The Atlantic Politics Daily: The Strongest Evidence Yet That America Is Botching Coronavirus Testing

Just how few Americans have actually been tested for the coronavirus, despite administration promises? Plus: The moment that marked the rise of an extensive jihadist network in the United States.

It’s Friday, March 6. In today’s newsletter: Our science and technology reporters confirm just how few Americans have actually been tested for the coronavirus, despite administration promises. Plus: The moment that marked the rise of an extensive jihadist network in the United States.



Evidence That America Is Seriously Botching the Coronavirus Testing

By all public accounts, it’s one of the Trump administration’s biggest priorities: testing Americans for the new coronavirus.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the White House’s response to COVID-19, vowed this week that “roughly 1.5 million tests” would be made available.

That’s not going as planned—far from it. As my colleagues Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal report after interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country, just 1,895 Americans have been tested for the virus as of this morning (that Rob and Alexis could verify).

“I don’t know what went wrong,” a former CDC chief told them.

The United States’ response to the coronavirus is far behind the spread of the disease within its borders. Testing is the first and most important tool in understanding the epidemiology of a disease outbreak. In the United States, a series of failures has combined with the decentralized nature of our health-care system to handicap the nation’s ability to see the severity of the outbreak in hard numbers.

The American response to coronavirus stands in stark contrast to other countries dealing with the outbreak: South Korean officials, for instance, have been testing more than 10,000 people per day.

The Trump White House seemed ill-prepared for COVID-19 even before global fears reached their current pitch, as my colleague Peter Nicholas reported last month:

Trump insists on being the protagonist in every drama. He wants to promote the idea that everything on his watch is improving. Virology isn’t politics, though. Tweets don’t beget vaccines. Following his instincts in the face of an outbreak that has left the world on edge risks making things worse.

Finally, for those frozen with worry: What can you do to slow the coronavirus outbreak? Our health writer James Hamblin has some helpful tips (beyond just washing your hands).

—Saahil Desai


1. “At best, they produced very little value. At worst, they arguably influenced the presidential race in ways that the billionaire candidates disliked.”

Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer spent millions to propel presidential primary bids that went nowhere. These vanity campaigns weren’t just acts of hubris that harmed very few, Conor Friedersdorf argues. The two billionaires squandered money that could have funded altruistic efforts and boosted rival 2020 candidates with clearer paths to the White House.

2. “Here’s some free advice for Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader: Shut. The. Front. Door. Now.”

At a recent rally outside the Supreme Court this week, New York Senator Chuck Schumer told the crowd gathered: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch; I want to tell you, Kavanaugh: You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

Such a threat is a terrible misfire, the constitutional law professor Garrett Epps argues: The way to push back against the Trump administration isn’t to imitate the rhetoric and tactics of the Trump administration.

3. “Democrats on Super Tuesday successfully did what Republicans failed to do in 2016: check the rise of their extremist candidate.”

Bernie Sanders laid an egg on Super Tuesday, switching positions with Joe Biden to become the underdog in the Democratic primary. Democrats still need to learn from how he delivered his message, David Frum argues: There’s not one issue, but three.



Jihadists loved America in the 1980s.

Thomas Hegghammer tells a stunning story:

It was freezing cold with gusting winds in Indianapolis on New Year’s Day 1978. While much of the city was presumably waking to a hangover, the Islamic Teaching Center was busy hosting prominent preachers from the Middle East. Among them was Abdallah Azzam, a 36-year-old rising star of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

In Indianapolis, Azzam would meet a young Saudi student with a now-famous name: Osama bin Laden. It was a historic moment, one that marked the rise of an extensive jihadist network in the United States.

Read the rest.


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to

Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.