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Wisconsin's election clash is a warning for November

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: A group with C.O.V.I.D., Citizens Outraged Voters in Danger, including, from left, Ron Rosenberry Chase and Jim O'Donnell, protest while wearing masks outside the State Capitol during a special session regarding the spring election in Madison, Wis
A group with C.O.V.I.D., Citizens Outraged Voters in Danger, including, from left, Ron Rosenberry Chase and Jim O'Donnell, protest while wearing masks outside the State Capitol during a special session regarding the spring election in Madison, Wis., Saturday, April 4, 2020.Amber Arnold / AP

WASHINGTON — What’s been playing out as Wisconsin moves ahead with its presidential primary and other elections this Tuesday could very well be a harbinger of what might happen in November in our new Coronavirus Era.

  • Voters who are discouraged or frightened about casting in-person ballots as they practice social distancing.
  • Democrats and Republicans at odds over making it easier to submit mail-in ballots.
  • Lawsuits and countersuits.
  • Confusing judicial rulings.
  • And uncertainty about the eventual turnout.

Here’s where things currently stand in Wisconsin: On Thursday, a federal judge refused to postpone the state’s elections but extended the deadline to submit absentee ballots to April 13.

On Friday, the same judge directed state election officials not to report any results until April 13.

Also on Friday, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, ordered a special session for the state legislature, calling on it to stop in-person voting and turn it completely into all-mail election.

On Saturday, the GOP-controlled legislature gaveled in and then gaveled out — taking no action.

And Republicans appealed extending the deadline for absentee ballots to April 13, but the 7th Circuit declined to stay the order.

It all creates an unprecedented situation in Wisconsin, arguably the most important 2020 battleground state.

“The National Guard will be at polling sites; the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, will only have a handful of voting locations; and in-person turnout on Tuesday could trickle to the single digits, though requested absentee ballots already total 60 percent of all votes cast in the high-turnout spring 2016 election,” the Wisconsin State Journal writes.

President Trump also has weighed in Wisconsin’s upcoming election, arguing against mail-in voting.

“It shouldn’t be mail-in voting. It should be: You go to a booth and you proudly display yourself. You don’t send it in the mail where people pick up — all sorts of bad things can happen,” the president said on Friday.

The rub: Trump, now a registered voter in Florida, requested a vote-by-mail ballot for Florida’s GOP primary last month.

“Denial and dysfunction”

On Friday, we wrote how the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak might be the biggest failure of the federal government in our lifetimes.

And over the weekend, the Washington Post put all of those failures into a 6,000-word narrative piece.

Some highlights from the article:

  • “[T]he United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.”
  • “The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.”
  • “The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.”
  • “And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.”
  • “The most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measures to contain them.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

337,898: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 92,763 more than Friday morning.)

9,626: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 3,710 more than Friday morning).

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

2 to 4 percent: How much European stocks are trading up this morning as investors seem hopeful that the virus is close to peaking in some key areas

More than 50 percent: The increase in the likelihood of an undetected virus outbreak in any county that has just a single reported case of coronavirus, according to one new study

About a third: The share of students in Los Angeles who aren’t logging in for their remote learning sessions

2020 Vision: Biden says Dem convention might need to be “virtual”

"Well, we're going to have to do a convention, may have to do a virtual convention," Biden told ABC News yesterday, per NBC News.

"I think we should be thinking about that right now. The idea of holding the convention is going to be necessary, but we may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place. That's very possible. Again, let's see where it is."

What Pelosi wants

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to her conference this weekend, saying she expects to bring Phase 4 relief legislation to the floor by the end of the month, NBC’s Capitol Hill team reports. But she, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio are hoping bailouts for airlines comes sooner.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin the top Democrats asked Mnuchin to quickly provide airline companies with direct payroll assistance to keep their employees on board rather than waiting for airlines to file for bankruptcy — a move that could lead to massive layoffs. The letter says, “Assistance must not come with unreasonable conditions that would force an employer to choose bankruptcy instead of providing payroll grants to its workers.”

Pelosi also gave bigger hints as to what she wants to see in the next relief package in a separate release on Friday. She wrote, “The acceleration of the coronavirus demands that we double down on the downpayment we made in CARES by passing a CARES 2 package. We must extend and expand this bipartisan legislation to meet the needs of the American people. It is imperative that we go bigger and further assisting small business, to go longer in unemployment benefits and provide additional resources to process UI claims and to give families additional direct payments. We must also provide the desperately needed resources for our hospitals, community health centers, health systems and health workers on the frontlines of this crisis.”

The Lid: Original sin

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we looked at how President Trump and his administration initially viewed the coronavirus as an immigration/border/travel issue – and not as a health matter.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The intelligence community inspector general fired by Trump is defending his handling of the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint.

Health insurers were prepped for the Trump administration to reopen Obamacare enrollment. The announcement never came.

Sahil Kapur writes that the coronavirus crisis highlights what was already a weakness for Trump — his lack of a health care reform plan.

The New York Times looks at how ideological lines are being scrambled by the response to the virus.

Politico notes that Trump is taking on a new chief of staff right at a time of crisis.