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For Trump, borders and walls couldn't stop the coronavirus

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: President Donald Trump listens at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on March 31, 2020.
President Donald Trump listens at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on March 31, 2020.Win McNamee / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — In assessing how the United States got here — more recorded coronavirus cases than any other nation, lower per-capita testing than in other countries, complaints about not enough ventilators and masks — it’s worth remembering how the Trump administration initially responded to the virus.

By treating it primarily as a border, travel and immigration matter rather than a health issue.

It was President Trump’s initial — and maybe most consequential — mistake. Here's a recap:

On Jan. 31, the Trump administration announced travel restrictions for China

“Foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States for this time,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced.

President Trump to Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Feb. 2: “We’ve pretty much shut it down, coming in from China”

"Well, we've pretty much shut it down, coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China. ... We’re offering 'em tremendous help," Trump said. "But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we're gonna see what happens."

Trump’s tweet on Feb. 26: We’re doing a “GREAT job”

“CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus, including the very early closing of our borders to certain areas of the world. It was opposed by the Dems, ‘too soon’, but turned out to be the correct decision,” Trump tweeted.

Trump on March 5: “I closed down the borders to China”

“One of the things I did is I closed down the borders to China and to other areas that are very badly affected and really having a lot of troubles — I mean, countries and areas of countries that have had a lot of problem,” Trump said at a town hall in Scranton, Pa. “And that’s why we have only, right now, 11 — it’s a lot of people, but it’s still 11 people — versus tremendous numbers of thousands of people that have died all over the world. We have 11. We have 149 cases, as of this moment. This morning, it was 129. And I just see — right now it’s about 149 cases. There are 100,000 cases all over the world.”

Trump’s address to the nation on March 11

“At the very start of the outbreak, we instituted sweeping travel restrictions on China and put in place the first federally mandated quarantine in over 50 years,” he said from the Oval Office. “And taking early intense action, we have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe… To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.”

Now health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci supported the administration’s travel restrictions.

But the problem with walls is that they don’t always work; invaders — and viruses — can always find a way in.

And the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, really never had a plan of what to do inside the United States once the coronavirus started to spread within its own borders.

Until it was already too late — with the administration now projecting that as many as 240,000 Americans could die from the virus, and that’s assuming current containment are followed almost perfectly.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

163,838: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 24,546 more than yesterday morning.)

3,893: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 890 more than yesterday morning).

Just over a million: 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 103,000 more than yesterday morning.)

More than 100: The number of sailors on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier who have tested positive, prompting the ship’s captain to plead for help.

3.3 million: That’s the number of Americans who are behind on child support checks and could see their stimulus checks revoked.

2020 Vision: Biden says it’s “hard to envision” Dem convention going on as planned

“Joe Biden said Tuesday night that he's not sure the Democratic National Convention will go on as planned in July because of the coronavirus outbreak,” NBC’s Rebecca Shabad writes.

“On MSNBC’s "11th Hour," host Brian Williams asked the leading Democratic presidential contender whether he envisions prominent party members from all 50 states packing into a hot arena in 104 days.”

“‘It's hard to envision that,’ Biden responded.”

Ad Watch

From NBC’s Ben Kamisar: Today’s ad watch isn’t about one ad, it’s about what the ad landscape has looked like since the coronavirus response ramped up.

Since March 16, the day President Trump announced the “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” Democratic-aligned groups have spent $16.2 million on the airwaves, while Republican-aligned groups spent $6.7 million over the same time.

Four of the five top spending groups since March 16 are aligned with the Democrats — Senate Majority PAC, Priorities USA Action, American Bridge 21st Century and Unite the Country. The only GOP group in the top five is One Nation.

Many of those ads on both sides are on the issue of health care, with some Democratic spots directly taking on Trump for his response to the pandemic.

But that partisan spending disparity is a big one, particularly with many Americans hyper focused on health issues.

You can read a further breakdown on the MTP Blog here.

Republicans work to rescind Kennedy Center funding

The bill passed, the bill was signed – and Phase 3 of coronavirus relief is law. But two congressional Republicans are arguing that part of the $2 trillion bill should be rescinded: funding for the Kennedy Center.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Wisconsin Rep. Bryan Steil are asking the White House to take away funding for the Kennedy Center that was apportioned in the law. Scott sent a letter to the Trump administration asking to rescind $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center among other arts-based allocations like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Peace Corps and the Department of Education’s Education Stabilization Fund.

Steil introduced a bill to rescind the Kennedy Center’s funding calling it “frivolous spending in the midst of a national emergency”. But what does President Trump think?

Last week Trump said he was “a fan” of that spending and, “The Kennedy Center, they do a beautiful job, an incredible job.” The center came under some fire on Tuesday for announcing it would furlough 60 percent of its full time administrative staff.

The Lid: Wait a minute, Mr. Postman

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we asked whether an all-mail election in November could really happen.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

How are Biden and Sanders doing as they try to make their cases to voters online? The reviews haven’t all been good.

After getting laid off unexpectedly, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign staffers are also getting hit with taxes on their laptops and phones.

The pandemic could put a damper on what was expected to be huge turnout in November.

The DOJ inspector general found that the FBI’s FISA applications have been riddled with errors.