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Wake Up To Politics - March 27, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Friday, March 27, 2020. 221 days until Election Day 2020. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

A personal note: As many of you know, next year I will be writing Wake Up To Politics not from my bedroom, but from my dorm room. Over the past few months, a number of you have asked me where that will be. While I know there has been a lot of difficult news lately, I thought this Friday morning would be a nice time to share something a little happier: starting in the fall, I will be attending Georgetown University in Washington, DC!

I am incredibly excited to start this next chapter, and can't wait to finally bring WUTP to the nation's capital, something I’ve long dreamed of. My hope is to infuse the newsletter with a lot more original, on-the-ground reporting once I'm in DC. . . but more on that in the months ahead. For now, my thanks to all of you for continuing to read and support me and WUTP. I am so grateful. Now, on to the news...

Coronavirus: Latest updates

U.S. tops world in coronavirus cases: The United States surpassed China on Thursday as the country with the most confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the world. According to Johns Hopkins University, as of 9 a.m. Eastern Time, there are 85,996 cases in the United States, compared to 81,897 in China and 80,589 in Italy. 1,300 people have died of the virus in the United States. Globally, 549,604 people have now been infected with the virus and 24,863 people have died from it.

--- Reminder: These statistics count *confirmed* cases of the virus: doubts remain about the accuracy of the figures reported by China. ("You don't know what the numbers are in China," President Donald Trump said Thursday when asked about the topic at his daily briefing.) An accurate picture has also been difficult to obtain in the United States because of the delay in widespread testing. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 540,252 coronavirus tests have now been conducted in the U.S., more than in either South Korea or Italy (although less in terms of tests per capita).

House to vote on $2 trillion stimulus package: Members of the House of Representatives are racing back to Washington in order to hold a vote tonight on the Senate-passed coronavirus stimulus package. Leaders of the chamber had originally hoped to greenlight the legislation with a voice vote, which would have removed the need to have a quorum of 216 lawmakers present. But Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a libertarian foe of GOP congressional leaders, has signaled that he may force a recorded roll call vote, which would require a quorum.

Thus, members of both parties — who had been staying home due to safety concerns at the Capitol, where three lawmakers and numerous staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus — are scrambling to travel to D.C. to ensure a quorum is present. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled in a call with the Democratic caucus on Thursday that the chamber will hold a vote on Friday, no matter what. "If we have a quorum tomorrow, we will take a vote tomorrow," she said, according to Politico. "The American people want certainty. We need to get this bill passed tomorrow."

Pelosi added, in a terse reference of Massie: "We have to get people off their selfishness." The $2 trillion measure up for consideration will provide emergency relief to businesses and households affected by the economic turmoil in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, via direct payments to individuals, an expansion of unemployment benefits, loans to major industries, an increase in hospital funding, and other provisions.

--- How the House will vote: The House Sergeant-at-Arms told members on Thursday that they will vote in sixteen alphabetical groups of 30 to ensure social distancing. Lawmakers will only be permitted on the House floor if they are speaking during debate over the legislation; members have been encouraged not to speak but to instead film videos explaining their vote, which will air on C-SPAN.

Trump plans new federal guidelines: Even as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus climbs in the United States, President Trump pushed ahead on Thursday with his plan to ease social distancing guidelines in the weeks ahead, despite the warnings of prominent health experts.

Trump told the nation's governors in a letter that his administration plans to use "our expanded testing capabilities" and "robust surveillance testing" to categorize counties across the country as either "high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk." The president then plans to "publish new guidelines for state and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing," which would be implemented in the lower-risk areas.

The president has previously expressed hope that the United States could be "opened up" by Easter, on April 12, although health experts have said the peak of deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. could come after that date.

In his letter on Thursday, Trump struck a conciliatory tone towards the nation's statewide executives, although he has feuded with many of them throughout the coronavirus response. In an appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News show later that night, Trump criticized Democratic governors Jay Inslee of Washington ("he's always complaining") and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan ("all she does is sit there and blame the federal government").

Trump also cast doubt on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pleas for ventilators. "I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators," the president told Hannity. Cuomo said Tuesday that his state had procured 7,000 ventilators, but would need 30,000 to treat the full number of coronavirus patients expected in New York (a global epicenter of the pandemic) in the coming weeks.

According to the New York Times, the Trump administration had discussed a $1 billion joint venture with General Motors and Ventec Life Systems that would have allowed for the production of as many as 80,000 ventilators, but the agreement was called off due to the price tag. Trump has resisted invoking the Defense Production Act, a wartime law that could compel private companies to produce such supplies, despite calls from governors across the country.

--- More: "Talking through a pandemic: Trump uses words as a weapon in coronavirus response" (Washington Post). . . "Flatter or fight? Governors seeking help must navigate Trump" (Associated Press)

UK Prime Minister tests positive: Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced this morning that he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. "Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus," he said on Twitter. "I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government's response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this."

Johnson is not the first world leader to test positive for COVID-19: he follows Prince Albert II, the head of state of Monaco, and Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.


President Donald Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 12 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 3 p.m.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force will hold a press briefing at 5 p.m.

The Senate is on recess until April 20.

The House will convene at 9 a.m. to consider H.R. 748, the Senate-passed coronavirus stimulus package, formally known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The Supreme Court has canceled its oral arguments for March.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a "virtual roundtable with nurses, firefighters, and other workers on the frontlines of COVID-19" and a virtual CNN town hall at 8 p.m.

*All times Eastern

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