House Passes $3 Trillion Relief Bill Seen as Democrats’ Opening Bid

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A divided House on Friday narrowly passed a $3 trillion pandemic relief package to send aid to struggling state and local governments and another round of direct $1,200 payments to taxpayers, advancing a proposal with little chance of becoming law over near-unanimous Republican opposition.

As retail sales plunged and jobless claims mounted, the prospect of more aid from Washington remained uncertain. Democratic leaders characterized the $3 trillion measure, which President Trump has promised to veto, as their opening offer in future negotiations over the next round of coronavirus aid, forging ahead in passing it even amid rifts within their own ranks.

With nearly $1 trillion in aid to battered states, cities and Native American tribes, and another round of bolstered jobless benefits and direct government payments to Americans, the measure was an expansive sequel to the $2.2 trillion stimulus enacted in March, reflecting Democrats’ desire to push for a quick and aggressive new round of help.

The bill passed on a tight margin, 208-199, as some moderate Democrats from conservative-leaning districts rejected it as a costly overreach that included provisions unrelated to the pandemic.

Even though the bill was more a messaging document than a viable piece of legislation, its fate was in doubt in the final hours before its passage. Republicans forced a vote to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving $1,200 coronavirus aid payments, hoping to garner the support of enough centrist Democrats to prevail.

If that happened, progressives were privately threatening to band together with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to sink the bill, according to people familiar with their conversations who detailed them on the condition of anonymity.

Ms. Pelosi furiously worked the House floor into the evening, intercepting lawmakers as they came, in an effort to discourage them from backing the Republicans’ proposal. Her efforts prevailed and the effort fell short.

The economic destruction caused by the virus continued to upend life in America. Retail sales plunged a record 16.4 percent in April, according to government data reported Friday, on the heels of an 8.3 percent drop in March. It was by far the largest two-month decline on record, and prompted storied brands including J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney to file for bankruptcy.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

For an institution steeped in tradition and precedent, the changes were a reflection of the profound ways in which the coronavirus pandemic is reshaping American life. The party-line vote was 217-189, with Republicans unanimously opposing a change they called a power grab by the majority.

The new rules will allow a member to vote remotely by providing precise instructions to a proxy who is able to be present on the House floor. The vote also paved the way for House members to cast votes remotely using technology in the future, but only after a feasibility study is conducted to ensure that such a system could operate securely.

Democratic leaders said they hoped the new rules would allow the chamber, which has mostly been sidelined by the virus since March, to begin conducting more rigorous oversight of the Trump administration’s pandemic response and restart the legislative process on spending and defense bills even as lawmakers remain scattered across the country.

“This change is not permanent,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said during a bitter debate before the vote. “This is to meet a temporary catastrophe that confronts our country that we have not seen the likes of in over a century.”

Even though some Republicans had expressed support for creating a way for the House to work with members spread out across the country, they opposed Democrats’ plan en masse after weeks of bipartisan talks yielded no agreement.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, and his deputies laid out their concerns in a letter on Thursday, saying that the plan was rushed and would trample the rights of the minority.

“Upending more than 200 years of precedent through partisan fiat will jeopardize the deliberative process of the House of Representatives and our ability to represent our constituents,” they wrote.

The smaller Senate has adapted in more modest ways, allowing its members to participate in hearings via videoconference. But Republican leaders there have reconvened lawmakers in Washington and largely put the chamber back to work despite the health risks.

Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, lifted restrictions in 13 counties, including the Pittsburgh area, on Friday and announced 12 more counties that could reopen starting May 22. But he was not moving fast enough for some.

In Lebanon County, near Harrisburg, the Republican-led county board voted, 2-1, to reopen businesses in defiance of the governor’s order, starting Monday. With a population of 141,000, the county has a higher infection rate than other parts of the state.

A number of states lifted restrictions on businesses and public life on Friday, in a significant milestone for the country’s attempt to re-emerge from coronavirus-related shutdowns. More than two-thirds of states have now relaxed restrictions in some significant way, including some that had previously been the most locked down.

In Oregon, retail stores will flip their window signs to “open.” A stay-at-home order will expire in Arizona. And restaurants and bars in much of Virginia will be able to seat customers for happy hour again — but only outside.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, will allow stores, salons and houses of worship to open up with social distancing requirements starting Friday night, even as cases remain relatively steady. Gyms, barbershops, movie theaters and bars with food permits will also be allowed to open back up in Louisiana, which at one point was experiencing the fastest growth in new cases in the world and most recently has seen a decline in new cases.

The reopenings have come even as the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, testified before Congress this week that reopening too soon could trigger another uncontrollable outbreak. The changes on Friday represent a departure in states that had previously been among the most assertive about restrictions.

In Lebanon County, Pa., the commissioner Bob Phillips, a Republican, said that he favored the resolution to reopen in defiance of the governor’s order, but noted that the county could now miss out on funding handed out by the state. Businesses that decide to reopen and hold licenses with the state could also face penalties.

“We’re trying to transfer the decision making to the business owners so they can open up and try to salvage what’s left,” he said in an interview.

Credit…Sean Rayford/Getty Images

As more parts of the country reopen businesses, many retail workers have reluctantly turned into de facto enforcers of public health guidelines, confronting customers who refuse to wear masks or to maintain a wide distance from others. The risk of a violent reaction now hangs over jobs already fraught with health perils.

A female cashier told a man refusing to wear a mask that he could not buy a pack of cigars at a convenience store in Perkasie, Pa. He punched her three times in the face.

And in the most violent incident, the security guard at a Dollar Store in Flint, Mich., was shot dead after insisting that a customer put on a mask.

Stores are “caught in the middle,” said Meegan Holland, the spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association. “People can get belligerent when being asked to do something that they do not want to do.”

Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

President Trump doubled down on Friday on his promise to have a coronavirus vaccine available by the end of this year, betting that he can rally the pharmaceutical industry and the government to have one available to nearly all Americans at a speed never before accomplished.

Mr. Trump’s credibility on the issue has been clouded by months of overpromising, exaggerating and misleading about other elements of his response to the pandemic, including the availability of testing and the potential of unproven treatments.

With the nation emerging from two months of lockdown, the economy in near-Depression-level crisis and his re-election prospects at stake, Mr. Trump cast the rapid development of a vaccine as an important, but not essential, component of returning to normalcy.

“Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back and we’re starting the process,” he said during an appearance in the Rose Garden.

He introduced a longtime pharmaceutical executive and a four-star general to lead a national effort that he compared in size and speed to the Manhattan Project, the race 75 years ago to build the first atomic bomb.

The new chief of what Mr. Trump calls Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui, is a former chairman of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline. He called Mr. Trump’s goal “very credible,” even though the fastest a new vaccine has been developed and distributed is four years and most have taken considerably longer.

Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

That followed an 8.3 percent drop in March, producing by far the largest two-month decline on record. Total sales for April, which include retail purchases in stores and online as well as money spent at bars and restaurants, were the lowest since 2012, even without accounting for inflation.

Many economists expect spending to rise in May because most states have begun to lift barriers to commerce and movement.

Retail and food

services sales

Monthly changes

April: –16.4%

Retail and food services sales

Monthly changes

April: –16.4%

Seasonally adjusted

Source: Census Bureau

By The New York Times

But any recovery is likely to be slow and uneven. There is no guarantee that customers will return in numbers previously seen — and even if Americans feel comfortable going out to shop, they may not have as much money to spend because millions have lost their jobs.

Both companies were facing a host of issues before the virus forced them to close their stores and eventually file for bankruptcy. Those troubles had included adjusting to the rise of e-commerce and a lack of connection with a new generation of shoppers.

But they also shared one increasingly common problem for retailers in dire straits: an enormous debt burden — roughly $1.7 billion for J. Crew and almost $5 billion for Neiman Marcus — from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

New guidance for restaurant operators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention favors broad principles (“Intensify cleaning, sanitization, disinfection and ventilation”) over specific standards, so our restaurant critic, Pete Wells, asked doctors and health experts for suggestions on handling the risks of dining out while the virus is still a threat. Here are their recommendations.

  • Check your community’s health. Dining rooms are reopening in several states that have not met the criteria suggested by the White House for a phased reopening. You should check the latest data on virus cases in your community before deciding.

  • Know your personal risk. Anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19 or who has recently come into contact with someone who has had the virus should stay home. And anyone who falls into one of the high-risk categories identified by the C.D.C. should be especially cautious about going out to restaurants — particularly older people.

  • Look around once you arrive. Are the tables far apart? Will the chairs permit at least six feet of space between customers? “The biggest red flag would just be crowding,” said Craig W. Hedberg, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. “If people are crowded near the entrance or around the bar, or there’s a lot of interaction going on between staff and customers in proximity, then obviously they’re not operating in a mode that’s designed to prevent transmission of the virus.”

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday said county officials could not collect mail-in ballots from people who feared getting the coronavirus at polling places while it decided the merits of the case, which centers on whether those people qualify as disabled voters.

By overturning an appeals court ruling, the Supreme Court sided with Attorney General Ken Paxton in a complex legal process as lawsuits about the state’s efforts to limit access to mail-in voting during the pandemic proceed in federal and state courts. On Thursday, the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals had upheld a lower court order issued last month.

“Protecting the integrity of elections is one of my most important and sacred obligations,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement. “The Legislature has carefully limited who may and may not vote by mail.”

The Texas Democratic Party, voting rights groups and others who sued the state are arguing that healthy voters who fear contracting the coronavirus at the polls should qualify as disabled voters. “Texans shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their vote,” Sophia Lakin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, has said.

But Mr. Paxton has said that the election code “does not permit an otherwise healthy person to vote by mail merely because going to the polls carries some risk to public health.”

Credit…Mitsu Yasukawa/

Last month, relatives of Sylvia Goldsholl received troubling news from her New Jersey nursing home: She had contracted the coronavirus and was in isolation.

With the virus proving especially deadly for older people, the prognosis seemed dire for Ms. Goldsholl, who turned 108 in December.

“This is killing people in nursing homes all over New Jersey and the country,” said Nancy Chazen, a niece of Ms. Goldsholl. “Quite honestly, I thought that was going to be the end — I mean, she’s 108.”

Two weeks later, relatives received another call.

“They told us, ‘She’s full recovered,’” said Ms. Chazen, whose aunt has become one of the oldest Covid-19 survivors in the world.

Ms. Goldsholl’s case is a rare bright spot in New Jersey, whose current death toll from the virus — 9,946 through Thursday — is second only to New York State’s.

Roughly half of the deaths in New Jersey — 5,168 through Thursday — have come at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Nationwide, roughly one-third of the 86,607 coronavirus deaths have been nursing home patients or workers.

“We thought, ‘Well, this could be it,’ but knowing Sylvia, I should have known better,” said a nephew, Larry Goldsholl.

“I don’t know her secret to longevity,” her nephew said, “but she’s very feisty.”

Credit…Miles Fortune for The New York Times

In a county north of Seattle, two people who came down with respiratory illnesses in December now have antibodies for the coronavirus. In Florida, a public health official who got sick in January believes he had Covid-19. And in California, a surprising discovery that an early-February death in San Jose was linked to the virus has triggered a broader search for how that person was exposed.

Those cases have contributed to growing questions about when the virus first reached the United States.

While there was limited testing to uncover specific cases before then, researchers have other tools to trace the path of the virus. That includes genomic sequencing of the virus to help scientists build an ancestral tree of cases, a re-examination of specific deaths, and thousands of old flu samples that have been repurposed to look for the virus.

Here’s a look at the evidence and what it shows:

I got really sick in February. Did I have the virus?

It’s possible, but it was most likely something else.

The Seattle area emerged as an early center of the outbreak at the end of February, but there is compelling evidence that, even there, the virus didn’t yet have much of a foothold compared to the flu, which had a particularly potent season.

What if the virus quietly arrived in December?

Doctors in France have said that a patient’s sample from late December has since tested positive for coronavirus. But so far, there is no comparable evidence of a similar case in the United States.

Credit…Money Sharma/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An innovative coronavirus testing program in the Seattle area — promoted by billionaire Bill Gates and local public health officials as a way of conducting wider surveillance on the invisible spread of the virus — has been ordered by the federal government to stop its work pending additional reviews.

Researchers and public health authorities already had tested thousands of samples, finding dozens of previously undetected cases in a program based on home test kits sent out to both healthy and sick people in the hope of conducting the kind of widespread monitoring that could help communities safely reopen from lockdowns.

But the research groups and the public health department of Seattle and King County, which had been operating under authorization from the state, were notified this week that it now needs approval directly from the federal government. Officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration directed the partnership to cease its testing and reporting until the agency grants further approval.

The delay is the latest evidence of how a splintered national effort to develop, distribute and ramp up testing has left federal regulators struggling to keep up. Amid concerns about the reliability of a growing number of coronavirus antibody tests — which check whether someone may have previously had the virus — the F.D.A. responded last week by ordering companies to submit data proving their accuracy.

But the Seattle study does not track for antibodies and has wide backing, from the Seattle area’s public health leaders to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to Mr. Gates, whose foundation has been deeply involved in fighting the pandemic.

Federal officials are seeing additional information about how the swabs are handled and also have concerns about whether the group is really conducting surveillance testing, since results are being shared directly with patients.

Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware will allow beaches and lakeshores to open at 50 percent capacity Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Friday.

The announcement came as five parts of New York State began a gradual reopening on Friday with construction, manufacturing and curbside retail resuming. For the rest of the state that had not yet met reopening criteria, including New York City, stay-at-home orders were extended on Thursday night by executive order through May 28. (An earlier version of this briefing misstated the length of the stay-at-home order’s extension.)

Mr. Cuomo said Thursday that the remaining regions could reopen “the moment they hit their benchmarks.”

Even as Mr. Cuomo unveiled plans for beaches, he said that local governments could still decide to keep them closed, though they will have until Wednesday to decide.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier Friday that New York City’s beaches would not open for Memorial Day weekend. The city was not likely to ease restrictions on business and gatherings until at least the first half of the June, he said.

With a warmer weekend ahead, Mr. de Blasio said the city would try to reduce crowds at parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan and deploy police officers to limit access to the popular Sheep Meadow in Central Park.

But he also said the city would “reset” its approach to enforcing social distancing, focusing police officers on breaking up large groups. The police, he said, would also no longer be asked to enforce orders requiring people to wear face coverings.



‘There May Not Be Pomp Because of Our Circumstances,’ Oprah Tells Students

Oprah Winfrey addressed graduates in the Class of 2020. More than 75 other celebrities joined her.

Of course, this is not the graduation ceremony you envision. You’ve been dreaming about that walk across the stage your family and friends cheering you on. The caps flung joyously in the air. But even though there may not be pomp because of our circumstances, never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion and energy.

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Oprah Winfrey addressed graduates in the Class of 2020. More than 75 other celebrities joined her.CreditCredit… 

As high school and college come to a close for the Class of 2020, the virus has upended the traditional celebrations that accompany those milestones.

Instead of walking across a stage to cheers, the nation’s nearly 3.7 million high school seniors and some 3 million college graduates will receive their diplomas in the mail or on their phones. And commencement speakers will offer life advice through a webcam, instead of looking across a sea of smiling graduates.

Oprah Winfrey offered a commencement speech in a live-streamed celebration hosted by Facebook on Friday afternoon. Dozens of celebrities joined her virtually, and Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak, former cast members of “The Office,” served as hosts.

In her remarks, Ms. Winfrey challenged graduates to not just rebuild society after the pandemic, but to create a more just world as the nation recovers. And as many graduates look warily at the grim job market, she highlighted the service of essential workers, and asked graduates to contemplate how they will use their own passions to benefit those around them.

She also made an apparent reference to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man in Georgia whose death in February led to murder charges last week.

“For every person burdened by bias and bigotry, for every black man and woman living in their American skin, fearful to even go for a jog, inequality is a pre-existing condition,” Ms. Winfrey said.

Next month, Ms. Winfrey will also headline a virtual graduation ceremony for high school seniors in Chicago, where she filmed her top-rated talk show for more than two decades.

On Saturday, the former President Barack Obama is scheduled to give two commencement speeches, the first at 2 p.m. Eastern for graduates of historically black colleges and universities, and another during a prime time special for high school graduates, airing at 8 p.m. Eastern on all the major television networks.

Mr. Obama is also scheduled to speak at a YouTube-hosted commencement on June 6, along with Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and the K-pop group BTS.

Considering starting therapy? Even if you’re meeting online, an interview can help you determine whether or not the therapy, or the therapist, is a good fit.

Germany entered a recession as its economy, Europe’s largest, grinds to a halt. And Brazil’s health minister announced that he was stepping down less than a month after taking the job. He had clashed with President Jair Bolsonaro over the president’s refusal to embrace social distancing and quarantines.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Levenson, Tara Parker-Pope, James Gorman, Mike Baker, Corey Kilgannon, Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, Mary Williams Walsh, Michael Cooper, Erica L. Green, Katie Thomas, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Knvul Sheikh, Marc Santora, Ben Casselman, Neil MacFarquhar, Sapna Maheshwari, Sarah Mervosh, William K. Rashbaum, J. David Goodman, Jeffrey C. Mays, Joseph Goldstein, Michael Gold, Dagny Salas, Karen Barrow, John Branch, Julie Bosman, Kay Nolan, Campbell Robertson, Sheila Kaplan, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, James B. Stewart, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sarah Kliff, Tariro Mzezewa, Chris Dixon, Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland.

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