THE CHALLENGE FOR WASHINGTON right now is multifaceted, sprawling and difficult for even the most seasoned hands to grasp: The coronavirus is spreading, there is no cure and no vaccine, there are not enough test kits yet available, the markets are reeling, and Congress itself — which is always tempted to legislate the country out of a jam — is at risk, because its members work in a building with a conveyor belt of guests.
THE HOUSE AND SENATE come back into session this evening with this backdrop, and the most senior lawmakers are beginning to consider how the institution might solve all these nettlesome problems.
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI will gather her committee chairs this evening to discuss what legislative remedies the House might take in the coming days and weeks to both stabilize the economy and help contain the coronavirus.
DEMOCRATS ARE CONSIDERING a whole menu of legislative options, including bolstering unemployment insurance, instituting paid sick leave and passing legislation to help stabilize industries directly affected by the disease. Aides and lawmakers said this morning they understand they need to move quickly.
STILL, MAJOR QUESTIONS LINGER. Will Congress need to pass legislation to stabilize specific industries, like the airline or cruise businesses? A Republican close to the president said this: “The underlying concern is more of a short-term consideration for the markets and economy. A short-term stabilization program for some transportation and travel components might be in order but has not reached the attention of Congress in any meaningful way.”
REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS said that whatever Congress passes must be the subject of bipartisan negotiations. Further, senior members of Congress and their aides said today they hope the White House lets Capitol Hill take the lead, and stays out of the negotiations.
CONGRESS HAS ALREADY instituted a set of procedures to help keep the Capitol itself safe. Bathrooms are being washed more frequently, for example, and have more hand sanitizer. Still, the building and the broader Capitol complex draw between 3 million and 5 million visitors each year. As of this morning, visitors were still moseying through the building.
FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS — many of them of advanced age — come into Washington each week, many of whom have traveled through busy airports and spent the weekend shaking hands in public places.
A FEW IDEAS ARE BEGINNING TO GAIN STEAM behind the scenes. Some insiders were mulling a plan to allow Congress to vote remotely if it needs to get out of town. Others said the institution is deep in planning to ensure Hill aides can telework.
MEANWHILE, AT THE WHITE HOUSE … PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, who is in Florida, tweeted: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
— ABOUT THAT MARKET CRASH: “Saudi Arabia and Russia are arguing over the price and flow of oil. That, and the Fake News, is the reason for the market drop!”
— TRUMP also shook hands with the crowd — and with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — after he landed in Orlando, according to pooler Rob Crilly of the Washington Examiner. Many officials, including VP MIKE PENCE, have opted for the elbow bump or other non-touching greetings in the wake of coronavirus.
WSJ’S @MichaelCBender: “‘The fundamentals in this economy are unbelievable.’ — HHS Secretary Azar to reporters just now at the White House. The Trump admin’s top health officials took no questions, said nothing about the health issues around coronavirus and spoke only about the economy.”
WAPO’S JEFF STEIN: “White House advisers on Monday plan to present President Trump with a list of policy changes they hope could stem the economic fallout of the coronavirus, including paid sick leave and emergency help for small businesses, according to a senior administration official. …
“The list of potential ideas includes deferring taxes on specific industries hit by the coronavirus downturn, such as the hospitality and travel industries, as well as a ‘cashflow injection’ for small businesses through the Small Business Administration.” WaPo
NEW CDC GUIDANCE, via Reuters: College and universities should consider asking study-abroad students to come home, and canceling or delaying students’ international travel programs.
RICK COTTON, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has tested positive.
YIKES — “Trump administration clashes with airline officials over coronavirus,” by CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Gregory Wallace, Manu Raju and Nicole Gaouette: “In a series of contentious conversations, agency officials and aviation executives have clashed over the administration’s demand that airlines collect new kinds of data from passengers to help officials track potential virus carriers.
“Airlines say they can’t meet that demand right away — a claim some administration officials say they don’t believe, according to several sources who tell CNN the calls have deteriorated so badly that agency officials have issued threats, spat expletives and accused airline executives of lying. It is an ‘epic battle,’ said one source familiar with the talks.
“On one call, an administration official pointed to potential fines if the airlines didn’t comply, according to two sources. … Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have even threatened recommending that the administration try to ground planes in the US if they can’t get the passenger data.” CNN
ICYMI — THE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE will hold a press briefing at 5:30 p.m. today.
Good Monday afternoon. IN SUNDAY’S PLAYBOOK, the top item reported that TRUMP would not attend the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch in the Capitol. We did not notice that the Irish Times had previously moved a story with that news.
HEADS UP — “U.S. begins troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, official says,” by AP’s Lolita Baldor: “American troops have begun leaving Afghanistan for the initial troop withdrawal required in the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, a U.S. official said on Monday, amid political chaos in Kabul that threatens the deal.
“Hundreds of troops are heading out of the country as previously planned, but they will not be replaced as the U.S. moves ahead with plans to cut the number of forces in the country from about 13,000 to 8,600, the official said.” AP
MORE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE — “Fed moves to stem investor panic over coronavirus, shield consumers,” by Victoria Guida: “The Fed and other regulators are expected to urge banks to work with people who have mortgages, credit card debt and other loans and are facing the prospect of missing days or weeks of work as the virus spreads and businesses take countermeasures. …
“The New York Fed also announced Monday morning that it is expanding the amount of cash that it’s injecting into a central piece of the financial system where banks and other firms get short-term funding. The goal is to avoid an unwanted spike in interest rates that could then feed through to the broader economy.” POLITICO
— AP: “North Korea flies out foreign diplomats amid virus fight,” by Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-Jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea: “A special North Korean flight believed to be carrying dozens of diplomats and other foreigners arrived in Russia’s Far East on Monday, as the North tightens a lockdown intended to fend off the coronavirus.
“North Korea has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness, but its state media have reported that thousands of people have been quarantined as part of strict prevention measures.” AP
DON’T LET A GOOD CRISIS GO TO WASTE … NANCY COOK: “In crisis, Trump team sees a chance to achieve long-sought goals”: “President Donald Trump and his team are talking up the opportunity to finally achieve stricter border security, wider tax cuts and reduced reliance on Chinese manufacturing amid the spread of the coronavirus throughout the U.S. Some officials see it as a narrow opening to offset the political damage from the coronavirus outbreak and deliver — or at least, talk about — some of the president’s longstanding promises. …
“Pushing favored policies in a crisis would put Trump in line with his predecessors. … [But] this strategy of using crisis as a moment of opportunity comes with political risk.” POLITICO
WIKILEAKS WATCH — “Jury in CIA leaks case fails to reach a verdict on most serious charges,” by WaPo’s Shayna Jacobs and Shane Harris in New York: “A jury in New York failed to reach a verdict Monday on whether a former CIA employee gave a huge cache of hacking tools to WikiLeaks, in what officials had called the biggest leak of classified information in the history of the intelligence agency. …
“Joshua Schulte, 31, had been accused of disclosing the hacking tools and also disclosing information to a reporter at The Washington Post while he was in jail awaiting trial. The jury did find Schulte guilty on two counts of making false statements to investigators and contempt of court. But the failure to reach a unanimous agreement on the most serious charges of disclosing classified information was a significant blow to the government’s case.” WaPo
ENDORSEMENT WATCH — “Cory Booker endorses Biden,” by Quint Forgey: “‘The answer to hatred & division is to reignite our spirit of common purpose,’ Booker wrote on Twitter. ‘@JoeBiden won’t only win – he’ll show there’s more that unites us than divides us. He’ll restore honor to the Oval Office and tackle our most pressing challenges. That’s why I’m proud to endorse Joe.’” POLITICO
— “Progressive group that endorsed Warren switches to Sanders: The Working Families Party’s endorsement comes days after Warren exited the race,” by Holly Otterbein
— “Former Bloomberg Backer Rep. Gregory Meeks Will Now Endorse Joe Biden,” by BuzzFeed’s Kadia Goba: “A source with knowledge of the situation said that the group of Congressional Black Caucus members who had previously backed Bloomberg would be announcing their support for Biden later Monday.” BuzzFeed
BIG FOR DEMS — “Bullock enters Montana Senate race,” by James Arkin: “The two-term governor — who was last elected in 2016 — was a major, if unlikely, recruiting target for Democrats. He launched his presidential campaign last May and dropped out of the race in December. Before and after his presidential run, Bullock insisted the Senate didn’t interest him. But Democrats continued to recruit him into the race ahead of Monday’s filing deadline.” POLITICO
MARC CAPUTO in Miami: “Democrats launch major Florida organizing effort”: “Organizing Together 2020, a battleground-state initiative, announced its leadership team and plans to put more than 100 paid staff on the ground in 30 of the state’s 67 counties. … Democrats familiar with the scope of the planned Florida operation say it could spend as much as $5 million.” POLITICO
THE COMING STORM … “Watchdog warns of election security issues this year and chides federal agency,” by WaPo’s Joe Davidson: “The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, was to have finalized plans by January to support states and localities with their election security operations. That did not happen, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. …
“According to the report, cybersecurity agency officials said they are unlikely to develop plans for election security assistance to political parties or come up with strategies for raising public awareness about foreign threats.” WaPo … The report
HAPPENING THIS WEEK — “2020 Census to Kick Off This Week,” by WSJ’s Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg: “Lawmakers and government watchdogs are worried that the new technology underpinning the online count isn’t ready. Last month the bureau switched to a backup system to manage households’ online responses that wasn’t tested extensively, according to the Government Accountability Office.
“The Census Bureau says it is fully prepared to start the count. On Thursday, the first of 112 million households will receive a letter asking them to respond online. It will include an individual code to use when entering responses at my2020census.gov. Another 31 million households that are deemed unlikely to answer online also will get a paper questionnaire in the mail, though everyone will have the option to answer online as well as by phone.” WSJ
TRANSITIONS — “Heritage Action Names ‘Peacetime’ Executive Director,” by RealClearPolitics’ Philip Wegmann: “Jessica Anderson will soon become the executive director of Heritage Action. … [She] returned to the organization after a stint at the White House Office and Management and Budget.” RCP … Announcement
— Meghan Graf is now press secretary for Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) reelection campaign. She previously was a senior associate VP at DDC Public Affairs and is a Mike Coffman alum. … Chris Brown will be VP for government affairs and ultra-low-cost carrier policy at the National Air Carrier Association. He previously has been assistant FAA administrator for government and industry affairs. … Matt Hirsch is now a partner at Vianovo in its Austin, Texas, office. He previously was deputy COS and comms director for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
DHS ARRIVAL LOUNGE — Dirk Vande Beek is now acting assistant secretary of public affairs at DHS. He most recently was director of public affairs at DOE and is a Halliburton, Coca-Cola and Dick Cheney alum.
BIG WEEKEND FOR ENGAGEMENTS! — Bobby Shields, a manager of science and technology policy at International Technology and Trade Associates, proposed to Olivia Hnat, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), on Saturday at the Wharf, where family and friends gathered at Kirwan’s for a surprise celebration. Pic … Another pic
— Matthew Swift, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Concordia, and Paulina Mejia, a diplomat at the Colombian Embassy, got engaged Saturday after seeing “Hamilton” in New York. They met while Swift was in Medellín, Colombia, for work, where mutual friends invited them both to dinner. Pic
— Mark McDonald, legislative liaison at the National Fraternal Order of Police, and Maggie Quinn, director of public relations at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, got engaged this weekend. They met during the 2018 campaign cycle in their home state of Pennsylvania. Pic
— Jesse Shapiro, director on POLITICO’s Audience Solutions Team, and Cindy Oh, who works in clinical operations at Boston Biomedical, got engaged this weekend in Central Park. They met during their last year at Brown University.
— Alex Attebery, deputy comms director for the House Appropriations GOP, and Lex Kenny, a client financial management analyst at Accenture Federal Services, got engaged Saturday. They were surrounded by Highland cows — her favorite animal — and their families at a bed and breakfast in Madison, Va. Pic with a cow … Another pic