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The Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by Facebook — Washington, Wall Street on edge about coronavirus

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The coronavirus spread illness and fear across continents and through world capitals on Thursday as Congress pledged to hastily enact billions in new spending to combat the public health emergency, states and cities raced to be ready and Wall Street chased the sort of grim records set in financial markets more than 11 years ago.

Reuters: Coronavirus threatens global economy as experts warn no country will be spared.

The Associated Press: Virus’s impacts are now dramatically global, shutting Japan’s schools, spreading through Europe and into sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organization advised international leaders again that the virus is moving across continents and everyone should immediately be preparing as confirmed infections climb. This morning, 83,704 reported cases of the virus are in 56 countries. The death toll has reached 2,859, according to the latest information.

Vice President Pence chaired a meeting of President Trump’s coronavirus task force on Thursday, one day after the president handed him the assignment. Seated next to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who had been in charge of the response efforts until Wednesday, the vice president said he spoke to congressional leaders about quickly coming to agreement on a spending measure to cover the nation’s coronavirus response. 

“The president’s been clear: We want all hands on deck,” Pence said. Later, during an interview on Fox News with Sean Hannity, the vice president contradicted information from federal researchers and public health specialists that the spread of COVID-19 around the country is “inevitable” and people, businesses and schools should prepare for it now.  

The risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the United States of America remains low,” Pence said, crediting the president for refusing U.S. entry to Chinese citizens and quarantining returning Americans. “That’s according to all of our experts” (Fox News).

The Hill: The vice president bolsters Trump’s coronavirus team following criticism.

In the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress was close to a bipartisan agreement on a plan to approve billions of dollars in funding, and that it was no time to be “playing politics.” Nevertheless, she said she told Pence by phone that she had concerns that he was put in charge of coronavirus coordination, citing reports that he “slashed” the Indiana public health budget when he was the state’s governor. 

Pelosi did not mention a dollar amount for a House measure to address the COVID-19 response, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he’d like to see the Senate pass a bill in the next two weeks (NPR). Trump has said he would sign the Democrats’ proposed $8.5 billion proposal and not prolong negotiations in an effort to trim the price tag.

The Speaker said she had been in a bipartisan meeting all morning with House colleagues and that her goal was to “make sure the government has the resources to combat this deadly virus and keep the American people safe” (The New York Post). 

Pelosi’s home state was on high alert on Thursday because of one patient revealed to be receiving extensive treatment for the virus who has no traceable travel or contacts to explain how she was infected. The patient was hospitalized in Northern California on Feb. 15 with signs of the disease and then moved days later to a larger hospital, UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, while intubated and on a ventilator. Testing for the coronavirus was not immediate in her case, creating opportunities for spread and new infections.

The Washington Post: Extensive efforts in California to trace infected patient’s contacts.

The South China Morning Post: How does COVID-19 spread so easily? 

The South China Morning Post: COVID-19 did not spring from a fish market in Wuhan. The exact origins remain unverified by researchers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote to Pence on Thursday to advocate for “rapid testing” of patients who present symptoms that could be “suspected cases.” Criticisms initially arose that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operated in California on the basis of containment and quarantine of infected Americans evacuated from China and Japan, but not a testing protocol that covered the possibility that the coronavirus was already in California’s general population. The CDC’s protocol does not include testing for the virus in asymptomatic people.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Thursday that the state has made testing its “top priority” in collaboration with the CDC. Accurate testing for coronavirus takes days and CDC is working to improve the test kits and number of labs that can perform the testing. Federal health officials on Thursday expanded the criteria that guides who should get tested. There are 60 confirmed cases of infection in the United States as of this morning.

The Associated Press: Tough questions about testing for the virus.

Los Angeles Times: Three students at the University of California-Davis and other colleges are under self-quarantine following potential coronavirus exposure. 

In California, 33 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and five have since left the state, the governor said. Of the confirmed cases, 24 were either evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Tokyo or returned on repatriation flights from Wuhan, China. Newsom said more than 8,400 people are being monitored for signs of possible infection and illness (Los Angeles Times). 

The jittery situation in California paled in comparison with the nosedive in the financial markets on Thursday and analysts’ expectations that the U.S. economy was taking a hit along with specific businesses, trade, travel and production in the rest of the world.

Thursday marked the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s biggest one-day points decline in history. The S&P 500 also closed below 3,000 for the first time since last October as investors tipped the major averages into correction territory. The Dow fell 1,191 points or 4.4 percent, the S&P 500 tumbled 4.4 percent and the Nasdaq slid 4.6 percent (CNBC).

One specialist in infectious disease epidemics at the global health charity Wellcome Trust on Thursday urged finance institutions to commit an initial $10 billion to fighting the coronavirus. 

“What we are really missing is tangible, high-level funding and support from global financial institutions,” Wellcome director Jeremy Farrar said in a statement. “The possible impact of this coronavirus is far beyond a health emergency. It’s a global crisis with potential to reach the scale of the global financial crisis of 2008” (Reuters). 

Because economic analysts believe the chances of a recession are rising this year because of the new virus, Trump and fellow Republicans are wringing their hands that the U.S. political climate could shift dramatically between now and November’s elections (The Hill).

The president’s agitation is clear on social media. Trump on Thursday night tweeted his concurrence with Fox News hosts that in their view, CNN is intentionally stirring public anxiety about the virus. “Media refuses to discuss the great job our professionals are doing!” the president wrote. Democrats, he groused in an overnight tweet, are working to blame a global contagion on him.



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! One more day until the South Carolina primary … four more days until Super Tuesday … 249 days until Election Day! ***

CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: As South Carolina Democrats get ready to head to the polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has become the focal point of conversations for national Democrats and Republicans as he looks to make his move for the nomination over the next week. 

Despite Saturday night’s South Carolina primary, Sanders is pushing to dominate states that vote on Super Tuesday and take an insurmountable delegate lead that could force the issue for his competitors. On Saturday, Sanders is scheduled to campaign in Virginia, a key Super Tuesday state, having already spent time in California and Texas in the days surrounding the Nevada caucuses and drawing massive crowds at every stop along the way, according to The Hill’s Jonathan Easley

Sanders’s time in those states comes as former Vice President Joe Biden has made South Carolina his campaign’s priority and has set up shop there since Saturday’s caucuses. While Biden needs to win the Palmetto State, Sanders is playing the long game as more than one-third of all the delegates will be up for grabs on Tuesday night. 

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina.

Jonathan Allen: This time, Bernie Sanders “rigged” the system against himself.

Axios: Ad spending on 2020 primary tops $1 billion.

As Sanders pushes for delegate supremacy, Democrats are making clear that he will need to eclipse the requisite 1,991 pledged delegates on the first ballot of the convention, and that it is unlikely that he will have the backing of superdelegates to hand him the nomination. In interviews with dozens of party officials, including 93 superdelegates, The New York Times reports that there is “overwhelming opposition” to giving Sanders the nomination if he is unable to hit the delegate threshold beforehand.  

House Democrats who support moderate candidates made the same point to The Hill’s Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos on Thursday, indicating that they will back who they believe can defeat Trump rather than supporting the Vermont Independent.

“I’m going to vote for who I see as the best representative of Democrats and, most importantly, the person I see as most likely to beat Donald Trump, plain and simple,” centrist freshman Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a supporter of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “Right now, I don’t believe it is Bernie Sanders.”

Phillips, along with a pair of Michael Bloomberg supporters — Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) — added that her would not support Sanders if the convention reached a second ballot. 

“I can’t see that right now,” said Peters, who represents a San Diego area district. “We’re not bound by anything. That’s the way the rules work, and we’re just following the rules.” 

The Washington Post: Surging Sanders shows few signs of making nice with fellow Democrats. 

The New York Times: Pelosi, trying to save House majority, fends off angst over Sanders. 

The Associated Press: Sanders’ appeal tested in moderate Virginia on Super Tuesday. 

While Democrats push to stop him on Tuesday night, Republicans are keeping a close eye on proceedings. As Julia Manchester and Tal Axelrod report from the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., Sanders and his brand of socialism were front and center during the first full day of the annual right-wing confab.  

Speaker after speaker at the conference took aim at Sanders for his democratic socialist platform, with the theme “America vs. Socialism” attempting to paint the entire Democratic Party field with a broad brush. 

“Today’s Democratic Party has been taken over by radical leftists who want higher taxes, open borders and late-term abortion,” Pence said during his address on Thursday. “[T]here are no moderates in this Democratic field. Every other one of the Democrats running for president embraces Bernie’s democratic socialism.”  

The Hill: Biden announces best day of fundraising with $1.2 million.

RealClearPolitics polling average: Biden, 34.4 percent; Sanders, 21.8; Tom Steyer, 13.8; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 8.2; former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 8.2.

Fox News poll: Sanders knocks Biden out of first, majority thinks Trump wins.

The Hill: Sanders’s rise unnerves K Street.

The New York Times: Elizabeth Warren gets giant lift from Persist PAC.



RETIREMENT: The Hill today publishes a special section about the SECURE Act, which took effect in January with expectations that retirement accounts can benefit up to 700,000 people and create new paths to save. But experts advise seniors and businesses that there are key provisions they need to think about. The law is weeks old, yet members of Congress are already proposing changes (The Hill). … The good, bad and the ugly about the SECURE Act (Forbes opinion). … The effect of the SECURE Act on 529 college savings accounts (The New York Times).

Consumer protections: Advocates for consumers and senior citizens warn of the rise of online scams, urging lawmakers and administration officials to provide greater protections for unsuspecting Americans. One example this season: online tax filing scams (The Hill). Check out the “2020 Fraud Book,” which outlines 10 of the most-reported scams targeting seniors, released in January by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.



More from Congress: With impeachment in the rearview mirror, members of the House  team that conducted the investigation are locked in a fierce battle over a key surveillance reauthorization bill. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, threw plans to reauthorize some intelligence provisions in the USA Freedom Act into a tailspin on Wednesday after she threatened to force votes on several surveillance related amendments. The move not only forced Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to postpone consideration of the bill, which he negotiated for months with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), but also pitted the two chairmen against a former impeachment teammate (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!



Five ways we can prepare for coronavirus, by Dr. Susan Blumenthal Markey and Matina Kakalis, opinion contributors, The Hill. 

Trump isn’t easing coronavirus forebodings, by Peggy Noonan, opinion columnist, The Wall Street Journal.

Where is Barack Obama? by Kevin Walling, opinion contributor, 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 meets at 9 a.m. and resumes debate on legislation to let the FDA regulate vaping and ban flavored tobacco products. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies to the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 8:30 a.m. about Iran, Iraq and use of force. 

The Senate reconvenes on Monday at 3 p.m.

The president will headline a reelection rally at 7 p.m. in North Charleston, S.C. 

Pence flies to Florida today to speak at 12:45 p.m. at the Club for Growth annual economic conference in West Palm Beach. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will meet the vice president in West Palm Beach at 3 p.m. for a meeting about coronavirus response in the Sunshine State. Pence flies 45 later to Sarasota, Fla., in time to speak at 6:30 p.m. at the National Republican Campaign Committee Florida Republican Delegation fundraising dinner on Longboat Key. The vice president returns to Washington tonight.

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. releases its report on personal income and spending in January. 

U.S. officials on Saturday are expected to sign a peace deal for Afghanistan that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban. Afghan representatives from Kabul, including the government, and the Taliban are to sit together within 10 to 15 days of Saturday’s signing to attempt to negotiate the framework of a post-war Afghanistan (The Associated Press). Read: On the ground in Afghanistan, one recent gesture for peace began with a chicken (The Washington Post). 

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.


City watch: Former Democratic Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, 69, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Thursday in connection with a scheme involving her self-published children’s books that led to her resignation in May (The Baltimore Sun).



Tech & politics: Bloomberg’s well-financed presidential campaign paid popular meme accounts on Facebook-owned Instagram to post political messaging. That decision (and news coverage about it) prompted Facebook and Instragam to introduce a way for users to track the paid partnership behind such content ahead of the elections, company executives said Thursday (Reuters). 

Turkey: The Turkish army suffered mass casualties in an airstrike in northwest Syria late Thursday — an attack that killed 33 soldiers and could dramatically change the course of the Syrian war. Turkish officials said the strike had been carried out by Syrian government forces, but Russian jets have been conducting most of the airstrikes in the area in recent weeks. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held an emergency meeting Thursday evening in Ankara (The New York Times). 

Gaga for Gaga: Lindsay Crouse, The New York Times’s Opinion section senior staff editor, writes that her ex-boyfriend is dating Lady Gaga. Her reaction? She went out and bought a great new dress. Oh, and she got a fun column out of it.


And finally …  Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz Winners!

Now, time for some pre-South Carolina primary limelight for all those who knew their South Carolina political history: Daniel Bachhuber, Phil Kirstein, Patrick Kavanagh, Adam Aiken, Ki Harvey, William Chittam, Candi Cee, Margaret Gainer, Carol Katz, and John Donato.

They knew that Clyburn is the 25th most senior member of the House of Representatives.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stumped for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush after he ended his own ill-fated bid for the Republican nomination. 

Former Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) made the switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP in 1964. 

Finally, Hillary Clinton defeated Sanders in the 2016 South Carolina primary with a whopping 73 percent of the vote.


Tags 2020 Democrats Adam Schiff Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Coronavirus Dean Phillips Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Gavin Newsom Gregory Meeks Hillary Clinton Jerrold Nadler Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Michael Bloomberg Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Morning Report Nancy Pelosi Pete Buttigieg Ron DeSantis Scott Peters Sean Hannity South Carolina primary Tom Steyer Zoe Lofgren
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