On Politics: How Trump Fell Short on the Coronavirus

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  • On Politics: How Trump Fell Short on the Coronavirus

Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

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  • The United States has now recorded more deaths from the coronavirus than any other country: over 22,000 as of Sunday night. But according to a wide-ranging investigation into President Trump’s response that led our front page on Sunday, the White House spent weeks ignoring recommendations from its own health officials to more aggressively confront the virus, leaving the administration to play catch-up once it finally acknowledged the need for widespread action.

  • You may want to get used to hearing the name “Red Dawn,” because it’ll probably start coming up a lot. That is the self-conferred nickname of a group of public health experts who, starting in January, emailed back and forth as they tracked the virus’s global spread and sought to make the Trump administration aware of its threat. On Jan. 28, Dr. Carter Mecher, a senior medical adviser at the Veterans Affairs Department, emailed the group a dire warning: “The projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe.”

  • A day later, the country’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, penned a memo warning that the coronavirus could kill up to half a million Americans and cause trillions of dollars in economic losses. The president knew of the memo, despite his later denials; he chose not to immediately act on it. And in mid-February, the health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, unveiled a system to track the virus’s spread, but its rollout was delayed for weeks. When health officials finally decided to shift toward warning citizens about the virus’s dangers and encouraging people to radically adjust their behavior, the White House dragged its feet for weeks. During all of this, the virus continued to spread.

  • Joe Biden is turning toward the general election, where he will face new scrutiny of his past. One big new allegation: A former member of Biden’s Senate staff said last month that he sexually assaulted her in 1993. Our reporters dug into the accusation, speaking with the accuser, Tara Reade; nearly two dozen of Biden’s employees from that time period; and the seven women who along with Reade accused Biden last year of inappropriately kissing, hugging or touching them. Former Senate employees for Biden — including those Reade said she had complained to about his conduct — told The Times that they did not recall seeing or hearing about such an assault. And Biden’s team rejected the assault claim outright. “This absolutely did not happen,” a deputy campaign manager said. A friend of Reade’s confirmed that she had mentioned the episode in 1993, and another said Reade had talked years later about having had a traumatic experience while working for Biden.

The Democratic Socialists of America, an increasingly influential grass-roots group that backed both of Bernie Sanders’s presidential runs, will not be supporting Biden in November.

The group made the announcement in a tersely worded tweet on Sunday. It wasn’t exactly a surprise: The D.S.A. didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016 either, and it rarely backs candidates who do not explicitly support a democratic socialist agenda.

At close to 60,000, the D.S.A.’s national membership is considerable, but not nearly as large as more mainstream political organizations on the left like MoveOn.org or Emily’s List, which have millions of members. Still, it is seen as an increasingly potent force in American politics, particularly after helping elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress in 2018.

And even without endorsing a candidate in the general election, the D.S.A. has committed to keeping socialist ideas in circulation throughout the 2020 campaign. A statement on its home page reads: “Bernie Sanders launched a political revolution and D.S.A. continues to build it, training our chapters to effectively support democratic socialist candidates running for local and state office while lifting up our key issues.”

Matt Hill, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, declined to comment on the D.S.A.’s decision not to support the former vice president’s candidacy. But Hill pointed out that in recent weeks Biden adopted a range of left-leaning policies, including making public colleges and universities tuition-free for those with a family income under $125,000 and lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60.

“We feel we need the support of progressives to build the strongest possible coalition,” Hill said. “That’s why we’re engaging progressives, young Americans, climate and racial justice activists to help us win in November.”

One thing that could help Biden shore up support from more liberal voters would be an endorsement from Sanders, who ended his presidential campaign last week. He has said repeatedly that he considers Biden a friend but that they have significant disagreements on policy. And Sanders has not yet tipped his hand on an endorsement.

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