Here are the government's biggest failures in the coronavirus response

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: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, on April 2, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — We’ve seen the U.S. government fail several times over the last 20 years – the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the debt-ceiling debacle, the government shutdowns.

But history will likely be most unkind of all to the federal government’s initial response to the novel coronavirus over the last two months.

Let’s count the ways the whole federal government has failed to date, starting at the very top.

1. President Trump at first downplayed the coronavirus, and then he later sent mixed messages about it.

2. Trump and his administration saw the virus – and initially reacted to it – primarily as an immigration/travel/border issuerather than a health one.

3. Trump consistently attacked critical Democrats (like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and most recently Sen. Chuck Schumer), while he singled out Republicans for praise.

4. The administration didn’t heed classified warnings from the intelligence community -- back in January and February -- about the dangers the coronavirus posed for the global community.

5. The administration, in 2018, disbanded its National Security Council pandemic team.

6. The administration eliminated a CDC job dedicated to detecting outbreaks in China.

7. The Department of Homeland Security, which plays a vital role in responding to disasters, remains staffed with an acting secretary, an acting chief of staff, an acting general counsel and a vacancy at deputy secretary.

8. The Centers for Disease Control’s initial coronavirus test failed, resulting in a lost month to combat the virus.

9. The Food and Drug Administration’s requirements stymied university labs from conducting tests

10. The government’s emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is nearly depleted.

And in just the past day, we learned…

11. Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is helping to lead the effort to replenish supplies of personal protective equipment, admitted that the administration is delivering products it acquires to medical supply companies – rather than delivering them directly to the hospitals in need, per NBC’s Geoff Bennett. (Bottom line: The federal government is not taking over the supply chain.)

12. The U.S. Navy relieved the captain who sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

13. The Federal Emergency Management Agency officials told Congress that the projected demand for ventilators required for coronavirus-stricken patients "outstrips the capacity" of the Strategic National Stockpile.

14. And as NBC News has reported, it wasn't until Thursday night that banks received their 31 pages of guidance from the Treasury Department on how to lend the money in the $350 billion small-business relief program — and some banks haven't even decided whether they can participate on the opening day.

Many of these failures — see the Top 4 on this list — can be traced directly to the president, but the rest have so many other fingerprints on them.

How many of those failures were due to poor leadership at the very top? How many were systemic? A combination of the two?

Americans 40 years and older have seen this country’s government do big things — go to the moon, expand civil rights, end the Cold War, help build the internet, combat AIDS.

But if you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’ve mostly seen the government fail again and again.

And the government’s response to the coronavirus – just two months into the crisis — is the biggest failure of all.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

245,135: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 28,907 more than yesterday morning.)

5,916: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,082 more than yesterday morning).

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

701,000: That’s the number of jobs the U.S. economy lost in March, according to the Labor Department’s latest report.

3.5 million: The number of Americans who have likely lost employer-based health insurance, according to a study from the Economic Policy Institute.

75: The number of inmates at facilities run by the Bureau of Prisons who have tested positive for the virus

31: The number of pages of guidance that lenders received last night from the Treasury Department on how to administer small business aid, leading some to say they aren’t ready to start accepting applications

Nearly half: The number of states that currently lack funds to pay out unemployment claims.

About 13 percent: A guess at the current unemployment rate, according to one new estimate.

Another week and a half: How long it will take the first Americans to start receiving stimulus checks, which are now expected to start rolling out the week of April 13.

Democrats postpone their convention to August. What else will they change?

“The Democratic National Committee is postponing its summer convention in Milwaukee over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic,” per NBC News.

More: “The four-day convention, set to take place in Milwaukee beginning July 13, will now take place the week of August 17.”

Our question: What ELSE might Democratic convention planners change? Will there be an arena of packed delegates? Or will it be held virtually?

2020 Vision: Judge keeps Wisconsin’s election on track for April 7 — but with some changes

“A federal judge Thursday kept next week's presidential primary on track but allowed more time to count absentee ballots after excoriating Wisconsin officials for not doing more to protect voters during the coronavirus pandemic,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes.

“The ruling — which was immediately appealed — will allow absentee ballots to be counted if they arrive by April 13, six days after election day. U.S. District Judge William Conley also gave people until Friday to request absentee ballots and loosened a rule requiring absentee voters to get the signature of a witness.”

Ad watch from NBC’s Ben Kamisar

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines is up with a new ad playing up his role in the congressional coronavirus response, employing a strategy to similar other incumbents who are leaning on their official work to prove to their constituents that they deserve to stay in office.

But Daines has to contend with a dynamic that many incumbents facing reelection do not — his opponent, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, is at the helm of the state’s closely-watched response.

And while Bullock certainly faces political pressure to deliver (to say nothing about the more important issue of doing right by his state during a pivotal time), governors often see their favorability rating skyrocket during crises, as long as their constituents believe they’re responding well.

So with Daines’ campaign having already booked more than $100,000 in broadcast time through the end of the month, according to Advertising Analytics, Montanans may be seeing a lot more of that message —centered on Daines’ push for things like paid leave, financial relief and expanding testing — as the nation continues to confront the virus, and as Democrats have hit him on health care in their own ads.

Oversight this

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday the creation of a House Select Committee on the coronavirus crisis chaired by Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn. According to Pelosi, the panel will provide oversight on the coronavirus relief legislation and it will have subpoena.

“It would have subpoena power that’s for sure, it is no use having a committee unless you have subpoena power. We would hope that there would be cooperation because this is not an investigation of the administration – it is about the whole – there are things that are so new and the rest and we want to make sure there are not exploiters out there,” Pelosi said on Thursday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy responded to the committee creation saying that he thinks it isn’t the time to create new committees.

“I have a couple of concerns about this. One who she is naming: Clyburn is concerning to me because Congressman Clyburn is the one who thought this crisis was an opportune time to restructure government. That's not what we should be doing. We should be taking care of the American public keeping our economy strong and moving forward. The other concern that I have the standpoint is inside the bills that we passed we did put in oversight and this seems really redundant,” McCarthy said.

The Lid: What’s up, Wisconsin?

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we explained the big controversy over Wisconsin’s not-budging primary date.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Politico reports on how Bernie Sanders’ fortunes have been reversed in Wisconsin.

Jonathan Allen looks at how Joe Biden is avoiding a bombastic approach in attacking Trump during the crisis.

A Senate committee’s probe into Hunter Biden is still moving forward.

Problems with Florida’s unemployment system are making Republicans jittery about Trump’s ability to hold the state in November.

The New York Times talks to congressional candidates who don’t have health insurance.