Five and a half weeks that changed everything

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: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders greet one another before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, on March 15, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — It’s jaw-dropping to think how much has changed in the United States — and in American politics — over just the last 40 days.

On March 2, the day before Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders was still the frontrunner to get a plurality of pledged delegates; Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke endorsed Joe Biden in Texas; and the United States had experienced its first coronavirus death just days earlier.

What happened after that:

  • March 3: On Super Tuesday, Biden emerges with more pledged delegates than Sanders.
  • March 4: Michael Bloomberg drops out of the 2020 race.
  • March 5: Elizabeth Warren suspends her campaign.
  • March 9: The Dow drops 1,500 points amid concerns about the coronavirus and volatility in the oil market.
  • March 10: Biden wins big in Michigan, as well as in Mississippi, Missouri and Idaho, further building his delegate lead.
  • March 11: President Trump addresses the nation as the number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 20; the NBA suspends its season after a player tests positive; and Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson also test positive.
  • March 13: Trump declares a national emergency.
  • March 15: Biden and Sanders participate in what would be their final debate.
  • March 17: Biden wins the primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, as Ohio postpones its contest.
  • March 24: Number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 500.
  • March 26: Number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 1,000.
  • March 27: Trump signs $2.2 trillion economic relief bill into law.
  • March 31: Number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 3,000.
  • April 3: Number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 5,000.
  • April 7: Wisconsin goes ahead with its primary, as the number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 10,000.
  • April 8: Sanders suspends his campaign, making Biden the apparent Democratic nominee.
  • April 9: Number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 14,000.
  • April 10: Number of U.S. coronavirus deaths crosses 16,000.

The United States and the political world really did change in 40 days and 40 nights.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

467,473: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 36,316 more than yesterday morning.)

16,682: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,915 more than yesterday morning).

2.37 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

$250 billion: The amount of additional small business aid that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to pass unanimously yesterday before Senate Democrats objected, demanding additional funds for hospitals and state and local governments.

150 percent: How much rents have risen on average nationally over the last decade, as renters worry they won’t be able to pay up amid the economic crisis.

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy

Biden moves to the left: Since becoming the all-but-presumptive nominee in March, Joe Biden has made a series of policy overtures towards the left.

On Thursday, Biden released two new plans that fit the mold:

  1. Lowering the Medicare age from 65 to 60. Many Democrats have proposed a Medicare “buy in” for older Americans in which they paid a higher premium to access the program, but Biden’s plan would go further by extending full Medicare benefits to this age set.
  2. Forgiving tuition-related student debt — but only for students at public colleges, community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions and only for those making under $125,000 a year.

These plans stack on another set of ideas Biden has recently adopted from opponents on the left, much of them focused on student debt. Last month, he adopted an earlier version of Senator Bernie Sanders’ free college plan that capped benefits at families making $125,000 a year. He adopted Warren’s call to make it easier to get rid of student debt in bankruptcy proceedings, which would essentially reverse portions of a bankruptcy bill he backed in 2005. Biden also called for canceling $10,000 in student debt across the board in response to the COVID economic crash, an idea Elizabeth Warren has promoted.

Biden is trying to address the left's concerns, but the plans also highlight core differences between him and Sanders. Sanders put tremendous emphasis on making benefits universal — eliminating all student debt, making public college free for all, implementing Medicare for all. Biden is still reluctant in most cases to do the same, instead choosing to means-test benefits by income, or target them to narrower groups in need.

Yesterday’s debacle on Capitol Hill

Early Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought unanimous consent to add $250 billion in small business relief to coronavirus relief funds. But before McConnell brought up the unanimous consent, the proposal was dead on arrival – it didn’t have a shot at passing the Democratic-led House. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday, “The bill that they put forth will not get unanimous support in the House, it just won’t.” So Senate Democrats on Thursday put forward a motion to add more funding for hospitals, states and local governments – but Republicans in the Senate blocked that proposal (which Democrats knew they would).

Democrats accused McConnell of a political stunt, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said that McConnell’s “go it alone” approach violated “the spirit” of bipartisan negotiations. McConnell tried to counter saying that he tried to limit his amendment to just focus on small businesses because it was a “program that was running out of money” and “needed assistance now.” Democrats argued the same for hospitals and local governments.

You can read more about the trying day on the Hill here. But as of now, no new money has been approved for small businesses or otherwise – and it’s back to negotiations for all parties.

2020 Vision: Sanders pays for his staffers’ health care through November

“Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders will cover the costs of health care for everyone on his campaign staff through the end of October, campaign manager Faiz Shakir told staff Thursday afternoon on a conference call,” per NBC’s Gary Grumbach.

“The approximately 500 Sanders staffers now looking for employment after the senator suspended his presidential bid Wednesday will continue to be covered through COBRA on the campaign's dime.”

More: “A campaign spokesperson explained that while the Sanders campaign staff won't be paid their salaries alongside their health care, they will receive severance checks on May 1.”

Ad watch:

From NBC’s Ben Kamisar: The House battlefield is coming into sharper focus as the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund and the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC have laid out their initial TV investments.

Together, the two groups are investing more than $90 million in early TV reservations in a year where the coronavirus pandemic has shut virtually all campaigning behind closed doors.

Markets in Philadelphia, Minnesota, Iowa, Atlanta, Detroit and Houston are seeing significant early investment, areas primarily home to freshmen lawmakers sitting in seats both sides see as ripe for the taking.

Check out more on the MTP Blog.

The Lid: Push and pull

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what Americans are saying about the balance between the nation’s health and its economy.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The pro-Trump super PAC is making big buys in North Carolina and Florida.

Tim Alberta profiles Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Many hotels are stepping up to help patients and first responders, but so far, Trump’s hotels haven’t.

A federal judge has struck down a New Hampshire law that made it more complicated for students to register to vote.

Remember Trump’s approval bump? It seems to have flattened back to normal.

Bill Barr says he supports Trump’s firing of the intelligence community inspector general.