Congress toils on $1 trillion rescue, Trump unleashes fury

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(AP) - As leaders from Congress and the White House toiled in high-stakes negotiations on a mammoth $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package Friday, President Donald Trump unleashed fury on those questioning his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

It was an extraordinary moment in Washington: Congress undertaking the most ambitious federal effort yet to shore up households and the U.S. economy and an angry president lashing out at all comers. All while the global pandemic and its nationwide shutdown grip an anxious, isolated population bracing for a healthcare crisis and looming recession.

When one reporter asked Trump what he would tell a worried nation, the president snapped, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter.”

Despite the enormous pressure on Washington to swiftly act, the challenges are apparent. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and administration officials labored late into the evening over eye-popping sums and striking federal interventions, surpassing even the 2008-09 bank bailout and stimulus. They'll be back at it Saturday morning.

"Everybody is working very hard,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, exiting one closed-door session and heading into another.

While key negotiators said they made progress during the daylong talks, they failed to hit an end-of-day deadline to strike a deal. Talks broke around 10:30 p.m.

Mnuchin launched negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and senators from both parties using McConnell's GOP offer as a starting point.

“Our nation needs a major next step, and we need it fast,” McConnell said earlier in the day to an empty chamber, the iconic U.S. Capitol closed to visitors.

Preliminary Senate votes are set for Sunday. McConnell said the goal is passage by Monday.

But Mnuchin also conferred privately Friday with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the two leaders pressed for Democratic priorities. Pelosi late Friday called the GOP plan a “non-starter.”

At one point, Schumer told reporters, “We're making good progress.” But Schumer acknowledged trying to wrap up "tonight is hard.”

The GOP plan aims to pump billions into $1,200 direct checks to Americans and billions to small businesses to pay idled workers during the global pandemic.

But Democrats say McConnell's plan is insufficient, arguing for greater income support for workers and a “Marshall Plan” for the U.S. healthcare industry, which is preparing for an onslaught of newly sick patients.

At the White House, Trump welcomed the stimulus plan, believing it is needed to stabilize the economy.

But Trump spent much of Friday's daily briefing in a fury, an angry president lashing out at reporters' questions.

At times, he seemed to refuse to want to hear the reality of an increasingly dire situation. It was when one reporter noted the hard facts in the U.S. — that more than 200 are dead, more than 14,000 infected and millions scared — that he snapped back.

Trump also sowed further confusion about whether he is using the powers of the Defense Production Act to force American businesses to manufacture needed medical supplies.

In Friday phone calls with Trump, Schumer said he specifically implored the president to invoke the Korean War-era act to ramp up production of desperately needed ventilators and other gear.

Trump told the Democratic leader he would do it — and then Schumer said the president could be heard yelling to someone in his office “get it done."

But Trump told reporters he had put the order he invoked Wednesday “into gear” Thursday night. He said he had directed companies to launch production. But then he walked it back, saying, “You know, so far, we haven't had to” because companies are volunteering.

The administration also announced a further closing of the nation’s border, as the U.S. and Mexico agreed to limit crossings to all but essential travel and trade, while the U.S. moved to restrict entry to anyone without documentation.

Later Friday, the White House said a member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller said the staff member, who is not being identified, did not have “close contact” either the vice president or Trump.

Unveiled Thursday, McConnell's rescue proposal from Republicans builds on Trump's request for Congress to “go big.”

The GOP plan proposes $300 billion for small businesses to keep idled workers on payroll and $208 billion in loans to airlines and other industries. It also seeks to relax a just-enacted family and medical leave mandate on small to medium-sized businesses from an earlier rescue package.

It puts McConnell's imprint on the GOP approach after the Senate leader left earlier negotiations to Pelosi and Mnuchin, which angered some of his GOP senators feeling cut out of the final product.

Keeping paychecks flowing for workers not at work is a top priority for both Democrats and Republicans as jobless claims skyrocket.

But how best to send direct payments to Americans — as one-time stipends, ongoing payroll support or unemployment checks — is a crucial debate.

Under McConnell's approach, small businesses with 500 or fewer employees would be able to tap up to $10 million in forgivable loans from the federal government to continue cutting paychecks.

Democrats prefer sending the money to workers via the existing unemployment insurance system. Schumer called it “unemployment insurance on steroids.”

Both income support approaches have benefits and drawbacks, lawmakers said. Republicans say their plan would keep workers linked to employers, for easy recall once the crisis abates. Democrats argue the unemployment system provides a ready-made distribution channel, though states could also become overwhelmed by the surge of jobless claims.

Meanwhile, industries of all kinds are lining up for help.

As the Senate chairmen hammered out the details — and House chairmen funneled their input — the total price tag is sure to grow beyond $1 trillion, lawmakers said.

The House, which adjourned last weekend, is not expected to resume until the new package is ready.

Lawmakers on conference calls with leaders this week said they preferred not to board airplanes amid the virus outbreak. Despite calls to change the rules, Congress does not have a mechanism in place for remote voting.

Trump has already signed into law a $100 billion-plus bill to boost testing for the coronavirus and guarantee paid sick leave for millions of workers hit by it. Earlier, Trump signed an initial $8.3 billion package from Congress.

Oregon joins Ill., N.Y., Calif. in locking down against coronavirus

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commission Chair Deborah Kafoury say they are working on a forthcoming order directing Oregonians to “Stay Home and Stay Healthy," to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Wheeler said Friday night that it will be a “stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out” order that will still allow people to visit grocery stores, pharmacies and walk their dogs. Officials plan to work out the details over the weekend.

California and New York have enacted similar measures. Brown has already ordered a six-week statewide school closure, a ban on gatherings of over 25 people and shutdown of bar/restaurant operations other than takeout and delivery for at least four weeks. The Oregon Health Authority has reported 114 COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

Illinois’ governor added the state to the list of those ordering residents to remain in their homes except for essential needs to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Together, the actions by the states’ governors amount to the most sweeping efforts in the U.S. yet to contain the coronavirus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order will still allow the state’s 12.6 million residents to seek essentials including groceries and medicine.

The Chicago Tribune was the first news outlet to confirm the state shutdown that will come into force Saturday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all workers in non-essential businesses to stay home and banned gatherings statewide Friday.

“Only essential businesses can have workers commuting to the job or on the job,” Cuomo said of an executive order he will sign Friday.

Nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size or for any reason are canceled or postponed.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued stay-at-home orders for 40 million people, in what was the most sweeping move of any state yet to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

With half the state already under local stay-home requirements, Newsom on Thursday issued a statewide order, warning that unless the rise in cases of COVID-19 slows, it might overwhelm the state’s medical system.

Newsom says people will be able to shop for food and seek medical care but should practice social distancing.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, Newsom said the virus eventually could infect more than half the state’s population.

Cuomo is offering a stark counterpoint to Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Cuomo’s matter-of-fact and slightly scolding demeanor as his state has become an epicenter of the pandemic has emerged as a stark contrast. He has been offering daily briefings and scores of media appearances.

The New York Democrat has emerged as one of the key faces of those at the front lines of the pandemic response.

The nation’s governors have shouldered more of the burden as Washington’s effort has been at times sluggish and scattershot.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered doctors and dentists to postpone all nonessential medical procedures Friday.

The worldwide death toll from COVID-19 passed 11,000 people Friday as the number of infections surpassed 266,000. The number of infections in the U.S. topped 16,000, and 215 people have died from it, CNN reported.

News organizations large and small are dropping paywalls so readers in their communities can find out about the coronavirus story.

It’s a public service, but one they hope pays dividends by convincing people to subscribe.

Editors are finding a hunger for their work.

The downside is that the nationwide shutdown resulting in event cancellations and restaurant closings is hurting their advertisers, risking that any subscriber gains could be offset.

Already, coronavirus layoffs and furloughs have hit the news biz, with the Military Times and the weekly Sacramento News & Review in California letting staffers go in what they say they hope is a temporary move.

Member of Pence’s staff tests positive for virus

The White House says a member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff has tested positive for coronavirus.

Pence’s spokeswoman Katie Miller said Friday that the staff member, who is not being identified, did not have “close contact” to either the vice president or President Donald Trump.

Miller said contact tracing, or contacting everyone the individual has been in contact with, is being conducted in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Miller says Pence’s office was notified Friday evening of the positive test result.

Trump angrily defends his handling of pandemic

An angry Trump on Friday lashed out at reporters and broke with his own health officials over the science of the coronavirus pandemic.

This, as confusion developed over how or whether he was using the Defense Production Act to order U.S. businesses to manufacture and send vital medical supplies to COVID-19 patients and the personnel caring for them.

The president said he is tapping stepped-up powers to marshal the private sector in the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, he said he’d invoke the rarely used act as needed to get needed medical supplies on the front lines of the outbreak. Now he says he’s put that “in gear.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he implored Trump during a phone call Friday to invoke the Korean War-era act immediately to order the manufacture of ventilators and other critically needed medical gear.

The president told Schumer he would then could be heard on the telephone making the order. Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman says Trump yelled to someone in his office to do it now.

Trump and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, broke publicly over the possible effectiveness of new drugs being explored to treat the virus.

Trump voiced much optimism. Fauci made clear it’s too soon to be optimistic about an imminent treatment.

Trump also announced an effective closure of the U.S. border with Mexico, prohibiting most travel except for trade. That brings it in line with the restriction on the Canadian border earlier this week.

Trump said at the news conference Friday that the Department of Education will not enforce standardized testing requirements for students in elementary through high school for the current year.

Trump said students have already been through a lot with schools opening and closings.

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He says his administration also has temporarily waived all interest on federally held student loans and he says he’s directed Education Secretary Besty DeVos to tell federal lenders to allow borrowers to suspend their student loans and loan payments, without penalty for at least the next 60 days.

He reiterated an earlier announcement that the federal tax deadline had been moved from April to July 15 as well.

Members of Trump’s economic team will convene on Capitol Hill to launch negotiations with Senate Republicans and Democrats racing to draft a $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package amid the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s the biggest effort yet to shore up households and the U.S. economy as the pandemic and its nationwide shutdown hurtles the country toward a likely recession.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has unveiled a sweeping economic rescue plan to pump $1,200 checks directly to taxpayers, $300 billion for small businesses to keep idled workers on payroll and $208 billion in loans to industries.

The negotiations are certain to encounter difficulties ahead, as some Republicans object and Democrats say it doesn’t go far enough.

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Italy’s virus deaths increase by 627 in 1 day

Italy has recorded its highest day-to-day- rise in the number of deaths of persons infected with COVID-19.

Civil Protection Chief Angelo Borrelli announced Friday there were 627 new deaths. The number of new cases also shot staggeringly higher: 5,986 cases.

That brings the official total of new deaths overall to 4,032 and of cases to 47,021.

Authorities said most of the dead had existing health problems before they were sickened with the coronavirus, such as heart disease and diabetes. The soaring numbers in the country with Europe's largest outbreak come despite a national lockdown to drastically limit the reasons citizens can leave their homes.

Mayors and governors throughout the country have been demanding even stricter measures. Italy’s national government is widely expected to respond soon.

NY, UK ask retired nurses, doctors to work again

New York and Britain are asking 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work to help fight the coronavirus.

Cuomo tweeted on Thursday that New York state “is calling on recently retired health care professionals” to sign up as reserve staff.

The state also needs qualified medical and nursing school students and staff.

The UK government is sending letters to 50,000 former nurses and 15,000 retired doctors, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped “many, many thousands will respond” to the appeal. He said volunteers would be given training over the next few weeks before being allocated to hospitals.

Final-year nursing and medical students could also be drafted to bolster health care staff.

Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is not expected to peak for several weeks. Already, some hospitals have complained about overworked staff and shortages of ventilators and protective equipment such as face masks.

The U.K. has 3,269 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 144 people have died.

Some businesses allowed to re-open in Wuhan

While entry and exit from Wuhan remains tightly restricted, businesses such as supermarkets, convenience stores and shops selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other daily necessities can re-open.

Only one person per household bearing a special pass can go out each day, with shopping time limited to two hours.

Wuhan, the virus outbreak's epicenter, reported no new or suspected cases for a third straight day.

Meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang on Friday urged "efforts to stabilize and support market entities to strengthen the engines for economic recovery," according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Li "stressed a stronger sense of urgency on the work and production resumption, as well as the recovery of economic and social order," including financial assistance to small and medium-size enterprises that form a core source of employment and key links in supply chains.

"Unreasonable restrictions that hinder the resumption of work" should be lifted, Li said. "With effective prevention and control measures, necessary health monitoring and emergency response forces in place, epidemic prevention and work resumption can be advanced in a synchronized way."

Among measures to help people find new jobs, the central government has launched a website that it hopes will help fill 10 million vacancies by the end of June.

The long haul

Scientists advising the British government say restrictions on daily life imposed to combat the coronavirus may need to be in place for a year, with periods of less stringent and more stringent measures.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling advised this week that the only way to prevent Britain’s health system being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients would be through a combination of widespread social distancing, isolating the infected and closing schools.

The government says it may take stronger measures, such as the enforced closure of pubs and restaurants, if people don’t heed the advice.

The British government is ordering all pubs, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to close in sweeping new restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus.

UK close all pubs, restaurants to stop spread of coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said those venues, as well as nightclubs, theaters and leisure centers, should close Friday and not reopen until further notice. His advice to anyone considering one last trip out on Friday night: “Please don’t.”

Johnson said the situation would be reviewed every month to see if the measures can be relaxed.

Restaurants can continue to serve takeout food.

Britain has already asked people to avoid unnecessary contact with others and avoid pubs, restaurants and other venues, and urged Londoners to use public transport only for essential journeys. While many people have complied, some have not.

As of Friday, Britain had recorded 177 deaths among people with the virus, 40 more than the day before.

Madrid to set up field hospitals, use hotels

Health Minister Salvador Illa says the army will help set up a field hospital of 5,500 beds and much-needed intensive care units inside a convention center in Madrid.

Health workers also have begun outfitting Madrid hotels as makeshift wards for patients considered not in need of intensive care. Madrid has more than 7,000 cases of coronavirus.

“It is very important that we strictly obey the confinement rules,” Illa said. “We are going to go through some very difficult days until we are able to stop the growth of the contagion curve.”

The streets were mostly empty in Madrid and Barcelona, the nation’s largest cities that are normally bustling and packed with pedestrians. Shops are closed and well-spaced lines form at supermarkets and bakeries. Employers have been strongly encouraged to let workers work from home.

Police patrols question those on the street to make sure they are only out for food, medicine or necessary commutes to work. Police say they will deploy extra traffic controls around large cities.

Japan, China, South Korea leaders to share info

Foreign ministers from Japan, China and South Korea held a video conference Friday and agreed to continue cooperating in their effort to fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his counterparts, China's Wang Yi and South Korea's Kang Keung-wha, ensured cooperation among the three countries in their effort and agreed to hold a three-way meeting of health authorities at an early date.

Motegi also proposed sharing of information on drugs and vaccine development, as well as cooperation to ensure shipment of medical supplies and emergency relief goods among the three countries.

Motegi told the other ministers that Japan hopes to fully achieve the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics “as a proof of human victory against the new coronavirus,” the Japnaese foreign ministry said in a statement.

If you are an older adult or have an underlying medical condition, prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in...

Posted by CDC on Friday, March 20, 2020

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