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The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?
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The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?

Plus, Trump pulls the plug on WHO funding, and Justin Amash is still toying with a presidential run.

Happy Wednesday. We hope your freezer is as well-stocked as Nancy Pelosi’s.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Tuesday night, there are now 609,240 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (a 4.7 percent increase from yesterday) and 26,033 deaths (a 10.3 percent increase from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.3 percent (the true mortality rate is difficult to calculate due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 3,081,620 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States, 19.6 percent have come back positive, per the COVID Tracking Project, a separate dataset with slightly different topline numbers.

  • Barack Obama officially endorsed Joe Biden, his former vice president, on Tuesday. “Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times, and heal us through a long recovery,” Obama said in a 12-minute video. Bernie Sanders, in an interview with the Associated Press, said it would be “irresponsible” for his supporters not to vote for Biden.

  • President Trump announced the United States is placing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization due to the organization’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • After consulting with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he is extending the senate’s recess until May 4, in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

  • The Paycheck Protection Program—the small business loan program established in the CARES Act with the goal of preventing layoffs—is on pace to run out of funding in the coming days. As of Tuesday, $257 billion of the $350 billion appropriated has been doled out. The administration and congressional Republicans want to add $250 billion to the program, but Democrats are looking to tie additional provisions to any legislation.

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected the coronavirus will lead to the “worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” The report does include some good news: “Assuming the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and that policy actions taken around the world are effective in preventing widespread firm bankruptcies, extended job losses, and system-wide financial strains, we project global growth in 2021 to rebound to 5.8 percent.”

  • Donald Trump’s name will appear on the $1200 relief checks that will be sent to millions of Americans in the coming days. According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump privately suggested to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that the president sign the checks, a process that IRS officials have said will delay the distribution of funds by several days. Traditionally, government checks are signed by nonpartisan officials, so Trump’s name will appear in the memo line on the bottom left-hand side of the check, under the label “Economic Impact Payment.” A Treasury official denied that adding Trump’s name will slow the payment process.

Level-Setting: Where is the U.S. on the Coronavirus Curve?

Are we approaching the crest of our current coronavirus infection curve? The topline data suggests that we might be—both in the United States and around the world. After ramping up steadily for weeks, new U.S. cases seemingly hit their high water mark late last week: More than 35,000 were reported on April 11, with fewer every day since. What isn’t immediately clear is whether that figure means the rate of new infections is slowing substantially, or whether the U.S. is simply struggling to keep up the pace of tests. A graph like this is very tough to get a bead on:

We do know a few things for sure. Some of the biggest early crisis outbreaks, such as in New York, are definitely seeing a drop in new cases—although unfortunately not, as we discussed earlier this week, in the rate of deaths. “The worst is over,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. “We have controlled the spread.” If new pockets of the virus continue to spring up around the country, we may see the national narrative and response grow more disjointed, with some areas beginning to come up for air as others are only just starting to struggle.

Meanwhile, the drop in new cases worldwide is an encouraging trend—although of course epistemological testing questions are not limited to the United States. As in New York, the situations in Italy and Spain appear to be improving bit by bit, although neither country is yet out of the woods by any stretch.  

But passing the peak of new infections isn’t the only thing that needs to happen before the economy can begin to reopen again. In order to prevent cases from simply spiking back to hospital-overwhelming levels, our government will need to have a far more effective mass test-and-trace operation in place than it did back in February and March. Estimates on how much testing capacity we’ll need continue to vary wildly, from a million a week all the way up to 35 million a day—enough to test the entire U.S. population every two weeks.

“We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters Tuesday. “And we’re not there yet.” 

About That Wuhan Lab …

In the thick of the pandemic, we’ve had our hands too full keeping tabs on what’s happening every day to spend too much time going over the latest on what we know about the disease’s origin. But one Tuesday headline on that subject was tough to miss: a revelation from Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin that in 2018, U.S. science diplomats warned Washington that a Wuhan virology lab was “conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats… and their potential human transmission” without adequate safety and management precautions, which “represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” 

There remains no proof that the novel virus indeed escaped from a Chinese lab. But the frankly eerie report should serve as a reminder that the U.S. should still be looking into the possibility—which many in the media wrote off as a conspiracy theory just months ago. 

In a Fox News interview on February 17, Sen. Tom Cotton said that “we have to get to the bottom” of where the virus originated, and he brought up the Wuhan lab: “We don’t have evidence that the disease originated there, but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says.” For these and similar remarks, Cotton was widely pilloried, including by the Post itself, which said he was “repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked.” 

There was indeed a conspiracy theory involving the Wuhan lab going around at the time: that the novel virus was a bioweapon engineered and knowingly released by the Chinese government. This led some to treat all associations of the virus with the lab as unforgivable conspiracy-mongering, when there were legitimate questions to be asked about any possible role the lab might have had in loosing a pandemic on the world. Hopefully the arrival of this Post report will help to push back against that mistake. 

Trump Axes World Health Organization Funding

“The world depends on the WHO to work with countries to ensure that accurate information about international health threats is shared in a timely manner,” President Trump said during yesterday’s coronavirus task force briefing. “And if it’s not, to independently tell the world the truth about what is happening. The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable.”

Accountability, in this case, is financial. Trump announced the United States has halted all funding of the WHO while his administration conducts a review of the organization’s response to the coronavirus.

The president was highly critical of WHO’s relationship with the Chinese government. “The WHO willingly took China’s assurances … at face value,” he pointed out, “and defended the actions of the Chinese government, even praising China for its so-called transparency.”

And Trump was right. On January 28, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO said, “We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated.”

The only catch? Just six days prior, President Trump had been similarly glowing in his comments about the Chinese government:

President Trump remained complimentary of the Chinese government’s coronavirus response through February. Even as late as March 27, Trump was talking about his respect for the Chinese government:

When presented with these contradictions, Trump did not confront them, retreating instead to safe harbor. “Well, you know, if I’m so good to China, how come I was the only person, the only leader of a country, that closed our borders tightly against China?”

(For more, be sure to read Daniel Vaughan’s excellent piece—“How the U.S. Can Rein in the World Health Organization”—published last week.)

A Libertarian Moment?

Our own Declan Garvey has a piece on the website taking a look at Representative Justin Amash’s latest trial balloon in his years-long flirtation with running for president, and whether or not the Libertarian Party would welcome him were he to take the plunge. You can read the piece in full here.

As Declan put it: “What has transpired in the last three months could reasonably be described as a limited-government, Freedom Caucus-founding libertarian’s worst nightmare.”

At the president’s press conference on Monday, Trump said: “when somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total.” This prompted Amash to tweet: “Americans who believe in limited government deserve another option.” A libertarian activist replied, pleading, “Please be you.” Amash wrote back to her within an hour. “Thanks. I’m looking at it closely this week.”

Amash is still officially a candidate for reelection in Michigan’s 3rd congressional district, running as an independent after having left the GOP in frustration with the party’s direction under Trump.

So what’s next? 

Declan talked to folks at the Libertarian party and a few of its existing candidates. The current Libertarian frontrunner, as one example, sees Amash’s entering the fray as a no-lose situation for Libertarians. “If he were to win the nomination, there’d be nationwide publicity,” Jacob Hornberger said. “If I’m able to beat this guy for the nomination, then I think that’s necessarily going to generate a lot of publicity.”

Others weren’t as thrilled. Marcus Pulis—a spokesman for Adam Kokesh’s campaign—argued Amash entering the race now would be “disrespectful” to the party’s candidates, activists, and voters. “If Amash truly wants to get involved in the party, he should … join it now as a sitting congressman,” and “endorse and support the [Libertarian] POTUS nominee,” he added.

Although the party has been holding primaries and caucuses for months, delegates are not bound to any candidate. “In Libertarian world, everybody is free to vote their conscience,” Fishman explained. “I have no numbers to back this up, but if I were to make a guess, I would say 80 percent of the delegates going to [the national convention in] Austin go there with an open mind to see who they’re going to vote for.”

Or, not going to Austin. The Libertarian Party National Convention is scheduled for May 21, but Dan Fishman—the Libertarian party’s executive director—told The Dispatch that he’s “pretty sure that we’re going to not be allowed to have our convention in Austin” due to coronavirus lockdowns.

The Libertarian Party is on the ballot across the country, a major advantage for a candidate considering a third-party or independent bid for the presidency. But with the country turning to the government in the midst of the current crisis, and with Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee rather than an unapologetic socialist in Bernie Sanders, has the opening for a small-government candidate closed?

Is it too late for Amash to get in? “No, definitely not,” Fishman said.

Worth Your Time

  • Have you found yourself wondering in recent days: “Why did the world shut down for COVID-19, but not Ebola, SARS, or swine flu?” Good news: That’s the title and subject of this highly informative piece from FiveThirtyEight’s Kaleigh Rogers, which walks through how each of those bugs measured up to our current pandemic on two attributes: deadliness and transmissibility. The bottom line: “In each of these cases, the viral outbreak lacked one of the key components that COVID-19 has that has allowed it to tip over into a global pandemic. … All combined, the novel coronavirus has led to an outbreak that is unusually difficult to track and control. The seismic shift in our everyday lives is happening for a reason.” 

  • We’ve spent a lot of time in past newsletters discussing the effects of the coronavirus on religious practice in America. This New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Barber examines a particularly fascinating facet of that topic: what the pandemic has meant for hospital chaplains. 

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • The latest Remnant podcast finds Jonah joined by American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis. The pair discuss the economic and financial impact of coronavirus, but also Star Trek, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica.

  • Today is Wednesday, which means David pumped out another French Press (🔒) yesterday. This one digs through the sexual assault allegation facing Joe Biden and the media coverage of the allegation compared to others in our recent past. “Based on the available evidence, is this a case I’d feel comfortable taking to a jury?” Check out the full thing here to find out where David lands on the matter.

  • Did the media “minimize the risk” of the coronavirus early on? That’s what President Trump alleged in a video played at Monday’s Coronavirus Task Force press conference. Alec investigated the claim in the latest Dispatch Fact Check

  • We’ve written more than a few times about federalism and decentralization, but the topic just keeps coming up. On the site today, Timothy Sandefur writes, contrary to the president’s assertion that “the federal government has absolute power,” that “[c]onstitutional limits on federal authority aren’t erased during times of emergency.”

  • Also on the site today, Jonah takes a look back at Herbert Hoover and FDR, and wonders if we could stumble into socialism if we botch the reopening of the economy. He writes: “History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes, Mark Twain is said to have said. (You never know with Twain.)”

Let Us Know

Look, we get it: There’s a lot of depressing news out there, and we don’t like it any more than you do. In the interest of preserving our collective sanity, here’s a thought experiment: Are there any ways in which your 2020 has been better so far than your 2019? (For starters: Andrew’s appreciated having his wife working from home with him, and Declan just got a piano!) 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Alec Dent (@Alec_Dent), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Jonathan Newton/Washington Post/Getty Images.