HOUSE REPUBLICANS needed but one thing today to push them to vote for a package negotiated by Speaker NANCY PELOSI and Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN: a high sign from President DONALD TRUMP.
BUT, AS OF NOW -- meaning the publishing of Playbook PM -- the president had not given any public indication that he was in favor of the bill his administration negotiated to combat the coronavirus, and so this relatively targeted bill remained stalled in the House. CAVEAT: This can all change, and at a moment’s notice. Follow us on Twitter and go to POLITICO.com for up-to-date info.
THERE WAS SOME INDICATION this afternoon that TRUMP was trying to insert the payroll tax cut into this package, multiple sources told us. Democratic leaders have said the tax cut will not be in this bill, as members of both parties have stated their opposition.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY made a last-minute visit to the White House late this morning to speak to the president.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: HOUSE DEMOCRATS CAN PASS THIS BILL without TRUMP. But if it passes out of the House without significant GOP support, it would likely stall in the Republican-held Senate. In other words, Washington will be back to square one. Markets might not like that.
THIS SITUATION COULD BE INSTRUCTIVE for many reasons, as Washington begins to try to legislate solutions for the public health crisis and the American economy. FIRST, it’s clear House Republicans are not going to be in favor of anything, no matter how critical, without TRUMP’S public support. That could prove to be an issue, since TRUMP has tended to take positions only to abandon them moments later.
SECOND, Republican opposition to the bill would represent a blow to MNUCHIN, who negotiated the package over two days with Pelosi. MNUCHIN was seen by Democrats as an honest broker. (PELOSI and MNUCHIN have spoken five times today, once at 12:28 p.m.)
THIRD: If this relatively small-bore bill can’t get through the House on a bipartisan basis, it raises serious questions about whether Congress can pass the much more sweeping legislation most lawmakers think will be needed later on -- large-scale interventions to help rescue industries, states and municipalities if the disease continues to spread quickly and widely.
WHAT YOU NEED TO WATCH … WILL PELOSI move this bill to the floor without GOP support? Will she wait until TRUMP’S news conference, which is at 3 p.m.?
NEW: IN PLAYBOOK this morning, we reflected the belief of several lawmakers that insurers may need federal assistance after the cancelation of large-scale events nationwide. The INSURERS now tell us that the industry is financially solvent and has a surplus of more than $822 billion in the U.S. and $2 trillion globally. ALSO: Standard event cancellation insurance policies don’t include coverage for communicable diseases like COVID-19.
“While consumers typically have the option to purchase broader coverage through special endorsements, that exposure only represents a small fraction of insurers’ surplus,” said David Sampson, head of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, in a statement. The group’s members include The Hartford, Travelers and Progressive. “Industry solvency will only be at risk if insurers are forced to pay claims not covered by current contracts.”
ZACH MONTELLARO: “Louisiana postpones presidential primary due to coronavirus”: “Louisiana will postpone its presidential primary, which was originally scheduled for April 4, as part of the state government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced the contest will be delayed until June 20. Louisiana is the first state in the nation to postpone a primary since the outbreak of the virus.”
FYI: BERNIE SANDERS will deliver a coronavirus address at 2 p.m.
Happy Friday afternoon. SPOTTED: Mick Mulvaney at the Whole Foods on P Street on Thursday night. Pic … AG Bill Barr getting drinks with senior aides Stephen Boyd, Will Levi and Kerri Kupec at the Trump Hotel on Thursday.
NOT ENOUGH CRISES FOR YA? -- “U.S. boosts forces in Middle East as Iran situation reignites,” by Lara Seligman: “[T]he U.S. military will continue to operate two aircraft carrier strike groups in the region, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Harry S. Truman, Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon Friday. This is the first period of extended dual U.S. carrier operations in the Middle East since 2012 …
“In addition, the U.S. is moving Patriot missile defense systems, which are designed to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles of the type used by Iran, into Iraq. They may be joined by more weapon systems for countering rockets, artillery and mortars, known as C-RAM.” POLITICO
AS WE WROTE IN PLAYBOOK … MICHAEL STRATFORD: “Trump administration mulling temporary suspension of student loan payments, Mnuchin says”: “Asked during an interview on CNBC about a three-month suspension in student loan payments, [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin said ‘that’s on our list of 50 different items we’re bringing to the president for a decision.’ ‘That’ll be something we’re looking at,’ Mnuchin added.
“‘We have lots of authorities,’ Mnuchin said, adding that on ‘things where we don’t have authorities, we’re going to work with both the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis. I can assure you the president is all about action, action, action.’ It's unclear if the Trump administration could take the action or if it would require legislation in Congress. How soon relief arrives would depend on when such a policy is implemented or when it would begin.” POLITICO
WILD STORY … ANITA KUMAR: “A Facebook group gets an assignment: Help Jared Kushner combat coronavirus”: “Just before midnight Wednesday, a doctor asked a group of fellow emergency room physicians on Facebook how they would combat the escalating coronavirus outbreak. ‘I have direct channel to person now in charge at White House,’ Kurt Kloss wrote in his post.
“The next morning, after hundreds of doctors responded, Kloss explained why he sought the suggestions: Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had asked him for recommendations. Kloss, whose daughter is married to Kushner’s brother, sent Kushner 12 recommendations Thursday morning.
“The Facebook crowd-sourcing exercise showed how Trump’s team is scrambling for solutions to confront the outbreak after weeks of criticism for the administration's sluggish response, a shortage of tests and the president’s own rhetoric downplaying the pandemic. ... The Facebook group, EM Docs, has nearly 22,000 members around the globe who are required to provide their credentials to join. The posts about Kushner’s request have been removed but a member shared pictures of them with POLITICO.” POLITICO
MORE CORONAVIRUS FALLOUT -- “Brazilian media reports Bolsonaro tested positive for coronavirus,” by Caitlin Oprysko and Quint Forgey: “Brazilian media reported on Friday that President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus in an initial test, less than a week after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, though Bolsonaro's son quickly denied the diagnosis.
“Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper Jornal O Dia reported that Bolsonaro’s initial test for the virus has come back positive, but authorities are awaiting the results of a second test Friday to confirm the diagnosis.” POLITICO
-- NYT: “The Worst-Case Estimate for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths,” by Sheri Fink: “Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and epidemic experts from universities around the world conferred last month about what might happen if the new coronavirus gained a foothold in the United States. …
“Between 160 million and 214 million people in the U.S. could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to one projection. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.
“And, the calculations based on the C.D.C.’s scenarios suggested, 2.4 million to 21 million people in the U.S. could require hospitalization, potentially crushing the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds. Fewer than a tenth of those are for people who are critically ill.” NYT
NEIGHBORS TO THE NORTH … LAUREN GARDNER: “Canadian government to suspend Parliament”
NEWS YOU SHOULD USE -- “Why Soap Works: At the molecular level, soap breaks things apart. At the level of society, it helps hold everything together,” by NYT’s Ferris Jabr
THE COMING NIGHTMARE … GARRETT GRAFF: “What Happens When Coronavirus Hits Congress?”: “If even just half of the Congress’ 535 representatives get COVID-19 in the months ahead—and if its infection profile follows the rough outline medical experts are seeing globally, where 80 percent of cases are relatively mild and just 20 percent of patients face serious cases, Congress might see more than 50 serious cases requiring hospitalization. …
“Dating back to the beginning of the Cold War, Congress has always been woefully disengaged in thinking about its own mortality and planning for its own survival. … There are two catastrophic scenarios for Congress: The death of a large number of members and the incapacitation of a large number of members. Each comes with massively different outcomes in terms of its impact on legislative business and massively different outcomes for democracy.” POLITICO Magazine
THE LATEST PARTISAN ISSUE -- “Afraid of Coronavirus? That Might Say Something About Your Politics,” by NYT’s Giovanni Russonello: “Polls show that many voters still don’t see the virus as a serious threat. How much it worries you depends heavily on your personal politics — to a degree that’s not typical for a national crisis.
“In a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, roughly six in 10 Republican voters nationwide said they were not especially concerned that the coronavirus would disrupt their lives. Two-thirds of Democratic voters said the opposite. All together, a slight majority of Americans expressed serious concern. And Democratic voters were about twice as likely as Republicans to worry that they or someone they knew could catch the virus, the poll found. Sixty-three percent of Republican voters said they were relatively unconcerned.” NYT … The poll
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR -- “White House holding up DoD nomination amid Trump loyalty purge,” by Lara Seligman: “Kathryn Wheelbarger, who has been serving as acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs since November 2018, would become the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence if the nomination moves forward. …
“But the White House is not satisfied that Wheelbarger is sufficiently loyal to the administration, the three current and former officials said. The people pointed to Wheelbarger’s two years spent working for the late Sen. John McCain, who feuded publicly with Trump before his death in 2019, as the root of the current tension.”
HMM … PROPUBLICA’S MIKE SPIES and JAKE PEARSON: “The RNC Gave Big Contracts to Companies Linked to Its Chairwoman’s Husband and Political Backers”: “The Republican National Committee has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to contractors closely connected to the organization’s chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel. One contract went to her husband’s insurance company.
“Two others went to businesses whose executives recently donated to Ronna for Chair, a largely inactive political action committee that McDaniel controls. She had set it up in 2015, when she successfully ran for chair of the Republican Party in Michigan, her home state. The companies won the contracts soon after McDaniel became the party’s top official. …
“An RNC spokesman, Mike Reed, did not make McDaniel available for an interview. In a statement, he said ProPublica’s reporting was an attempt to make ‘innocuous RNC spending items seem scandalous,’ and he accused ProPublica of harboring ‘a severe bias against conservatives and President Trump.’” ProPublica
OH NO XI DIDN’T -- “The U.S. is now investigating Chinese telecom giant ZTE for alleged bribery,” by NBC’s Gretchen Morgenson and Tom Winter: “The new investigation, which has not been reported previously, centers on possible bribes ZTE paid to foreign officials to gain advantages in its worldwide operations.
“The fresh scrutiny on ZTE comes just after the end of the corporate probation period agreed to under the March 2017 [sanctions violation] plea agreement it struck with the Justice Department.” NBC
WHERE’D YOU GO, AOC -- “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Refused To Campaign More For Bernie Sanders,” by HuffPost’s Daniel Marans: “After the Iowa caucuses, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir asked Ocasio-Cortez to stump for Sanders in New Hampshire, according to the sources. The campaign prepared a model schedule to highlight the kind of popular support she would expect if she attended, one of the people familiar with the talks said. Ocasio-Cortez resisted the entreaties until a few days before the primary on Feb. 12. …
“The absence of the popular progressive lawmaker on the trail in the weeks that followed was even more notable. In nearly a month that passed from Feb. 11 until March 8 ― two days before the Michigan primary ― Ocasio-Cortez declined multiple invitations from Sanders’ campaign to speak on his behalf in Nevada, South Carolina and the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday, the three people told HuffPost. … Ocasio-Cortez’s apparent decision to avoid stumping for Sanders stands out precisely because of her intense work on his behalf in the fall and early winter.” HuffPost
FOR YOUR RADAR -- “Two FAA Officials Are Key Witnesses in Criminal Probe of Ex-Boeing Pilot,” by WSJ’s Dave Michaels, Andy Pasztor and Andrew Tangel: “Federal authorities are seeking to build a criminal case against a former Boeing Co. pilot based on statements from U.S. air-safety regulators who say he failed to provide them crucial details about the 737 MAX jet’s flight-control system, according to people familiar with the matter.
“A pair of Federal Aviation Administration officials who dealt with Boeing pilot Mark Forkner on pilot-training requirements for the FAA’s approval process years before dual crashes of the MAX are now considered key witnesses in the investigation … It suggests Justice Department prosecutors and federal investigators are seeking to center a fraud case on claims that Mr. Forkner misled regulators about how a flight-control feature known as MCAS worked.” WSJ
TV TONIGHT -- Bob Costa sits down with WBUR’s Kimberly Atkins, WaPo’s Toluse Olorunnipa, USA Today’s Susan Page and NBC’s Heidi Przybyla at 8 p.m. on PBS’ “Washington Week.”
TRANSITION -- Vanessa Valdivia is now comms director for Sen. Gary Peters’ (D-Mich.) reelection campaign. She most recently worked on the Nevada Democratic caucus and for Cory Booker’s presidential campaign.
ENGAGED -- John Martin, head of government affairs for CRISPR Therapeutics and a Scott Gottlieb and Tom Cotton alum, and Margaret Coulter, senior health policy adviser for the Senate HELP Republicans, got engaged Thursday at the Capitol. They celebrated with friends at The Monocle. Pic … Another pic
WELCOME TO THE WORLD -- Kian Hudson, deputy solicitor general of Indiana, and Alexandra Hudson, a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow writing a book on civility and American civic renewal and a Trump Education Department alum, on Thursday welcomed Percival James Alexander Hudson. Instapics
BONUS BIRTHDAYS: Karim Bardeesy, executive director of the Ryerson University Leadership Lab … James Pittman, deputy D.C. attorney general