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Eroding faith in political institutions makes crisis recovery more difficult

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: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a meeting to discuss a potential economic bill in response to the coronavirus, COVID-19, in Washington
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a meeting to discuss a potential economic bill in response to the coronavirus, COVID-19, in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2020.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As the country grappled with the new realities of the coronavirus crisis over the weekend, the headlines probably weren’t all that reassuring for Americans looking for relief from Washington.

  • The Senate failed to pass a massive stimulus bill as Republicans and Democrats warred about whether the legislation favored corporations over regular workers.
  • The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing urgent warnings about the virus’s impact in January and February, even as the White House was playing down the threat.
  • Governors and mayors continued to speak out about what many see as an inadequate federal response, as medical professionals pleaded for more protective equipment.
  • And Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul became the first U.S. senator to test positive for the virus — but took heat for going to the Senate gym while awaiting his test results.

It’s all raising real questions about whether Washington can meet this moment. It’s also a reminder that Americans’ faith in their government — and the other institutions that frame our society — has already been eroding.

That’s been consistently tracked by Gallup, which has asked Americans about their confidence in the country’s major institutions since the 1970s.

As of last year, less than half of Americans said they had a great deal or a lot of faith in the presidency (38 percent), the Supreme Court (38 percent), Congress (11 percent), big business (23 percent), newspapers (23 percent), TV news (18 percent), organized religion (36 percent), and banks (30 percent.)

What’s more, confidence in each of those institutions is significantly down since 2001 – perhaps the last time that the country faced a moment that called so urgently for national unity.

The good news: At least before the virus hit, a majority of Americans still expressed faith in small businesses, medical doctors and researchers, and in each other to cooperate in a crisis even if they disagree on political issues.

In moments of national emergency, political leaders ask for collective sacrifice, unity and trust. But how does that go when trust in them is already so low?

And what does that mean for the ability of our democracy to keep functioning normally, from the Census to the 2020 election?

The latest on the stimulus negotiations on Capitol Hill

Negotiators have been meeting through the night after the Senate failed to move the next massive phase of coronavirus relief forward late yesterday. That vote, which needed 60 backers to succeed, failed 47-47 — with all Democrats united in opposition. Democrats have argued that the stimulus package didn’t contain enough help for workers and offered too little oversight of bailout money for big business.

According to our Hill team, a visibly angry Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell originally tried to set another vote for this morning at 9:45 a.m. ET, shortly after markets open, in an attempt to put additional pressure on Democrats to either advance the stimulus package or risk taking blame for another stock plunge. But after objections from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Senate now won’t gavel in until noon ET, with a potential re-vote after that.

However, there’s still the chance of a breakthrough. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Schumer spoke twice last night around midnight, per our Hill team — and they’re set to meet again at 9am ET this morning.

If a deal is reached, there won’t be the need for the procedural re-vote in the early afternoon.

Fauci on Trump: “I can't jump in front of the microphone and push him down”

Don’t miss this candid interview with Anthony Fauci in Science – when the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases voiced what sure sounded like frustration with the president’s public statements about the coronavirus.

Here are some of the key excerpts:

Question: "You’ve been in press conferences where things are happening that you disagree with, is that fair to say?"

Fauci: "Well, I don't disagree in the substance. It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject."


Question: "Most everyone thinks that you’re doing a remarkable job, but you're standing there as the representative of truth and facts but things are being said that aren't true and aren't factual."

Fauci: "The way it happened is that after he made that statement (suggesting China could have revealed the discovery of a new coronavirus three to four months earlier), I told the appropriate people, it doesn't comport, because two or three months earlier would have been September. The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, by the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don't say that. But I can't jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let's try and get it corrected for the next time."


Question: "You stood nearby while President Trump was in the Rose Garden shaking hands with people. You're a doctor. You must have had a reaction like, Sir, please don't do that."

Fauci: "Yes, I say that to the task force. I say that to the staff. We should not be doing that. Not only that — we should be physically separating a bit more on those press conferences. To his credit, the Vice President (Mike Pence) is really pushing for physical separation of the task force (during meetings). … The situation on stage (for the press briefings( is a bit more problematic. I keep saying, is there any way we can get a virtual press conference. Thus far, no. But when you're dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things 1,2,3,4 times, and then it happens. So I'm going to keep pushing."


Question: "You have not said China virus."

Fauci: "Ever."

Question: "And you never will, will you?"

Fauci: "No."

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

34,943: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 21,928 more than Friday morning.)

446: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 261 more than Friday morning).

About 239,000: 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 127,000 more than Friday morning.)

Nearly 54 million: That’s the number of American children who are no longer able to go to school due to closures during the crisis.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Digging into the FEC reports

Amid the coronavirus news, Friday night’s FEC deadline didn’t generate the headlines it would under normal circumstances. But NBC’s Ben Kamisar did a deep dive over the weekend. Here are the three big things we learned from the new filings:

1. Bloomberg’s (almost) billion

As we get closer to discovering the true price of Michael Bloomberg’s failed presidential bid (he’ll have to file one more FEC report in April), the numbers we do know keep getting more astronomical.

Bloomberg’s campaign spent a total of $875.4 million through February ($466.6 million of that spent in February alone), and he seeded his campaign with even more money that hadn’t been spent yet through the end of that month.

Bloomberg won a total of just 51 pledged delegates out of a total of almost 4,000 up for grabs in the Democratic nominating contest.

2. The Warren mystery donor revealed

Once an anti-super PAC evangelist, Elizabeth Warren’s decision to tacitly welcome support from a super PAC (she argued she didn’t want to be at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the field) drew some big headlines. And since the support for that group (Persist PAC) coalesced so quickly, it did not have to disclose its donors until Warren had already dropped out.

Now, we know the source of virtually all the money that Persist PAC spent: Karla Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley megadonor who contributed $14.6 million of the $15.1 million Persist PAC raised.

3. Biden, Sanders ended February in strong financial shape

We’ve known for years that Bernie Sanders built a financial juggernaut, one that has the power to sustain him as long as he wants to run (and one from which he can raise big money for coronavirus research). After raising a massive $47.7 million in February, Sanders stormed into March with almost $18.7 million banked away.

But while Joe Biden’s fundraising lagged behind many of his rivals over the past year, he ended February in strong financial shape (and he likely only got stronger as he’s grown his significant delegate lead over Sanders). Despite ratcheting up the spending in February, Biden raised $5 million more than he spent that month. That wasn’t the case in January or the last six months of 2019, when Biden spent more than he raised.

Also: On the final day of the month — which was also the day of his game-changing win in the South Carolina primary — Biden raised 28 percent of his itemized total receipts (from donors totaling more than $200) -- almost $3 million.

The Lid: Not out of proportion

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we looked at why the proportional allocation of delegates will make it difficult for Bernie Sanders to catch Joe Biden.

Remembering Larry Edgeworth

Here at NBC News, we lost a member of the NBC family to the coronavirus last week. Larry Edgeworth, a sound engineer who worked at the network for more than 25 years, passed away on Thursday from complications after testing positive for Covid-19. As one of us said yesterday, “He was known as a kind, generous man and a true professional. It's a reminder that behind these statistics are real people.”

We’re keeping Larry’s family in our thoughts and sending our condolences to them and every family who has lost a loved one during this crisis.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joe Biden has spoken to Barack Obama about his potential vice presidential pick.

Democrats are getting more and more worried about Joe Biden’s problem motivating young voters.

And some are also worried that Biden isn’t visible enough as the campaigns move mostly online.

Biden got the backing of the American Federation of Teachers.

Bernie Sanders is raising money for COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The FEC remains crippled — and way out of date when it comes to online campaigning.