(WASHINGTON) — The novel coronavirus pandemic is spreading around the globe and in the United States, resulting in more than 46,000 cases domestically and nearly 600 deaths.
The federal government has been rolling out its response to the virus, its efforts to stem the tide as well as to stimulate the economy, which has taken a severe hit.
President Donald Trump is signaling that he’s considering loosening coronavirus social distancing guidelines amid the growing economic fallout, while public health officials warn that approach could quickly overload hospital systems and cost more lives.
Here is how developments unfolded on Tuesday.
Cuomo to Trump: “Act like it’s a war”
Moments ahead of Trump’s town hall, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a fiery daily news conference on COVID-19, blasted the federal government’s response to the outbreak, saying that it holds the power to produce life-saving ventilators and other equipment but isn’t invoking it — at the cost of human lives.
“FEMA says, ‘we’re sending 400 ventilators.’ Really? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” Cuomo said. “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”
“The only way we can obtain these ventilators is from the federal government, period,” Cuomo continued, criticizing the Trump administration’s delay in using the powers of the Defense Production Act. “I need the ventilators in 14 days. Only the federal government has that power. And not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me.”
“The president said ‘it’s a war, it’s a war.’ Then act like it’s a war,” Cuomo added.
Trump further signals rolling back social distancing guidelines
President Trump doubled down on comments made Monday that Americans “cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself” referencing economic fallout amid social distancing guidelines designed to minimize fatalities due to COVID-19.
“Our people want to return to work,” the president tweeted Tuesday morning. “They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! Congress MUST ACT NOW. We will come back strong!”
At Monday night’s briefing, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked the president if he’s worried about the virus spreading unabated if the restrictions are lifted.
“We have two very, very powerful alternatives that we have to take into consideration,” Trump said. “Life is fragile and economies are fragile.”
“If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down. Let’s shut down the entire world because again you’re up to 150 countries,"” Trump said, when asked whether any doctors on the task force agreed with his suggestion that social distancing guidelines will pay off in weeks not months.
“So, let’s shut down the entire world and when we shut it down, that’d be wonderful, and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years. We can’t do that,” Trump said.
The president also predicted “there will be tremendous death” from shutting down the economy and job losses, “probably” more than the disease would cause.
He’s expected to expand on the topic in a town hall with Fox News Monday afternoon — in an event appearing to replace, for now at least, the daily coronavirus task force briefing.
State of the stimulus package: Negotiations continue, leaders signal Tuesday night vote
After Senate Democrats successfully blocked the GOP-backed “phase three” $2 trillion coronavirus relief measure in its current form twice in 24 hours, negotiations between Senate leadership and the White House continue behind closed doors.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed hope that the Senate would successfully vote to move forward on the stimulus bill from the floor Tuesday morning and again slammed his Democratic colleagues for the unforeseen delays.
“The clock has run out, the buzzer is sounded, the hour for bargaining as though this were business as usual has expired,” McConnell said.
A little after midnight, Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin and director of White House Legislative Affairs Eric Ueland emerged from their final meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his top staff.
All parties said there were a few remaining issues to lock down but that they were nearly done — and expect a deal.
“There’s still a few little differences,” Schumer said. “Neither of us think they’re in any way going to get in the way of a final agreement.”
The Democratic leader said the Senate would “hopefully vote on it” Tuesday evening.
Trump said in Monday’s night briefing that Republicans and Democrats “have no choice” but to reach a deal.
“I got a call a little while ago. I guess they’re getting closer. Should go quickly and must go quickly,” Trump said. “It’s not really a choice. Don’t have a choice. They have to make a deal.”
If and when the Senate bill passes, it will then go to the House for a vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled her own massive economic stimulus proposal, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, Monday afternoon on Capitol Hill, in case the Senate bill fails.
Pelosi outlined her options forward on CNBC this morning.
“I think there is opportunity — real optimism that we could get something done the next few hours,” Pelosi said, complimenting Senate Democrats for their efforts to make the bill less for corporate America and more beneficial to workers.
“If we don’t have unanimous consent, my two options with my members is to call them back to vote to amend this bill, or to pass our own bill and go to conference with that,” she added.
Kudlow: Public health includes economic health
The president’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow expressed hope that at the end of the 15-day period, the administration can reassess and — with the sign-off health officials — target certain areas in the country where there’s a low occurrence of coronavirus spread to resume more normal economic functions.
“We will take another look at the possibility of targeting areas that are safe enough. We have to do this with the assent and help of the health specialists. No question about that. It’s just a matter of where it’s possible to open places that are not hot zones, for example, in order to try to expand the business reach and reduce the shut-in that’s taken over the economy,” Kudlow said on FOX Business.
He further expanded on the idea of targeting specific zones speaking with reporters, emphasizing that the president’s economic advisers aren’t advising an “either/or scenario” but arguing that “public health includes economic health.”
“If we can target zones where viruses is less prevalent, think it’s safe,” Kudlow said. “We’re not abandoning the health professionals advice but there is a clamor to try to reopen the economy and, perhaps, cause less of a shut in.”
I asked Kudlow specifically about the idea of letting younger people who are not in high-risk groups return to work sooner.
“I don’t want to be specific, that’s logical,” Kudlow told me but the added jokingly “You got some old codgers who are pretty healthy too.”
Asked about how the federal government – practically speaking – can reopen parts of the economy that have shuttered given that local governments are by and large the ones calling the shots, Kudlow said it would come in the form of “guidance” and conceded that local governments are pulling many of the levers.
FEMA Director says Defense Production Act powers will be used ‘today’
A few hours after President Trump this morning tweeted his astonishment at the difficulty of obtaining face masks and ventilators from the international marketplace, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said on CNN that the administration planned to use the Defense Production Act for the first time today during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’re going to use the DPA for the first time today,” Gaynor said, adding they would use “the allocation portion of the DPA” for “about 60,000 test kits” that “we need to get our hands on.”
Gaynor also said they would use the DPA Tuesday to “insert some language into these mask contracts we have for the 500 million masks.”
Trump tweeted hours before that the market is “Crazy,” as he acknowledged that it is “not easy” obtaining the desperately needed equipment for states.
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