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Inside White House's frantic attempts to minimize crisis…


WASHINGTON – Minutes before President Donald Trump was preparing Wednesday to reassure a skittish nation about the coronavirus threat, he received a piece of crucial information: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified in California the first U.S. case of the illness not tied to foreign travel, a sign that the virus’ spread in the United States was likely to explode.

But when Trump took to the lectern for a news conference intended to bring transparency to the spiraling global crisis, he made no explicit mention of the California case and its implications – and falsely suggested the virus might soon be eradicated in the United States.

“And again, when you have 15 people – and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero – that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said.


Trump’s playing down of the California patient at his news conference underscores the administration’s slapdash and often misleading attempts to contain not just the virus, but also potential political damage from the outbreak – which has tanked financial markets, slowed global commerce and killed some 3,000 people worldwide, including the first U.S. death, announced Saturday.

Since Trump touched down from a two-day trip to India early Wednesday morning, the administration struggled to cope with the fallout from the crisis – shaking up and centralizing its coronavirus response team under the leadership of Vice President Mike Pence, floating plans to stabilize the markets and publicly seeking to minimize the threat posed by the potential pandemic.

Interviews with nearly two dozen administration officials, former White House aides, public health experts and lawmakers – many speaking on the condition of anonymity to share candid assessments and details – portray a White House scrambling to gain control of a rudderless response defined by bureaucratic infighting, confusion and misinformation.

“It’s complete chaos,” a senior administration official said. “Everyone is just trying to get a handle on what the [expletive] is going on.”

– – –

Four hours into Trump’s 18-hour trip back from India, Air Force One flew through a patch of turbulence so rough that the shaking of the plane roused some passengers from their slumber.

But Trump himself was not asleep.

Instead, aides said, the president spent the entire ride back to Washington awake, much of it watching cable television and talking with advisers and confidants about the story dominating news cycles around the world.


He grew frustrated as he watched the markets plummet and was particularly fixated on Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who in a briefing Tuesday warned that the virus’ spread to the United States was no longer a question of “if” but “exactly when this will happen.”

“We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” Messonnier said at the time.

By the time he landed at Joint Base Andrews, Trump was already furious over what he considered an alarmist response by his administration and also thought he was being treated unfairly by the media. He was eager to inject his own voice into the unfolding drama and scheduled the White House news conference for Wednesday evening.

When Trump stepped in front of the cameras, “he had not slept for a day-and-a-half, two-and-a-half” days, as acting White House chief Mick Mulvaney told a gathering of conservatives Friday morning. The president offered an account that was, by turns, misleading and sanguine.

“Well, I don’t think it’s inevitable,” Trump said, contradicting Messonnier and the health officials who spoke after him Wednesday. “It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared.”

– – –

As Trump was in the air, a problematic scene was also unfolding on Capitol Hill, where senators were returning from a weeklong Presidents’ Day recess to a private briefing with the top administration officials leading the coronavirus response.

The evening before, the administration had unveiled a $2.5 billion spending plan to combat the virus, and both at the closed-door briefing and in a subsequent open hearing with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a number of Republican senators voiced a variety of concerns. They fretted about the administration’s level of preparation to date, communication failures with Capitol Hill and, in the words of Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the “lowball” funding request.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah – a target of Trump’s ire for his vote to convict the president of an impeachment charge – was among those who stood in the private briefing to register objections.

“One, I’m very disappointed in the preparation that’s been done over the last few years anticipating the potential of an outbreak of substance,” Romney said in an interview later.

“We’ve had SARS, we’ve had MERS, Ebola,” Romney continued, rattling off previous global outbreaks. “We should have stockpiled the kind of protective gear that our medical professionals will need and our citizens will need, and we haven’t. And looking forward, the [spending] number that’s being suggested strikes me as being inadequate to the level of risk.”

At the White House, the focus quickly turned to overhauling the coronavirus team. “I’m going to be announcing – exactly right now – that I’m going to be putting our vice president, Mike Pence, in charge,” Trump said at his Wednesday news conference. “And Mike will be working with the professionals, doctors and everybody else that’s working. The team is brilliant.”

Trump did not, however, name a single “czar,” as some previous administrations have done during health emergencies. The president decided against that option after worrying that bringing in a person from outside the administration might be seen as a failure – and wondering whether such a person would be loyal to him, according to those familiar with the debate.

Azar, who had previously been in charge, found out about his de facto demotion just moments before Trump publicly announced it. But two senior administration officials said Azar found it empowering to have the vice president formally join the response.

“He’s not in control anymore, and that’s clear,” a senior HHS official said of Azar, who remains chairman of the administration’s coronavirus task force. “You need HHS at the table – he’s just not going to be the one guiding the administration through the response.”

The decision to tap Pence and streamline all communication through the vice president’s office was primarily driven by a potent combination of a lack of leadership and structure inside the White House, four senior officials said, as well as a faulty CDC coronavirus diagnostic test, botched and conflicting messaging from senior health officials, and Trump’s obsession with the falling financial markets, two senior administration officials said. Many HHS employees fretted that financial concerns, rather than public health considerations, were dictating the administration’s response, one of the officials added.

Some of Pence’s own advisers wondered whether having Pence in charge was a good idea, given the messy situation and a lack of experience in his office on the topic. But, ever loyal, the vice president accepted the role assigned by Trump.

Late Wednesday, at Pence’s request, Mulvaney sent out an email to administration staffers and Cabinet secretaries ordering that all communication about the virus be routed through the vice president’s office.

– – –

Even before the emergence of the first “community spread” cases of the new coronavirus – meaning the source of the infection is unknown and indicating that the virus is likely to be spreading – a trail of incidents offered warning signs of the challenges to come.

In mid-February, for example, the State Department overruled the CDC in bringing 14 cruise ship passengers back from Japan who tested positive for the virus on the same plane as noninfected passengers. Trump, who had been told that no healthy passengers should be on the plane with sick ones, was livid with Azar and other officials over not being informed of the change of plans.

Another failure in the U.S. response has been a faulty CDC coronavirus diagnostic test. The United States has tested far fewer people than other nations have, and the criteria for who gets tested remained exceedingly narrow until Thursday.

Personal animosities between Azar and senior members of the White House – including Mulvaney and Joe Grogan, the Director of the Domestic Policy Council – also complicated response efforts, several senior administration officials said. Several officials said those relationships have never recovered from past battles, while two others said Azar and Mulvaney have had their best working relationship in two years.

White House advisers, for instance, grew frustrated with Azar last weekend while they worked to hammer out the details of the supplemental budget request for the coronavirus response. Azar had advocated for far more than the $2.5 billion that was ultimately requested, about half of which is reallocated from existing funds.

But members of the Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Management and Budget initially did not want to appropriate additional money and grew angry with Azar’s request, according to four people familiar with the discussions, who added that Azar appeared to be in trouble after the talks. Two senior administration officials involved in the negotiations disagreed, however, saying there were no disagreements between the HHS and the White House. Azar told members of Congress the request had his complete support.

When Pence finally took over the response midweek, he hosted a Thursday meeting at the HHS that some officials said was intended to undermine Azar and make clear that Pence was now in charge; others described it as a show of support.

Pence announced additions to the task force and also appointed Debbie Birx – a State Department official who leads the government’s global response to HIV/AIDS – to serve as White House response coordinator for the virus. The decision to pick Birx, a doctor, was praised internally and externally.

The combination of Azar, Birx and Pence all in leadership roles, however, also prompted a new round of confusion among officials struggling to determine how the response would be run.

Ron Klain, who has served in several Democratic administrations and was the Ebola czar under President Barack Obama, said it was a positive step that the response was being moved to the White House. But he added that the Trump administration has been hampered by dismantling the pandemic preparedness unit in the White House in 2018 and by cuts to public health programs over the past several years.

“Everything we’re seeing in the response to date – the confusion about who’s in charge, the debate about how to bring the 14 people back from the cruise ship, questions about hospitals getting equipment and expertise they need – all these things would have a structure managing them and driving them and wouldn’t have to be going through this initial confusing, somewhat disoriented phase they’re going through now,” Klain said.

There were other setbacks, as well. First, news emerged Thursday of an HHS whistleblower complaint alleging that more than a dozen HHS employees were sent to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, without protective gear or adequate training.

Trump only added to the uncertainty. During a meeting with African-American leaders Thursday evening, the president offered a contradictory and ambiguous message about the virus.

“It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear,” Trump said. “And from our shores, we – you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”

– – –

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1,032 points on Monday and continued to bungee downward all week, including an 879 point drop Tuesday and a loss of 1,191 points Thursday. When the Dow closed Friday, it had fallen nearly 3,600 points – or 12 percent – over the course of the week.

For a president and campaign team that have long relied on a strong economy to help buoy Trump’s reelection prospects, the precipitous market plunge raised deep concerns.

Yet administration officials plowed forward with their previous schedules, modifying them only slightly as they tried to minimize the coronavirus threat.

Mulvaney spoke, as previously planned, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, where he assured the crowd, “We know how to handle this,” and accused the news media of overhyping the virus to “bring down the president.”

Pence, too, continued with a prior commitment Friday evening – a closed-door, high-dollar fundraiser in Sarasota, Florida, – while tacking on a brief coronavirus response meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, at the airport when he landed in the state.

And Trump held a long-standing campaign rally Friday in North Charleston, South Carolina, where he accused Democrats of “politicizing” the coronavirus.

“And this is their new hoax,” the president crowed from the stage.

As Trump was dismissing the virus as a serious threat, the infection continued spreading in the country. California officials Friday evening announced the state’s second case of coronavirus of unknown origin, and just hours later, a northwest Oregon resident tested positive for the virus.

By Saturday, officials in Washington state revealed the first U.S. death attributed to the virus – the person misidentified by Trump at a hastily called news conference as a “wonderful woman” in her 50s who had underlying health problems. Health officials later said that Trump had been misinformed and that the patient was a man.

And even as he announced new restrictions on travel involving Iran, South Korea and Italy, Trump continued to play down the risks – and brag about his administration’s response.

“Our country is prepared for any circumstance,” Trump said. “We hope it’s not going to be a major circumstance, it’ll be a smaller circumstance. But whatever the circumstances, we’re prepared.”

– – –

The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.



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French Urged to Stop Cheek-to-Cheek Kisses…


France announced Saturday that it is banning gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces and recommending that people stop greeting each other with kisses.

The announcement comes as the French government ramps up its efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus after the country reported 16 new cases.

A half-marathon in Paris that was scheduled for Sunday has been canceled and an annual agricultural fair will be closing early. Municipal elections scheduled for March 15 are expected to take place as planned.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran had previously recommended people avoid shaking hands to slow the spread of the virus. But now, he said he is also recommending people to also cut back on “la bise,” the custom in France and some others parts of Europe of giving greetings with kisses, or air kisses, on the cheeks.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country rose to 100, including at least 59 hospitalized patients, 12 recovered patients and two deaths. No new deaths have been reported as of Saturday afternoon, said Verán.

The Associated Press contributed.



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DEATH IN WASHINGTON STATE…


President Trump misidentified the nation’s first coronavirus fatality as a “wonderful woman” on Saturday — the victim, in fact, was a man who died in a Seattle-area hospital, officials said.

The patient, who died overnight Friday, was a man with “an underlying health condition,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, a public health officer for Seattle and King County, told reporters in an afternoon news conference.

In addition to the patient who died, Washington state is also dealing a potential coronavirus outbreak centered at nursing home, LifeCare Center, in Kirkland.

At least one patient there, a woman, and a health care worker have also tested positive for the coronavirus; some 50 patients associated with the center are suffering respiratory illnesses and are being tested.

“We’re in the beginning stages of our investigation” into a potential coronavirus outbreak at the nursing home, he said.



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Empty streets, economic turmoil as virus alters daily life…


TOKYO (AP) — The coronavirus claimed its first victim in the U.S. Saturday as the number of cases shot up in Iran, Italy and South Korea and the spreading outbreak continued to shake the global economy.

The virus altered daily life around the world as governments moved to combat the contagion. Islam’s holiest sites were closed to foreign pilgrims, while professional baseball teams played in deserted stadiums in Japan and officials in France advised residents to forgo customary greeting kisses.

The list of countries touched by the virus climbed to nearly 60, with Ireland and Ecuador among the countries reporting their first cases Saturday. More than 85,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus, with deaths topping 2,900.

A man in his 50s with underlying health conditions became the first coronavirus death on U.S. soil. Officials say they aren’t sure how the man in suburban Seattle acquired the virus, as he had not traveled to any affected areas.

“Additional cases in the United States are likely, but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover,” President Donald Trump said at a Saturday briefing, where officials announced heightened warnings about travel to certain regions of Italy and South Korea as well as a ban on travel to Iran.

Many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected are believed to show no symptoms at all. But that can allow for easier spread, and concern is mounting that prolonged quarantines, supply chain disruptions and a sharp reduction in tourism and business travel could weaken the global economy or even cause a recession.

South Korea, the second hardest hit country after China, reported 813 new cases Saturday — the highest daily jump since confirming its first patient in late January and raising its total to 3,150.

Italian authorities say the country now has more than 1,100 coronavirus cases, with 29 deaths so far.

Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for the virus as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, an official said. So far, the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes have killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran.

As governments scrambled to control the spread and businesses wrestled with interruptions, researchers working to better understand the disease reported that the death rate may be lower than initially feared as more mild cases are counted.

A study by Chinese researchers published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzing 1,099 patients at more than 500 hospitals throughout China calculated a death rate of 1.4%, substantially lower than earlier studies that focused on patients in Wuhan, where it started and has been most severe.

Assuming there are many more cases with no or very mild symptoms, “the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%,” U.S. health officials wrote in an editorial in the journal.

That would make the new virus more like a severe seasonal flu than a disease similar to its genetic cousins SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Evidence of the virus’ economic toll continued to mount Saturday, with a new report showing a sharp decline in Chinese manufacturing in February after efforts to contain the virus shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy.

The survey, coming as global stock markets fall sharply on fears that the virus will spread abroad, adds to mounting evidence of the vast cost of the disease that emerged in central China in December and its economic impact worldwide.

The monthly purchasing managers’ index issued by the Chinese statistics agency and an industry group fell to 35.7 from January’s 50 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate activity contracting.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a 270 billion yen ($2.5 billion) emergency economic package to help fight the virus. Abe said at a news conference that Japan is at critical juncture to determine whether the country can keep the outbreak under control ahead of the Tokyo summer Olympics.

Abe, whose announcement this past week of a plan to close all schools for more than a month through the end of the Japanese academic year sparked public criticism, said the emergency package includes financial support for parents and their employers affected by the closures.

“Frankly speaking, this battle cannot be won solely by the efforts of the government,” Abe said Saturday. “We cannot do it without understanding and cooperation from every one of you, including medical institutions, families, companies and local governments.”

Even in isolated, sanctions-hit North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger anti-virus efforts to guard against COVID-19, saying there will be “serious consequences” if the illness spreads to the country.

China has seen a slowdown in new infections and on Saturday morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths. The city at the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both. The ruling party is striving to restore public and business confidence and avert a deeper economic downturn and politically risky job losses after weeks of disruptions due to the viral outbreak.

In other areas caught up in the outbreak, eerie scenes met those who ventured outside.

Streets were deserted in the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where a state of emergency was issued until mid-March. Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and big events were canceled, including a concert series by the K-pop group BTS.

In France, the archbishop of Paris advised parish priests not to administer communion by placing the sacramental bread in worshippers’ mouths. Instead, priests were told to place the bread in their hands. The French government cancelled large indoor events.

Saudi Arabia closed off Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina to foreign pilgrims, disrupting travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Tourist arrivals in Thailand are down 50% compared with a year ago, and in Italy — which has the most reported cases of any country outside of Asia — hotel bookings are falling and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the specter of recession.

The head of the World Health Organization on Friday announced that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was “very high,” while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “window of opportunity” for containing the virus was narrowing.

Economists have forecast global growth will slip to 2.4% this year, the slowest since the Great Recession in 2009, and down from earlier expectations closer to 3%. For the United States, estimates are falling to as low as 1.7% growth this year, down from 2.3% in 2019.

Despite anxieties about a wider outbreak in the U.S., Trump has defended measures taken and lashed out at Democrats who have questioned his handling of the threat.

At a political rally Friday night in North Charleston, South Carolina, Trump asserted that Democratic complaints about his handling of the virus threat are “their new hoax,” echoing similar past complaints by the president about the Russia investigation and his impeachment.

Trump accused Democrats of “politicizing” the coronavirus threat and boasted about preventive steps he’s ordered in an attempt to keep the virus from spreading across the United States.

___

Klepper reported from Providence, R.I. Associated Press writers Joe McDonald in Beijing, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, John Leicester in Paris, Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington, Adam Geller, Joseph Pisani and Edith M. Lederer in New York, Hyung-jin Kim and Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Renata Brito and Giada Zampano in Venice, Italy, Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Paul Wiseman, Christopher Rugaber in Washington, Marilynn Marchione in Milwuakee and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.



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China officials knew of coronavirus, ordered cover-up…


Chinese scientists knew about the coronavirus and its deadly effects as early as December — but were ordered by government officials to suppress the evidence, according to a report.

In late December, several genomics companies tested samples from sick patients in Wuhan — the center of the coronavirus outbreak — and noticed alarming similarities between their illnesses and the 2002 SARS virus, the Sunday Times of London reported, citing Chinese business news site Caixin Global.

The researchers alerted Beijing of their findings — and on Jan. 3, received a gag order from China’s National Health Commission, with instructions to destroy the samples.

Rather than hunkering down to contain the virus, Wuhan officials went ahead with their annual potluck dinner for 40,000 families.

The alleged cover-up continued when representatives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited Wuhan Jan. 8, where officials intentionally withheld information that hospital workers had been infected by patients — a telltale sign of contagion.

News of the virus’ highly contagious nature didn’t surface publicly until Jan. 20. Wuhan was locked down and a mass quarantine ordered three days later.


NY Post photo composite



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TRUMP: DON'T PANIC…


WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to reassure the American public, President Donald Trump said Saturday there was “no reason to panic” as the new coronavirus claimed its first victim inside the U.S. The White House also announced new restrictions on international travel to prevent its spread.

Trump, speaking only moments after the death in Washington state was announced, took a more measured approach a day after he complained that the virus threat was being overblown and that his political enemies were perpetuating a “hoax.”

“This is very serious stuff,” he said, but still insisted the criticism of his administration’s handling of the virus outbreak was a hoax.

Trump appeared at a hastily called news conference in the White House briefing room with Vice President Mike Pence and top public health officials to announce that the U.S. was banning travel to Iran and urging Americans not to travel to regions of Italy and South Korea where the virus has been prevalent.

He said 22 people in the U.S. had been stricken by the new coronavirus, of whom one had died while four were deemed “very ill.” Additional cases were “likely,” he added.

Trump said he was considering additional restrictions, including closing the U.S. border with Mexico in response to the virus’ spread, but later added: “This is not a border that seems to be much of a problem right now.”

“We’re thinking about all borders,” he said.

Travel to Iran is already quite limited, though some families are allowed to travel there on a visa. It is one of the seven initial countries on Trump’s travel ban list, which means travel from Iran also is already severely restricted.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was “no evidence of link to travel” abroad in the case of the man who died. The patient was described as being in his late 50s and having a high health risk before contracting the virus. Redfield said the CDC mistakenly told Trump in an earlier briefing that the victim was a woman.

On Friday, health officials confirmed a third case of coronavirus in the U.S. in a person who hadn’t traveled internationally or had close contact with anyone who was known to have the virus. The U.S. has about 60 confirmed cases. Trump’s tally appeared to exclude cases of Americans repatriated from China or evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The Washington case was the first death in U.S. but not first American to die: A 60-year-old U.S. citizen died in Wuhan in early February.

Trump said healthy Americans should be able to recover if they contract the new virus, as he tried to reassure Americans and global markets spooked by the virus threat.

He encouraged Americans not to alter their daily routines, saying the country is “super prepared” for a wider outbreak, adding “there’s no reason to panic at all.”

He added he wasn’t altering his own routine either. “You’re talking about 22 people right now in this whole very vast country. I think we’ll be in very good shape.”

The president also said he would be meeting with pharmaceutical companies at the White House on Monday to discuss efforts to develop a vaccine to counter the virus.

Trump spoke a day after he had denounced criticism of his response to the threat as a “hoax” cooked up by his political enemies. Speaking at a rally in South Carolina he accused Democrats of “politicizing” the coronavirus threat and boasted about preventive steps he’s ordered in an attempt to keep the virus that originated in China from spreading across the United States. Those steps include barring entry by most foreign nationals who had recently visited China.

“They tried the impeachment hoax. … This is their new hoax,” Trump said of Democratic denunciations of his administration’s coronavirus response.

Trump said Saturday he was not trying to minimize the threat of the virus.

“Again, the hoax was used in respect to Democrats and what they were saying,” he said.

Some Democrats have said Trump should have acted sooner to bolster the U.S. response to the virus. Democratic and Republican lawmakers also have said his request for an additional $2.5 billion to defend against the virus isn’t enough. They’ve signaled they will provide substantially more funding.

Trump said Democrats want him to fail and argued that steps he’s taken so far have kept cases to a minimum and prevented virus deaths in the U.S.

On Saturday, Democratic challenger Joe Biden hit back, saying Trump’s use of the word “hoax” when discussing the virus was “absolutely dangerous.” Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg told NBC he was particularly disturbed to hear the word used because “our lives depend on the wisdom and the judgment of the president at a time like this.”

But Trump defended his language and emphasized he was not referring to the virus as a hoax, saying that his description referred to “the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody because we’ve done such a good job.”

As global markets plunged this week, Trump predicted they will come back, and encouraged the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.

“The markets will all come back,” he said. “I think the Fed has a very important role, especially psychological. If you look at it, the Fed has a massive impact.”

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This version corrects in 10th paragraph that “On Friday, health officials confirmed a third case of coronavirus in the U.S. in a person who hadn’t traveled internationally or had close contact with anyone who was known to have the virus.”

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Miller reported from Mountain Lake, Florida. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.



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SANDERS STALLS?


(Bloomberg) — Joe Biden, confident of a strong win in South Carolina’s primary Saturday, was already looking toward Super Tuesday, when he hopes a wave of support from black voters will help him stall Bernie Sanders’s momenturm.

“Today is a great day because full comeback starts in South Carolina and then comes here to North Carolina,” Biden said at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, a Super Tuesday state. “If North Carolina stands with us on Tuesday there’ll be no stopping us from becoming the nominee.”



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© Photographer: Sean Rayford/Getty Images
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Joe Biden talks with supporters at an event in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Feb. 28.

Photographer: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

North Carolina is the only Super Tuesday state in which Biden leads in polls with 25% support.

The former vice president enjoys a 12-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of polls in South Carolina, thanks to black voters, who comprise the majority of the state’s Democratic electorate.

That affection comes from the goodwill he built in his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. Some of Biden’s competitors have tried to cut into it by criticizing his vote for the 1994 crime bill, which has since been seen as overly harsh to African American suspects. Tom Steyer has also declared his support for reparations for descendants of slaves.

Dominant Force

But anything other than a commanding win will weaken him in the 14 states, plus American Samoa, where polls open just 60 hours after South Carolina’s close.

In every Super Tuesday state besides North Carolina, Biden is trailing and a new poll of voters in California suggests he may not even win any delegates there, the richest cache of delegates on Tuesday.

Earlier: Biden Needs Strong South Carolina Win to Keep Candidacy Alive

Biden and the other Democrats attempting to dethrone front-runner Sanders may be simply running out of time. There are no more debates before Tuesday, making a Saturday evening victory speech perhaps the last chance for Biden to make his case to a national audience.

A win for him in South Carolina could be the next episode in a Democratic contest that so far has been littered with a series of potential game-changing moments that ended up failing to alter the underlying dynamic.

Slow Counting

Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg won the Iowa caucuses, but problems with counting the results dulled the impact of his historic triumph. Both Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren drew renewed attention after strong debate performances that failed to translate into enough votes in New Hampshire and Nevada to make them top competitors. Michael Bloomberg isn’t even competing in South Carolina, but has spent a staggering $538 million of his own money to campaign in Super Tuesday states.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Overall, Sanders remains the front-runner, racking up delegates in Iowa, which he narrowly lost; New Hampshire, where he narrowly bested Buttigieg; and Nevada, where he beat Biden by a wide margin. He’s leading in western states like California and Colorado and northeastern states like Massachusetts and Maine on Super Tuesday, and he is ahead in national polls by double digits.

Earlier: Sanders, Bloomberg Draw Fire in Debate on Who Can Top Trump

After early losses, Biden has wagered his campaign on a strong showing in South Carolina that he argues will foretell wins in southern states with similar numbers of black voters on Super Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

“I’m optimistic about the whole process,” he said Saturday in Greenville.

At stake in South Carolina are 54 pledged delegates of the 1,991 needed to win the Democratic nomination. More importantly, perhaps, it offers any chance for momentum ahead of March 3.

He got some late-breaking good news, picking up the endorsement Wednesday of influential South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, a kingmaker in the state and the highest-ranking African-American in Congress.

Clyburn told CNN that a Biden win in his state would mark a time to retool his campaign. “I think we will have to sit down and get serious about how we retool this campaign,” he said. “Many of us around the country will be able to join with him and help him get it right.”

According to exit polls broadcast on CBS, Clyburn’s endorsement was called “the most important factor” by 24% of voters and “one of several important factors” by an additional 23%.

But the margin of victory will be crucial.

Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, said Biden would need to win by 10 percentage points or more to project the show of force necessary to revive his campaign and position him as the top challenger to Sanders in what remains a splintered field of candidates.

“Everybody’s jockeying to be the alternative to Bernie Sanders,” he said.

Read More: Buttigieg Executed His Strategy But He Still Isn’t Winning

But Theodore R. Johnson, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice who studies the effects of race on electoral politics, says Biden may not get as much of a boost out of South Carolina as some past Democratic candidates who did well with black voters, like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

He argued that was often because the field had typically narrowed much more dramatically by the time South Carolina voted.

“There probably won’t be one candidate that the black vote coalesces behind before Tuesday,” he said.

Biden’s road out of South Carolina comes with two big potential speed bumps. Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund manager, has spent his own money heavily there. And Bloomberg who has invested so heavily in Super Tuesday states.

Complicated Path

Both complicate Biden’s path, even as they’ve proven helpful foils for Sanders, who frequently criticizes the ultra-wealthy.

In South Carolina, Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar are polling well below the 15% threshold to win any of the 54 delegates, but plan to stay in the race in hopes of doing well in later states.

Addisu Demissie, a Democratic strategist who managed New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s failed presidential campaign, said that black voters will be more split during rest of the primary season, but he predicted they will come together behind the eventual nominee because of their opposition to President Donald Trump. But he said that Democrats still have work to do before November to keep them engaged.

“It only takes two or three out of a hundred black men to switch from Hillary to Trump or switch from Hillary to staying home to have a significant effect on the Electoral College,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ryan Teague Beckwith in Washington, D.C. at rbeckwith3@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Epstein in Charleston, South Carolina at jepstein32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Magan Crane

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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RESULTS




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Wall Street preps for possible shutdown…


The New York Stock Exchange trading floor. ( NYSE )

The New York Stock Exchange is preparing for the possible escalation of the novel coronavirus crisis that might include closing the trading floor in Lower Manhattan, according to Fox Business.

Should the outbreak of COVID-19 escalate into a global pandemic, as is expected, then markets and firms are concerned that traders and other employees might not be able to get to work.

“New York Stock Exchange is beginning to prepare for the possibility that the floor might not be able to open. It’s a mixture of both humans and an automated trading system, computerized trading system,” Charles Gasparino of Fox Business said on The Claman Countdown on Friday. “So they’re planning for a possibility that the… floor traders, the brokers, the designated market makers can’t make it in because they have to stay home.”

Gasparino, citing his sources, said the NYSE will have “some sort of a test run” in a few days. 

>MAP: CONFIRMED CORONAVIRUS CASES

Major Wall Street firms are also telling their employees to get ready for the situation to get worse. Those firms are already restricting travel to areas that are hit hard, such as China and other parts of Asia, Gasparino reported.

“‘Be prepared to work from home, test your systems out, make sure your computer works, make sure you can get into the company system to trade,'” Gasparino said firms are telling their workers.

Stocks sank again on Friday, leaving Wall Street with its worst week since October 2008. Investors appear to be worried that the coronavirus outbreak will derail the global economy.

>NEW YORK CITY ON HIGH ALERT FOR A CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

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DELEGATE COUNT


NBC News is tracking the number of delegates each candidate has won in the 2020 Democratic and Republican presidential races. Each party is governed by their own set of rules, but each state and territory offer a certain number of pledged delegates up for grabs based on the results of primary voting nights and caucuses. The Democratic nominee will be selected by delegates at the Democratic National Convention taking place July 13-16 in Milwaukee. To win the nomination on the first ballot, a Democratic candidate must receive support from a majority of pledged delegates — at least 1,991 of the total 3,979 pledged delegates.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is a shoo-in to garner the support of the majority of delegates necessary to win the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, on August 24-27.



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