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Power Up: Trump’s job approval spike signals rally effect during coronavirus crisis


with Brent D. Griffiths

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BREAKING: THEY HAVE A DEAL. “Senate leaders and the Trump administration reached a deal early this morning on a $2 trillion stimulus package to rescue the economy from the coronavirus assault, potentially setting the stage for swift passage of the massive legislation through both chambers of Congress,” our colleagues Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane and Jeff Stein report.

  • Next steps: The Senate will reconvene at noon and is expected to move to pass the legislation later in the day.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that Trump would sign the bill.
  • We have tons more details on the bill below in Power Up. 

At The White House

RALLY EFFECT: President Trump is seeing a small spike in public support in the face of the coronavirus crisis: Six in 10 Americans say they approve of the job he's doing to combat the pandemic, and his approval rating is back up to match the highest in his presidency, according to a new Gallup poll. 

By the numbers: Trump is seeing what Gallup calls a “fairly sudden increase” in job approval ratings — and among independents and Democrats no less. These dynamics — which Gallup senior editor Jeffrey M. Jones calls “both highly unusual for Trump in particular” — signal a boost amid the outbreak, which has infected nearly 55,000 and claimed the lives of more than 700 people in the U.S. as of this morning, despite efforts to slow the spread. 

  • Forty-nine percent of U.S. adults, up from 44 percent earlier this month, approve of the job Trump is doing as president. As Gallup notes, Trump also saw 49% job approval ratings in late January and early February around the Senate impeachment trial that resulted in his acquittal.
  • Trump's job approval ratings are up 8 points among independents and 6 points among Democrats in the poll conducted March 13-22, compared to earlier in the month.
  • The 60 percent of Americans who approve of his response to coronavirus crisis includes 94 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 27 percent of Democrats. 38 percent of Americans say they disapprove of his response. 

The numbers are striking especially since many public health experts, medical professionals and Democrats have criticized Trump for a delayed and disorganized initial response to the coronavirus crisis – including struggling to ramp up testing capacity and downplaying the severity of the early threat and potential for massive crisis. 

In keeping with past trends: “Historically, presidential job approval has increased when the nation is under threat, according to Jones. Every president from Franklin Roosevelt through George W. Bush saw their approval rating surge at least 10 points after a significant national event of this kind. [George W.] Bush's 35-point increase after 9/11 is the most notable rally effect on record. During these rallies, independents and supporters of the opposing party to the president typically show heightened support for the commander in chief.”

  • Our current political polarization dampens the potential for a more dramatic surge as in past crises, as Jones notes, since presidential approval ratings in recent years “are characterized by consistent, exceedingly low approval ratings from opponents of the president's party.”
  • For context: At most, [Barack] Obama's approval rating rose by seven points after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. 

But it also reflects the Trump administration's public-facing shift in response: On March 16, Trump urged Americans to stop gathering in groups of more than 10 people, eating in restaurants or taking nonessential trips. Trump has sought to brand himself as a “wartime president” and his administration has held daily task force briefings since then to keep the nation updated on the federal government's response.  

This has allowed him to own the airwaves and monopolize public attention as Americans hunker down at home in front of the television — even as governors and local leaders are the ones making many key decisions to stop the spread. 

It's a strategy that might boost Trump's reelection chances in November after centering his campaign on a booming economy that is now cratering. 

  • “Trump, who campaigned for the presidency by casting himself as a great dealmaker and who prides himself on being the ultimate decider, has sought to leave the impression through his daily public appearances of being in total control of America’s response to the pandemic,” per our colleague Phil Rucker.In reality, the president has been playing a secondary role in some key areas.” 
  • The public has been tuning in: “During five of last week’s briefings, more than twice as many people tuned in to the networks than had during corresponding times a year ago, according to the Nielsen viewer tracking company,” the Associated Press's Jill Colvin reports. 
  • “Americans want to see their president out front and leading, in command of the effort to keep the country safe,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told the AP. “That’s exactly what President Trump is doing.”
  • “The best way the president can handle November is by handling March and April,” Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President George W. Bush, told the Wall Street Journal's Ken Thomas and Alex Leary. “And that brings me to the briefing room, where the public is seeing him on a regular basis. There is a huge opportunity if it’s handled well.” 

Trump has taken some unilateral action that he's been praised for, Phil notes, including suspending travel from China, declaring a national emergency, deploying military ships and other federal assets to virus hot spots, and signing emergency relief legislation into law. 

  • But “he has played a back-seat role elsewhere that belies his omnipresence in the national media,” Phil writes. It's “governors and local leaders, not the president, who have been making many of the decisions upending people’s lives in an urgent effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus — from closing schools and houses of worship to shutting down restaurants and bars to ordering families to stay at home.”

And there's a lot at stake for Trump in the coming weeks, as the economic pain stretches and efforts to contain the spread are tested. The president sparked frustration among health experts yesterday for saying he wants the “country opened” by Easter to restore the U.S. economy — comments that even some in his own party panned. 

  • “Health experts point to overwhelming evidence from around the world that closing businesses and schools and minimizing social contact are crucial to avoid exponentially mounting infections,” our colleagues William Wan, Reed Albergotti, and Joel Achenbach report. “Ending the shutdown now in America would be disastrous, many say, because the country has barely given those restrictions time to work, and because U.S. leaders have not pursued alternative strategies used in other countries to avert the potential deaths of hundreds of thousands.”
  • “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted.
  • “To be a week into these restrictions and already be talking about abandoning them is irresponsible and dangerous,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told our colleagues. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus to “spread widely, rapidly, terribly, and could kill potentially millions in the year ahead with huge social and economic impact.”

The opinions of health care experts may also factor into Trump's approval longer term: A separate CBS News-YouGov poll released yesterday found that nearly nine in 10 Americans trust medical and health care professionals generally for information on the virus and what to do about it. More than 8 in 10 say they trust the Centers for Disease Control. 

  • “Comparably fewer, 44%, trust President Trump, and 43% trust the national media, but the partisan splits both elicit are especially notable,” CBS reports. “Republicans trust the president for accurate information on the virus (90%) as much as or more than they trust medical professionals (90%) and the CDC (84%).”
Confused by the rhetoric on the 1950 law that officials are urging President Trump to use? Here's an explanation. (Video: The Washington Post)

Another key test: Whether Trump can surge federal efforts to enough to ease the shortages of supplies in many hospitals. The current shortage supply of masks, gowns, and ventilators have intensified calls for Trump to use the Defense Production Act. 

  • State officials and healthcare leaders are “begging the federal government to use a wartime law to bring order and ensure the United States has the gear it needs to battle the coronavirus. So far, the Trump administration has declined," per our colleagues Jeanne Whalen, Tony Romm, Aaron Gregg and Tom Hamburger.
  • “Although governors and hospital leaders welcome the many U.S. companies stepping forward to make masks and ventilators, they fear the voluntary efforts will be too scattershot without federal coordination.”
  • “I can’t find any more equipment. It’s not a question of money,” said New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), calling on Trump to use the act to require companies to manufacture certain supplies. “We need the federal help and we need the federal help now.”
In recent days, doctors have had to clarify President Trump's claims that there are promising and FDA-approved drug treatments for covid-19. (Video: The Washington Post)

BIDEN TRIES TO STAKE OUT SOME OF HIS OWN MEDIA REAL ESTATE: The former vice president had a media blitz yesterday and targeted Trump's refusal to invoke the DPA. “What is he waiting for?” Biden said on CNN. “He says he’s a wartime president. Well, God, act like one. Move, fast.” 

But Biden is still struggling to break into the conversation without appearing overly critical of a sitting president amid a crisis. 

  • “But his infrequent appearances until Monday, which Republicans have derided online with the hashtag ‘WhereIsJoe,’ shows the limits of a bully pulpit that is confined to a candidate’s home. Under other circumstances, such as a natural disaster, Mr. Biden would be able to meet with families and aid workers and demonstrate the kind of empathy Mr. Trump has often struggled to convey,” the Journal's Thomas and Leary write. “And with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mr. Biden’s chief primary rival, still in the race, his attention is divided while he tries to unite Democrats behind him.”
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may see an opening. He plans on participating in the Democratic debate in April, the New York Times's Sydney Embers and Reid Epstein said.
  • While Sanders has no realistic path forward in a Democratic primary that has come to a virtual standstill, there's still been "a growing sense among some in the Sanders camp that Biden’s response to the coronavirus has been shaky and that could justify Sanders’s continued presence in the contest, especially since Trump’s approval rating is ticking up," our colleague Sean Sullivan reports. 

On The Hill

WHAT'S IN THE LARGEST STIMULUS BILL IN HISTORY?: We still don't have the final text yet, but here's what you can expect. 

  • “The legislation, unprecedented in its size and scope, aims to flood the economy with capital by sending $1,200 checks to many Americans, creating a $367 billion loan program for small businesses and setting up a $500 billion fund for industries, cities and states,” Erica, Mike, P.K. and Jeff report.
  • “Other provisions include a massive boost to unemployment insurance, $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds and $130 billion for hospitals.”
  • “The legislation would also significantly boost unemployment insurance, expanding eligibility and offering workers an additional $600 a week for four months, on top of what state unemployment programs pay.”

Some $250 billion would go toward sending checks to most American adults: The $1,200 in direct payments for individuals go to those who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income. Married couples earning up to $150,000 would receive $2,400 and an additional $500 per child. “The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples without children,” per CNN's Manu Raju, Ted Barrett, Clare Foran and Kristin Wilson

The White House did make a significant concession before the deal was announced: The Treasury Department's $500 billion pool for loans and loan guarantees would be overseen by an independent inspector general and an oversight board, addressing Democratic concerns that the money was “slush fund,” our colleagues report. Of that, "$425 billion is meant to go to businesses, cities and states. An additional $50 billion would go to passenger airlines, as well as $8 billion for cargo airlines, and $17 billion for firms that are deemed important to national security.”

  • TARP 2.0: The additional oversight would make the Treasury money very similar to “$700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that was created during the 2008 financial crisis,” our colleagues write. Oversight in that program uncovered numerous cases of fraud by large and small businesses.
  • “Companies that accept money must also agree to halt any stock buybacks for the length of the government assistance, plus an additional year,” per the New York Times’s Emily Cochrane and Nick Fandos. 
  • “Democrats also secured a provision that will block Trump family businesses — or those of other senior government officials — from receiving loan money under the programs, Mr. Schumer said in a letter to Democrats.”

More money for small businesses: “Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who negotiated the small business portion, said it had grown to $367 billion, with inclusion of six months of loan forbearance for all small businesses adding $17 billion to the original $350 billion price tag,” our colleagues write.

The drama isn’t over yet: The Senate still needs to vote, but what happens when the legislation reaches the House is potentially far thornier. The House is out of session “and it would be tricky for House members to return en masse to Washington to vote.”

  • The House could pass the bill by unanimous consent: But it would take only one member to derail those efforts. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised concerns about the stimulus package. Not to mention, “among House Republicans, there is similar reluctance to commit to approving a still-unseen bill, according to GOP aides familiar with internal conversations.”

Outside the Beltway

NEW YORK, THE EPICENTER: “New York now has more than 25,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 15,000 in New York City. The state has added about 5,000 new cases per day, and Cuomo said he expects those trends to accelerate at least for the next 14 to 21 days,” our colleagues Ben Guarino, Shayna Jacobs and Tim Craig report from New York.

One out every 1,000 people in the state now have the virus, per Fauci: The White House advised that anyone who has been in New York City should self-quarantine for 14 days, even if they are just going to the suburbs.

  • Key quote: “One of the forecasters said to me, ‘We were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train’ because the numbers are going up that quickly,” Cuomo told reporters.

The situation on the ground: “One survey showed about a third of city residents had lost a job because of the epidemic or lived with someone who had,” the New York Times's Alan Feuer and Brian M. Rosenthal report.

  • Babies are coming to the world with few family members to greet them: “Two of the city’s biggest hospital networks, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the Mount Sinai Health System, both implemented restrictive visitor policies that barred spouses, partners and other supporters from delivery rooms. The policy meant that mothers would now have to deliver their babies without help from friends, family or doulas,” the Times reports.
  • Normally busy streets are virtually deserted: “A drive through Manhattan was shockingly swift at midday; no traffic, no tourist buses, no tourists. It was the sort of fantasy New York that New Yorkers dream about, with endless street parking and no selfie sticks in sight, but this one with a cost: nothing to do,” the Times reports.
Collin Arnold, New Orleans' Emergency Preparedness Director, said on March 24 that first responders are running low on protective equipment and other supplies. (Video: Robert Ray/The Washington Post)

THE GROWING CRISIS IN LOUISIANA: Gov. John Bel Edwards “[has warned] federal officials that a rising tide of coronavirus patients will likely overwhelm the New Orleans area’s hospital systems by April 4, Louisiana’s health care workers are bracing for chaos,” the Times-Picayune | the Advocate’s Andrea Gallo, Matt Sledge, Emily Woodruff and Sam Karlin report.

  • A jaw-dropping quote from a nurse: “The first night I worked where the entire unit was COVID patients, I got into my car and started bawling,” the nurse told the paper. “When I tell you it's like a war zone up there, that's kind of putting it easy.”

Edwards said over the weekend that the state has the fastest growth rate of coronavirus cases in the world.

Global Power

INDIA GOES INTO THREE-WEEK LOCKDOWN: “No flights. No trains. Only essential services open. More than 1.3 billion people urged to stay in their homes,” our colleagues Joanna Slater and Niha Masih report from New Delhi of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's unprecedented step for the world's second most populous country. 

  • India currently has 500 confirmed cases, but testing remains limited and the number is growing rapidly.

Modi said the next few weeks are absolutely critical: “If we don’t manage these 21 days, the country will be set back by 21 years,” he said during a speech.

  • But the lack of clarity in his speech sparked panic: “His emotional appeal to citizens not to step out of their homes did not include specifics about how they would meet basic needs. That immediately provoked frantic buying at grocery stores, which remain open as essential services,” our colleagues write.
Athletes who have trained for the 2020 Olympics in Japan are focusing on what's ahead after the coronavirus pandemic forced the Games to be postponed. (Video: Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

THE OLYMPICS HAVE BEEN OFFICIALLY POSTPONED: The Summer Games in Tokyo “are the biggest event to date scuttled because of the virus,” our colleagues Adam Kilgore, Rick Maese and Simon Denyer report. The hope is that the games will now be staged by the summer of 2021.

What it means for athletes: “A single year is an eternity to an Olympic athlete whose whole career may last less than a decade, whose athletic peak is even shorter than that and whose entire competitive life is scripted and defined by the ancient rhythms of the four-year Olympic ‘quad,’” our colleague Dave Sheinin reports.

  • 12-time Olympic medalist swimmer Ryan Lochte on the delay: “It’s getting harder, because I’m not getting younger,” Lochte, who is seeking to make his fifth U.S. Olympic team and who will turn 36 on Aug. 3, six days before the Tokyo 2020 Games would have ended tod our colleagues “I was ready. I was ready to go. I’m swimming amazing right now. But I’ve always had to deal with bumps in the road, and I’ve always overcome them."

The People

'IT'S LIKE A DEATH SENTENCE IN HERE': “Public health and corrections officials have issued dire warnings that cramped and unsanitary conditions could turn prisons into a haven for the virus, endangering not just inmates but also corrections officers and prison health-care workers as well as their families and communities,” our colleagues Kimberly Kindy, Emma Brown and Dalton Bennett report.

Criminal justice advocates are urging Trump to act: They want the president “to use his clemency power to commute the sentences of inmates eligible for ‘compassionate release’ and others who could be at risk, particularly the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions,” our colleagues write. A bipartisan group of senators is pushing the Justice Department to use its release powers to the fullest extend possible.

  • DOJ's responses have been uneven: “[The department] in recent weeks asked Congress for discretion to release low-risk offenders to home confinement even if they don’t meet current eligibility rules, which allow inmates to spend the last 10 percent or six months of their sentence at home,” our colleagues write. “At the same time, the Justice Department is contemplating a scenario in which some inmates may actually remain in custody longer than they otherwise would while trials or other hearings are delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to proposals it submitted to Congress.”

From one prisoner: We are living three feet apart, in bunk beds, like a dormitory,” Anh Do, 78, a former doctor who said he has coronary artery disease, hypertension and diabetes and was convicted on Medicare fraud charges, told our colleagues of a low-security prison in Texas. “I’m at very high risk. If one person gets sick, it’s like a death sentence in here.”