(WASHINGTON) — The federal government has been rolling out its response to the coronavirus crisis, trying to slow the spread and prop up the economy, which has taken a severe hit, as shown by historic jobless claims numbers out Thursday.
On the eve of the dire report, at a White House coronavirus task force briefing, President Donald Trump said that “large sections of our country” can probably “go back to normal” much sooner than others, while the nation’s leading expert on pandemics, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that “the virus makes the timeline.”
In an apparent effort to combat the growing economic fallout, the Senate cleared a massive relief package by unanimous vote late Wednesday. It moves on to the House for a vote set for Friday.
Trump envisions new county-by-county guidelines
In a new letter to the nation’s governors, President Trump says his administration is working on revising social distancing restrictions through a system potentially classifying U.S. counties as high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk.
“Americans across the country are hoping the day will soon arrive when they can resume their normal economic, social, and religious lives,” Trump said. “In furtherance of this shared goal, my Administration is working to publish new guidelines for state and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place.”
The letter went on to say that data from “robust surveillance testing” would be used by the administration to “suggest guidelines characterizing counties high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk.”
The president doesn’t specify when the updated guidance will come, but his 15-day guidelines are set to expire early next week.
He confirmed earlier Thursday he will speak at the coronavirus task force briefing scheduled for 5 p.m. at the White House.
House leaders prepare to vote on $2 trillion Senate bill
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is “very proud” of the $2 trillion relief package the House is set to consider Friday morning, adding she feels “certain we will have a bipartisan vote.”
“Congressional Democrats in the Senate and in the House were able to flip this over from a corporate, trickle-down, Republican version to bubble-up, workers-first, families-first legislation,” Pelosi said. “We have some other things we want to do, but first we want to take pride in what happens there.”
With the Senate in recess until April 20, the California Democrat said she believes the House must be ready to potentially act again sooner.
“Everybody has to be on-call for what we need, when we need it, and we don’t know what that might be,” she said. “But whatever it is, we’ll be ready.”
Pelosi is spending her 80th birthday today on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, following Pelosi, called her claim that Democrats did “jiu-jitsu” by forcing major changes “an outright lie” and said that fundamental portions of the legislation had not changed since Sunday.
Unlike Pelosi, McCarthy signaled he’s not ready to begin talks over the fourth relief package.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to say you have to write something else,” he said. “Let’s let this bill work.”
The House is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Friday to hold a short debate and then approve the massive bill by voice vote before sending the measure to President Trump’s desk.
Mnuchin calls record jobless claims report ‘not relevant’
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in one of the first reactions from the Trump administration to historic jobless numbers released Thursday, in a phone interview this morning with CNBC, called them “not relevant” because, he said, the economic package under consideration in Congress now will help those put out of work, and in the long-term, people will be rehired.
“I just think these numbers right now are not relevant, and whether they’re bigger or smaller in the short-term,” Mnuchin said. “The good thing about this bill is the president is protecting those people, so now with these plans, small businesses hopefully will be able to hire back a lot of those people.
“By the way,” he added, “lots of big companies do continue to hire, for obviously grocery stores, pharmacies, delivery services. These companies are on overtime, so I know they’re hiring people as fast as they can.”
The Department of Labor reported a record 3.28 million workers in the U.S. filed for unemployment claims last week in the week ending March 21, according to data released Thursday.
That’s an increase of 3 million from the previous week.
Among the hardest hit sectors was the service industry, particularly accommodation and food service. Nearly every state cited COVID-19 as the reason for the high number of claims.
During the worst week of layoffs in the great recession, 665,000 Americans filed for unemployment.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News this morning that the numbers were “totally expected.”
“This is to be totally expected,” Navarro said. “We put public health above economics in the very, very short run. So, this is no surprise. This is expected, and we should accept the news because we’re doing what we need to do to combat the virus.”
Largest economic relief bill in U.S. history passes unanimously in Senate, moves to House
Following a week of bitter negotiations, the Senate passed the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history in a unanimous vote late Wednesday: 96 to 0.
The massive $2.2 trillion economic relief package spans 880 pages and steers aid to businesses, workers and health care systems amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Four Republicans — Sens. John Thune, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee and Rand Paul — were absent from the votes due to self-quarantine.
Following the vote, Majority Leader McConnell released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed with 24 hours notice.
The House will convene at 9 a.m. Friday to consider the bill.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a letter to colleagues late Wednesday that he expects the vote on final passage will be done by voice vote.
“Members who want to come to the House Floor to debate this bill will be able to do so. In addition, we are working to ensure that those who are unable to return to Washington may express their views on this legislation remotely,” Hoyer said.
President Trump is expected to sign the bill if it passes the House. He congratulated Americans on the Senate vote in a tweet after midnight.
96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2020
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