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The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden commits to female VP; CDC says no events of 50+ people for 8 weeks

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Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took part in their first one-on-one primary debate on Sunday night and discussed the coronavirus crisis at length as the outbreak grips the U.S. and heightens fears across the country. 


For the first 40 minutes of Sunday night’s affair — which was held in Washington at CNN’s studios without an audience instead of Phoenix due to COVID-19 — the two Democratic candidates discussed and debated the response to the virus, setting the tone with an elbow bump before taking their podiums (The Hill).


Biden, who is riding high after winning 15 of the last 19 states (Washington remains uncalled), called for a “major, major, major bailout package” to help combat the virus, for temporary hospitals and for the U.S. military to help the aid process, which Sanders echoed. He also sidestepped a question and the need for a national quarantine (The Hill). 


The Vermont Independent trained his fire on President Trump, saying from the outset, “We have to shut this president up right now.” The two candidates eventually clashed over the need for a “Medicare for All” system, which Sanders argued would be beneficial to deal with the outbreak. Biden disagreed, noting that Italy has a government-run system and the struggles it has had in controlling the spread of the virus (The Hill). 


“That would not solve the problem at all,” Biden said, adding later that “people are looking for results, not a revolution. They’re looking for results they need right now.”


The two candidates, both septuagenarians, also discussed the precautions they are taking in order to avoid contracting the virus themselves as they both are in the danger zone in age, with Sanders having suffered a heart attack six months ago (The Hill).


The Hill: Sanders: Unacceptable for Trump to be “blabbering with unfactual information” about coronavirus.


Jonathan Easley, The Hill: 5 takeaways from the Democratic debate.


Dan Balz: The pandemic is changing politics, but the Democratic debate mostly sounded like all the others.


The Associated Press: “Bigger than any one of us”: Biden, Sanders take on pandemic.


Midway through the debate, Biden made waves when he committed to select a female as his running mate (The Hill). 


“I will, in fact, pick a woman to be vice president. There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.” Biden said. Sanders indicated that it is likely that he also would select a woman for the ticket, but didn’t make a firm commitment like Biden did. 


The former VP added that he would also nominate an African American female to the Supreme Court.


Repeatedly, Sanders followed through with his push to move Biden to the left on a number of issues, and did so with some success. At one point, Biden declared that he would not support any new fracking, an issue that is sure to come up in natural-gas rich Pennsylvania. 


The Vermont senator also didn’t hesitate to bring up major differences between himself and Biden, pointing to their voting records and work in Congress. The two candidates jostled over Social Security, climate change, and foreign policy among other items. 


The bottom line: Last night’s debate is unlikely to alter the fundamentals of the primary race and Biden is still very much in pole position to nab the nomination.


John F. Harris: Biden ends the drama by promising female VP.


Matt Flegenheimer and Sydney Ember, The New York Times: Biden and Sanders assume fighting stances, a healthy 6 feet apart.


Looking ahead, Biden holds a commanding lead in the delegate race after two straight strong performances in past weeks. According to the latest count, Biden leads with 890 delegates to 736 for Sanders. When pressed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Sanders notably did not say that the main goal of his road ahead is to win, but rather to bring young voters into the political process. 


“The path ahead is to bring as many people who do not traditionally vote into the political process,” Sanders said, pointing to young people and working-class people. He also said that he believes he is winning the ideological battle, even though he trails in delegates. 


The debate took place as four states ready to vote on Tuesday and potentially give Biden a delegate edge that would prove insurmountable for Sanders. Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona will all go to the polls, with 577 delegates at stake. These are also the last states to vote this month after Georgia postponed it’s primary contest until May due to the virus.


Sanders questioned after the debate whether it is prudent to hold these primaries on Tuesday given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that Americans avoid gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. 


“That is a very good question. I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts,” Sanders said. “I don’t know that it does [make a lot of sense].” 


Sunday’s debate, the 11th of the primary cycle, also could be the last. There are no more debates on the calendar, though the Democratic National Committee told Politico that a 12th debate is being planned.


The Hill: Biden says he has raised $33 million in first half of March.





CORONAVIRUS & OFFICIAL WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Sunday stressed to the American public the need for social distancing, making a new call to halt gatherings in the near future, while the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to zero percent and announced it would purchase $700 billion in bonds and securities to stabilize markets and support the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.


The emergency rate cut and push to flood the Treasury bond market with liquidity come as the virus forces businesses across the U.S. and world to shutter, potentially plunging the global economy into a recession. The move was applauded at a Sunday press conference by the president, who urged Americans to keep calm and carry on as the virus spreads (The Hill).


“It’s a big step,” Trump said of the fed rate cut. “And you will not hear anything bad from me unless it’s a month or two from now.”


The CDC followed shortly after and released a new set of guidelines calling for no gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. The recommendations do not apply to schools and businesses (The Hill). 


Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health who has become the public face of the administration’s response, said on the Sunday talk shows that it could take a “few months” before life in the U.S. returns to normal and that Americans need to “hunker down significantly more” in the coming days (The Hill).


“Everybody has got to get involved in distancing themselves socially,” Fauci said, speaking more about it at the administration’s briefing on Sunday evening alongside Vice President Pence. “The worst is yet ahead for us. What matters is how we respond to the challenge. … This window that we’re going to be in is going to be very important for how we stay ahead of this curve,” Fauci added. 





According to the latest statistics, there have been 3,774 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. and 69 deaths. There have also been 12 individuals who have recovered.


Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir revealed that the U.S. will have 1.9 million additional new COVID-19 tests available this week, along with the opening of 2,000 new testing labs. 


The Associated Press: Government official: Coronavirus vaccine trial starts Monday.


Travel restrictions were also increased as the ban on travel to European nations has been extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland. The two nations were initially excluded from the administration’s ban. 


On Capitol Hill, the House (once again) and the Senate are expected to approve a new economic relief package early this week. However, the legislating is far from over as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Democrats in a “Dear Colleague” letter that work has started toward putting together a third package. She also echoed Fauci’s call, asking lawmakers to increase social distancing at their offices on Capitol Hill.


“We have already begun work to develop a third emergency response package that will continue to put Families First,” Pelosi said. “The health and safety of our staff is essential to this mission. … I am writing to encourage you to take steps to promote social distancing within your Washington, D.C. office as we engage in the District Work Period. This may entail more than half of your Washington staff teleworking from home.”


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seconded Pelosi’s remarks for further legislative work on Sunday night, calling for a “comprehensive approach” to deal with financial challenges, the economy and the health care system. 


“Senate Republicans feel strongly that this bill must only be the beginning of Congress’s efforts to support our nation’s economy and stand with American families,” McConnell said. “It is clear that confronting this virus will take boldness, bipartisanship, and a comprehensive approach” (The Hill).


Adding to the problems, a second Capitol Hill staffer — an individual in Rep. David Schweikert’s (R-Ariz.) office — tested positive for the virus. Schweikert said in a statement that members of his D.C. office will work remotely and that the office will be closed. 


Dan Goldman, a former top staffer for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also announced that he tested positive for the virus. Goldman announced 10 days ago that he was leaving the office, and while it is believed that he contracted COVID-19 after his departure, Schiff said he is teleworking and postponing meetings as a precaution (The Wall Street Journal). 


The Hill: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tests negative for coronavirus.




CORONAVIRUS & STATES: States and cities issued the first directives to close down bars and restaurants in a push to staunch the spread of COVID-19 after a weekend when some Americans did not take part in social distancing and continued to congregate at those locations. 


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), among others, announced on Sunday afternoon that bars and restaurants across the states (along with California wineries) will be shuttered in short order. DeWine closed down all bar and restaurant locations starting at 9 p.m. on Sunday night, while all Illinois establishments will be closed as of tonight. The Illinois shutdown is tentatively scheduled to last until March 30. 


“What we can’t have is people congregating and seated,” DeWine said in a statement. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am, but we will work to mitigate the suffering. It is our goal for everyone to get through this. Every day we delay, more people will die. If we do not act and get some distance between people, our healthcare system in Ohio will not hold up.”


“I tried earlier this week to appeal to everyone’s good judgment to stay home, to avoid bars, not to congregate in crowds,” Pritzker said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. The time for action is here. This is not a joke. No one is immune to this, and you have an obligation to act in the best interests of all the people in this state.”


Earlier Sunday, DeWine told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he is considering shuttering classrooms for the remainder of the school year in an effort to slow the virus’s spread. The moves would come after DeWine was among the first governors to impose restrictions on mass gatherings early last week (The Hill).





Late Sunday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all bars and restaurants to close as of 9 a.m. this morning, and limiting those places to take-out and delivery orders. He also closed down all movie theaters in the city. Nashville, Tenn., known for its Broadway bar scene, announced on Sunday that bars in the city will close. The ban does not extend to restaurants, but new restrictions will be put into place to limit the number of guests. 


In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced a series of new restrictions on bars and restaurants, including that no more than 250 people are permitted to gather in those locales, while bar seating and service to standing patrons are prohibited. Individual table seating will be restricted to six or fewer people, while occupied tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet. Bowser also suspended all nightclub operations (The Hill). Nearby, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) closed racetracks and casinos, including MGM National Harbor, until the state of emergency is lifted (WTOP). 


DCist: Here’s the status of D.C.-area restaurants and bars during the coronavirus pandemic.


Los Angeles Times: Newsom: To help fight coronavirus, California seniors should isolate.


More than 20 states have also announced the closure of schools as the pandemic spreads, with the figure continuing to grow by the day. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) did so for all of downstate New York, including New York City (New York Daily News). 


The administration’s response at airports has also come under scrutiny, especially after 3,000 Americans returned from Europe and were packed in tight quarters for hours in customs at O’Hare International Airport on Saturday. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) called the conditions “totally unacceptable” (The Associated Press). 


“People were forced into conditions that are against guidance and are totally unacceptable,” Lightfoot said.


The Washington Post: Landing at Dulles Airport, I encountered a case study in how to spread a pandemic.


The Hill: New restrictions, closures sweep U.S. as crisis deepens.


With people hunkered down, the airlines continued to react as United Airlines cut back 50 percent of its total flights in April and May, and are expecting to roll back additional flights during the summer (Reuters). United’s decision came days after Delta Air Lines cut 40 percent of its own flights in coming months.


The Washington Post: For millions of Americans, no church on Sunday is coronavirus’s cruelest closure so far.


CORONAVIRUS & INTERNATIONAL: The hiatus in worship services was also on display across the Atlantic as Pope Francis delivered his blessing and remarks on Sunday from the Apostolic Library rather than the balcony at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.


Francis also announced that all Holy Week ceremonies will be closed to the public starting with Palm Sunday on April 5 and lasting through Easter Sunday on April 12. Holy Week around the Vatican is a major tourism draw, as thousands usually flock to Rome for the annual occasion (The Associated Press). 


The news is unsurprising since Italy implemented a lockdown of the roughly 60 million people in the country, which continues to be ravaged by the virus. As of this morning, there have been 24,747 confirmed cases in Italy, with the death toll hitting 1,809. Nearly 2,335 have recovered.


The Associated Press: Pope goes on Roman walkabout, prays for end to pandemic.


With St. Patrick’s Day coming up on Tuesday, Ireland directed the closure of all pubs and bars for two weeks and pressed for Irish men and women to not hold house parties to commemorate the annual celebration. 


Other countries, including Spain, struggled to control nationwide quarantines and those within various cities, while the Philippines would not allow tourists and travelers to enter Manila, the nation’s highly-populated capital. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz banned all gatherings of more than five people, while Lebanon ordered a lockdown of the country (The Associated Press).


French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to address his nation late tonight about the coronavirus. Jerome Salomon, France’s top health official, said early Monday that the situation in the country is “very worrying” and “deteriorating very fast,” adding that “the number of cases double every three days” (AFP).


Across the world, there have been more than 169,000 confirmed cases of the virus, with 6,513 confirmed deaths. More than 77,000 individuals have recovered from COVID-19.




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!


Please, don’t go out to brunch today, by Charlie Warzel, columnist, The New York Times.  


The politics of trust — and mistrust, by Robert J. Samuelson, columnist, The Washington Post. 


The House will return on Monday, March 24 from recess.  


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m., and will resume consideration USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act and work toward passage of the coronavirus economic relief package.


The president participates in a video teleconference with governors on coronavirus response at 11 a.m., has lunch with Pence at 12:30 p.m., and receives his intelligence briefing at 3:30 p.m.


Pence will convene the government’s coronavirus task force and speak to the nation’s governors. The task force will also brief the press at 10:30 a.m.


Group of Seven leaders from industrialized nations will hold a video conference discussion today to discuss a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic (Reuters). France is also seeking a coordinated European approach to the emergency.


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


Health data: Big Tech critics are sounding the alarm over new rules introduced by the HHS this week to give more patients more control over health data. They warn that there are not enough protections in the rules to stop massive companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple from integrating health data (The Hill).


FERC: Newly confirmed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Commissioner James Danly had at least two former clients whose projects are regulated by the agency, according to a watchdog group (The Hill).


Sports: The NFL struck a deal with the NFL Players Association on a new collective bargaining agreement to avoid a potential lockout and ensure 10 years of labor peace. The move sets the stage for a 17-game schedule to be implemented in 2021, along with a new playoff structure that could be put into place as soon as this season. Nearly 2,000 players voted on the deal, which narrowly passed by a 1,019-959 vote (ESPN). 


And finally …  some positive developments from the coronavirus response. Domestically, a number of top NBA players are donating funds to help hourly workers manage while the league’s season is suspended. Among them are Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Detroit’s Blake Griffin and Cleveland Kevin Love, who have each donated $100,000 toward relief funds, while New Orleans’s Zion Williamson is paying the arena staff’s salaries for 30 days. 


Internationally, viral videos show some individuals trying to give joy to the homebound through their talents. In Spain, a fitness instructor hosted a workout from a rooftop, with onlookers joining in from their balconies. And in Italy, tenor Maurizio Marchini jumped on his balcony and belted out “Nessun Dorma,” a famed tune from Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Turandot” that was popularized by Luciano Pavarotti, for his town to hear. 




Tags Adam Schiff Bernie Sanders Bill de Blasio David Schweikert Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron Gavin Newsom Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pope Francis

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