawmaker tested positive; the Vatican reported its first case; the Netherlands recorded its first fatality; a rabbi was infected in New York state,” Adam Taylor, Teo Armus and Rick Noack report. “Health officials in the Houston area reported two likely cases.”

  • California ordered insurers to waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus testing. (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • A Chinese health expert said he expects the number of new infections in Wuhan, where the outbreak started, to decline to “near zero” by the end of the month. (Lyric Li)
  • Coronavirus cases jumped from zero to four in Senegal this week, raising fears that upcoming religious festivals could fuel a wider outbreak. (Danielle Paquette and Borso Tall)
Health-care workers are worried about protections against the virus. 

“Some advocates for health-care workers say hospital administrators are not adequately protecting their staff members. This week, National Nurses United (NNU), the largest labor union for nurses, said that only 30 percent of the 6,000 nurses it has surveyed in 48 states think their workplace has sufficient protective gear to handle an influx of coronavirus patients. Only 29 percent said their hospital or clinic has plans for isolating patients if they are infected,” Katie Mettler, Arelis Hernández, William Wan and Lenny Bernstein report. 

A proposed regulation could protect these workers from the virus. It’s hanging in limbo. 

“The draft regulation would require employers to provide protective gear for health-care workers and to create infection-control plans, which could include building isolation rooms. The Obama administration was working to adopt the regulation, but the Trump administration in 2017 moved it to a less urgent, long-term agenda and work on it stopped,” Kimberly Kindy reports

A New York college closed and others cancelled classes. 

Yeshiva University’s president announced a student had tested positive and classes would be canceled at their Washington Heights and Midtown campuses until after March 10. Lake Washington Institute of Technology closed on Sunday outside Seattle. Susan Svrluga reports that workers cleaned and disinfected the school on Monday and Tuesday, and the more than 20 students and faculty possibly exposed were advised to remain in isolation for two weeks. The campus briefly reopened Wednesday — before closing again that night. A faculty member had tested positive for covid-19, the school announced, and the campus will close at least through the weekend.

The Education Department issued guidance providing schools with the flexibility to accommodate students who studies are being upended by the outbreak. For example, to help students continue their classes, the Education Department is allowing schools to temporarily expand their online learning programs or partner with other schools that can meet the demands, without requiring federal approval. (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)

A dog tested positive in Hong Kong.

A pet dog in Hong Kong has a “low-level” infection of the coronavirus, in what may be the first known case. Public health officials say the virus “does not appear to infect or be spread by pets. But experts say much remains unknown about the dog’s infection, and they emphasized the lone case is not yet cause for alarm or reassessments about interactions with pets,” Karin Brulliard reports.

Scientists were close to a coronavirus vaccine years ago. Then money dried up.

“Dr. Peter Hotez says he made the pitch to anyone who would listen. After years of research, his team of scientists in Texas had helped develop a vaccine to protect against a deadly strain of coronavirus. Now they needed money to begin testing it in humans,” NBC News reports. “But this was 2016. More than a decade had passed since the viral disease known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, had spread through China, killing more than 770 people. That disease, an earlier coronavirus similar to the one now sweeping the globe, was a distant memory by the time Hotez and his team sought funding to test whether their vaccine would work in humans.” 

If you're quarantined, you can still eat well.

The Post's culinary team surveyed some of the country’s best-known cooks for ideas on what people might stock up on in their pantries to prepare for a coronavirus quarantine. Celebrity author Padma Lakshmi suggests families stock up on frozen veggies and pick a weekend to cook huge batches of different dishes that are stew-y and freeze well, like turkey chili. Chef Nina Compton suggested keeping lots of snacks in the fridge, including pickles, nuts and frozen pizzas. For the pantry, have some bags of dried pasta, dried beans and rice. Chef and author Edward Lee said you should buy a few packets of instant ramen and glamorize them with frozen green beans, curry powder and some cheese.

While you were sleeping

Gunfire at a Shiite gathering in Kabul left more than 20 dead and dozens wounded. Afghan opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah was there, but he escaped the scene unhurt, according to his spokesman. The attack comes amid heightened political tensions in Afghanistan following disputed election results. Both the Afghan president and Abdullah had declared victory last month. (Susannah George)  

Explosives that detonated near the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia were part of an apparent attack by two suicide bombers. The large explosion injured six people, including five security agents and a woman, Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said. (Claire Parker and Sudarsan Raghavan)

2020 watch

Speaking to reporters outside her home in Cambridge, Mass., Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced she was ending her presidential bid on March 5. (The Washington Post)
Elizabeth Warren’s exit raises questions about the role of women in politics. 

“Now as Warren … decides whether to endorse either of the two male candidates remaining, her supporters are left to contemplate a factor that many believe contributed significantly to her loss: She’s female." Annie Linskey and Amy Wang report. “It’s not that Warren ran an error-free campaign… But her male counterparts made big mistakes as well. … The exit by Warren, who spent much of 2019 leading in many polls, was a reminder of four years ago, when Hillary Clinton’s loss sparked a national debate over whether a woman could ever win election to the country’s highest political office. … ‘Women will not be perceived by some as electable until we’re elected,’ said Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to former president Barack Obama and a friend of Warren’s.”

Linskey asked Warren outside her home in Cambridge, Mass., about the role gender played in the race. “That is the trap question for every woman,” the senator answered. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?'”

“Warren’s withdrawal also prompted other leading women in Washington to reflect on why the ‘highest and hardest’ glass ceiling that Clinton once talked about was still intact. ‘Every time I get introduced as the most powerful woman in the United States, I almost cry, because I’m thinking, ‘I wish that were not true,’’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. ‘I so wish that we had a woman president.’ … Still, the Democratic primary has been unusually complicated this year, and many argue that other factors besides sexism were at play in Warren’s fate. Her initial strategy rested on quickly consolidating the left, for example, [but many liberals] were more drawn to [Bernie] Sanders’s brand of fiery democratic socialism.”

Speaking to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC last night, Warren called out Sanders for not taking steps to control the “organized nastiness” of some of his supporters. (Fred Barbash

Many women saw Warren as one of them, writes columnist Monica Hesse. “Finally, a presidential candidate who took things like maternal health and paid parental leave seriously, and who also knew exactly what Nora Ephron meant when she wrote that she felt bad about her neck. It was an impossible tightrope, but she made it look easy; she made most things look easy.”

Quote of the day

Bill Clinton discussed his extramarital affair with intern Monica Lewinsky in a new four-part documentary, “Hillary,” that premiered this morning on Hulu. “You feel like you’re staggering around — you’ve been in a 15-round prizefight that was extended to 30 rounds, and here’s something that’ll take your mind off it for a while. Everybody’s life has pressures and disappointments and terrors, fears of whatever, things I did to manage my anxieties for years,” the former president explained. “Nobody sits down and thinks, ‘I think I’ll take a really irresponsible risk.’” (NYT)

Mike Bloomberg is forming an outside group to support the Democratic nominee. 

“Bloomberg has decided to form an independent expenditure campaign that will absorb hundreds of his presidential campaign staffers in six swing states to work to elect the Democratic nominee this fall,” Michael Scherer reports. “The group, with a name that is still undisclosed because its trademark application is in process, would also be a vehicle for Bloomberg to spend money on advertising to attack [Trump] and support the Democratic nominee…"

Monday was the day everything went Joe Biden’s way, but the two days before that were full of intrigue.

With news that Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke were interested in endorsing Biden, his campaign scrambled to “maximize a sense of drama and momentum that Biden’s campaign had rarely, if ever, enjoyed,” Jenna Johnson, Matt Viser and Chelsea Janes report in a tick-tock on the hours before the fateful day that secured Biden front-runner status.

Sanders canceled a speech scheduled for later today in Mississippi, where Biden is heavily favored, so he can focus on winning Michigan next Tuesday. The Detroit Free Press endorsed Biden ahead of Michigan’s primary next week. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) also backed the former vice president. Also happening in Michigan: “Former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones was charged with embezzling more than $1 million, according to a criminal filing that indicates he will plead guilty,” the Detroit News reports. 

Previously unseen documents from a Soviet archive show how Moscow saw a chance for propaganda in Sanders’s attempts to find a sister city in Russia when he was a Vermont mayor in the 1980s. Sanders “wrote to a Soviet counterpart in a provincial city that he wanted the United States and the Soviet Union to ‘live together as friends.’ Unbeknown to him, his desire for friendship meshed with the efforts of Soviet officials in Moscow to ‘reveal American imperialism as the main source of the danger of war,’” the Times reports.

Biden’s team is eager to expand staff. The campaign is scaling up and looking to tap into the pool of Democratic talent now available because of all the candidates who have recently dropped out, the Times reports. “In the Democratic contest, any candidate who gets at least 15 percent statewide or in any congressional district gets a cut of the delegates at stake. In the abstract, it’s a feature that rewards candidates who stick around and continue to campaign. In practice, though, it very quickly means that a candidate with a lead can hold it,” Philip Bump explains. “That’s one of the reasons that [Biden] now has a significant advantage over [Sanders]."

Mitt Romney could derail a GOP subpoena targeting the Bidens. 

“The Senate Homeland Security Committee is set to vote next Wednesday on a subpoena for records from a Democratic public relations firm related to the panel’s investigation of conflict-of-interest allegations against the Bidens. But [the Republican senator from Utah], a member of the panel, has hinted that he could vote against issuing the subpoena, noting the committee’s investigation might look political in nature given Biden’s resurgence and the increasing likelihood that he’ll become the Democratic presidential nominee,” Politico reports. 

Facebook took down deceptive Trump campaign ads – after initially allowing them. 

“The Trump ads urged Facebook users to ‘take the official 2020 Congressional District Census today,’ but despite the look and language of the ad, they were not related to the once-a-decade national count of U.S. citizens happening this year,” Craig Timberg and Tara Bahrampour report. “Instead, the ads linked to a survey on the ‘Certified Website of President Donald J. Trump,’ which collected information and requested a donation. Facebook initially said it would permit the ads, ruling that they were clearly not a part of the U.S. census … Facebook reversed its position hours later, saying that the ads indeed violated its policy against ‘misrepresentation of the dates, locations, times and methods for census participation.’”

Domestic developments that shouldn't be overlooked

A federal judge criticized Barr's “lack of candor” in his summary of Mueller's conclusions. 

“U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, overseeing a lawsuit brought by EPIC, a watchdog group, and BuzzFeed News, said he saw serious discrepancies between [Bill] Barr’s public statements about [Bob] Mueller’s findings and the public, partially redacted version of that report detailing the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Spencer Hsu and Devlin Barrett report. “Because of those discrepancies, Walton ruled, the judge would conduct an independent review of Mueller’s full report to see whether the Justice Department’s redactions were appropriate. … In his 23-page opinion, Walton said he had ‘grave concerns about the objectivity of the process’ that led up to the public release of the Mueller report. … ‘Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility,’ [he wrote]. The judge said he would not take Justice Department lawyers at their word that redactions in the report were all done for appropriate reasons.” [Walton was appointed by George W. Bush.]

On immigration, Barr is acting like his own Supreme Court.

"Barr quietly intervened in an immigration asylum case last week when he issued a decision that narrowed the definition of torture for asylum seekers who invoke it as a grounds for staying in the United States,” Kim Bellware reports. “Barr used a process known as ‘certification,’ a historically little-used power of the attorney general that allows him to overrule decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals and set binding precedent. Immigration lawyers and judges say the Trump administration is using the power with greater frequency — to the point of abuse — as it seeks to severely limit the number of immigrants who can remain in the United States. The administration is also using it as a check on immigration judges whose decisions don’t align with the administration’s immigration agenda, experts say.” 

Trump’s border crackdown stalled as illegal crossings increased for the first time in nine months. 

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said 37,119 unauthorized border crossers were taken into custody in February, up from 36,660 in January. While the number of migrants arriving in family groups continues to decline, the number of single adult migrants from Mexico and unaccompanied children rose last month, the figures show,” Nick Miroff and Abigail Hauslohner report. Meanwhile, ICE is targeting “sanctuary cities” with increased surveillance. The agency’s leadership has requested at least 500 special agents to joined an enhanced arrest campaign rolling out in these cities, per the NYT.

A blind man failed the U.S. citizenship test because he couldn’t read in English.

“Born 100 percent blind, the 23-year-old legal permanent resident had been studying English for the past six years since coming to the United States from Mexico as a teenager,” Meagan Flynn reports. “He got a vision exam by an optometrist so he could prove he is legally blind, asking in his application that he be given the test in Braille. … But then came the big problem: the reading portion of the exam. The agent said they received his request for Braille, but, unfortunately, USCIS did not have Braille available. … For the record, the officer gave him ‘three attempts to read a sentence’ in English, as USCIS describes it in a letter Delgado provided. And, predictably, whether the print was large or small, Delgado couldn’t read what he couldn’t see.”

An ex-Nazi concentration camp guard, who’s lived in the U.S. since 1959, faces deportation. An index card found submerged in a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea helped federal prosecutors prove their case that Friedrich Karl Berger, a German citizen and longtime Tennessee resident who acknowledged having served as a guard at a German concentration camp, had to be deported. He’s still receiving a German pension for work that includes his wartime service, per Debbie Cenziper and Rachel Baldauf.

Chuck Schumer expressed regret for calling out two Supreme Court justices. 

The Senate minority leader, a Democrat from New York, said Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would “pay the price” for a vote against abortion rights on Wednesday, drawing the ire of Chief Justice John Roberts. While he defended his passion on the issue on the Senate floor on Thursday, Schumer conceded that his comments went too far. (Paul Kane, John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez

Trump’s company charged the Secret Service $157,000 more than was previously known. 

According to a new trove of receipts released by the agency, Trump billed taxpayers for rooms at his clubs at rates far higher than his company has claimed. David Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow, Jonathan O’Connell and Carol D. Leonnig report: “Many of the new receipts were obtained by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which spent three years battling the Secret Service over a public-records request from January 2017. When added to dozens of charges already reported by The Post, the new documents show that Trump’s company has charged the Secret Service more than $628,000 since he took office in 2017. The payments show Trump has an unprecedented — and still partially hidden — business relationship with his own government. The full scope of that relationship is still unknown because the publicly available records are largely from 2017 and 2018, leaving huge gaps in the data.”

Social media speed read

A protester brought Nazi propaganda to a Sanders rally last night: 

“The moment, captured in videos and photos that circulated on social media Thursday night, was denounced as an act of anti-Semitism and prompted increased concerns about Sanders’s safety on the campaign trail,” Allyson Chiu reports. “Sanders did not appear to see the flag as he thanked the crowd for coming out Thursday night. Videos showed him only turning around in time to witness the man being escorted out. ‘Whoever it was, I think they’re a little outnumbered tonight,’ he told the crowd with a smile.”

Warren’s dog, seemingly aware that he no longer has to be in the spotlight, broke his diet: 

Harvard Law honored one of its former professors: 

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert said Warren’s exit from the race is proof that America “can’t have nice things”:

Trevor Noah said goodbye to Warren’s campaign:

Seth Meyers said we need truth, transparency and testing when it comes to coronavirus, and he doesn’t think we’re going to get that from Trump: