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.”
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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
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.
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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.
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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
John 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