The White House chooses its own reality with freewheeling Trump briefings

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Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 7, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

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

WASHINGTON — There’s alternative facts, and then there’s President Trump’s alternative reality from the daily coronavirus briefings he’s been conducting for weeks now.

Just take the president’s own words from Tuesday’s briefing:

“We've performed 1.87 million tests to date. So that's 1 million, 870 thousand -- million tests. Think of that: 1,870,000 tests to date. And now we're performing them at a level that nobody has ever seen before."

In fact, that ranks the United States – with a population of 300 million-plus – at the bottom of per-capita coronavirus testing for nations, and the current number masks the lack of testing that existed in the country a month ago.

“They missed the call,” Trump said of the World Health Organization at yesterday’s briefing. “They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known. And they probably did know, so we'll be looking into that very carefully.”

In fact, as the New York Times writes, “the W.H.O. sounded the alarm in the earliest days of the crisis, declaring a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ a day before the United States secretary of health and human services announced the country’s own public health emergency and weeks before Mr. Trump declared a national emergency.”

And more from Trump yesterday: “We closed it down; had no choice. It was a good move. That was a good move. The early China move was a good move. The early Europe move was a good move. Made a lot of good moves. But closing it down was a big statement. It was a big, important thing.”

In fact, the day Trump’s administration announced its travel restrictions for China – it never closed it completely down – there were six confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. Now? There are more than 400,000 confirmed cases, which is more recorded ones than for any other country.

Trump’s briefings have allowed him to politicize the response to the outbreak – with Democratic governors, with the previous Obama administration, and now with the WHO.

But more than that, they’ve allowed him to create a different coronavirus reality – where the United States responded perfectly to the virus, while everyone else whiffed at it – when the facts don’t back that up.

“Everybody is amazed at the job we’re doing,” Trump said at Monday’s briefing. “And the public is starting to find out. They’re starting — you know, one of the reasons I do these news conferences — because if I didn’t, they would believe fake news. And we can’t let them believe fake news.”

In reality, however, disapproval with the federal government’s response is up – not down – in about the last week, per a newCNN/SSRS poll.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

400,081: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 31,428 more than yesterday morning.)

12,893: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,951 more than yesterday morning).

12,469: The number of U.S. deaths – over the span of one year – from the H1N1 flu from April 2009 to April 2010, per the CDC.

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

More than 2,500: The number of National Guard troops dispatched to aid at polling locations in Wisconsin yesterday.

Six days: The amount of time before results from Wisconsin’s election yesterday will be released.

More than 520,000: The number of Floridians who have applied for unemployment since March 15, as those trying to apply complain of a state processing website unequipped to handle the surge

55 percent: The share of Americans in a new CNN/SSRS poll who say the federal government is doing a poor job in response to the crisis, up eight points in two weeks.

Nearly a third: The share of apartment renters in the U.S. who have not paid any April rent yet, according to one new estimate

Watching the ballot access in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

After what happened in Wisconsin’s election yesterday, it’s become clear that how this country conducts its elections will be the biggest political fight outside of the general election.

And in particular, it might come all come down to ballot access in the three battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and the aforementioned Wisconsin.

The good news for Democrats, as they’ve howled at the GOP efforts to proceed yesterday with Wisconsin’s election, is that all three states have expanded absentee and mail voting in recent years.

Indeed, these three states back in 2016 were mostly Election Day-voting states.

Last October, Pennsylvania’s governor signed into law a measure that allows state voters to cast ballots by mail without needing an excuse.

In Michigan now, all registered voters can request an absentee ballot without providing a reason.

And in Wisconsin, despite all of the problems we saw yesterday, absentee voting was higher than ever before in the state.

Now none of these three state is Colorado or Washington state, which conduct their elections almost entirely by mail, but they’re also not the Election Day-only states they used to be, either.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: And now we wait a week to get Wisconsin’s election results

It was an unprecedented primary and election in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

The National Guard at polling sites. Poll workers wearing facemasks. Long lines of voters socially distancing (as best as possible) and wearing their own masks.

Also: no exit polls, no projections and no results until April 13.

As NBC's Gary Grumbach tweeted last night, “Polls are now closed across Wisconsin. We'll be getting results... in six days.”

Ad Watch from NBC’s Ben Kamisar

The lights are coming on in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, the blue district being vacated due to Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s bid for Senate.

Two Democratic candidates for the seat have launched new ads in recent days: John Blair and Teresa Leger Fernandez.

Leger Fernandez’s spot focuses on water rights, while Blair, the former deputy secretary of state in New Mexico, gives out his cell phone number in a spot of his own (something he can only hope goes better than when then-candidate Donald Trump gave out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number during a campaign event).

Barring any coronavirus-related changes, the candidates will face off in a crowded June 2 primary that also includes former CIA officer Valerie Plame and a handful of other candidates. Whoever emerges will have a big leg up in a district Trump lost in 2016 and one Luján has held easily over the past decade.

What both parties want in the next relief bill

Senate Democrats are setting their terms for Phase 4 of coronavirus relief. In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they are releasing a “pandemic premium pay,” or the “Heroes Fund” plan that they want included in the next legislation package. Per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, this plan includes:

  • up to $25,000 from the start of the public health emergency until the end of the year. Equates to up to $13 per hour.
  • will be for all frontline workers, not only healthcare, including grocery store workers, janitors, truck drivers, transit workers and more.
  • an essential worker recruitment incentive of $15,000 to attract and keep medical workforce only (no other frontline workers).
  • provide benefits to families of those who died working on frontlines.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, expect a funding increase for the small business Paycheck Protection Program in the next phase of legislation.

In a statement on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote, “I will work with [Treasury] Secretary Mnuchin and Leader Schumer and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday.” At the time of that letter, NBC’s Capitol Hill team reports, Schumer had not yet heard from McConnell on that proposal.

The Lid: Race to the bottom

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we delved into racial disparities in Covid-19 deaths in the places where we have data about them.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

The president now has a new chief of staff AND a new press secretary in the midst of the crisis.

The next front on the coronavirus war may be around health privacy.

The Trump administration is rolling back a lot of regulations — and not all of them have to do with coronavirus.

One of the men whose state prison sentence was commuted by ex-Gov. Matt Bevin has now been arrested on federal charges.

Biden’s super PAC is highlighting his plans to fight the pandemic.