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Here's what happens when a president doesn't trust his bureaucracy

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.
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tour India
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Joint Base Andrews aboard Air Force One after returning from a two-day trip to India on Feb. 26, 2020.Al Drago / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — If you’re a president who mistrusts your agency leaders and career bureaucrats, and who believes they’re part of a “Deep State” out to get him, then you’re going to miss their warnings when they sound the alarm.

That’s the key takeaway from this weekend’s New York Times investigation into how President Trump failed to act on the warnings coming from inside his government about the deadly coronavirus — until it was too late.

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From the article: “Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.”

And: “Mr. Trump’s response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the ‘Deep State’ — the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives.”

And: “Mr. Trump was walking up the steps of Air Force One to head home from India on Feb. 25 when Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, publicly issued the blunt warning [members of the administration’s coronavirus taskforce] had all agreed was necessary. But Dr. Messonnier had jumped the gun. They had not told the president yet, much less gotten his consent.”

“On the 18-hour plane ride home, Mr. Trump fumed as he watched the stock market crash after Dr. Messonnier’s comments. Furious, he called Mr. Azar when he landed at around 6 a.m. on Feb. 26, raging that Dr. Messonnier had scared people unnecessarily.”

President Trump responded to the Times investigation last night, tweeting:

“The @nytimes story is a Fake, just like the ‘paper’ itself. I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban, long before most others wanted to do so. @SecAzar told me nothing until later, and Peter Navarro memo was same as Ban (see his statements). Fake News!”

But if Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was heading up the administration’s coronavirus task force back then, truly told the president “nothing until later,” isn’t that the biggest indictment of all?

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

557,329: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 89,856 more than Friday morning).

21,994: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 5,312 more than Friday morning).

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

Seven times more: The rate of positive tests for coronavirus among members of the Navajo Nation in Arizona compared to the rest of the state.

More than 2,200: The number (at least) of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes, according to an NBC News tally of available state data last week.

69 percent: The share of Americans in a new online USA Today/Ipsos poll who support a nationwide lockdown through the end of the month.

At least 41: The number of grocery workers who have died of coronavirus.

At least 16: The number of states that do not have all-mail voting where GOP officeholders are urging people to vote absentee.

May Day? Trump still wants to reopen the economy by May 1

“With his hoped-for Easter timeline having come and gone, President Donald Trump now appears more determined than he has ever been to open up the economy with a ‘big bang’ early next month, according to multiple people familiar with the decision-making process,” NBC’s Kristen Welker, Monica Alba, Carol E. Lee and Geoff Bennett report.

“As the U.S. leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, aides are cautioning the president about too quickly lifting national social distancing guidelines, now set to expire April 30. An internal debate continues about how best to reopen certain sections of the country at the end of the month, these people said.”

“‘I think we are all expecting or planning for May 1,’ said a senior administration official, cautioning that major new outbreaks in cities could change the thinking and that no final determination has been made.”

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Former staffer says Biden sexually assaulted her, which Biden camp denies

“A woman who briefly worked as an aide for former Vice President Joe Biden in the 1990s has expanded her claims that he harassed her to now include an instance of sexual assault, which Biden's campaign denies and says is untrue,” NBC’s Ali Vitali and Mike Memoli write.

“The woman, Tara Reade, first made the assault allegation public last month, saying in a podcast interview that Biden — then a veteran senator from Delaware and a powerful committee chairman — penetrated her with his fingers under her skirt when she brought him a gym bag in spring 1993. At the time, she was a staff assistant in his office on Capitol Hill.”

More: “NBC News has spoken with Reade multiple times since she came forward with the assault allegation on March 25 and has also spoken with five people with whom Reade said she shared varying degrees of detail over time. Three of those people said on the record that they do not recall any such conversation with Reade.”

“A fourth person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Reade told her about the alleged assault at the time. That person, who asked that her name be withheld by NBC News for fear of negatively affecting her business, said she remembers Reade's telling her that she spoke with superiors in Biden's office about harassment but not the assault.”

“A fifth person, who also spoke with NBC News anonymously, recalled that Reade told her in the mid-2000s that Biden had been inappropriate and touched her when she worked in his office but that she didn't detail the alleged assault.”

No deal

Despite reported positive talks between congressional Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Republicans are saying no deal to Democrats’ alternative proposal on additional coronavirus relief — the Senate Republican proposal to just add additional money for small businesses failed last week.

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio spoke with Mnuchin, and Pelosi sent out a release saying they would proceed with talks with Republicans on a “bipartisan basis” after the phone call with Mnuchin. Pelosi and DeFazio also said that Democrats would only support a package that included additional funds for hospitals and state and local governments.

But on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said they would renew their call for the $250 billion in additional funds for PPP before passing other legislation — they went as far to call the Democrats’ proposals a “threat.”

This morning, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement, maintaining their position that money for hospitals, states and food stamps as well as a carve out for small, women and minority businesses in the PPP must be included in the bill for $250 bn in SBA PPP program slated to run out of funds as early as this week, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

The Lid: To the left, to the left

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we looked at how Joe Biden has moving to the left on policy proposals since essentially wrapping up the Dem nomination.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joe Biden gained eight delegates from his victory in the Alaska primary.

Oil-producing countries have agreed to the largest cut in production ever negotiated.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks to the New York Times about her message for Joe Biden.

Once again, Andrew Cuomo says he’s not running for any other office.