The coronavirus outbreak is hitting the presidential campaigns hard, forcing the cancellation of rallies and campaign events, and forcing a Sunday debate between Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE to play out before a nearly empty arena.
The outbreak is canceling sporting events, closing schools and sending workers home, and it may also pose a challenge to the signature rallies of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE. The president postponed some scheduled campaign appearances on Wednesday after insisting he would continue to hold rallies as he seeks to project confidence in his administration’s handling of the virus.
Trump on Wednesday night announced he was restricting travel to the U.S. from most of Europe in his most dramatic move yet to seek to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
The cancellations, emergency declarations and quickly rising number of coronavirus cases in the United States have put a cloud of uncertainty over most aspects of public life, and it’s unclear how long the disruption will last.
While fewer than three-dozen people have died of coronavirus in the United States, the number of cases has risen above 1,000. Elderly people are in serious danger from the virus, and the cancellation of events and other social distancing tools are designed to prevent it from spreading.
Biden, after canceling a rally in Ohio on Tuesday night, is opting to hold “virtual events” in Chicago on Friday and in Miami on Monday in an effort to avoid large crowds.
Trump’s campaign on Wednesday postponed a “Catholics for Trump” coalition launch event in Milwaukee slated for next week that had been announced just a day prior. The campaign has not scheduled any rallies in the near future. Vice President Pence told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that any decisions to suspend campaign activities would be made “literally on a day-to-day basis” but left the matter up to campaign officials.
On Wednesday, the White House announced that Trump would cancel events scheduled for this weekend in Colorado and Nevada “out of an abundance of caution” due to the coronavirus outbreak. Trump was expected to attend fundraisers and speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference on the trip.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said Trump should not hold rallies and should stop shaking hands with people at political events, arguing that doing otherwise would set a poor example for Americans.
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“He should follow the advice of public health agencies not to shake hands and to cancel large gatherings including political events. When he goes to political events, mingles with the crowd, and shakes hands, he puts everyone at risk,” Gostin said.
Sam Nunberg, who worked on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, doubted that a decision to cancel rallies would have a significant impact on the president’s reelection effort, noting that the primaries are largely over and the general election is months away.
“The fact they’re not holding rallies in March or April is not going to change the outcome of the election,” Nunberg said.
“I don’t think it’s a detriment,” said one Republican strategist. “He’s the president of the United States. He has the largest megaphone of anyone in the country and he can fire up that megaphone any time he wants.”
Biden will make remarks about the outbreak at a Thursday event instead of holding a get-out-the-vote event in Tampa. Biden and Sanders were both slated to appear at an AFL-CIO forum in Orlando on Friday before the event was canceled amid coronavirus concerns.
The coronavirus loomed over a Biden rally in Detroit on Monday. Attendees were greeted with an arsenal of hand sanitizer from volunteers as they entered the event.
Now, with warnings about attending large-crowd gatherings becoming common, rallies like Biden’s on Monday might not take place for some period of time.
The former vice president’s campaign told The Hill earlier this week that they will continue to follow expert advice and comply with “reasonable risk mitigation.”
Biden’s campaign announced the launch of a public health advisory committee on Wednesday, with the goal of providing expert opinions and advise on how “to minimize health risks for the candidate, staff, and supporters.”
The committee is made up of six medical experts, including Zeke Emanuel, a frequent cable television guest who worked in the Obama administration and is the brother of former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and well as Vivek MurthyVivek Hallegere MurthyCoronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Jerome Adams The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Former Rep. Harman says Russia is trying to exploit America; Mylan’s Heather Bresch says US should make strategic reserve in medicines; Trump unveils leaders of ‘Warp Speed’ The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Moniz says U.S. needs energy jobs coalition and Manchin says Congress is pushing Wall Street solutions that don’t work for Main Street; Burr to step aside MORE, a surgeon general under former President Obama.
Sanders, like Trump, has used rallies to draw energy and support to his campaign, meaning the changing landscape could potentially hurt his effort more than Biden’s. At the same time, the former vice president’s victories in the past couple weeks have put him way ahead of Sanders in the delegate count, signaling the end of the primary may be near.
Updated at 8:11 a.m.