Update (1831ET): Asked whether the Trump campaign would cancel its infamous campaign rallies due to the outbreak, Pence said the campaign would ‘make the right decision,’ but refused to commit to cancellations. Asked when the public would see the details of the plan, Pence called on Kudlow, who essentially blathered on about the soft spots in the economy before asserting that “we know the economy is strong.”
Essentially, what he described was removing the payroll tax for employers (roughly 12%+), which would blow out an already deficit-bloated budget deficit. It’s a “bold move, but this has always been a bold president.”
With the entire yield curve below 1.00%, there’s reason to believe Trump has room to be ‘bold’ on this.
“This will be the broad package, and at some point in the near future, we will outline a more detailed package for you.”
And it doesn’t matter anyway, because “over time, we will make it up with more economic growth.”
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Update (1825ET): Larry Kudlow added that the administration is “consulting” with the House and the Senate about the payroll tax holiday, stoking suspicions that a Republican-backed plan that stands a realistic chance of making it through both houses of Congress remains far, far away.
Overall, the market was less than impressed with the presser, with futures tumbling.
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Update (1815ET): In what was an unbelievably deft execution by VP Mike Pence, the administration didn’t reveal many new details about president Trump’s economic plan, but it did promise that local and medium sized businesses would be enabled to give workers paid leave to ensure that sick people don’t come to work, and also that insurers had agreed to shoulder all coronavirus costs for those they cover, including those on Medicare and Medicaid plans.
Pence began with an update on testing, claiming that testing is now available at all state labs, and by the end of this week there will be more than 4 million more tests made available at jurisdictions around the country. In a major coup that should help the administration greatly accelerate testing, Pence announced that LabCorp and Quest are in the process now of distributing and marketing coronavirus tests all across America, increasing the likelihood that those with private insurance will be able to access tests via their doctors.
Then Pence moved on to the biggest issues in voters’ minds in a way that should assuage their fears: Pence made clear that the administration had made several “public-private partnerships” with insurers and cruise companies to help lower risk and fight the outbreak.
The top insurers have agreed to waive all copays, all covered treatment, no surprise billing and encourage telemedicine. It was a year ago that medicaid expanded to pay for telemedicine, so for seniors who are at risk they can get medical advice without going to the doctor or ER, Pence said.
The administration is sticking with payroll tax relief for businesses because in the president’s heart, Pence said the administration wants to make sure hourly workers who may not have family leave today that small and medium sized businesses will be afforded the resources to provide paid leave so that nobody feels pressured to go to work if they have the coronavirus.
Comprehensive proposals from the cruise line industry include advanced screening, medical evacuation at the expense of the cruise lines for anyone who might be infected. The administration will be reviewing the plan over the next 24 hours. The president’s objective, Pence said, is to make the cruise lines safer even as we work with them to make sure that no one in our vulnerable poulation goes out on a cruise.
Moving on, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC’s point man on the virus, said that the biggest challenge for the administration – and the country – going forward – would be to “flatten” the infection curve of the virus by slowing its natural spread. The public can help accomplish this in a number of ways.
First of all, it must recognize that we are not where we were a couple of months ago. While the risk remains low in most parts of the country, there are certain areas – and you know where they are, he said – where risks are higher, and people need to take precautions.
“There are parts of the country where they’re having community spread,” Fauci said. “And we can’t do the kinds of things we did a few months ago.” He insisted that people avoid crowds and large events, especially if they’re in a high risk community.
Fauci also confirmed that there are 712 cases confirmed in the US as of this morning, and 27 deaths. Those numbers would likely be higher by the tonight he said and – lo and behold – Washington State confirmed 2 more deaths in the middle of the press conference.
Later in the conference, Larry Kudlow offered a short confirmation that yes, Trump is insisting on moving forward with the payroll tax holiday, despite mixed feelings among legislators. Trump would like a “strong” tax holiday lasting through the end of the year.
Finally, Dr. Jerry Adams, the surgeon general, stressed that people need to follow protocols and begin ‘social distancing’ and other such recommendations.
It was still going as of 6:05 pm ET, as Kudlow stressed that the administration could use “executive authority” to help unpaid sick people, medium and small businesses, and other tasks.
“We know the economy is strong, we also know there are going to be challenges ahead.”
Kudlow added that middle-class people have seen the biggest benefits under Trump, according to economic data, and that would continue to be true with the Trump economic plan.
During the Q&A session, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the administration had “millions of tests out there now” given all the public and private labs that have brought testing online. Soon there will be a surplus of 4 million tests he said, likely by the end of the week.
However, as Azar said, stories about people complaining about not being tested often relied on what Azar described as a “false premise.” In every clinical situation, a patient isn’t tested for a virus or any condition unless a physician deems it necessary. Just because you go to your doctor and say you want to get tested, doesn’t mean you will get a test. Some stories have complained about patients being turned away despite having a cough without clarifying just how mild that is on the symptom list.
Pence and Dr. Debbie Birx, another task force member, insisted that the cooperation between states and the federal government had been notably smooth, as the two sides engaged in a “dialogue” to figure out who is in need of what, suggesting that Pence is bringing all the powers of his organizational prowess to bear.
Earlier it was reported that the administration considered closing off travel from Italy and South Korea, but ultimately decided on lesser measures. Pence said that the administration is doing what it feels is in the best interest of the country.
Azar also thanked the city of Oakland for help in resolving the political hot potato that is the ‘Grand Princess’, a cruise ship full of potentially infected passengers and crew. As of noon PT ~450 have been unlaoded, 170 Californians are at Travis airbase, dozens of Canadians have been repatriated, and the administration’s goal is to get the Cali citizens back in the custody of the state, and the UK residents back to the UK.
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Update (1729ET): Barely more than a minute after our last update, Javers reported that they’re setting up the Vice Presidential seal at the podium in the press room, indicating that Trump will not be joining the task force this evening.
And… now they’re setting up the vice presidential seal and flag. Good indicator we are NOT about to hear from POTUS. Aides caution he could always come in late, though, so stand by. pic.twitter.com/rX5JjYkdQ5
— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) March 10, 2020
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Update (1727ET): Eamon Javers just tweeted that nobody is sure whether President Trump is coming to the press conference tonight.
That was basically the impression we had. Trump did promise to release the details of the plan ‘tonight’. But if there aren’t any details to release…well.
GIven his showman instincts, a surprise appearance isn’t out of the question.
As of right now, aides will not say whether or not President Trump will be coming to the 5:30 press briefing to unveil his economic plan. POTUS said last night that he would have a news conference today to announce major and dramatic economic plans. That has not happened yet.
— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) March 10, 2020
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Last night, as the White House scrambled think of something, anything that they could say that might calm anxious markets (and increasingly anxious workers and business owners), President Trump dropped in on the task force’s press briefing (VP Pence, the task force’s nominal head, was supposed to lead) and told reporters that the administration was planning a stimulus package aimed at helping Americans cope with the economic fallout from the outbreak.
Trump has already signed an $8.3 billion stimulus package into law, but that money’s been earmarked to help the CDC and states fight the outbreak via testing and accomplish urgent priorities like rapidly expanding bed capacity to handle the soon to be overwhelming numbers of patients with life-threatening pneumonia who will be flooding emergency rooms – at least, that’s according to the most dire predictions of states and the CDC.
Now, he needs to convince markets that the administration is going to come through with the fiscal stimulus that every analyst, economist and armchair trader with a twitter account believes is necessary to save the US economy – if not the whole global economy – from sliding into a brutal recession.
With markets finishing in the green on Tuesday, the sense of urgency has slackened somewhat. Still, reporters are claiming that there is no plan, and that Trump essentially pulled the payroll tax cut idea out of his ass, failing to run it by his staff and senior administration officials, as well as the Congressional Republican leadership.
But since President Trump promised earlier to unveil the ‘details’ of his plan tonight, it appears he will be joining the task force to lay out the broad strokes of a ‘plan’ that’s reportedly nowhere near finished.
Will Trump start a war with fellow Republicans at a time of urgent national crisis, with his electoral future on the line? Hopefully, for his sake, his advisors have made clear just how important it is to convey to the public that this is a serious problem that Trump and his administration are meeting with serious solutions.
During a tweet sent a few hours ago, Trump praised the task force, and notably omitted any reference to the media conspiracy he alleges is being orchestrated to blame him for the outbreak.
The press conference is set to begin at 5:30, but like most Trump Administration press briefings, we suspect it will be late. Will Trump and the White House task force manage to restore confidence in the market and stop today’s rally from being just a dead cat bounce?
You’ll have to watch to find out: