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Trump sets Easter as possible date for lifting restrictions – live updates – USA TODAY



Division among House Democrats on what should be in coronavirus bill, how to vote on it

House Democrats voiced frustration in a two-hour caucus call Tuesday over the ongoing negotiations on a coronavirus emergency package that would offer cash to Americans and financial relief to businesses and the health care industry, with some wanting more progressive ideals that were rolled into a House version of the measure and others arguing now was not the time to bicker and push for partisan wins.

During the call, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that a deal on the roughly $2 trillion package in the Senate was close. The potential deal came one day after she and House Democrats released their own version of the bill, which along with relief for families and businesses included partisan issues and topics appearing to be unrelated to the virus such as climate change, mail-in voting and funds for the Kennedy Center, a Washington preforming arts center. 

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., told fellow Democrats on the call they were losing the messaging battle on this and the House version of this bill “set people off,” noting the Republican attacks on endangered Democrats heading into the elections, according to a source familiar with the call. She said people in front-line districts were not happy seeing Democrats seeking partisan wins in the midst of their pain, the source added. 

Progressives have already pointed to potential issues they have with the bill, though a final version of the legislation is still being worked on.

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., have taken to Twitter to air their grievances with what is being worked on in the Senate. Omar has specifically asked that all student loan debt be canceled, all evictions and foreclosures should be banned and the legislation also protect refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants.

The caucus also discussed the issue of how the House would vote on this roughly $2 trillion package, which would amount to the largest emergency package in modern history, and the hope not to force the House’s 435 members back to Washington amid the virus, according to the source. Already two House lawmakers have contracted COVID-19. While congressional leaders are hoping to pass this measure by unanimous consent, meaning without a vote but allowing any one member to object and block it, some Democrats expressed some skepticism about approving the historic package without any type of vote.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said he wasn’t comfortable about this new idea to continue approving on such monumental amounts of money without voting. He said he worried that if the House continues down this path, it would transform the way the House operates in the future, the source said.

Some Democrats continued to ask about the possibility of voting remotely and the possibility of proxy voting.

– Christal Hayes

American diplomats directed to ask foreign governments to sell medical items to US

The Trump administration has directed its diplomats overseas to ask foreign governments if they have any extra medical equipment or personal protective gear to sell to the U.S., a senior State Department official said Tuesday, even as the novel coronavirus rampages across the globe.

“Fighting coronavirus has definitely become a global issue,” said the State Department official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.

“We’ve actually reached out to missions and have asked missions to determine whether certain countries may have excess capacity of the ability to manufacture supplies,” and whether companies in those countries would consider exporting supplies to the U.S., this official said. 

Doctors and nurses across the U.S. have said they are running out of masks and other items they need to protect themselves against infection as they care for sick patients.

But the same situation is unfolding around the world – from Italy to Iran – with more than 400,000 reported infections in more than 150 countries.

The State Department official said he could not name specific countries that have offered to help the U.S., but said the responses are being tracked and forwarded to FEMA and other U.S. federal agencies in charge of managing America’s supply chain.

“Hopefully we can match up external suppliers, external sources with states and entities in the U.S. that actually need them,” the State Department official said. “We’re doing our best effort to reach out to any country and any private business overseas that might be able to contribute and … then cataloging that information.”  

A second State Department official emphasized that the U.S. is seeking to purchase these items, not asking for donations.

The plea from U.S. diplomats comes even as President Donald Trump has resisted invoking the Defense Production Act, which would allow him to compel American companies to manufacture the scarce medical supplies.

Trump said he was using the threat of the law to prod private companies to increase production on their own.

“It’s called leverage,” Trump said. “You don’t have to use it, but the threat of it being there is great leverage.”

– Deirdre Shesgreen and John Fritze

Poll shows bipartisan popularity of direct payments to people

As Democrats and Republicans continue to negotiate the details of a historic stimulus package, a new CBS News poll reinforces the popularity of one of its centerpieces: direct payments to individuals.

More than 8 out of 10 people surveyed said they approve of Congress’ plan to send checks to middle- and lower-income Americans to offset the economic effects of coronavirus.

And that was true of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

While lawmakers have been debating how large the checks should be, direct payments of some form will be included in the package both sides want to pass as soon as possible.

Maureen Groppe

Two lawmakers test negative for coronavirus 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., said Tuesday that they tested negative for COVID-19.

Romney said that despite the negative test, he will remain self-quarantined at his home in Utah.

“Nevertheless, guidance from my physician, consistent with the CDC guidelines, requires me to remain in quarantine as the test does not rule out the onset of symptoms during the 14-day period,” he said in a statement.

Romney had self-quarantined after interacting with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., last week, who tested positive for the coronavirus. He is one of several senators who self-quarantined after Paul’s diagnosis. 

Kim self-quarantined following direct contact with a member of Congress tested positive for COVID-19. He said in a statement that he “received a test after exhibiting early symptoms.” 

“My family and I are glad to know that my test was negative, but since the threat of this virus continues for all of us, I will do everything I can to fight hard for everyone impacted by this crisis in the weeks and months to come,” Kim said Tuesday.

“I’ve seen first-hand the stress of waiting for test results, and it shows how absolutely important it is that everyone who needs a test has access,” he said. 

Savannah Behrmann

Congressman with the coronavirus says he’s still in the hospital

Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, one of two members of the House of Representatives to test positive for the coronavirus, said in a statement released Tuesday he was still in the hospital. 

“I remain in the hospital on the advice of doctors. They are monitoring my occasional need for supplemental oxygen and have advised me that I still need to be here,” he said. 

McAdams was admitted to the hospital on Friday evening after experiencing “severe shortness of breath.” 

He said in a statement released Sunday he was feeling “relatively better.” 

Nicholas Wu 

Sailors on deployed aircraft carrier test positive for coronavirus 

Three sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for coronavirus, the first time a ship deployed at sea has been affected by the pandemic, Navy officials announced Tuesday.

The Roosevelt had been in port at Danang, Vietnam, 15 days ago for a port visit. The sick sailors have been flown from the ship to a military hospital in the Pacific region, said Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations.

Gilday declined to say how many other sailors had been in contact with the affected sailors, saying he did not want to signal vulnerability to adversaries.

It’s not clear that the sailors contracted the virus in Vietnam, Gilday said. The ship paid a port call there 15 days ago. Aircrafts have also been flying to and from the Roosevelt.

There are more than 5,000 sailors aboard the Roosevelt. The Navy has canceled port visits for ships except those in need of repair or resupply.

No sailors in the submarine corps have tested positive for the virus, Gilday said. Social distancing in the close quarters of a submarine would be impractical.

Trump sets new date for lifting restrictions: Easter

Trump said Tuesday that he would like to have the government restrictions on travel and social gatherings eased by Easter, which comes on Sunday, April 12.

“We’re going to be opening relatively soon,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall Tuesday. “I’d love to have it open by Easter … It’s such an important day for other reasons but I’ll make an important date for this too. I would love to have the country, opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” 

Asked if it’s possible for the country to return to normal by Easter, Trump said, “I think it’s absolutely possible. Now, people are going to have to practice all of the social distancing and things we’re doing now. … But we have to get our country back to work.”

Trump seemed to suggest Americans could both go to work and adhere to social distancing practices but did not specify how that would work.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks, three major U.S. health organizations – representing the nation’s doctors, nurses and hospitals – issued a public plea to Americans to stay home.

“Staying at home in this urgent moment is our best defense to turn the tide against COVID-19,” wrote the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, and American Nurses Association in an open letter.

“Physicians, nurses and health care workers are staying at work for you. Please stay at home for us.”

Trump has said he is looking at easing the health restrictions, which have crippled the U.S. economy, even as experts warn against such a move.

Health officials and lawmakers have said that lifting the social distancing restrictions could be disastrous for both the U.S. economy and for public health.

“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Utah, tweeted on Tuesday.

But Trump has appeared to brush off that assessment.

“I’m not looking at months,” Trump said on Monday of the duration of social distancing guidelines that have led to widespread business closures and other disruptions. “We will be back in business as a country pretty soon.”

Trump’s comments come as other political leaders enact stricter measures. On Monday, four U.S. states announced more rigid orders for residents and businesses, an International Olympic Committee member revealed this year’s games would be postponed and U.S. deaths approached 600, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. 

Deirdre Shesgreen

After easing tensions, Trump returns to attacking Cuomo

President Donald Trump has had an on-again, off-again relationship with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in recent weeks as the nation has responded to the coronavirus pandemic. It appears Trump was ready to pick up the fight again Tuesday.

During a Fox News town hall in the Rose Garden, Trump slammed Cuomo for not ordering more ventilators himself years ago. The president pointed to reports that Cuomo chose to ration the state’s supply of emergency ventilators rather than order more five years ago.

Cuomo is now overseeing a state that has become the epicenter of the disease. 

“I’m not blaming him or anyone else,” Trump said before quickly adding that: “He’s supposed to be buying his own ventilators.”

The president’s remarks were the latest instance in which he has said states should take the lead in ordering medical equipment needed to confront the virus. Cuomo and other state officials say they have struggled to find that equipment on the market. Democrats have pressed Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to require companies to expand production of the equipment. 

John Fritze 

Trump: Lawmakers ‘coming together’ on coronavirus stimulus

President Donald Trump said lawmakers appear to be close to reaching an agreement on legislation to stimulate the faltering economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think they’re actually coming together,” Trump said during a Fox  News Virtual Town Hall. “I hear from just a few minutes ago they are doing pretty well.”

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are negotiating details of a stimulus package of about $2 trillion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said earlier that negotiations were on “the five-yard line” with their progress toward a deal.

Michael Collins

South Korean media report: Trump asked for help in securing medical equipment

President Donald Trump asked his South Korean counterpart for help in securing medical equipment, according to an account in Yonhap News.  

“President Donald Trump asked President Moon Jae-in for medical equipment related to the new coronavirus infection,” the South Korean news outlet reported.

The White House read-out of the call did not mention such a request. In a statement to reporters, Judd Deere, the White House’s deputy press secretary, said Trump and Moon discussed the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“President Trump reiterated his commitment to employ the full weight of the United States Government and work with global leaders to save lives and restore economic growth,” Deere said.

Yonhap reported that Trump asked if South Korea could provide medical equipment to help the U.S. respond to COVID-19 and Moon told him that if South Korea could do that, he would “support it as much as possible.”

Moon suggested there could be regulatory hurdles with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving South Korean medical supplies, but Trump said he would take “immediate action” to clear those issues.

The White House did not immediately respond to a question about the different accounts. But Foreign Policy magazine also reported that State Department officials have been directed to ask U.S. allies to increase its exports and its production of medical equipment and protective gear needed in the United States. 

That conflicts with Trump’s public assertions that the U.S. does not need to take extraordinary steps to meet the needs of U.S. hospitals and health care workers who are on the frontlines of the epidemic.

Deirdre Shesgreen

Congressional leaders say deal on massive coronavirus stimulus close

WASHINGTON — Republicans on Tuesday continued to hit Democrats on a number of provisions included in a $2.5 trillion House coronavirus bill, calling it a liberal wish list and faulting Democrats for attempting to use a crisis for political gain.

Several moderate Democrats joined Republicans in voicing some level of skepticism over the length of the negotiations and the House bill because of items – such as measures taking on climate change, mail-in voting and funds for the Kennedy Center, a D.C. preforming arts center – that appeared unrelated to the worsening crisis.

“Now is not the time to try to establish a slush fund for your donors, as I believe Mitch McConnell has done or attempted to do. Now is also not the time to put in your own legislative pet projects, tenants of the Green New Deal, that you know will only likely stifle this,” Rep. Max Rose, a moderate New York Democrat, said of the House bill. “There is a fierce sense of urgency that we are feeling on the ground in New York, and New York right now is experiencing what other parts of the country will very likely experience weeks, or months from now.”

What’s in the stimulus proposals?: Congress’ $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, visualized

Rep. Dean Phillips, a moderate Democrat representing a swing district in Minnesota, said on Twitter that both parties shouldn’t be attempting to include provisions in this bill unrelated to the virus. “The coronavirus relief bill shouldn’t be a vehicle for anything unrelated to mitigating the direct effects of the epidemic,” he said.  

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also expressed impatience over the last-minute House bill and its laundry list of new demands. “I am not for the green deal,” he said from the Senate floor Monday. “Who’s throwing that stuff in? I have no idea. I wouldn’t vote for it.”

Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Republican facing a tough reelection battle in November, also appeared antsy to get a deal accomplished. He was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of moving forward on the Senate emergency package on Monday. 

“I believe that we needed to really send a message to the American people and to both sides of the aisle that the clock is ticking, that we need to get this done and we need to get it done now, and the best way to do that is to proceed,” Jones said on CNN on Monday.

– Christal Hayes and Ledge King

The parts of the House bill drawing scrutiny

While the House offered its own stimulus bill on Monday, Congress is likely to take up a bill that originated in the Senate. Congressional leaders have signaled a deal is close to being made. Here are some of the key provisions in the House’s $2.5 trillion stimulus package that have drawn scrutiny:

  • Offers $35 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Preforming Arts for operations and maintenance requirements related to the coronavirus.
  • Requires airlines getting help to fully offset the annual carbon emissions of such air carriers for domestic flights beginning in 2025.
  • Rescinds several executive orders limiting collective bargaining.
  • Requires corporations receiving aid to pay full and part-time workers a minimum hourly wage of $15 or more starting no later than Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Cancels outstanding debt of the United States Postal Service owed to the Treasury and authorizes USPS to borrow up to $15 billion from Treasury to keep operating.
  • Requires states provide at least 15 days of early voting, provide “no-excuse” absentee vote-by-mail, and mail a ballot to all registered voters in an emergency and gives $4 billion to help them.

– Christal Hayes and Ledge King . 

Stocks climb on hopes for a coronavirus stimulus package from Congress

U.S. stocks rallied Tuesday on hopes that Congress would pass a stimulus bill to shield the economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed more than 1,700 points, or more than 9%.

Stocks stabilized overnight after a turbulent start to the week as Congress was nearing a rescue plan that could inject $2 trillion into the economy. The measure is designed to provide direct payments of $1,200 to most Americans, help small businesses shuttered across the country and aid the hard-hit travel industry.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said negotiators were on “the five-yard line” with their progress toward a deal. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the elements of the deal under discussion and said an agreement could be announced within hours.

– Jessica Menton

Durbin urges Trump not to ease coronavirus restrictions too soon

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Tuesday implored President Donald Trump not to ease too soon public restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.

“Don’t follow somebody talking on cable TV and their recommendations,” Durbin said on the Senate floor. “Follow the experts in public health who have dedicated their lives to saving the lives of others.”

The comments from the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat came the day after Trump signaled impatience with federal social distancing guidelines that are hurting the economy.

“I’m not looking at months,” Trump said. “Why would we close down 100% of the country?”    

The remarks were a major departure from Trump’s prediction just days ago that the guidelines could potentially be in place through the summer.

In times of crisis, Durbin said, presidents “are expected to be credible with clarity and consistency.”

“I hope the president will remember that as he makes his decision on policy,” Durbin added.

– Maureen Groppe

Schumer: stimulus deal could come in ‘next few hours’

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said a stimulus deal to combat the impacts of the coronavirus would come in the “next few hours.”

Schumer noted he had told reporters last night they were on the “five-yard line,” but now, they were on the “two-yard line,” he said during a speech on the Senate floor.

He said he had just finished a “very productive” meeting with White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, incoming White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 

Among the outstanding issues Democrats were still pressing for, Schumer said, were a “significant increase in money for the health care system” and policies that put “workers first” like restrictions and oversight on funds for corporations.  

“The few outstanding issues, I don’t see any that can’t be overcome within the next few hours,” he said.

Schumer said, “we are very, very pleased with what seems to be moving forward in the bill,” before adding details of the measure. He said it includes:

  • “unemployment insurance on steroids”
  • “If you lose your job in this crisis, you can be furloughed by your employer. That means you stay on that — you stay on that employer’s work list if you have health benefits with the employer, you can keep getting them.”
  • “The federal government will pay your salary, your full salary for now four months. We had asked for four months and four months looks like what we’re going to get when we come to this agreement.”

– Nicholas Wu

Trump admin. to use Defense Production Act for first time for test kits

The Trump administration is expected to officially trigger the Defense Production Act for the first time on Tuesday to obtain about 60,000 coronavirus test kits to help health care workers confront a widespread shortage of medical supplies amid the unfolding crisis.

FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN his team planned to “use the DPA for the first time today.”

“There’s some test kits we need to get our hands on,” he said, adding that the administration would also insert “DPA language” into mass contracts for 500 million masks. 

The Korean War-era law allows President Donald Trump to address the shortage of medical supplies by directing private companies to expedite the production of medical equipment. Trump invoked the DPA last week but has resisted calls from governors and other officials to actually enforce it as the administration scrambles to expand coronavirus testing across the country. 

“We’re going to use it, we’re going to use it when we need it, and we’re going to use it today,” Gaynor said. 

The president weighed in on using the law Tuesday morning, tweeting that the DPA was “in full force, but haven’t had to use it because no one has said NO! Millions of masks coming back up to States.” 

Trump has argued he doesn’t need to enforce the law because companies are volunteering to manufacture supplies and he is against the idea nationalizing U.S. businesses.

– Courtney Subramanian

Rules Committee says remote voting not a likely solution

A report from the House Rules Committee released Monday found that moving away from live voting on Capitol Hill could prove difficult. 

“Implementing remote voting would raise serious security, logistical, and constitutional challenges,” the report found. It cited risks from “enemy states” or “bad actors” who could try to break into and meddle with any online system, as well as the fundamental changes it would mean for how Congress operates and centuries of tradition. 

A move to remote voting might make sense, but it would require lengthy study, the report said. 

“This change cannot be implemented overnight, and likely cannot be accomplished in time to address the current crisis,” the report concluded. Remote voting would also require a rule change, which would itself have to be voted on in person. 

The report said proxy voting “is likely the best of the options available under the circumstances.” That would allow a lawmaker to permit another member to cast their votes for them for a certain period of time. But, as with remote voting, it would require lawmakers to vote on a rule change and could face constitutional challenges. 

Committee Chairman James McGovern said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked him to begin work on the report last week because lawmakers “on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns regarding traveling and congregating en masse as this pandemic continues to spread across the country.” 

The Rules Committee report suggested that simpler solutions would be to move to pass legislation under existing rules. For example, Congress could approve measures by unanimous consent, which does not require the lawmakers to be physically present. The downside of this approach, the report notes, is that a single member could object and derail the legislation. 

Another option would be to have members vote in shifts to limit their exposure to one another. The problem with that approach is that it would not allow those who are ill or under quarantine. to vote. 

– Will Cummings and Christal Hayes

McConnell: ‘We’re on the five-yard line’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress and the White House are close to a deal  on a massive emergency stimulus package that would offer cash assistance to families, financial help to the health care industry and relief to businesses reeling because of the coronavirus.

“At last, I believe we’re on the five-yard line,” McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “This majority has gone out of its way to make this process as bipartisan, and as open as possible. The administration has bent over backwards to work with Democrats and address their concerns.”

He went after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats for introducing a House bill that McConnell said includes an “encyclopedia of unrelated demands.”

At the time of his speech, reporters spotted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other key administration officials at the Capitol for another round of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. 

“The clock has run out. The buzzer is sounding,” McConnell said. “The hour of bargaining, as though this were business as usual, has expired.”

– Christal Hayes

Senate chaplain holds prayer for Rand Paul, John Bessler

Senate chaplain Barry Black opened Tuesday’s Senate session with a prayer for Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s husband John Bessler and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., both of whom have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

“Give us patience and cheerful endurance and serenity of mind. And, lord, place your healing hands upon John Bessler, Sen. Rand Paul, and others who need to feel your touch. We pray in your great name,” Black said. 

– Nicholas Wu 

Pentagon: 321 coronavirus cases in military

The number of troops, their families and civilian military employees infected with the coronavirus jumped to 321 on Tuesday, the Pentagon reported. That’s up from 243 on Monday.

Of the 321 COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, 18 of them, including nine troops, are in hospitals. So far, 17 troops have recovered.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the illness could affect the military’s readiness to fight as commanders have canceled several combat training exercises.

The Pentagon is also deploying two field hospitals to aid local officials in New York and Washington, and two Navy hospital ships are scheduled to sail to New York and California to relieve pressure on civilian facilities.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Pelosi: stimulus deal possible in ‘next few hours’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday morning a deal on an economic stimulus package to combat the impacts of coronavirus may be reached in the “next few hours.” 

“I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” she said on CNBC.

Pelosi said Senate Democrats “have done a great job” making changes to the Senate bill that would benefit workers, to make the bill a “much more worker-oriented initiative,” and adding oversight provisions for Treasury’s lending to businesses. 

She also said compromises had been made with Republicans on adding immunity for mask producers, too.

“It’s legislating, you don’t get everything you want,” she said. “People should put this in perspective.”

The Speaker said it was her goal to bring the bill to the House floor “under unanimous consent,” meaning the bill could be passed without taking a vote, as long as no member of Congress objected to it. 

If a compromise wasn’t reached and a bill had “poison pills in it,” Pelosi said she would call members of the House back to vote to either amend the Senate bill, or pass their own and then reconcile the differences. 

Asked whether it was possible to get both sides of the aisle to agree on a deal, Pelosi said “we’re all receptive to getting something done. We all know that everybody doesn’t write their own bill, it is a series of compromise. We think it has moved sufficiently to the side of the workers.”

– Nicholas Wu

Mnuchin, Schumer say a deal is close

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer led talks late into the night Monday in search of a compromise on a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package to address the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, and said they hoped to have a deal in place Tuesday.

“We look forward to having a deal tomorrow,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office.

“That’s the expectation — that we finish it tomorrow and hopefully vote on it tomorrow evening,” added Schumer.

A version of the bill put forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to get the 60 votes needed to end debate on Sunday and again on Monday, in largely party-line votes.

Coronavirus: How several states hunkered down the same day Trump promoted going back to normal

That measure called for direct, one-time payments to Americans – $1,200 to individuals and $3,000 for a family of four, loans to small businesses battered by mandatory closures, money to help hospitals and medical professionals, expanded unemployment benefits, and money to help larger corporations in troubled industries, such as the airlines. 

Democrats argued the Senate bill favored businesses over workers and pushed for more protections for Americans unable to work amid the crisis, as well as more restrictions on corporations receiving federal assistance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled her own $2.5 trillion version of the bill, which included larger direct payments to workers, money for states and a provision forcing President Donald Trump to order companies to manufacture needed medical supplies. 

Where’s Fauci?: Doctor’s absence is noticed at White House coronavirus briefing

McConnell slammed Pelosi and congressional Democrats for their opposition to the Senate bill, saying, “The country doesn’t have time for these political games.” 

Mnuchin and Schumer said both sides were close to a deal and the Treasury secretary said talks were expected to resume Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Schumer said he thought a deal could be reached on a package that could be voted on Tuesday night. 

Trump also railed against Pelosi, accusing her of including provisions that were not related to the coronavirus. 

“Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town,” Trump said in a Monday tweet. “The Democrats want the Virus to win?”

– William Cummings

Trump says White House considering easing coronavirus restrictions

Even as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths rise in the U.S., President Donald Trump suggested the country should move away from the social distancing protocols – put in place to combat the spread – sooner rather than later because of the economic costs of those measures.

“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” Trump said at a White House news conference on Monday. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Trump said that after the current 15-day period of recommended closures ends on March 30, “we’ll make a decision as to which way we want to go.”

“This was a medical problem, we are not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem,” the president said.

Health experts have insisted that social distancing is critical to reducing the spread of the virus and “flattening the curve,” meaning a stop to the exponential increase in confirmed cases. That case number now stands at more than 46,000 in the U.S., putting the U.S. behind only China and Italy in the number of people known to be infected.

– William Cummings

Johns Hopkins expert: early end to social distancing could ‘kill millions’

A leading expert in disease epidemics warned that the effects could be catastrophic if the U.S. does not continue with the social distancing guidelines that have been in place across the country.

In a series of tweets on Monday night, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security, told those calling for an early end to social distancing that doing so would mean the rapid spread of the disease that “could potentially kill millions.”

He pointed to the success that Asian countries have had in reducing the spread of the illness through rigorous social distancing. He noted that in Wuhan, China, where the disease originated, it took three weeks for the distancing measures to reverse the rising trend. In the U.S., such measures have in place for about a week.

On Monday, Trump said his administration is examining ways to “cautiously resume” parts of the economy, saying in a tweet, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”

“In last 24 hrs there’ve been prominent US voices calling for a stop to social distancing, citing rationale that they’re worse than impact of COVID itself,” Inglesby wrote. “It’s worth looking very closely at that claim, where we are in US COVID epidemic and what happens if we stop.”

– William Cummings

Contributing: The Associated Press 

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With PM Johnson ill, coronavirus strikes at heart of British politics – National Post



LONDON — Hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Friday he had the coronavirus, his health minister said he did too, and England’s chief medical officer announced he also had symptoms.

It isn’t a huge surprise.

There can be no way to know if they infected each other or caught the illness from another person, or different people. But the three men had met a handful of times in person over the previous 10 days, according to Johnson’s official diary, to formulate Britain’s response to the outbreak.

On Tuesday of last week, when most ministers video-conferenced into a cabinet meeting, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and chief medical officer Chris Whitty sat in the room with Johnson.

Whitty had also stood alongside the prime minister at three of the 11 news conferences on the coronavirus since March 16.

Now the question on the lips of many at Downing Street and beyond is: how many other people did the UK prime minister come into contact with before testing positive?

Asked about whether those who became ill believed they had done so from meeting Johnson, a government source noted that scientists say it takes around five days from transmission to developing symptoms so people who became ill at the same time “almost certainly” did not give it to one another.

Johnson is the first world leader to announce he is sick with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. But other administrations have faced similar questions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump say they have tested negative for coronavirus, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into self-isolation earlier this month after his wife tested positive.

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, has tested positive, as have several members of the U.S. Congress.

For politicians, who can meet hundreds of people every day, the coronavirus crisis requires a balance between being seen to lead their people while also keeping a safe distance.

Johnson’s spokesman, asked repeatedly about the prime minister’s contacts with other people, told reporters on Friday the prime minister had not been in close proximity with anyone “from the moment he had symptoms.”

According to Johnson’s statement, that would mean Thursday of last week. And according to his public agenda, Johnson had scaled back in-person meetings, in accordance with the UK’s wider lockdown rules, from Monday March 23.


Yet scientists say the virus’ incubation period is estimated at between one and 14 days, and there have been anecdotal accounts of people spreading the disease without having symptoms.

And despite the scaling back, Johnson still met Whitty in person or via videolink at least eight times in the last two weeks and Hancock around nine, according to his diary, to plot Britain’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Meetings were also held with other staff, according to two sources close to the prime minister. One Downing Street source said that 75 of the 200 staff who usually work at Number 10 — an approximately 100-room town house -– are still working there in separate rather than overlapping shifts to reduce the risk of infection.

Johnson also had regular in-person news conferences with journalists at Downing Street until March 24, when he switched to ones where the journalists attended by video link. Some journalists who attended the in-person conferences have said via social media or have told colleagues that they are now self-isolating.

“Here in Number 10 we have been observing the advice … we have wherever possible been using video conferencing, you’ll have seen the prime minister ensuring he is a safe distance from colleagues when he is taking part in press conferences,” Johnson’s spokesman said on Friday.

The prime minister also ventured beyond Downing Street last week. On Wednesday, a day before his positive test, Johnson answered questions at a weekly session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber.

In the live video, Johnson is seen speaking with several lawmakers. Minister for Scotland Alister Jack, who sat next to Johnson before the session, said on Saturday he had developed a temperature and a cough and was now working from home in isolation.

Asked whether Jack believed suggestions he may have become ill in parliament that day, the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland declined to comment, saying it had nothing to add to Saturday’s statement.


At first, Britain’s response to the spread of the virus was not as stringent as in other countries. It was only at the beginning of the week from March 16 that the UK position began changing – and Johnson’s rhythm too.

In addition to more video-conferences, audiences with Queen Elizabeth — usually held weekly – have been held by telephone for the last two weeks, according to Johnson’s spokesman.

Schools across the UK were closed from March 20, and the prime minister announced three days later that all shops – except for the most essential ones – would be closed.

On Friday, just five hours after Johnson said he had tested positive for coronavirus, Whitty wrote on Twitter that “after experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19 last night … I will be self-isolating at home for the next seven days.” He said he would continue to advise the government.

The same day, Hancock said he had also tested positive and was self-isolating at home with mild symptoms. He has since been active on Twitter, but has not commented on his condition.

The health ministry said on Sunday it could offer no update on the conditions of Hancock or Whitty.

Apart from Hancock and Whitty, the other person who has spent the most time working on the British government’s response is the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.

Whitty, Johnson and Vallance were seen so often at news conferences together in the second and third weeks of March that they were called the “three amigos” in reference to a 1986 comedy with Steve Martin.

After Johnson made his announcement, Vallance tweeted that he had no symptoms. Vallance could not be reached for comment. (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan Editing by Alessandra Galloni and Frances Kerry)

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No, Politics Won't Take a Break for the Virus – POLITICO




“This is unbelievable!” yelled Maine’s Susan Collins earlier this week when she was temporarily blocked from speaking on the Senate floor about the massive stimulus bill.

“Hopefully,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “some adults will show up on the other side of the room and understand the gravity of the situation.”

Across the aisle, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the most centrist of all Senate Democrats, denounced Republican proposals for being “more focused on the big corporations and the health of Wall Street than we are on the health care of the people in rural America and Main Street.”

Trump, for his part, reportedly wants to establish himself in the crisis as a “wartime president,” above the fray, but can’t resist stopping to tweak his own rivals, from Joe Biden to Mitt Romney.

Is this the way the U.S. government is supposed to behave in the face of a grave threat to the nation—spending days in partisan rancor before finally hammering out desperately needed legislation in the dead of night? In a national crisis, isn’t politics as usual supposed to be put on hold?

It might be tempting to invoke the notion of “good old days,” when politics stopped at the water’s edge, when an endangered nation put political differences aside for the sake of national unity. But those yearnings should be put on hold. More often than not, the story of America is one where political divisions don’t really hit the pause button—even in the face of war, disaster or economic catastrophe. For every example of a move toward unity in a crisis, there’s a countervailing example, or two or three, where political divisions run deep and wide, and in some cases, deeper and wider. Counterintuitive though it might seem, it may be a sign of civic strength that these divisions, bitter as they sometimes are, can be openly expressed even at a time of peril.

Even in crises that have seemingly called for putting politics aside, unity has come, when it has, only briefly—and the nation still pulled through on the other end. Yes, it’s true that in the middle of the Civil War, as a gesture of national unity, President Abraham Lincoln put a Democrat—Tennessee’s military governor and former senator, Andrew Johnson—on his ticket when he ran for reelection in 1864. (Given Johnson’s disastrous white supremacist presidency, that might have been Lincoln’s worst decision ever).

But that election was awash in party strife, even beyond the obvious bloody division between North and South. Many Northerners, anxious for a quick end to the war, embraced the candidacy of George McClellan, the Union general whom Lincoln had fired for timidity. At the same time, many Republicans opposed Lincoln’s half-hearted approach to slavery—so much so they nominated John Fremont for the presidency (Fremont ultimately declined to run). Overall, the mood of the nation was sufficiently sour that Lincoln himself assumed he would lose reelection; in the end it was military victories that helped win Lincoln a landslide, and with it the appearance of national unity.

Yes, Franklin D. Roosevelt looked for bipartisan support in 1940 as he prodded a reluctant nation to mobilize and to assist Great Britain in the face of a relentless Nazi bombing campaign. He named Herbert Hoover’s secretary of State, Henry Stimson, as Secretary of War, and Frank Knox—the GOP vice presidential candidate in 1936—as Secretary of the Navy. And his 1940 foe, Wendell Willkie, was a supporter of mobilization and gave FDR crucial support in launching peacetime selective service.

But having Willkie there didn’t keep the White House from coming under heavy fire from the strong isolationist wing of the GOP. At the end of October, a Republican radio broadcast proclaimed: “when your boy is dying on some battlefield in Europe, and he’s crying out ‘Mother! Mother!—don’t blame President Franklin D. Roosevelt because he sent your boy to war—blame yourself, because you sent Franklin D. Roosevelt back to the White House!”

Surely, though, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the nation came together, right? Well, the America First Committee, Charles Lindbergh’s platform for isolationism, disbanded quickly, and only one member of Congress voted against the declaration of war. But less than a year later, Republicans gained in the 1942 midterms by campaigning against America’s wartime president, capitalizing on the gloomy news from the war and from domestic discontent over the heavy hand of government. That November, Republicans gained 47 seats in the House and nine in the Senate.

The partisan fires raged much hotter in the 1950 midterms, just months after U.S. forces began fighting in Korea. Sen. Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska said of President Harry Truman, “The blood of our boys in Korea is on his shoulders, and no one else.” The Republican National Committee built its midterm campaign around Democratic “blundering” in Korea. And the Republicans were already campaigning against the Truman administration for its indifference to—if not outright sympathy with—Communists. Earlier that year, Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy had charged in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, that there were some 200 “known Communists” in the State Department. “Who lost China?” became a theme of Republican campaign rhetoric, and the Republican Party wound up winning 28 House seats and five Senate seats that year. And two years later, as the Korean War sunk into quagmire, the entire 1952 GOP campaign was encapsulated as “K1C2” slogan: “Korea, Corruption, and Communism.”

Vietnam, of course, is remembered as the war that split the nation, but the discontent was brewing well before 1968. As early as October 1965, Ronald Reagan, preparing to launch his campaign for governor of California, was arguing from the right that Lyndon Johnson wasn’t pushing hard enough. “We should declare war on North Vietnam. We could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas,” Reagan said. At the same time, opposition to the war was growing within the Democratic Party. By 1966, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman William Fulbright was holding hearings questioning the rationale for the war, and Senator Robert Kennedy, among other Democrats, was publicly expressing doubts about the war. By 1968, it had effectively split the party.

As for the Republicans: Just before the November election, the campaign of Republican nominee Richard Nixon surreptitiously persuaded South Vietnam’s leaders not to agree to an election eve peace proposal—not just undermining the current president, but leading Republicans like George Will, among others, to subsequently label it “treason.”

If you’re looking for examples of genuine unity, you can point to the atmosphere after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when, as in the days just after Pearl Harbor, there was a real sense of patriotic fervor. That sense even survived the initial decision by the Bush Administration to invade Iraq—the House approved the use of force by a 296-133 margin and the Senate vote was 77-23. But, as with Korea and Vietnam, the setbacks in the field took a political toll. What helped save Bush’s re-election was a distinctly unsubtle campaign suggesting that a John Kerry presidency would subject the nation to another terrorist attack.

You might also look at who happened at the end of the 2008 campaign, in the wake of the financial meltdown. Both major party nominees—John McCain and Barack Obama—joined President George W. Bush and others at a white House meeting to shape a common response. But even with the entire global economic structure at risk, politics was never far from center stage. When the $700 billion measure came to the House floor, two-thirds of Republicans voted against it, sending the proposal down to defeat. Only after the stock market suffered its biggest drop in history did the House reverse itself four days later. President Obama fared a little better in putting together his own plan for economic recovery. His $838 billion stimulus plan won only three GOP votes in the Senate, despite the inclusion of a large chunk of tax cuts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “It’s full of waste” and “we’re taking an enormous risk, an enormous risk, with other people’s money.”

So why should anyone express surprise or dismay at a fight over what to do about what might be the most dangerous crisis in our history? The arguments in the Senate over the bailouts and rescue packages reflect deep ideological divisions about where to direct resources, whether to aim them at afflicted companies or workers; other debates revolve around everything from abortion policy to climate change to health care. And is anyone really surprised that Democrats might not embrace the idea of half a trillion dollars to be dispensed at the discretion of the most polarizing president in history, or seek to block him and his family from profiting from the massive rescue package?

It says something about the staying power of America’s political institutions that they can sustain fierce partisan and ideological arguments even while the nation is under siege. And even when a free society puts aside the mechanisms of political conflict, they do not remain neglected for long. When Winston Churchill became prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940, he quickly formed a broad coalition government, which included Clement Atlee, leader of the Labour Party. There were no elections at all until after V-E day, five years later. There, you might say, that is what national unity looks like. But barely two months after V-E day, the British people pushed Churchill out of office in a landslide.

As soon as the bombs stopped falling, politics emerged as strong as ever. And that rapid resumption of partisan battle was as powerful a demonstration as any that one of the foundations of free society—open, freewheeling, raucous debate—was alive and well. Here at home, the same clashes in the Senate that triggered angry words may well have produced a piece of legislation a lot better than one that had been rushed to passage without contentious unity. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, sometimes—even in crisis—unity asks too much.

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It's Trump's coronavirus response now, to his political profit or peril –



WASHINGTON — For President Donald Trump, the spring of 2020 was supposed to be a time for trumpeting the economy, scaring voters about a Joe Biden presidency, and trying to get some foreign policy wins.

But with the world consumed by the threat of the coronavirus, the president has increasingly been focused on using to his advantage the crisis that he initially tried to downplay. He’s branded the federal response as his own, with his campaign echoing his moves — a high risk, high reward proposition, Republican strategists say.

Trump has reversed course on making Vice President Mike Pence the public face of the response, instead taking center stage himself in daily press briefings, which have had the viewership of a major sporting event. He has branded the administration’s response as his own, not that of the public health experts, as with a direct mail piece sent out this week by the Centers for Disease Control promoting “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America.

On Saturday, with most Americans confined at home, Trump traveled on Air Force One to Norfolk, Virginia for a photo opportunity and ceremony for a Navy hospital ship heading to New York.

March 28, 202001:46

With the virus expected to continue to play a dominant role in the American psyche over at least the next several months, it stands to be the number one issue shaping voters’ decision in November with their choice heavily influenced by how they feel Trump handled the response, campaign advisers said.

“The president’s re-elect does not matter,” said one White House aide. “You could raise $100 billion, you could run a Mike Bloomberg-style campaign and it would not matter because this [coronavirus situation] is literally all anyone is talking about. All eyes are focused on the president and the White House.”

It’s a stark contrast to where Trump and his allies were less than two months ago, when he was coming off his impeachment acquittal with record approval numbers and purging his administration of perceived enemies. He was holding near-weekly political rallies where he painted Democrats as socialists who would destroy the U.S. economy, arguing that voters had no choice but to vote for him or their 401-K savings would tumble.

The stock market, and the election-year economy itself, have since taken a massive coronavirus-powered hit. Now, aides feel there is no playbook or historic precedent to guide their strategy, with one White House staffer describing it to colleagues as “flying the airplane while putting it together.” It’s the same analogy staffers used to describe Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

As Trump pushed this week for the country to get back to regular business as soon as possible, he acknowledged the link to his re-election prospects, accusing the media in a tweet of “trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success.”

Trump’s campaign has been trying to use the crisis to play up the president’s leadership, promoting his policy moves, repeating his talking points, and pushing back against criticism on social media and in emails to supporters.

“Our primary focus has been to amplify what the president is doing and that he is clearly doing the job he was elected to do,” said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh.

On March 21, campaign volunteers made 1.5 million phone calls to voters touting the steps Trump has been taking to respond to the pandemic, encouraging them to practice good hygiene and social distancing and directing them to the government website, which leads people to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Murtaugh.

At the same time, the campaign has been throwing blows at Biden and the media in press releases, emails to supporters and on social media. But while Democratic Super PACs have been running millions of dollars in ads attacking Trump’s coronavirus response, Trump’s campaign hasn’t been on the airwaves. Nor has the largest Super PAC supporting Trump’s re-election, causing concern among his advisers over the lack of defense the president has been getting, said a one person close to the campaign.

“Where the hell is the Super PAC?” the person said. “There are four Super PACs on Joe Biden’s side spending millions attacking the president and we are wondering where are the president’s friends? Where is his air cover?”

The campaign also recently started trying to use the moment of uncertainty as a fundraising opportunity, sending out an email Friday asking for $35 donation to become an “Official 2020 Trump Gold Card Member.”

“Our Nation is facing uncharted territory and there’s never been a more important time for all of us to come together than right now,” the campaign email said.

March 28, 202004:16

Trump and his campaign’s embrace of the coronavirus response is a risky strategy should the virus continue on its current trajectory. The U.S. now has more reported cases of the virus than any other country, including China, where Trump has repeatedly sought to link the virus.

But the president has been hedging his bets by laying the groundwork to blame everyone from Democratic governors to General Motors for whatever negative outcomes there may be — a strategy he’s deployed through his career and presidency, said one Republican strategist.

At times, Trump’s description of the state of measures being taken by his administration has stood in sharp relief to the reality being described by the experts on the ground involved in the response, sparking criticism that he has overplayed the available assistance, giving overly optimistic timelines and overstating his accomplishments in fighting the pandemic.

Still, he saw a bump in his approval ratings since last week when he shifted away from downplaying the threat of the coronavirus to encouraging Americans to take drastic measures to slow the spread of the virus, such as avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people and steering clear of restaurants and bars.

Trump’s approval rating rose 5 percentage points to 49 percent in a Gallup survey conducted last week, only the third time it has gone that high with the other two times being after his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial.

But he hasn’t seen the type of rallying effect other presidents have experienced in moments of crisis — George W. Bush reached a 90 percent approval rating by Gallup in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks — a sign of how polarized the country has become, as well as Trump’s difficulty in playing the role of unifier and consoler-in-chief, which has has struggled with numerous times over this presidency, said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster with Heart Research

“After 9/11 there was a real ability for Bush’s numbers to move, and I think part of this is that Donald Trump brought to the White House a unique set of skills, like his ability shake things up, but bringing people together during a crisis was not one of them and we are seeing this play out in real timed,” said Horwitt.

Americans have widely embraced Trump’s recent call for drastic changes to their lives to try to stop the virus’s spread, with about 70 percent saying it’s necessary for most businesses to temporarily close and two-thirds of Americans viewing the situation as a “significant crisis,” according to a Pew survey released this week.

It’s unclear how his shift this past week towards pushing for Americans to get back to work and again equating the coronavirus to the seasonal flu could alter those views.

“People really do see this as a crisis, and the expectation is it is going to get worse before it gets better,” Horwitt said. “When you have a leader expressing that and providing clear, concise and credible direction and leadership that would be to their benefit. If you are providing communication that suggests otherwise, it both goes against facts and also goes against what people are seeing themselves.”

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