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The 'total authority' president punts to state governors

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 answers questions about his administration's plans for "Opening Up America Again" during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, on April 16, 2020.Leah Millis / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Trump has moved from stating that he alone can fix it to telling America’s governors that they need to “call your own shots” when it comes to reopening their economies during the nation’s worst health crisis in 100 years.

That’s our top takeaway from Trump’s announcement Thursday on federal guidelines to reopen the country “that put the onus on governors of making decisions about their states' economies,” per NBC News.

It was all very passive and hands-off, especially for someone who was talking a big game earlier in the week (“When somebody’s the president of the U.S., the authority is total”).

“It puts everything — everything! — on the states,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who worked at USAID in the Obama administration.

“Doing all this requires huge federal action to scale up resources, operations, technical support,” Konyndyk added in his interview with NBC’s Benjy Sarlin. “Executing this plan requires PPE production to surge; testing supply bottlenecks to be resolve; massive financial support to strengthen hospital readiness; huge workforce and training requirements to scale contact tracing….and more.”

“The how of all of that is not addressed in the slightest — it’s all just put on the states. That’s nuts; there’s no getting those things done without federal leadership and action,” he continued.

Talk about Trump’s disaster distancing — first putting Vice President Pence in charge of the federal government’s response back in February, and now passing the buck to the states on reopening their economies.

And what’s especially missing from yesterday’s guidelines for is more testing capacity.

“Testing for the coronavirus would have to be at least doubled or tripled from its current levels to allow for even a partial reopening of America's economy, public health experts say, but it is unclear how soon such an ambitious goal could be reached amid persistent shortages of testing supplies and a lack of coordination from the Trump administration,” per NBC News.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

671,781: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 32,682 more than yesterday morning.)

34,580: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 2,331 more than yesterday morning).

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

5 to 7 million: The number of jobs that may be lost in the restaurant industry over the next three months, according to the National Restaurant Association

6.8 percent: The contraction in China’s economy in the first three months of the year

Just one: The number of Republican senators not invited to serve on the White House’s congressional task force to reopen the economy. The man left out: Trump critic Sen. Mitt Romney.

65 percent: The share of Americans who say President Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus’s spread was too slow, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

Talking policy with Benjy: What to do about America’s nursing homes

Any plan to get the nation up and running is going to need to include a way to protect nursing homes, where the coronavirus is tearing through facilities across the country with horrifying casualties, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes.

There are at least 5,670 reported deaths from the virus related to U.S. nursing homes as of Wednesday, according to an NBC News investigation. In New York state, an estimated 2.3 percent of all nursing home and assisted living residents have already died of the virus — not just residents with infections, all residents.

But as horrible as the current count is, it’s only a partial snapshot. NBC News's death toll includes data from just 29 states, and the federal government isn’t tracking the national total, leaving it to reporters to piece it together state by state.

Infections have been a longstanding problem at nursing homes, but the coronavirus has been especially deadly for older Americans and those with other health problems — the exact population that these facilities serve. In many cases, staff and administrators say they don’t have the testing or gear they need to protect patients and workers and effectively isolate the infected.

House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday calling on the White House to start tracking nursing home deaths in detail, in the hopes of giving affected families faster and more reliable information about outbreaks and equip public health officials and policymakers with more data to craft a targeted response.

2020 Vision: Biden talks about his transition team

At a virtual fundraiser on Thursday, Joe Biden announced that he and his team are starting to put together a transition team as he sets his sights past the general election, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor writes.

Biden also did not rule out announcing some cabinet members before possibly being elected president, just one piece that the transition team would be tasked with overseeing.

“I promise you that has already begun,” Biden said of his transition process. “Sounds presumptuous. I don’t want to say we started thinking about it a month ago, we did, because that sounds like I was certain this was going to happen — that I would be the nominee. I don’t want it to sound like that, but it has to happen and that’s why the transition team is already being put together.”

Ad watch

From Ben Kamisar: Today’s ad comes from the race for retiring Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander’s seat.

There, Bill Hagerty, Trump’s former ambassador to Japan, is running a new spot taking aim directly at China for the coronavirus crisis. It mirrors the drumbeat growing among congressional Republicans who are raising the temperature on China.

The spot is short, but it gets in two main points — that Hagerty will be tough on China, and that he has Trump’s endorsement.

And it is hitting the airwaves after Trump named Hagerty to the large advisory group that will weigh in on reopening states currently stuck under coronavirus-related restrictions.

PPP, yeah you know me

It seems unlikely that Democrats and Republicans will reach a deal on additional funds for small businesses before its next pro-forma session on Monday, per NBC’s Capitol Hill team.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s spokesman said on Thursday, “Schumer and Pelosi staff spoke with Secretary Mnuchin and Treasury staff again this afternoon. Talks are ongoing.” And while that may not sound too optimistic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he and his members would consider a plan they didn’t negotiate with Democrats, but one that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reached with Democrats.

And according to Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, President Trump told Republicans that he might be willing to add additional funds to the Paycheck Protection Program funding if this stalemate goes on much longer: “I was on a conference call with a number of Democrats and Republicans from the Congress this morning with the president, when Secretary Mnuchin told the president that we are now officially out of money for the paycheck protection program. I would hope as he said on that call the Democrats and Republicans can work together to find a solution here. And that may involve something in addition to just advancing the Paycheck Protection Plan, but that's the plan that's out of money,” Blunt said on Thursday.

The Lid: Going the distance

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what the public polling really says about Americans’ adherence to social distancing restrictions and their eagerness to get back to normal life.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The DNC host committee is laying off staff as the convention’s future is thrown into doubt.

Rep. Matt Gaetz is facing questions about the office space he rents from a campaign donor.

Bill Gates is a new target of right-wing conspiracy theories.

Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen will be released from prison early due to coronavirus concerns. (But Roger Stone has been denieda new trial.)