with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning, Power People. Hope you're all following CDC and state guidelines and staying socially distanced. Tips, comments, recipes? We need them now more than ever. Reach out and sign up. Thanks for waking up with us.

The Campaign

DEM DEBATE, COVID-19 ED.: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders gave voters a snapshot of their versions of leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic during last night's surreal debate. In CNN's audience-less studio, Sanders and Biden stood six feet apart to tout their response plans.

The former vice president criticized President Trump's response to the outbreak while the Vermont senator railed against the lack of a single-payer system that he argued has weakened the U.S. effort. Their answers underscored a fundamental rift between them: a referendum on Trump by Biden and an indictment of the system by Sanders.

After bumping elbows in lieu of a handshake, both Democrats criticized Trump's handling of the pandemic. The two agreed on some immediate measures: “Both candidates support federal subsidies for testing and treatment of the new virus,” per our colleagues Matt Viser, Jenna Johnson and Michael Scherer. They also agreed to deploy the U.S. military to respond aggressively to the crisis. 

But while Biden focused on immediate measures to be taken with regards to testing, hospital capacity and the economic fallout, Sanders argued the crisis highlights the “dysfunctionality” of the current system – and the need for Medicare-for-all: 

  • “…let's be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system,” Sanders said. We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We're spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic. How come we don't have enough doctors? How come hospitals in rural areas are shutting down? How come people can't afford to get the prescription drugs they need because we have a bunch of crooks who are running the pharmaceutical industry, ripping us off every single day?”

Biden rejected Sanders's critique and stuck to his opposition to single-payer health care: “With all due respect to Medicare-for-all, you have a single-payer system in Italy,” Biden said. “It doesn’t work there… That would not solve the problem at all.”

  • “We are at war with a virus,” Biden continued. “This has nothing to do with co-pays or anything.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered their plan to handle the virus on the March 15 debate. (CNN)

Sanders continued to plug Medicare-for-all and his policy agenda while Biden highlighted his executive experience and crisis-specific solutions: 

  • “This is a national emergency,” Biden said again. “There isn't a question of whether or not this is something that could be covered by insurance or anything else. We, out of the Treasury, are going to pay for this. It's a national emergency."
  • “So you're saying right now, in the middle of a crisis, but, you know what, last year at least 30,000 people died in America because they didn't get health care when they should, because we don't have universal coverage,” Sanders rebutted. “I think that's a crisis. One out of five people in America cannot afford the prescription drugs they need. They suffer. Some die. I consider that a crisis.” 
  • Biden also dinged Trump for his lack of leadership on the world stage: “And we have to lead the world.  We should be the ones doing what we did during the Ebola crisis, bringing the whole world together and saying, this is what we must do.  We have to have a common plan.  All nations are affected the same way by this virus depending on exposure.” 

The pair tangled on past bailouts but were more vague on future ones: Sanders sought to re-litigate Biden's past votes on the Iraq War and Social Security. He also lit into Biden for voting to bail out the financial service industry when both were serving in Congress in 2008. (Sanders stretched some of the record, which our resident fact-checker Glenn Kessler explored). But it is far less clear what either would do for the airline, cruise and hotel industries, all three of which Trump and his team have reportedly considered financial support for as the coronavirus hits their bottom lines.

  • Sanders said he would focus on workers, but ruled out support for the oil industry: “ … We have got to do more than save the banks or the oil companies,” the senator said. “Our job right now is to tell every working person in this country, no matter what your income is, you are not going to suffer as a result of this crisis of which you had no control.” (Falling demand has put pressure on oil prices, which has been further exacerbated by a nasty dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia).
  • Biden promised a large bailout, but didn’t specify what industries would be helped: “What I would do is make it clear to the world and make it clear to the United States that we are going to have to have a major, major, major, major bailout package that we do not reward corporations,” he said. “We reward individuals who in fact are really put to the test here. ”

VEEPSTAKES: Biden also made news for taking the unprecedented step of committing to pick a woman as his running mate if he is the Democratic nominee. He also promised to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. Sanders responded that he’d pick a female Veep “in all likelihood” but did not commit to it, stressing that a running mate with progressive credentials would take precedence.

  • Biden: “ … if I'm elected president, my — my cabinet, my administration will look like the country.  And I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a — I'll pick a woman to be vice president.  There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.  I would pick a woman to be my vice president.” Biden told the moderators.
  • Sanders: “For me, it's not just nominating a woman,” Sanders said. “It is making sure that we have a progressive woman, and there are progressive women out there, so my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.”

A first: “ … Biden’s firm public commitment that he would select a woman as his running mate in the event he stays atop the Democratic race and is the party’s 2020 nominee is historically unprecedented: No major candidate has ever made such a pledge based on demographic characteristics, nor has one narrowed the field of potential vice presidential nominees this early in the year, several months before the decision is usually made,” Politico’s John Harris writes.

  • Our colleague Amber Phillips has a “short list” of potential prospects that might be on Biden’s radar.
  • Reminder from CNN’s Katie Sullivan: “Women who launched presidential campaigns this cycle but have since dropped out include Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris and author Marianne Williamson. ”
Here are three fact checks from the March 15 showdown between former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). (The Washington Post)

CLIMATE CONVO: Sanders was able to push Biden on one policy issue — fracking, a drilling process to recover gas and oil from shale rock. 

“No more — no new fracking,” Biden said after Sanders singled out his plan to combat climate change. 

  • “I’m talking about stopping fracking as soon as we possibly can, Sanders said. “I know your heart is in the right place, but this requires dramatic, bold action. We've got to take on the fossil fuel industry. Your plan does not do that. ”

The Policies

FED MAKES LARGEST INTERVENTION SINCE GREAT RECESSION: “The Federal Reserve announced on Sunday it would drop interest rates to zero and buy at least $700 billion in government and mortgage-related bonds as part of a wide-ranging emergency action to protect the economy from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak,” our colleague Heather Long reports.

  • The moves are aimed at keeping markets stable and borrowing costs as low as possible: “In addition to rate cuts, the Fed announced it is restarting the crisis-era program of bond purchases known as ‘quantitative easing,’ in which the central bank buys hundreds of billions of dollars in bonds to further push down rates and keep markets flowing freely,” our colleague writes.

But stock futures tanked even after the extraordinary intervention: “Stock market futures hit ‘limit down’ levels of 5 percent lower, a move made by the CME futures exchange to reduce panic in markets. No prices can trade below that threshold, only at higher prices than that down 5 percent limit,” CNBC’s Fred Imbert reports.

As D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced new restrictions on bars and restaurants, owners and employees of the Looking Glass Lounge worried about what comes next. (Ray Whitehouse/The Washington Post)

The People

CDC RECOMMENDS HALTING GATHERINGS OF 50 OR MORE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging a nationwide halt of gatherings of 50 or more people for eight weeks, our colleagues Katie Mettler, Kim Bellware, Lateshia Beachum, Hannah Natanson, Hannah Knowles and Teo Armus report.

States and cities have begun imposing harsher measures: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) ordered all bars and restaurants closed in their states — in Ohio indefinitely and in Illinois through the end of the month, our colleagues write.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) urged all bars, clubs and wineries to close in his state. He advised all restaurants to cut occupancy in half.
  • Life is changing drastically in major cities like New York: “Our lives are all changing in ways that were unimaginable just a week ago,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement about his decision to order all of New York’s bars and restaurants closed as of Tuesday morning, except for delivery and pickup services.

What's happening in the District: “D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced new restrictions on bars and restaurants Sunday, including bans on bar seating and service to standing patrons, but stopped short of closing them altogether,” our colleague Justin Jouvenal reports. The city is move forward on shuttering night clubs.

  • Despite all that, most federal workers are headed back to work today: “Most of the nation’s 2.1 million federal employees will report to work Monday to tightly packed office cubicles and other workplaces where they serve the public,” our colleagues Lisa Rein, Ian Duncan and Tracy Jan report, even as businesses elsewhere have sent their staffs home.
  • Some relief: “In response to mounting criticism, [the administration] urged agencies in the Washington area to ‘offer maximum telework flexibilities’ to employees who are eligible for remote work,” our colleagues write.

What the experts are saying: I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute"of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press.

  • More guidance is coming: Vice President Pence and Fauci said we should have more information later this morning from the federal government on how people should handle the crisis.

At The White House

INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE'S CHAOTIC RESPONSE: “The administration’s struggle to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak has been marked by infighting and blame-shifting, misinformation and missteps, and a slow recognition of the danger,” our colleagues Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey reported over the weekend.

Trump's Friday news conference offered a perfect example: “[The president], habitually in salesman mode, has long had a tendency to overpromise and overhype deals he is announcing, whether for a new condo development or bilateral trade,” our colleagues write. 

  • Trump announced Google was a developing a website to help Americans determine whether they needed a test. But in reality the plan was for a sister company (Verily) to launch a site in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • He also said that major U.S. retailers like Walmart would be offering their parking lots for testing. But, “several key participants said the plans were overstated, including the timetable and number of sites,” our colleagues write.

Key quote: “People just show up in the Oval and spout off ideas,” said a former senior administration official briefed on the coronavirus discussions. “He’ll either shoot down ideas or embrace ideas quickly. It’s an ad hoc free-for-all with different advisers just spitballing.” 


I CAN GO THE (SOCIAL) DISTANCE: Many of you were supposed to be someplace else this weekend. So, for those you who can social distance, but did not (ahem!) we’re here to help you find your way. Help flatten the curve --- it’s not a Herculean effort. And we have our colleague Harry Stevens’s incredible graphics to help explain why this is absolutely necessary.

  • Here’s why it’s vitally important: It’s all about the exponential curve. “If the number of cases were to continue to double every three days, there would be about a hundred million cases in the United States by May,” our colleague writes.
  • But it's not prophecy: “The spread can be slowed, public health professionals say, if people practice ‘social distancing’ by avoiding public spaces and generally limiting their movement.”

 Now, you can go from zero to hero just like that.

On The Hill