Here's what else Trump and his administration have been doing as the coronavirus spreads

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: White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing
President Donald Trump , along with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, hold a briefing at the White House on March 19, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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

WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the nation, here are some of the other actions President Trump and his administration have taken in the past week — which all would have been bigger stories in a different news environment.

Team Trump is purging career national intelligence officials

“Russell E. Travers, a highly regarded intelligence professional with more than 40 years of government service, told colleagues he was fired [from his work at the National Counterterrorism Center] by acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell,” the Washington Post reported yesterday.

“Also removed at the NCTC was Travers’s acting deputy, Peter W. Hall, who is returning to the National Security Agency, the former officials said,” the Post adds.

Justice Department dismisses prosecution of Russian firms linked to 2016 interference

On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department “moved to dismiss the prosecution — on the eve of trial — of two Russian firms linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman known as ‘Putin's chef,’” per NBC’s Ken Dilianian, Pete Williams and Tom Winter.

“The case by former special counsel Robert Mueller accused the firms of sponsoring a vast campaign of social manipulation designed to sow chaos and boost then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.”

And: “The charges against 13 individual Russians named in the indictment will stand, Justice Department officials said, although none of them are in custody.”

Trump is “strongly considering” pardoning Michael Flynn

“So now it is reported that, after destroying his life & the life of his wonderful family (and many others also), the FBI, working in conjunction with the Justice Department, has “lost” the records of General Michael Flynn. How convenient. I am strongly considering a Full Pardon!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.

Ten years later, Obamacare as popular as it’s ever been

Here’s the final storyline from our most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: With the 10-year anniversary of Barack Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law taking place on Monday, Obamacare is as popular as it’s ever been, the poll finds.

Forty-two percent of all registered voters believe the law is a good idea, versus 35 percent who think it’s a bad idea; 23 percent don’t have an opinion.

That net rating between good idea and bad idea — plus-7 points — is as high as it’s been since the NBC News/WSJ poll began tracking this legislation more than 10 years ago. (It was an equal plus-7 in April 2009, well before the legislation passed Congress.)

Not surprisingly, attitudes about Obamacare are split along partisan lines in the poll.

Eighty percent of Democratic primary voters, as well as 72 percent of all registered voters who describe themselves as Democrats, say that the Affordable Care Act is a good idea.

That’s compared with 72 percent of Republican voters in the poll who say that it’s a bad idea.

Among independents, it’s 37 percent good idea, 23 percent bad idea, and 39 percent don’t have an opinion.

Looking to the future beyond the Affordable Care Act, the NBC News/WSJ poll also finds that a public insurance option is more popular (73 percent of all voters support it) than a “Medicare for All,” single-payer system is (43 percent).

Mitch McConnell, Senate GOPers go it alone

Senate Republicans released their plan yesterday for the third phase of coronavirus relief — without consulting Democrats.

NBC’s Hill team breaks down the direct cash payment plan Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced:

  • Households with income less than $75,000 would receive $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for couples filing jointly.
  • Incomes greater than $75,000 would receive a scaled down version from the $1,200
  • If an income is greater than $99,000, no payments would be made

In addition, there would be an added $500 per child in a household — and the income would be based on 2018 tax returns.

But Senate Democrats aren’t yet on board, and the White House wants to see a vote on the plan by Monday. One Democratic aide told NBC News that not discussing the plan with Democrats before releasing it was “no way to negotiate.” And in a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We are beginning to review Senator McConnell’s proposal and on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

13,015: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 5,073 more than yesterday morning.)

185: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 48 more than yesterday morning).

About 112,000: 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 30,000 more than yesterday morning.)

About 40 million: That’s the population of California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order asking residents to leave home only when necessary

$100 billion: That’s what hospitals want from the federal government as they brace for an influx of coronavirus cases.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Biden’s delegate lead over Sanders grows to 318

After additional pledged delegates were allocated from Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, here’s the current delegate race, per NBC News’ Decision Desk:

Biden: 1,142 pledged delegates, or 54 percent of all awarded so far

Sanders: 824 pledged delegates, or 39 percent

Biden’s lead of 318 pledged delegates is up three delegates from right after Tuesday’s primaries.

To reach the magic number of 1,991 pledged delegates for a majority, Biden must win 46 percent of the remaining pledged delegates.

Sanders needs 63 percent.

Meanwhile, speaking on “The View” yesterday, Elizabeth Warren said it was important to give “space” to Bernie Sanders to let him decide his next move — when the Massachusetts senator was asked why she hadn’t yet endorsed either Biden or Sanders.

“I think Bernie needs space to decide what he wants to do next, and he should be given the space to do that. Right now, I'm focused on what we're going to do next in this crisis around the coronavirus.”

Talking policy with Benjy

Ten years later, the Affordable Care Act's legacy still looms over the 2020 cycle. Joe Biden has argued the ACA provided a valuable framework that could be improved with some modest tweaks, a public option, and better benefits. Bernie Sanders has argued for eliminating the private insurance market almost entirely and replacing the system with Medicare for All.

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin caught up with one of the lead architects of the ACA, former Senator Max Baucus, and found him torn between these two impulses.

While Baucus called the law “a good start,” its struggles to insure everyone and hold down hospital and drug costs have led him to embrace single-payer health care as his preferred goal.

“I felt at the time we were not ready for single payer,” Baucus told Sarlin. “But down the road we’re going to move in that direction. Why? Because our current system, even under the legislation that passed, is still too inefficient. Too many dollars are being spent that don't provide health care."

But Baucus, who spent much of 2009 unsuccessfully trying to win GOP votes for the ACA as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is also convinced Democrats should start small — and even try to court Republicans again.

"Otherwise if you jam something down somebody's throat, it's not durable,” he said. "The other side will try to figure out how to submarine it or undermine it as they did with the ACA.”

This isn’t the most common view, exactly. The ACA vets still in the Senate who would write the next health care bill mostly think the big lesson today is that talking to Republicans is a waste of time. But Biden has also stressed the importance of continuing to work with the opposition party, at least in the abstract, and Baucus’ evolution is a dramatic example of the party’s ambivalence about where to go next.

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From NBC’s Ben Kamisar: It’s always good to find something stable when something (like a pandemic) uproots your way of life. One thing that appears to be stable in these times — a Republican candidate hugging President Trump tight to make it through a crowded primary.

Meet Jimmy Crumpacker, a seventh-generation Oregonian and energy investor running in the primary to replace the retiring Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

His new television spot plays off how his last name rhymes with “Trump backer,” making Crumpacker the “Gun packin’ Trump backer who’s gonna send ‘em packin’.” That last part is a reference to Crumpacker’s support for Trump’s border wall and stance on illegal immigration.

Crumpacker raised almost $600,000 last quarter, more than any other GOP primary candidate. He’s one of three candidates in that primary who are up on the air, the others being former state Sen. Jason Atkinson and Knute Buehler.

The Lid: Transformers

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how the coronavirus crisis may be transforming the bedrock philosophies of the political parties.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The New York Times asked 60 Democratic leaders whom Joe Biden should pick as his running mate.

A progressive think tank says that Stacey Abrams is the best choice.

Tulsi Gabbard is out of the 2020 race and has endorsed Joe Biden.

Kirsten Gillibrand also endorsed Biden.

Andrew Yang is back in the spotlight, with his new philanthropic group planning to give cash payments to needy families in the Bronx.

The disability community’s vote in 2020 looks like it’s up for grabs.

The DNC raised $12.8 million in February.

Connecticut is the latest state to postpone its primary

What is Nikki Haley up to — and how much are her recent moves all about 2024?