Coronavirus Complicates Primary Voting : Politics Podcast President Trump gave a briefing on the coronavirus this afternoon in which he acknowledged that the coronavirus could cause disruptions for several more months. The stock market dropped more than 10 percent Monday.

Also, four states are scheduled to hold primaries tomorrow: Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Illinois. But concerns about the spread of the coronavirus have made the prospect of in-person voting more complicated.

This episode: campaign correspondent Asma Khalid, White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
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Trump: Avoid Gatherings Of More Than 10 People To Limit Contagion

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Trump: Avoid Gatherings Of More Than 10 People To Limit Contagion

Trump: Avoid Gatherings Of More Than 10 People To Limit Contagion

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JAMES HANNA: Hello, NPR listeners. This is James Hanna (ph), official clock winder of St. Leonard's Church in Bridgnorth, England, keeping the clock ticking and ringing out best wishes to all our friends in the U.S. in these tricky times. Now, according to this clock, this podcast was recorded at...



4:52 p.m. on Monday, March 16.

HANNA: Things might have changed by the time you hear this.


HANNA: OK. Here's the show.


AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Oh, that's nice.


KHALID: Well, thank you so much for thinking of all of us. We are certainly thinking of everyone in Europe and the U.K. as well.

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I'm covering the presidential campaign.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KHALID: So President Trump just concluded another press conference about the government's response to the coronavirus. And this time, he had a somber tone as he made a number of new recommendations. You know, as Mara, you've said, he was no longer minimizing the issue. And he - in fact, he acknowledged that this crisis could last through the summer.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It seems to me that if we do a really good job, we'll not only hold the death down to a level that is much lower than the other way had we not done a good job, but people are talking about July, August, something like that.

LIASSON: That was the most stunning thing about this briefing. There was no, we've got this under control. He, of course, talked about how great a job the government was doing. He gave himself a 10 on his own handling of it. But to hear the president of the United States say what we have heard health experts say - but it's really different when it comes from the leader of your nation - that it could last till July and August - he even acknowledged that there could be a recession.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the U.S. economy heading into a recession?

TRUMP: Well, it may be. We're not thinking terms of recession. We're thinking in terms of the virus. Once we stop - I think there's a tremendous pent-up demand, both in terms of the stock market and in terms of the economy. And once this goes away, once it goes through and we're done with it, I think you're going to see a tremendous surge.

LIASSON: That was really something.

KHALID: So I want to focus on the recommendations that President Trump highlighted today because there were a number of new recommendations. One specifically said that folks should not gather in groups of more than 10 people. That is significantly less than the 50 people guideline that the Centers for Disease Control was recommending just over the weekend.

RASCOE: So they're saying no more than 10 people even in your own home. I mean, this is really much more strict than what we were hearing, as you said, even yesterday. And what they were saying at this press conference is that they were doing this based on modeling and things that they were seeing when they were trying to project out what might happen and that they felt like these next 15 days were critical to get this under control. And so there is a call for extreme action.

LIASSON: Yeah, and I think that was the most stunning one of these recommendations. It sounds like what the president is doing, what the White House is doing, is really catching up to the states. The states have already started to shut down schools, to put prohibitions on large gatherings. But here you have the White House being even stricter in its guidance on how big the gathering should be. Also, we heard from administration officials today saying, if you're sick, you should stay home. We've heard that before. But they also are saying if you're sick, everyone in your family should stay home, too.

So these are very strict. I think that they communicate a sense of incredible urgency and severity, as if we are about to see an incredible explosion not just in the number of cases because testing will start, but also in the pressures put on the health care system and the number of people going to hospitals and needing equipment that we don't have in these hospitals.

KHALID: Do we have a sense of clarity of why these guidelines shifted so dramatically in such a short amount of time?

RASCOE: Dr. Deborah Birx, who is kind of acting as a point person on this issue for the coronavirus task force for the federal government - she's an expert in this and has worked in these matters of infectious diseases in the past. And what she said was, looking at the modeling, they saw that when they looked at other countries that have been through this, that one of the things that could make a difference was if a person comes up sick, then if their whole family, their whole household is also quarantined with them, that that makes a huge difference. And what they were saying was all these concerns about having enough ventilators, having enough hospital beds - that they're hoping that if they can get this under control now, then those things won't be an issue.

LIASSON: Yeah. And you know, we've been told by health experts that we are maybe a week or two behind Italy, behind France, Germany, the U.K. But having the president and his task force communicate this with this kind of urgency - really, you know, ringing the alarm bells - was stunning. And I have to assume that that contributed to the big market drop today.

KHALID: And we'll talk about that in just a couple of minutes. But I want to highlight another point that the administration emphasized today, and that is that the role that people under the age of 40 have in mitigating the spread of this virus.


TRUMP: It's important for the young and healthy people to understand that while they may experience milder symptoms, they can easily spread this virus. And they will spread it indeed, putting countless others in harm's way. We especially worry about our senior citizens.

RASCOE: And this is important 'cause we've all seen those pictures of people out at bars and people out hanging out. And a lot of people, if they're younger and healthier, seem to have been thinking, I'm fine. I'll be fine if I go out. But they seem to be trying to drive home this point that it's not just about you. You have to try to help, you know, the older people in your life or the people who might have immune systems that are compromised. And Dr. Birx talked about the millennials being the ones that could really get this fixed.


DEBORAH BIRX: They are the core group that will stop this virus. They are the group that communicates successfully, independent of picking up a phone. They intuitively know how to contact each others without being in large social gatherings. We're asking all of them to hold their gatherings to under 10 people not just in bars and restaurants, but in homes. We really want people to be separated at this time.

LIASSON: And you know what? What was so interesting today is what they're trying to communicate is that this is a moment when we need solidarity. In other words, we're not staying home and washing our hands to protect ourselves only. We're doing all these things to give doctors and nurses and the health system a fighting chance to save our parents and grandparents. That's what public health is about.

It's kind of hard for people to grasp this. In other words, what's so bad about going out on St. Patrick's Day and having a drink in a crowded bar? But that's what the administration is finally trying to communicate - that we're doing this to try to flatten the curve to give a little breathing room to our health system, which will not be able to handle all the people who get sick all at once. We're trying to slow down the rate of spread.

KHALID: All right. Let's take a quick break. And when we get back, we'll talk about how the coronavirus is affecting the volatility in the economy.

And we're back. And over the weekend, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to nearly zero. And then, you know, just today, we saw the president adopt a sort of serious, somber tone in discussing this virus. Yet still, we saw stocks plunge. They had the largest point drop ever. And so there are financial consequences. And this is a president who has been so focused on the market and the market being an indicator of the health of - of how well he's doing as a president. Did he talk about that a bit?

RASCOE: He acknowledged that there could be a recession. He did seem to say that if there was a recession, that's not on him. But he said that the best thing that he can do for the markets is to get this virus under control. And that was a message that he did come back to over and over again - that if he can get this under control, then the markets will do much better.

LIASSON: Well, he talked about pent-up demand when all this is over. But what's so interesting is when the Federal Reserve cut rates to zero - to 0.25, he said, the markets are going to like this. Well, the markets didn't like it. They either didn't think it was enough or didn't think it was relevant. And the markets didn't like what they heard today either.

RASCOE: And we do have to say that Trump had been calling for the Fed to take action and really kind of blaming them for not doing enough. Now the Fed has acted, so that takes them off of this table when it comes to blame. They have acted. So now President Trump has to act.

LIASSON: Well, it's not even that they've acted. There's nothing more for them to do. (Laughter) I mean, we're at zero.

RASCOE: Yeah. Yeah.

KHALID: And there is a question, though, about where will the overall health of the economy be if you have a number of states saying restaurants should be shut down. You know, people aren't traveling on airplanes. There is a point where, really, the economy is fundamentally just slower, and that's going to be affected in the stock market.

LIASSON: Slower or even stopped in its tracks. And it really doesn't matter if you can borrow money at 0.25% if your restaurant is shut down, if nobody's going out of their homes. It's a demand problem, not a supply problem. The problem is nobody is able to engage in any commerce. Who cares how - what the price of money is?

RASCOE: And it's a problem that happy talk cannot fix.

KHALID: Also, a quick update in the world of presidential primaries. Four states are scheduled to vote tomorrow. That's Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. But we should point out that the governor of Ohio has recommended postponing in-person voting for tomorrow's election until June 2. That's due to health concerns about the coronavirus. He does not have the final word, though, and this is a very quickly moving story. So we still don't know what's happening.

LIASSON: No, we don't. Huge impacts on the primary campaigns - no rallies, no in-person campaigning. It's changed the whole context of the campaign. It's being waged against a public health crisis. So the messaging of the candidates is adjusting. And we have no way of knowing how the economic problems and the virus problems are going to affect the outcome of this race. We assume that voters will judge the candidates and the president on how well they handle this.

KHALID: All right. Well, we are going to leave it there, and we're expecting to be back in your feeds tomorrow night with a podcast about the primary results. But as you all know, the news is moving incredibly quickly, so we will be back whenever there is news you need to know about.

I'm Asma Khalid. I'm covering the presidential campaign.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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