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America is living in two different worlds in dealing with coronavirus outbreak

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks on a phone after stepping out of a meeting on Capitol Hill
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks on a phone after stepping out of a meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, as the Senate works to pass a coronavirus relief bill.Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — Here’s the good news when it comes to American politics right now: Senate Republicans and Democrats — in a time of national alarm and tragedy — reached a bipartisan agreement last night on a $2 trillion spending deal to help workers and businesses affected by the coronavirus.

Here’s the bad news: Despite that spending agreement, much of our country and politics continue to be living in two completely different worlds when it comes to the virus. For example:

World 1: “We're not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday. “One of the forecasters said to me, we were looking at a freight train coming across the country; we're now looking at a bullet train, because the numbers are going up that quickly.”

World 2: "I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter [April 12]," President Trump said yesterday in a Fox News interview. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?”

World 1: “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Monday that he is closing the state’s K-12 schools for the remainder of the academic year,” per the Washington Post.

World 2: “As the coronavirus threatens to spread across the Lynchburg (Va.) region, Liberty University officials are preparing to welcome back up to 5,000 students from spring break this week,” the local News & Advance writes.

World 1: Whom Democrats trust for coronavirus information, per a CBS/YouGov poll: the CDC 87 percent, your governor 75 percent, the national media 72 percent, friends and family 72 percent, religious leaders 44 percent, President Trump 14 percent.

World 2: Whom Republicans trust, according to the same poll: Trump 90 percent, the CDC 84 percent, friends and family 81 percent, religious leaders 71 percent, your governor 65 percent, the national media 13 percent.

But we’re going to going to be blunt with you: This isn’t a normal policy debate, as NBC’s Benjy Sarlin points out.

Scientists and health experts are all living in World 1; those who aren’t heeding the scientists and health experts are living in World 2.

The stakes are high, and the effects will be felt soon. Choices our leaders are making right now could determine whether potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans or even millions might die in a short period and whether the country is plunged into a deep depression or a more manageable recession that goes away quickly once the threat passes.

Talking policy with Benjy: What separating the vulnerable and moving forward means

President Trump hasn’t quite spelled out what having the country “opened up and raring to go” by Easter exactly means, NBC’s Sarlin writes. Trump said at yesterday’s White House press briefing that the date is a “a beautiful timeline” — but still up for discussion and that decisions would be informed by conditions on the ground.

In recent days, however, the president has hinted at one solution that world leaders rejected after health researchers said it would lead to catastrophic loss of life: reopening businesses while isolating older and more vulnerable populations. Trump retweeted a user named “Steph93065” who floated it on Monday, tweeted something similar himself on Tuesday morning, then suggested “we can socially distance ourselves and go to work” at a Fox News town hall by doing things like washing hands more frequently.

Researchers at the Imperial College in London examined this strategy of separating only the most vulnerable populations and concluded it would be disastrous as the population would get sick too quickly for hospitals to respond. “Even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in (Great Britain), and 1.1 to 1.2 million in the U.S.” This was, they wrote, “the more optimistic scenario.” Their study reportedly influenced the White House’s turn toward stricter health measures and helped push Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call for a nationwide lockdown.

"If we move too soon, we will see a surge in infections that overwhelms our health systems and forces us to backtrack, causing even more damage to the economy than if we confronted the health crisis decisively now,” said Maurice Obstfeld, former IMF chief economist and now an adviser to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has imposed a statewide lockdown.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

54,810: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 10,015 more than yesterday morning.)

781: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 231 more than yesterday morning).

About 368,000: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project. (That’s about 65,000 more than yesterday morning.)

More than 9,000: That’s the number of Americans who have returned to the U.S. from other countries as nations around the globe impose travel restrictions and close their borders.

60 percent: That’s the share of the new cases in the United States in the New York City metropolitan area.

$1,200: That’s the value of the check that Americans making up to $75,000 per year will receive under the new compromise stimulus bill.

A year at the latest: That’s the expected length of the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, which now organizers say will be held by the summer of 2021.

Tweet of the day

We have a deal (at last)

In the early hours of the morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced, “At last, we have a deal. After days of intense discussions the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic.” He added that the Senate will pass the legislation later today.

So what’s different than the original version? Text for the legislation hasn’t been released yet. But per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote his conference that changes include:

  • Increased unemployment benefits to a maximum of $600/week.
  • Four full months of pay for laid-off workers.
  • A $150 billion fund for state, tribal and local coronavirus relief.
  • A $55 billion increase in the Marshall Plan for the health care system.
  • Rent, mortgage and utility costs became eligible for Small Business Administration loan forgiveness.

The White House also looks ready to move forward. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that President Trump will “absolutely” sign the bill if it passes and he hopes Speaker Nancy Pelosi “takes it up and she passes as is.”

2020 Vision: Bernie Sanders is ready to debate in April (really?)

NBC’s Shaquille Brewster reports that Bernie Sanders’ campaign signaled yesterday that the candidate is remaining in the 2020 race for the long haul.

“His campaign announced a full organizing effort ahead of New York's scheduled April 28 primary, and a spokesman said he would participate in a debate with former Vice President Joe Biden — if there is one.”


The Sanders campaign is thinking about — and wanting — a debate next month, given everything else that’s going on?

Ad watch

From NBC’s Ben Kamisar: There are lots of ways to advertise in the time of coronavirus. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is staring down what could be the toughest re-election bid of her career, is taking her message direct to camera.

She’s been advertising this week telling Mainers to stay calm and support their community, while laying out basics about handwashing and social distancing.

The PSA-style ad comes as Collins’ opponents have been spending heavily on the airwaves against her, including on the issue of health care.

The Lid: Masters of disasters

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we asked how the president’s apparent approval ratings bump compares to how past presidents fared during the crises they faced.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Insiders are opening up about how Sanders’ best shot at the nomination slipped away.

Democrats are worried that the nation isn’t hearing enough of a corona counterargument from their likely nominee.

Unions are increasingly throwing their lots in with Biden.

Here’s how downballot candidates are campaigning at a time when traditional campaigns have gone out the window.

Republicans are pushing ahead with plans to hold their August convention as planned.