With Mariana Alfaro

The unforced errors in President Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday night captured in miniature his uneven, muddled and often confused response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

This was not some off-the-cuff riff as Trump prepared to board Marine One. It was a formal speech, read from a teleprompter, in prime time. Networks cut into regularly scheduled programming at 9 p.m. Eastern so that the American people could hear directly from their commander in chief about what is perhaps the gravest crisis of his tenure. It was only the second time during his three years in office that Trump requested the opportunity to address the country this way. Yet he still could not manage to get the basic facts straight.

The president opened with huge news: The United States “will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” with the exception of the United Kingdom, starting at midnight on Friday. “These prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval,” he said. “Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.”

But the text of the order released by the White House stated that the ban would not include cargo. The president later tweeted a correction to the speech. “Trade will in no way be affected,” he wrote. “The restriction stops people not goods.”

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted after the speech that the restrictions announced by Trump do not actually apply “to American citizens or legal permanent residents or their families.” The president had not said his restrictions would apply only to foreign nationals. In fact, much of the community transmission of coronavirus in the United States has been linked to U.S. travelers who visited foreign countries or who contracted the disease at gatherings in the United States.

Trump also declared in his televised address that health insurance companies “have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.” AHIP, the trade association for insurers, clarified that the companies have agreed to cover testing, not treatment. There’s a huge difference: Treatment will be much more costly for people infected with the virus than the underlying test.

None of these three clarifications inspire confidence that the president is fully in command of the crisis. The speech certainly didn’t calm the markets: The Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 1,700 points at the open this morning – a day after shedding nearly 1,500 points to fall into a bear market, which marks a 20-percent drop from its all-time high.

The president used the bulk of last night’s speech to defend his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, emphasizing that he’s acting “with great speed.” In fact, he has not. It has been 51 days since the first case was confirmed in the United States. Squandering precious time, Trump claimed Democrats were using the virus as “their new hoax,” downplayed the danger, repeatedly contradicted public health experts and spread falsehoods, such as saying the virus will go away when it gets warmer. Two weeks ago, Trump said the virus was “very much under control” and that the number of people infected was “going very substantially down, not up.” Soon, he declared on Feb. 26, the total number of cases will be “close to zero.” 

There are now more than 1,300 confirmed cases in the United States, with at least 38 deaths. Even in his televised address last night, Trump maintained that the risk to most Americans is “very, very low.” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified earlier in the day at a congressional hearing: “Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”

The build-the-wall president spoke of the “foreign virus,” which he noted “started in China and is now spreading throughout the world,” as if it were an invading army that must be repelled. When everything looks like a foreign invasion, every problem seems like it can be solved with walls. “We made a life-saving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe,” he said. “I will never hesitate to take any necessary steps to protect the lives, health and safety of the American people. I will always put the well-being of America first.”

Trump’s emphasis on the European Union flows from his isolationist foreign policy impulses. Stephen Miller, the White House domestic policy adviser best known for his ardent advocacy of nativist immigration policies, reportedly crafted Trump’s address. 

European officials strongly condemned Trump’s sudden announcement, which caught them by surprise. “Of all the slights between Washington and Europe in recent years, the new travel restrictions represented a blow an order of magnitude beyond previous disputes,” James McAuley and Michael Birnbaum report from Paris. “Some in Europe wondered on Thursday if Britain and Ireland were exempted because they contain Trump-owned properties. In any case, the decision appeared to confound even leaders of the British government … Trump’s announcement led to panic at various European airports on Thursday morning, as American travelers in Europe scrambled to change their tickets onto U.S. bound flights at the last minute, often at premium prices.”

“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” the top leaders of the E.U. said in an official statement. “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”

The travel ban is also contrary to the recommendations of experts, including at the World Health Organization. “It’s entirely unwise,” Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, told William Wan. "First of all, it violates WHO recommendations and treaties that the U.S. has signed on to. But it doesn’t even do anything to impact the epidemic. Many of the countries in Europe besides Italy have just as many cases or less than the United States. The idea this would reduce transmission here is not based on evidence. The reality is germs don’t respect borders.”

Even Trump’s own former homeland security adviser questioned the efficacy of what Trump announced:

France’s most recent ambassador to the United States said Trump is looking for a scapegoat:

Indeed, Trump’s 11-minute speech was packed with nationalistic rhetoric. Trump effusively praised the United States government, even though South Korea and other countries are doing a vastly more effective job testing their citizens for the virus. “The virus will not have a chance against us,” Trump said. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.”

“Trump turned in a laboring performance — one intended to project calm competence that instead seemed to reveal uncertainty,” Phil Rucker and Anne Gearan report. “Seated behind the Resolute Desk, the president struggled at moments to read the words on the teleprompter. He clasped his hands and twiddled his thumbs. He spoke with a curious affect, his voice sounding raspy and his delivery lacking the passion typically evident in his speeches.”

On this side of the Atlantic, Democrats focused on what Trump did not discuss. “Alarmingly, the president did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States,” Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement. 

Bigger picture, the president seemed more focused during his speech on the economy’s health than the public’s health. Trump rattled off several policy proposals to stimulate the economy, even as he insisted that the economy has never been stronger, including loans to small businesses, allowing businesses and individuals to defer tax payments without interest and calling on Congress to cut the payroll tax – an idea that appears dead on arrival. Trump had appeared in the Cabinet Room earlier in the day with the chief executives of major banks to urge calm.

Trump, in an explosive tirade Monday, urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to encourage Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell to do more to stimulate the economy,” Bob Costa, Josh Dawsey, Jeff Stein and Ashley Parker scoop. “During that tense Monday meeting in the Oval Office, Trump fumed that Powell never should have been appointed and is damaging the nation and his presidency. He then told Mnuchin, who had encouraged Trump to nominate Powell in 2017, to engage with the chair and ask him to take more dramatic steps to arrest the stock market’s plummet … Trump’s push to prod Powell came during an Oval Office meeting during which he also suggested to other officials that they call the Fed chair and ask him to consider further interest rate cuts.”

In keeping with its penchant for secrecy, the White House has ordered federal health officials to classify coronavirus meetings. This is keeping some experts out of the loop. “Dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health and Human Services,” Reuters reports. “Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings… ‘We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,’ one official said. ‘These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.’”

There are signs, though, that Trump himself has begun to appreciate the risk of the outbreak to his own health. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham announced after Trump’s speech that the president will no longer travel to Nevada and Colorado later this week, as scheduled, for campaign fundraisers and a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Out of an abundance of caution,” she said. The Trump campaign also canceled a “Catholics for Trump” rally scheduled for next week in Milwaukee, which had been announced just the day before. These moves are a reluctant nod to the ground truth after weeks of trying to maintain his business-as-usual routine. 

The latest on the pandemic

Drastic measures are being taken across America.

The World Health Organization declared on Wednesday that covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is officially a pandemic. The virus has infected more than 125,000 people and killed more than 4,600 globally. At least 44 states now have confirmed cases. Delaware, North Dakota and Mississippi reported their first cases. And the five new U.S. fatalities all happened at an assisted-living facility in Washington state, Teo Armus, Anna Fifield and Rick Noack report on our live blog.

  • A D.C.-based staffer for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) tested positive, the first confirmed case on Capitol Hill. (Timothy Bella)
  • Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency in D.C. after person-to-person transmissions occurred, giving herself the power to order mandatory quarantines and to crack down on price gouging. Health officials said six more people tested positive in the District, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia to at least 34. (Justin Wm. Moyer, Jenna Portnoy, Fenit Nirappil and Darran Simon)
  • The NBA indefinitely suspended the rest of its season after Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz center, tested positive. Teams that played against the Jazz within the past 10 days have been advised to self-quarantine. The announcement came shortly after a game between the Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder was abruptly postponed right before tip-off. (Ben Golliver)
  • The NCAA said the March Madness basketball tournaments will be played without spectators. (Adam Kilgore and Golliver)
  • After California, Oregon and Washington state banned gatherings of more than 250 people, the Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants will be forced to postpone or relocate games scheduled at their home stadiums this month or play them without fans. (Dave Sheinin)
  • Kentucky’s governor asked all churches to cancel servicesMany are doing so without being asked, including the Washington National Cathedral. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle suspended all public celebrations of Mass. Episcopal bishops in Virginia and D.C. announced that all churches in the dioceses would be closed for two weeks. (Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  • New York City and Chicago canceled their St. Patrick’s Day parades. (New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune)
  • A Broadway usher tested positive for the virus, sparking a cleaning frenzy in theaters as shows, hoping to stay open, suggest that its stars keep their distance from fans. (NYT)
  • For now, health officials have not declared polling sites off-limits. But elections officials in states holding primaries on Tuesday — Ohio, Florida, Arizona and Illinois — are developing on-the-fly contingency plans to mitigate the risks to voters and encourage them to participate. (Elise Viebeck)
  • The hospital industry asked the White House to declare a national emergency. The American Hospital Association’s president and several hospital chief executives said the federal public health emergency that was declared at the end of January is inadequate. (Amy Goldstein)
  • Colorado opened its first drive-up testing facility in Denver. People will need a doctor’s note, but it's free to get tested if they show up with one. (KOAA)
  • And Tom Hanks tested positive. The 63-year-old and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, are being treated in Australia. (Sonia Rao, Bethonie Butler and J. Freedom du Lac)
  • Amtrak ridership has plummeted. Cancellations are up 300 percent. (Luz Lazo)
  • Princess Cruises announced it will cancel voyages on its 18 ships around the world through May 10. The cruise line has seen passengers and crew on two of its ships face quarantines. 
  • Norwegian Cruise Line managers urged salespeople to spread falsehoods about the virus to help land bookings with potential customers. Leaked emails from a company whistleblower show the lengths the cruise giant’s leaders have gone to protect the company. (Drew Harwell)
People in Italy are trapped at home with their loved ones' bodies.

“Attempts to slow the spread of the disease have led to unintended consequences, including several instances where funeral homes reportedly refused to collect the bodies of those infected with the virus,” Antonia Noori Farzan reports. “Teresa Franzese, 47, suffered from epilepsy but was healthy up until last week, when she began showing symptoms of coronavirus. She died on Saturday evening, in her Naples home. In a series of videos posted to Facebook the following afternoon, Luca Franzese said that his sister had been tested for the virus only after her death. The results came back positive, and he and several other relatives were placed under quarantine. That left a dilemma: What to do with Teresa’s body? After various authorities failed to come up with an answer, Franzese said, the city of Naples finally referred him to a funeral home. But the funeral home refused, telling him it wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation. … On Sunday evening, Franzese posted an emotional appeal to his followers on Facebook, urging them to take the virus seriously as he stood in the same room where his sister lay dead in the background. ‘We are ruined,’ he said. ‘Italy has abandoned us.’” 

  • Italy ordered all stores to close, except supermarkets and pharmacies. The country, under an unprecedented national lockdown, has more than 12,000 confirmed cases and 827 deaths. (Chico Harlan and Loveday Morris)
  • Saudi Arabia banned all travel to and from the E.U., following Trump's lead. (Paul Schemm)
  • The U.S. Embassy branch office in Tel Aviv isolated some staffers after a visitor who had stopped by the visa office test positive. (Steve Hendrix)
  • El Salvador began a mandatory nationwide quarantine, despite having no confirmed cases. Honduras reported its first two cases. (Kevin Sieff)
  • The Caribbean is starting to suffer. The region depends on cruises and travel. (Kate Chappell, Anthony Faiola and Jasper Ward)
  • A quarantine center in China collapsed, killing 29. A total of 71 were trapped when the building collapsed. (Liu Yang)
  • Wuhan is preparing to reopen its airport as the end of its lockdown comes into view. China's Bational Health Commission said that of the 80,763 confirmed cases there, 62,793 of patients have now recovered. (Lyric Li)
  • Austria and Greece reported their first deaths from the virus. (Teo Armus)
Experts are struggling to forecast how bad this will get in the U.S.

Former CDC director Tom Frieden said deaths in the United States could range widely, depending on what percentage of the population becomes infected and how lethal the disease proves to be. “Frieden, who oversaw the U.S. response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the 2014 Ebola epidemic and the 2016 Zika epidemic, says that in a worst-case scenario, but one that is not implausible, half the U.S. population would become infected and more than 1 million people would die,” Joel Achenbach, William Wan and Lena H. Sun report. “U.S. officials have said they are working with 50 academic modeling groups around the country. But so far, no projections of the outbreak’s trajectory have been publicly released by the CDC or the White House coronavirus task force. Still, Frieden said, ‘anyone who says that they know where this is going with confidence doesn’t know enough about it.’ … In his Capitol Hill testimony, [Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,] said that a plausible covid-19 fatality rate could be 1 percent. That, he said, is 10 times as lethal as seasonal influenza. He was clear: This is more dangerous than the flu.”

Congress’s in-house physician, Brian Monahan, expects 70 million to 150 million Americans will contract the virus. He told Hill staffers during a closed-door meeting that 80 percent of people who contract the virus will ultimately be fine, Axios reports. Capitol tours have been canceled.

The coronavirus can live on some surfaces for up to three days.

“The new coronavirus can live in the air for several hours and on some surfaces for as long as two to three days, tests by U.S. government and other scientists have found,” the AP reports. “Their work, published Wednesday, doesn’t prove that anyone has been infected through breathing it from the air or by touching contaminated surfaces, researchers stress. … For this study, researchers used a nebulizer device to put samples of the new virus into the air, imitating what might happen if an infected person coughed or made the virus airborne some other way. They found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel."

The first U.S. layoffs from the virus are here. 

“Interviews with more than two dozen firms and workers reveal that the pain is now translating into layoffs in a wider circle of industries, including a bakery and a chain restaurant,” Abha Bhattarai, Heather Long and Rachel Siegel report. “At the Port of Los Angeles, 145 drivers have been laid off and others have been sent home without pay as massive ships from China stopped arriving and work dried up. At travel agencies in Atlanta and Los Angeles, several workers lost their jobs as bookings evaporated. … Meanwhile a hotel in Seattle is closing an entire department, a former employee said, and as many as 50 people lost their jobs after the South by Southwest festival in Austin got canceled. Economists fear more layoffs in the coming weeks as supply chains come to a halt and people stay home and spend less.”

As schools decide whether to close, confusion and second-guessing reign. 

“In Washington state, a center of the outbreak, a suburban district was closed, but Seattle Public Schools said it would remain open — until Wednesday ... Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) advised all schools to prepare contingency plans in case they, too, need to close,” Laura Meckler and Moriah Balingit report. “In other systems, including D.C. Public Schools, classes are being canceled for a day to give teachers time to prepare for distance learning, should schools be forced to close….As of Wednesday, 1,251 public and private schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting more than 856,000 students, according to a tally by the journal EdWeek.”

Chaos has spread across college campuses after administrations told students to stay away. “Low-income students wondered whether they could afford to go home. International students had questions about their visas, which usually did not permit online learning. Graduate students worried about the effects on research projects years in the making,” the Times reports. 

House Democrats will vote today on a partisan relief package. 

“Outlines of the plan were shared Wednesday evening with Trump administration officials, although chances of reaching a bipartisan deal ahead of the vote appeared slim," Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report. “The legislation includes free coronavirus testing, up to three months of emergency paid leave benefits to all workers affected by the coronavirus and could also include an 8 percentage point increase in the federal share of Medicaid payments to states … Although the Senate may not have time to act before a congressional recess scheduled for next week, a number of Republican senators indicated openness Wednesday to at least some elements of the House plan and said it was important to act quickly."

Quote of the day

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) was asked what the punishment will be if more than 250 people gather against his orders. “The penalties are you might be killing your granddad if you don’t do it,” he answered. (NBC News)

2020 watch

Bernie Sanders didn’t drop out, but he’s not going full speed ahead either. 

“In an extraordinary 10-minute appearance in his hometown after faring poorly in another set of primaries, [the independent senator from Vermont] conceded that he was losing the nominating contest to Joe Biden and had failed to persuade Democrats that he was more electable, sounding the notes of a candidate who had come to terms with his shortcomings and was ready to accept defeat,” Sean Sullivan reports. “But he also made clear that he was staying in the race, at least for a few more days, determined to meet Biden in a one-on-one debate Sunday that he said would expose important distinctions between their records. … And he issued a warning to party leaders not to take lightly the resonance of his sweeping liberal ideas or his dominance among younger voters — showing how it is in his and the party’s interest to forge the common ground that eluded Democrats after his loss to Hillary Clinton four years ago.”

Biden’s focus has shifted from Sanders to Trump.

His campaign canceled planned rallies in Illinois and Florida, saying they’ll be replaced by “virtual events.” The former vice president announced a public health advisory committee and plans to deliver his own address this afternoon in Delaware on how he’d respond to the pandemic. “Biden’s campaign was working to reboot amid broad concerns within the party that his current operation is ill-equipped to match Trump’s behemoth reelection effort,” Matt Viser and Michael Scherer report. “Biden’s advisers are taking steps to expand virtually all parts of his shoestring campaign operation, from finance, field and communications departments to the senior leadership team. … [Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn] suggested that would be done at least in part by embracing aides to former candidates, many of whom have endorsed Biden in recent days. … At the same time as he tries to finish off Sanders and bulk up his campaign, Biden also is planning for a vice presidential selection process later this spring."

Elizabeth Warren is unlikely to endorse. 

“Ms. Warren is expected to withhold her endorsement from Mr. Sanders as well as Mr. Biden at this point, choosing to let the primary play out rather than seek to change its course, according to several people familiar with Ms. Warren’s thinking,” the New York Times reports. “Even before Mr. Sanders lost four states in Tuesday’s primaries, dealing a huge blow to his presidential hopes, Ms. Warren was reluctant to support him … Her camp also viewed Mr. Sanders’s electoral standing as fading in recent weeks, raising doubts about whether an endorsement would be a lost cause.” 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) abruptly postponed a vote on a Biden-related subpoena. 

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has been attacked by Democrats for pursuing a politically motivated probe amid a national crisis. “Johnson said he would indefinitely postpone the subpoena for documents and testimony from Andrii Telizhenko, a Ukrainian national who worked for a U.S. lobbying firm that acted on behalf of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden as a board member," Mike DeBonis reports. "Johnson said he was doing so ‘[o]ut of an abundance of caution and to allow time for [senators] to receive additional briefings.’ But Johnson indicated that the investigation would continue. He said in an interview Wednesday that he would instead seek to directly subpoena the lobbying firm, Blue Star Strategies.”

Trump’s reelection odds suddenly look shakier.

“‘If it was Warren or Bernie and you don’t have coronavirus, I think Trump might sneak by,’ said Kevin DeWine, the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. ‘But if it’s Biden, ‘My I.R.A. has tanked,’ and we’re going to have complete disruption because of coronavirus, I think it’s a totally different story,’” the NYT reports. “Of course, what happens in March may ultimately have little bearing in November. … And if there’s any constant in the Trump era, it is that what’s in the news at a given moment will change in a matter of hours, days or at most weeks.”

Other developments that shouldn't be overlooked

Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison. 

“In its verdict Feb. 24, a jury found that Weinstein, 67, forced oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, now 42, at his apartment in 2006 and raped onetime aspiring actress Jessica Mann, now 34, at a DoubleTree hotel in 2013,” Shayna Jacobs reports. “The sentence is seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement … Weinstein’s trial was hailed by advocates as a step forward for assault survivors, especially given that Mann and Haleyi continued their relationship with him after the incidents and such scenarios were previously considered very difficult to prosecute. Before Justice James Burke announced the sentence, both of the women read impact statements and prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon argued for the maximum of 29 years in prison. The judge also heard from Weinstein’s attorneys and the client himself, who compared the #MeToo movement to McCarthyism while playing down his clout in Hollywood and touting his charitable work."

The Supreme Court said the Trump administration may continue its “Remain in Mexico” asylum policy. 

“The justices reversed a decision of a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that had ordered the policy be suspended Thursday along parts of the border. As is usual in emergency rulings, the court’s unsigned, one-paragraph order did not provide the majority’s reasoning. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted her dissent,” Robert Barnes reports.

U.S. troops were killed in a rocket attack in Iraq, potentially spiking tensions with Iran. 

Two Americans and one other member of the coalition were killed in the attack last night, a U.S. military spokesman said. “At least 12 people were wounded in the attack at Camp Taji, about 17 miles north of Baghdad, according to the spokesman, Navy Capt. Bill Urban. About 18 Katyusha rockets hit the base, and five of the wounded were evacuated in serious condition, Urban said,” Dan Lamothe and Louisa Loveluck report. “The rockets were launched from the Rashediya area of northeast Baghdad, Iraqi military officials said in a statement…. U.S. officials have attributed the use of such rockets in attacks to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, prompting questions how the United States and its allies might respond.” The House passed a war powers resolution limiting Trump’s ability to strike Iran on a 227 to 186 vote, sending the bill to the president’s desk for a certain veto.

Chelsea Manning attempted suicide. 

The former Army intelligence analyst attempted suicide inside an Alexandria jail yesterday and was hospitalized just days before a federal judge is scheduled to hear a motion to release her from custody, her lawyers said. (Clarence Williams)

Social media speed read

Obama’s former national security adviser reacted to Trump’s coronavirus speech:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who remains in self-quarantine at home in Houston, received a gift basket:

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) commended a fellow member of the Squad for showing grace in response to a death threat:

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert announced that, starting Monday, all late-night shows in New York City will be taped without studio audiences:

Seth Meyers remixed Trump’s speech with a classic song:

And the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president sang “Baby Got Back" on national television: