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Power Up: Trump is fighting three-pronged war against coronavirus, governors and the media

with Brent D. Griffiths

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President Trump announced March 29 that social distancing guidelines will continue until April 30, adding that covid-19 deaths will probably peak in two weeks. (Video: The Washington Post)

At The White House

NOT SO FAST: Abruptly reversing his vow to open the country by Easter, President Trump instead extended federal guidance on social distancing until April 30 aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump's announcement last night came after Anthony S. Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said the virus could cause “between 100,000 and 200,000” American deaths (he stressed the higher number was a worst case scenario).

Following the data: Trump declared from the Rose Garden the U.S. death toll is likely to peak in two weeks. The president said his previous goal of lifting restrictions by April 12 was “just an aspiration,” but his change of heart followed wide criticism from public health experts and even some Republican lawmakers that acting too soon to reopen the country could be disastrous. The president instead predicted “we will be well on our way to recovery” by June 1.

  • “Dr. [Deborah] Birx and I spent a considerable amount of time going over all the data, why we felt this was a best choice [for] us, and the president accepted it,” Fauci said of Trump's decision, which he called “wise” and “prudent.”
  • Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters the task force had reviewed “12 different models gauging how could spread here in the United States. Without any precautionary measures, she said, these models projected that 1.6 million to 2.2 million Americans could die from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
  • The estimate resonated with Trump: I mean, we had a lot of people were saying maybe we shouldn’t do anything, just ride it. They say ‘Ride it like a cowboy. Just ride it. Ride that sucker right through.’ That’s where the 2.2 million people come in. Would have died maybe, but it would have been 1.6 to 2.2, and that’s not acceptable,” Trump told reporters. 
  • “The prospect of 2 million deaths seemed to stick with Trump because he repeated the statistic 16 times at Sunday’s news conference,” our colleague Phil Rucker writes. 
  • “Trump said his decision was driven by the science, but he may have been moved more by the personal — seeing body bags carried out of the hospital near his Queens boyhood home and learning that a friend was now in a coma — judging by the emotion with which he spoke about both.” Phil writes.
  • The president said he would unveil a the new strategy, buttressed by data models, on Tuesday.

By the numbers: The president's about face capped a heartbreaking weekend in which the number of U.S. cases rose to 140,000, with deaths reaching 2,000 people.

  • “I’ve been watching that for the last week on television body bags all over in hallways,” Trump told reporters. “I have been watching them bring in trailer trucks, freezer trucks — they are freezer trucks because they can’t handle the bodies, there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community in Queens … I have seen things I’ve never seen before. I mean, I’ve seen them, but I’ve seen them on television in faraway lands.”

Birx issued a dire warning Sunday morning foreshadowing the president's announcement, calling on every state to implement “full mitigation” measures. She also called on governors to prepare for the pandemic “like New York is preparing now”: 

  • “No state, no metro area will be spared, and the sooner we react and the sooner the states and the metro areas react and ensure that they put in full mitigation … then we'll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans,” she told NBC News's Chuck Todd.
  • “The federal government right now is working very hard on looking at where all the ventilators are and where production can be,” she said. “But we need states at the same time to look where all of their ventilators are.

Reminder: The federal guidelines recommend avoiding discretionary travel, working from home whenever possible, avoiding social gatherings of more than 10 people, and practicing good hygiene. 

  • The guidelines also direct older people and those with underlying conditions to “stay home and away from other people,” and say individuals should not visit nursing or retirement homes.
From accusing hospitals of wasting masks to calling a reporter "threatening," here are five contentious moments from President Trump's March 29 update. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the Media

Three-pronged war: Trump, who now fashions himself a “wartime president” in a reelection year, is not only fighting the virus. He is also still sparring with two other constituencies key to helping Americans get through the pandemic: the nation's governors, and the media.

The president claimed in his Sunday news conference that governors are “happy with the job we're doing.” But that belied the reality of the situation in states dealing with virus hot spots. The tactics could backfire on him during an election year: 

On Sunday morning, several governors continued to sound the alarms for additional help from the federal government in addressing shortages of ventilators, N95 masks and personal protective equipment for front-line medical personnel. 

  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has become a target of Trump's ire, said on NBC's “Meet the Press” that Michigan hospitals are “already at capacity” and the state will be in “dire straits again in a matter of days.”
  • “There's not enough ventilators. We need thousands of ventilators in Michigan. There's not enough N95 masks,” she said. “We've got nurses who are wearing the same mask from the minute they show up from their long shift till the end of that shift.”
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who the president last night called “a failed presidential candidate” and a “nasty person. said on CNN's ‘State of the Union’ that governors “could use a more coordinated federal response. 
  • “We need a full-scale mobilization of the incredible manufacturing base of the United States, like we started on Dec. 8, 1941, Inslee said, referencing the U.S. response to Pearl Harbor. 
  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), whose 33-year-old staffer died from complications due to the virus, also expressed frustration with the lack of direction and supplies from the Trump administration: “We know that if we don't flatten the curve, we are on a trajectory currently to exceed our capacity in the New Orleans area for ventilators by about April the 4th and all beds available in hospitals by about April the 10th,” Edwards said.
  • Last week, Trump said on Fox News it was a “two-way street” for those seeking federal assistance: It’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well, also. They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’”
  • “Trump has fostered a transactional dynamic — in which he insinuates that loyalty and praise could be helpful for states seeking federal help — that has unsettled governors looking for fair terms and clear guidance from the federal government, several gubernatorial aides said privately,” our colleague Robert Costa and Phil reported. 

But Trump claimed that Democrats simply “don't want to give this administration credit. 

  • “I want them to appreciate the incredible job we’re doing,” Trump told reporters. “We are doing a job the likes of which has never been done before and there are a couple of people that know that, but for political reasons, let’s say they’re Democrats. They don’t want to give this administration credit, and that’s okay.” 
  • But on Sunday night, Trump signed “an executive order for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to '100 percent fund' emergency activities in response to covid-19 in Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and the U.S. territories Guam and Puerto Rico,” per The Post's Jesse Dougherty.

Trump also continued to target the media, a longtime foil, through a stream of angry tweets about the “Lamestream Media and in the Rose Garden by facing off publicly with individual reporters.

  • Trump again lashed out at PBS NewsHour's Yamiche Alcindor after she asked about his own comments on Fox News that some states like New York may not need as much medical equipment as they've requested.
  • As Alcindor attempted to read Trump his verbatim quotes from Sean Hannity, Trump cut her off: “Excuse me, you didn't hear me. That's why you used to work for The Times and now you work for somebody else. Look, let me tell you something. Be nice. Don't be threatening,” Trump said.
  • Strategy: “There is no questionthat the hostility of the mainstream media toward the president is something that gets the president’s supporters fired up,  Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s 2020 campaign, told our colleagues Manuel Roig-Franzia and Sarah Ellison. 
  • The New York Times's Maggie Haberman told CNN's Brian Stelter that Trump is “doing very little other than watching media coverage right nowHe doesn’t have the rallies for the feedback. He’s just watching television and having meetings about this issue, and I think he’s more sensitive to negative coverage than he normally isso what he’s doing is lashing out.”
  • “He's just watching television and having meetings about this issue, and I think he's more sensitive to negative coverage than he normally is … so what he's doing is lashing out,” Haberman added.
Health-care workers in New Orleans are struggling to contain the spread of covid-19, and they fear the worst is yet to come. (Video: Robert Ray/The Washington Post)

Outside the Beltway

HEADLINES FROM THE HOT SPOTS: The coronavirus pandemic is international in scope and has engaged almost every facet of the federal government. But many of its effects will be felt at a deeply local level. 

Power Up will continue to highlight the incredible reporting from our colleagues, but also the amazing local news organizations on the ground in many communities that are preparing for a peak that in some places is just days away.


Over 1,000 people have died in the state: “The numbers are staggering,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters, per the New York Times. Of that 1,000, more than 70 percent have died in New York City.

  • Putting the severity of the spread in some perspective, Politico New York's Erin Durkin:


The state’s nurses are facing impossible choices: “With shortages of personal protective equipment now affecting most hospitals in southern Louisiana, nurses are facing a difficult choice: hunting for protective attire like an N95 mask, or rushing to save a patient on the brink of cardiac arrest,” the Times-Picayune|the Advocate’s Andrea Gallo, Blake Paterson and Matt Sledge report.

  • Striking stats: Orleans Parish continues to have the highest per capita death rate of any county in the country. “Louisiana is the second in the country for per capita deaths and third in the country for per capita cases,” per the Times-Picayune | the Advocate’s Emma Discher.


The state could be more than 10,000 hospital beds short when it reaches its peak: “University of Washington researchers are estimating Michigan hospitals will hit peak coronavirus demand on April 8 and that the state is about 10,563 hospital beds short of what will be needed that day,” the Detroit News’s Beth LeBlanc reports. That’s just nine days away.

  • Michigan looks to fare slightly better when it comes to ventilators: “The study published Thursday by the Institute for Heath Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington Medicine also predicted that Michigan would need roughly 1,785 ventilators at that peak date. The state on Saturday said there are about 1,622 ventilators available among Michigan’s hospitals,” the Detroit News reports. The study rests on the assumption that strong mitigation measures will remain in place.
  • A large part of one of Detroit’s major arenas will be converted into medical space: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, like in New York, will lead the conversion of 250,000 square feet of the TCF Center, the Ann Arbor News’s Steve Marowski reports. It will include approximately 900 beds when completed. 

The People

THE LATEST IN THE DMV: “The Washington region reported its single-deadliest day in the coronavirus outbreak, with 16 fatalities announced Sunday, bringing the total number of deaths to 51,” our colleagues Kyle Swenson, Rebecca Tan and Laura Vozzella report.

  • Maryland set a record for its largest single-day increase in infections: The state reported 246 new cases. “Outbreaks at nursing homes and eldercare facilities in Virginia and Maryland contributed to the spike,” our colleagues report.

There are now a total 2,536 cases in the region:

  • Key quote: “We don’t see any way that we’re going to be opening back up in a couple of weeks,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said on “Fox News Sunday”. “The Washington metropolitan area has — Maryland, D.C. and Virginia — quadrupled in the past week and we see that continuing to grow exponentially, and we think in two weeks, around Easter, we’re going to be looking a lot more like New York.” 
Restaurants across the country are making tough decisions to adapt their businesses, care for their employees and keep feeding their customers. (Video: The Washington Post)

Other key developments:

Trump approved a disaster declaration for the District: “The designation means the city will receive an unspecified amount of money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support its efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic,” our colleagues write.

  • D.C. was already expected to receive less federal money than states: “The city was classified as a territory in a virus-aid bill, depriving it of half the funding it was expecting. The bill — approved by Congress last week and signed by Trump — gives the District about $500 million, as compared to the minimum $1.25 billion that each of the 50 states would receive,” our colleague Hannah Natanson reports.

Seven Metro employees have tested positive: One of them had to be hospitalized, the transit agency said, our colleague Justin George reports.

  • Nineteen stations remain closed: Metro will also shift to the same schedule it had last week. “5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday. Riders on all lines can expect waits of 20 minutes, except for the Red line, where waits will be 15 minutes.”

On The Hill

DOJ PROBING LAWMAKERS' TRADES: “The inquiry, which is still in its early stages and being done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has so far included outreach from the FBI to at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), seeking information about the trades, according to one of the sources,” CNN's David Shortell, Evan Perez, Jeremy Herb and Kara Scannell report.

Scrutiny, and multiple reports, have focused on whether lawmakers used information from private briefings about the coronavirus to inform their trades: “Burr, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has previously said that he relied only on public news reports as he decided to sell between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13. Earlier this month, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the trades given ‘the assumption many could make in hindsight,’ he said at the time,” CNN reports.

  • Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and her husband have also drawn eyebrows: The couple “sold 27 stocks valued between $1.275 million and $3.1 million from January 24 through February 14, according to Senate records,” CNN reports. Loeffler's husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Both the senator and Sprecher have denied any wrongdoing. CNN reported that Loeffler has not been contacted by the FBI.
  • The FBI has not reached out to other lawmakers who traded far less stock during the same time frame, CNN reports: That includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).