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Senate debate turns angry as Schumer and Mnuchin try to salvage $1.8 trillion aid package
Senate Democrats again blocked action on a $1.8 trillion economic stabilization package on Monday as talks continued with the Trump administration to resolve differences.
Tempers flared in the Senate as senators and senior Trump administration officials scrambled to strike a deal on a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue measure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with Democrats blocking action on the package until they could secure stronger protections for workers and restrictions for bailed-out businesses.
“Are you kidding me?” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, demanded on the Senate floor. “This is not a juicy political opportunity, this is a national emergency.”
The extraordinary scene unfolded the day after Democrats blocked action on the measure, which is emerging as the largest economic stimulus measure in modern history. The vote on Sunday evening shook markets around the globe and infuriated Republicans who said it ignored bipartisan talks that had yielded substantial compromises over the outlines of the measure.
The testy exchanges overshadowed an urgent set of negotiations that continued behind the scenes between Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to iron out the remaining differences.
“We Democrats are trying to get things done, not making partisan speech after partisan speech,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor, pointing out he had met repeatedly with Mr. Mnuchin and Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, over the last 24 hours.
“Our goal is to reach a deal today, and we are hopeful, even confident, that we will meet that goal.”
Mr. Mnuchin declined to provide specifics, but said the two sides were “very close” to a deal. “We are knocking down the issues,” he said. “We have been working all morning and we are not leaving until we have a deal.”
At the heart of the impasse is a $425 billion fund created by the bill that the Federal Reserve could leverage for loans to assist broad groups of distressed companies, and an additional $75 billion it would provide for industry-specific loans. Democrats have raised concerns that the funds do not have rules for transparency or enough guardrails to make sure companies do not use the funds to enrich themselves or take government money and lay off workers. They also argue the measure would give Mr. Mnuchin too much discretion to decide which companies receive the funds, calling the proposal a “slush fund” for the administration.
As the legislation is currently written, Mr. Mnuchin would not have to disclose the recipients until six months after the loans were disbursed. Some Democrats also objected to loopholes in the legislation they said could allow Mr. Trump’s real estate empire to take advantage of the federal aid.
The Democratic leader told reporters shortly after midnight that the bill as currently written would give bailouts to major corporations without accountability and that it would not provide enough funding to health care workers on the front lines.
Also on Monday, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said that her husband, John Bessler, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Ms. Klobuchar, writing in a post on Medium, said that she and her husband have been in different places for the past two weeks, and that because 14 days had elapsed since she saw him, she was following her doctor’s guidance and not getting a test for the virus while there is a shortage of tests in the country.
The Fed says it will buy as much debt as it needs to cushion the blow for businesses.
The Federal Reserve said it would buy as much government-backed debt as it needs to keep financial markets functioning, and unrolled a series of programs meant to shore up both large and small businesses — a whatever-it-takes effort to cushion the economic blow of the pandemic.
“Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate,” the central bank said in a statement on Monday, adding that the Fed was “using its full range of authorities to provide powerful support for the flow of credit to American families and businesses.”
The Fed this month resurrected a huge bond-buying program — last used in response to the 2008 financial crisis — saying that it would spend $700 billion on Treasury securities and $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt. On Monday, the central bank said it would not limit its purchases, instead buying “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning.”
Wall Street fell on Monday even after the Fed unveiled its expansive new bond-buying program. The S&P 500 was down about 1 percent in early trading.
Markets stumbled on the news that a political stalemate in the Senate had slowed a rescue plan for the U.S. economy. Senate Democrats on Sunday blocked action on an emerging deal to prop up the economy, halting the progress of a nearly $2 trillion government rescue package. They contended that the legislation failed to adequately protect workers or impose strict enough restrictions on bailed-out businesses.
Major indexes in Germany, Britain and France were lower, and most Asian markets also closed down.
States order more than 100 million Americans to stay home, as Trump questions restrictions.
As President Trump suggested that he would soon re-evaluate the federal guidance urging social distancing, more states moved Monday to impose their own sweeping stay-at-home orders, which will soon cover more than 100 million Americans in more than a dozen states.
The divide burst into public view after Mr. Trump suggested that his patience with some of the disruptive measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus might be limited, writing on Twitter Sunday night that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”
It was a starkly different message from the one being given by many health experts — and by state and local officials on the front lines of the fast-spreading outbreak, many of whom are urging more people to stay home to try to save lives.
On Monday states including Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Oregon became the latest to announce sweeping directives to keep more people home to try to slow the spread of the virus before it overwhelms the capacities of their hospitals to treat the sick.
“Stay at home,” Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana, a Republican, said Monday as he issued an order aimed to keep people indoors in his state, which he noted was in line with what other states were doing. “I’m telling you, the next two weeks are critical.”
But at the White House, in recent days, there has been a growing sentiment that medical experts were being allowed to set policy that has hurt the economy, and there has been a push to find ways to let people start returning to work.
Writing on Twitter Sunday night, Mr. Trump added that: “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
The White House issued guidance last week urging Americans to avoid large gatherings, to work from home and to maintain distance from one another for an initial 15-day period.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious diseases expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has said in interviews that he believed it would take several more weeks before people can start going about their lives in a more normal fashion. Other infectious disease experts suggest even harsher measures than social distancing are required to truly beat back the outbreaks in the United States.
And on Monday morning the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, issued a stark warning in an appearance on NBC: “This week, it’s going to get bad,” he said, urging more Americans to take social distancing seriously.
Governors of both parties, fearing that the fast spread of the virus will soon clog their hospitals and leave them with too few ventilators to keep critically ill patients alive, continued to take action on their own, following in the footsteps of states including California, Illinois and New York that moved last week to try to keep residents home and close nonessential businesses.
“If we all do our part and simply stay home, we have a shot,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said at a news conference on Monday, citing a study that projected that 70 percent of Michigan’s 10 million residents could become infected if nothing changed.
Ms. Whitmer, who is among a handful of Democratic governors who have exchanged jabs with President Trump over the virus, said that the action was necessary, in part, because of a lack of response from the federal government.
“Without a comprehensive national strategy, we, the states, must take action,” she said.
On Monday morning, Mr. Trump posted a video on Twitter in which members of his coronavirus task force called for more social distancing — but then retweeted his earlier post about not letting the cure be worse than the problem itself.
New York is now the center of the U.S. outbreak.
As New York became the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would issue an emergency order requiring the state’s hospitals to increase their capacities by at least 50 percent.
The order was a mandatory directive from the state, Mr. Cuomo said, adding “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say try to reach a 100 percent increase but you must reach a 50 percent increase.”
Data released Monday indicated that the state accounts for roughly 6 percent of coronavirus cases worldwide.
The jump stemmed from both the rapid growth of the outbreak and a significant increase in testing in the state. Health officials emphasized that testing was revealing how quickly the virus had spread.
There are now 20,875 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state and at least 157 deaths. About 13 percent of the people who tested positive for the virus were hospitalized.
Moving to stem the crisis on multiple fronts, Mr. Cuomo pleaded with federal officials to nationalize the manufacturing of medical supplies and ordered New York City to crack down on people congregating in public. He suggested that some streets could be closed to traffic, allowing pedestrians more space.
The governor announced measures intended to prepare for a wave of patients, including setting up temporary hospitals in three New York City suburbs and erecting a large medical bivouac in the Jacob Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side.
Already, hospitals across the New York region are reporting a surge of coronavirus patients and a looming shortage of critical supplies like ventilators and masks.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York told CNN on Monday that hospitals had only “days” to get critical supplies before doctors will be unable to save the lives of those who might otherwise survive.
He was being held in isolation at the Wende Correction Facility near Buffalo, according to the two people who spoke anonymously to discuss a private medical matter.
Angela Merkel tested negative days after exposure to an infected doctor.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany tested negative for the virus days after being exposed to an infected doctor, a spokesman said on Monday.
The doctor had vaccinated Ms. Merkel against pneumonia on Friday. The chancellor has been isolating herself at home since learning that the doctor was infected on Sunday, and she will receive more tests to confirm the results. The first days after exposure may be too early to detect an infection.
News that Ms. Merkel had been exposed to the virus sent ripples of unease through a country that has been guided by her through a series of crises over the past 14 years.
But for now, the government has assured Germans that it is business as usual: On Monday morning, Ms. Merkel led a conference call with her cabinet from her Berlin apartment to discuss the biggest peace-time stimulus package Germany has ever seen.
Ms. Merkel has been among the world leaders urging residents to practice social distancing.
“Do what is right for our country,” Ms. Merkel told people in Germany on Sunday, after introducing measures that limit groups in public to just two people, aside from families — at a safe distance. “Show reason and heart,” she said.
In some places, fines have been introduced for people who break the rules. In the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, people who unnecessarily leave their homes can face fines of up to 25,000 euros, about $26,700.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said on Sunday that if people didn’t comply with social distancing measures, he was ready to introduce “far more draconian measures,” after crowds thronged Australia’s beaches over the weekend.
Local leaders in some Italian towns and regions have taken to the streets to demand that residents return home and called out those who fail to adhere. Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the regional government of Campania, issued a threat in a video message to those planning to throw graduation: “We will send the police over, with flamethrowers.”
Alain Thirion, a top security official at France’s interior ministry, told reporters in Paris on Sunday that the police had carried out checks on over 1.7 million people and that over 90,000 of them were in violation of a mandatory lockdown. Repeat offenders could face up to €3,700 in fines and six months in prison, under legislation passed on Sunday by France’s Parliament.
The maker of an experimental drug says it will cut emergency access, as researchers race for a cure.
Nearly 70 drugs and experimental compounds may be effective in treating the coronavirus, a team of researchers reported on Sunday night.
Some of the medications are used to treat other diseases, and repurposing them to treat Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, may be faster than trying to invent a new antiviral from scratch, the scientists said.
Among the drugs on the list was remdesivir, an experimental antiviral produced by Gilead Sciences that has been used in emergency cases to treat the coronavirus. But the company said on Sunday that it was suspending access to emergency requests for remdesivir, citing an “exponential increase” in such requests as the virus spreads through Europe and the United States.
As coronavirus cases have increased around the world, demand has overwhelmed “an emergency treatment access system that was set up for very limited access to investigation medicines and never intended for use in response to a pandemic,” the company said in a statement.
The list of drug candidates appeared in a study published on the website bioRxiv. The researchers have submitted the paper to a journal for publication.
Also on the list was chloroquine, a malaria medication that has been much in the news this past week, thanks to speculation about its use against the coronavirus — some of which was repeated by President Trump at a news briefing at the White House on Friday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, followed the president’s remarks with a warning that there was only “anecdotal evidence” that chloroquine might work.
India extends its lockdown to cover almost the entire nation of 1.3 billion.
The Indian authorities are grounding all domestic flights and putting most of the country, the world’s second most populous, in full lockdown.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India remains relatively low — about 400 — but the government wants to lock things down before the virus spikes in the densely populated country. It has steadily tightened restrictions, first ending all international flights and now grounding domestic ones, starting Wednesday at midnight.
The crackdown has also included religious gatherings. On Saturday, local authorities in Ayodhya said they would block as many as 1 million Hindu pilgrims that had hoped to visit the holy city in northern India starting Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of Ram, one of the most important Hindu gods.
On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted an urgent appeal on Twitter: “Many people are still not taking the lockdown seriously,” he said. “Please, save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously.”
In New Delhi, the capital, the front page of all major newspapers featured a full-page announcement outlining the new restrictions. They reminded residents that the country has a long history of fighting disease, reaching back to the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 that was instituted in British-occupied India to combat the bubonic plague. The law has been used to combat outbreaks of swine flu, cholera and malaria.
But nothing on this scale has been tried before, and there was some confusion as to the scope of the new edict. For instance, food stores were supposed to be exempted, but in some neighborhoods the police ordered small grocery stores to close.
India was one of the first nations to essentially shut its borders, canceling visas and denying entry to all but a few foreigners. But the containment measures have been imperfect, and fear has started to spread.
The government, hoping that aggressive and swift action will spare the nation, is offering a clear slogan: “Say No to Panic, Say Yes to Precautions.”
Racing to save the sick, Spain’s health workers fall victim themselves.
As countries around the world grapple with shortages in protective equipment, health care workers in Spain are confronting the risks posed by the coronavirus. Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers make up 12 percent of the country’s coronavirus cases, which by Monday totaled nearly 33,000, including 2,200 deaths.
“A nurse cannot work without protection,” Teresa Galindo, who leads a union that represents nurses in the Madrid region, said, adding that she never thought the health service’s resources “could be stretched so far to the limit.”
Videos shared on social media show dire conditions at hospitals in the region, with coughing patients lying on the floor or on beds in corridors, many hooked up to oxygen tanks, as overwhelmed health professionals shuffle past.
“There are people without rooms, sitting in plastic chairs for more than 30 hours,” Javier García, a union representative, told the newspaper El Mundo.
Hotels and exhibition centers are being converted into field hospitals. The aid organization Doctors Without Borders has set up a 100-bed unit on a university campus in Madrid, and the army is deploying to take patients to hospitals and alleviate the burden on the health sector.
The city hall of Madrid is preparing to transform an indoors ice skating ring into an emergency morgue, local media reported on Monday.
Spain is also racing to cope with a shortage of tests, so the number of infected may be far higher than the reported caseload. Hundreds of thousands of new test kits will be handed out in the coming days, the authorities say, and health professionals will be the first to be tested.
Boeing will temporarily shut Washington state factories.
Boeing plans to announce on Monday that it will temporarily shut down its operations in Washington State, where the company has two major factories and several smaller sites, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus among its tens of thousands of employees in the region, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The factories will close for two weeks and all of the 70,000 employees will continue to receive paychecks during that time, according to two of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal decisions. Boeing is in contact with the Pentagon to determine how to handle its work on the KC-46 tanker and P-8 military aircraft, which are made in the Washington factories.
For now, the company’s other major production facilities, in Missouri, South Carolina, Arizona and Pennsylvania, will remain open.
More than 30 Boeing employees have tested positive, with the majority in Washington, the company said. Nearly 2,000 workers have been sent home to remain in isolation after possible exposure.
Boeing workers there have been complaining about the conditions on the factory floors, where several employees have been taken away in ambulances and cleaning supplies are scarce, according to three current employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A petition to shut down a plant in Everett, the company’s largest facility, has received more than 8,200 signatures.
A little joy in a difficult time.
It is reasonable to feel anxious and worried about the news. Today, we hope to offer you ideas for a small respite.
Reporting and research were contributed by Eileen Sullivan, Katie Robertson, Sarah Mervosh, Ellen Barry, Michael Cooper, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Katrin Bennhold, Hari Kumar, Jeffrey Gettleman, Vindu Goel, Lara Jakes, Reid Epstein, Karen Zraick, Elian Peltier, Aurelien Breeden, Raphael Minder, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Jeanna Smialek, Ian Austen, Mariel Padilla, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Katie Van Syckle, Jesse McKinley, Emily Cochrane, Jim Tankersley, Jeanna Smialek, Nick Corasaniti, Kate Taylor, Tiffany May and Mike Baker.
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