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The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Trump on US coronavirus risks: ‘We’re very, very ready for this’

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Thursday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the daily co-creators, so find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

President Trump assured Americans on Wednesday that the government has taken all appropriate steps to mitigate the coronavirus in this country, where 60 people have been sickened. He called the situation “well under control,” adding that “the No. 1 priority is the health and safety of the American people.”


Under pressure to take charge after days of scrambled public messaging among federal officials, Trump denied that he contradicted public health experts about the risks of contagion on Tuesday. He heaped praise in the White House briefing room on the government experts arrayed around him, including the career specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health.


“They’re totally brilliant,” Trump said.


“We’re looking at worst-case scenarios,” the president interjected when asked about the expert predictions that the virus will spread around the country. “I don’t think it’s inevitable.”


Shortly after the president spoke, the CDC reported a new case of infection in Northern California of “unknown” origin, possibly the first U.S. case of community transmission (The Hill). 


Trump initially asked Congress for $1.25 billion in new funding to fight the virus, but said he now supports $8.5 billion proposed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday. “We’re going to spend whatever’s appropriate,” the president said. “We’ll take it.


Seeking to improve high-level White House coordination and offering assurances that the government is ready “if it spreads,” Trump tasked Vice President Pence with taking  the reins as a former Indiana governor. He called him “really very expert at the field.”


The president also said a State Department “specialist … who does this” will join the White House effort today. He was not specific. Trump weighed the merits of appointing a coronavirus “czar” but decided against it, according to reports. That was a path former President Obama took in 2014 after months of reckoning with the Ebola scare. Obama tapped a seasoned former government manager, Ron Klain, to come into the West Wing to oversee the federal response and the outreach involved.   


Trump had been relying on an intergovernmental task force devoted to the coronavirus, created in January. The group has been meeting for weeks under the stewardship of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (pictured below), who joined Pence in praising Trump for closing ports of entry to non-U.S. travelers from China and quarantining returning Americans confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.


“Our containment strategy has been working,” Azar said.


Trump noted the government “might” restrict travel to and from South Korea and Italy, countries where the spread of coronavirus has worsened. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. There are now more new cases of the deadly respiratory infection outside of China than in the country where the virus originated. In Italy, the virus is on a rampage; the number of reported cases spiked to 453 this morning and a dozen people have died.


Travel to South Korea is now restricted for all service members and civilians who are nonessential, the Defense Department announced on Wednesday. A 23-year-old American soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in South Korea tested positive for coronavirus, the first U.S. service member to become infected. Earlier this week, the widow of a military retiree living in the nearby South Korean city of Daegu was also reported to have been infected (Stars and Stripes).  


As of this morning, COVID-19 has killed 2,804 people around the world and infected at least 82,171 people in some 50 countries, according to the latest information. The virus has been confirmed on every continent but Antarctica. Hundreds of new cases have been reported today in China and South Korea (The Associated Press). 


Adding to the misery: Japan and China say patients have tested positive for the virus a second time after reportedly recovering fully from an initial infection (Reuters). Scientists suggest it is possible COVID-19 can go dormant in some patients and re-emerge. More research is needed.


On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced state and municipal efforts to prepare and respond to any spread of the virus through what Cuomo called America’s “front door.” 


The governor said the state will ask the legislature for an urgent $40 million for the state health department, which will also convene a meeting with local health departments to work out protocols if people must be quarantined. They will also be working with local hospitals, mass transit and airports (ABC7NY). 


On Long Island, 83 residents have been asked to undergo a two-week voluntary quarantine from the date that they traveled to China or had contact with someone infected with the virus.


“We’re monitoring this situation in Nassau very, very closely and have been right from the beginning to respond to any cases should they emerge in our county,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said at a press conference (New York Post).


At the White House, officials directed the public to the website for information about how to get ready for the expected spread of coronavirus, for which potential vaccines and new therapies are still in development. The basic advice, said CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat: review school, university, business and public pandemic plans; wash hands; stay home if sick; and cover coughs.


The Hill: Explainer about the coronavirus and how to prepare.





Elections have changed and so has Facebook


Facebook has made large investments to protect elections, including tripling the size of the teams working on safety and security to more than 35,000. But the work doesn’t stop there.


See how Facebook has prepared for 2020.


***  Good morning! Two more days until the South Carolina primary … five more days until Super Tuesday … 250 days until Election Day! ***


CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: Former Vice President Joe Biden is looking to shore up his edge in South Carolina ahead of the state’s primary contest on Saturday night on the heels of a debate performance on Tuesday that was given high marks and after receiving the endorsement of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).


Biden is looking to nail down the state and revive his presidential bid after two disappointing performances in Iowa and New Hampshire and finishing a distant second behind Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Nevada over the weekend. In order to do so, the former VP is setting up shop and barnstorming the Palmetto State in a bid to kickstart his campaign (The Hill). 


For Biden, he’s hoping the endorsement of Clyburn gives him a needed boost, as more than half of primary voters are expected to be African Americans. In Tuesday night’s debate, Biden vowed that he would win Saturday night and carry the African American vote (The Hill).


“I know Joe Biden. I know his character, his heart, and his record,” Clyburn tweeted. “Joe Biden has stood for the hard-working people of South Carolina. We know Joe. But more importantly, he knows us. In South Carolina, we choose presidents. I’m calling on you to stand with @JoeBiden.”


Biden has expanded his lead in recent days as the primary nears. According to the latest RealClearPolitics average, the former vice president leads Sanders by nearly 11 points.


The Hill: Some Clinton aides not sure they can back Sanders.


The Hill: Pelosi says she’d be comfortable with Sanders at top of ticket.


Biden’s team received a vocal boost from former President Obama, as his attorneys filed a cease-and-desist letter in response to a pro-Trump group’s television ad in South Carolina that attacks the former vice president by using a portion of Obama’s book out of context.  


Obama is also demanding that all South Carolina television stations immediately stop running the ad from the Committee to Defend the President, which is aimed at supporting the president’s reelection bid.


“This despicable ad is straight out of the Republican disinformation playbook, and it’s clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority voters in South Carolina by taking President Obama’s voice out of context and twisting his words to mislead viewers,” Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, said in a statement.





The Hill: Biden leads by 18 points in South Carolina: poll.


The Hill: U.S. Chamber looks to support Democratic allies in 2020.


With Sanders on the rise, vulnerable House Democrats are conjuring up ways to distance themselves from him as the potential nominee as they look to win reelection in November, according to Mike Lillis and Scott Wong.


 “I’m going to run on what I believe, no matter who is at the top of the ticket,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a freshman lawmaker and Biden supporter who flipped a GOP seat in the 2018 midterms. “We have such a simple path to electing a Democratic president. All we’ve got to do is to say we’re not messing with the economy; we’re going to improve health care; and we’re going to give you a president who tells the truth, respects the law, and can be a good moral example for your kids. … Why we would risk this extraordinary opportunity by nominating somebody who has a tendency to divide our own side is beyond me.” 


> Newspaper endorsements: The Boston Globe editorial board announced that it threw its support behind former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld’s longshot bid for the GOP nomination, calling him a “solid, substantive, hyper-smart figure” (The Hill).


“Nominating Weld would also help restore dignity and decency to the national conversation. A personable practitioner of collegial politics, he is able to disagree without being disagreeable. His dry, sly wit would be a welcome tonic to Trump’s tawdry discourse,” the Globe wrote.


Some newspapers, however, have decided against weighing in this year and in elections moving forward. The Arizona Republic announced Wednesday that it will not be endorsing candidates in the future, citing readers hostile to a practice common to among editorial staffs at newspapers.


“They don’t want their daily newspaper or news website telling them which candidates and which party should get their votes,” Executive Editor Greg Burton and Editorial Page Editor Phil Boas said in a statement (The Hill).


CONGRESS: Senate Republicans and Democrats held their respective retreats in Washington and Baltimore on Wednesday in preparation for the eight-month marathon to determine who will hold onto the upper chamber in 2021.


As Alexander Bolton writes, who holds the Senate majority could hinge on two wildcards: who wins the Democratic presidential nomination and whether the coronavirus significantly slows the economy, which is considered a linchpin to the president holding onto the White House.


Republicans, who control 53 seats, are the favorites to retain their majority. They are likely to win the Alabama Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), leaving Democrats with an uphill climb and the need to pick up seats in states such as Iowa, Georgia, and North Carolina. 


“I guess the favorite would be Republicans retaining the majority,” said Steven Smith, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, who studies the Senate. “I think there is a great deal of uncertainty this year. … The usual political fundamentals, the popularity of the president and the state of the economy, appear to be pointing in opposite directions. So that makes it a little tricky.” 


The good news for Democrats: They appear to have a good shot at knocking off incumbent Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), while Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is facing the toughest re-election contest of her 23-year Senate tenure.


The Associated Press: Fight by 2 Republicans for Georgia Senate seat unnerves GOP.


The Hill: Louisiana GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham won’t seek reelection.





> Lynching: The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would classify lynching as a federal hate crime.  


The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which was introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.),  passed on a 410-4 vote. The legislation is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi.  


The House vote came decades after the House approved its first bill, by former Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer (R-Mo.), that would have made lynching a federal crime. The legislation was ultimately filibustered and defeated in the Senate.


The four lawmakers who voted against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) (The Hill).

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: and We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Why Mike Bloomberg has a shot, by former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), opinion contributor, The Hill. 


Coronavirus fears hit the markets, by Evan Kraft, opinion contributor, The Hill. 


Trump passes Pence a dangerous buck, analysis by reporter Reid Wilson, The Hill.


Elections have changed and so has Facebook


Facebook has made large investments to protect elections, including tripling the size of the teams working on safety and security to more than 35,000. But the work doesn’t stop there.


See how Facebook has prepared for 2020.


The House convenes at 10 a.m. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) meets with reporters today at 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol.  


The Senate will meet at 9:30 a.m. and will continue its consideration of the nomination of Travis Greaves to be a judge with the United States Tax Court. 


The president and first lady Melania Trump plan to attend an African American History Month reception at 6 p.m.


Pence will address attendees at 12:30 a.m. at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place near Washington. The vice president, starting his new public health assignment, will lead a meeting of the coronavirus task force at HHS at 2:30 p.m.


Attorney General William Barr will speak in Miami at 10 a.m. to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium.


Economic indicator: At 8:30 a.m., the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases the 2019 fourth quarter report about gross domestic product (second estimate).


The Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at Penn Law in Philadelphia will host former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at 5 p.m. for a public discussion about topics much in this week’s news. Clapper, 78, who served under former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama and is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, is the author of a new book, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a life in Intelligence.” Information is HERE.


The Women in the World Summit, scheduled for April 2 and 3 at Lincoln Center in New York City, tells us that Hillary Clinton is joining the program to chat about Trump, the Democratic presidential contenders and world events under questioning by Kara Swisher, Recode’s co-founder and editor-at-large. Information about the VIP roster of speakers and logistics is HERE


Catch The Hill’s Campaign Report newsletter, with the latest from The Hill’s politics team. Sign up to receive evening updates, polling data and insights about the 2020 elections. 


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.


Papal pointers: Have a nicer day. Stop insulting people. Don’t troll. For Lent, Pope Francis advises to “give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first name basis” (Reuters). (That message, by the way, is Twitter-sized, so pass it on).


State watch: In Arizona, the Native American Tohono O’odham tribe assails the federal government for blasting and bulldozing through what tribal leaders say are culturally important archaeological sites being destroyed in the administration’s rush to build a border wall. Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States at a hearing on Wednesday that Customs and Border Protection contractors tore through tribal sites listed by the National Park Service, despite complaints from the tribe (The Hill).





Courts: A federal appeals court in New York, in a departure from three other appeals courts, ruled on Wednesday that the administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants to force states to cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement (The Associated Press). … The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports on the latest developments in GOP and administration efforts to change the shadowy court that approves Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications from the government to legally spy on Americans. … U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson faces scrutiny as she weighs whether to grant Trump ally Roger Stone a new trial based on his legal team’s assertions of juror bias. Stone last week was sentenced to more than three years in prison on seven felony counts (The Hill). … The Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling on Wednesday declined to back stricter deadlines for workers to sue retirement plans over alleged mismanagement at Intel Corp. The company sought to void a lawsuit accusing it of violating federal law by making high-risk investments that cost retirement plan beneficiaries hundreds of millions of dollars (Reuters). 


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by Saturday’s South Carolina primary, we’re eager for some smart guesses about South Carolina political history.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has been in Congress for more than 27 years and is the third-highest-ranking House Democrat. What is his ranking in terms of seniority in the House?


  1. 16th
  2. 20th
  3. 23rd
  4. 25th


In 2016, which GOP presidential candidate did Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) endorse shortly after the conclusion of his own bid for the Republican nomination?


  1. Marco Rubio
  2. Jeb Bush
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Ted Cruz


In what year did longtime Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) switch parties and officially become a Republican?


  1. 1960
  2. 1962
  3. 1964
  4. 1968


In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the South Carolina primary over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with what percentage of the vote?


  1. 55 percent 
  2. 61 percent
  3. 67 percent
  4. 73 percent





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