(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump told reporters at a pooled event that he would be making economic and health related announcements Wednesday evening amid continued financial decline and as the number of Americans infected with the novel coronavirus continues to grow exponentially.
Earlier Wednesday, several of the nation’s top public health experts were being grilled on Capitol Hill Wednesday about how bad the coronavirus crisis might get and whether the Trump administration is up to the job of dealing with it.
The tough questions come as Trump meets with bankers at the White House — where he announced his impending statement — and the administration tries to cut a deal with congressional Democrats on economic relief measures that could include everything from paid sick leave to a payroll tax cut.
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Here are Wednesday’s biggest developments:
Trump says he will make both economic and health related announcements later Wednesday
The coronavirus task force is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m.
Fauci warns Congress: ‘It’s going to get worse’
Administration and congressional Democrats negotiating economic relief measures
Here is how developments in Washington are unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
Trump says he’ll make an economic and health related statement
In a roundtable meeting with bankers, Trump announced he would make announcements later Wednesday to address economic and health concerns. No other details about the statement were immediately available.
“I’ll be making a statement late on tonight as to what I decide to do and what our country decides to do,” Trump said.
He later said to expect his statement “at approximately 8 o’clock.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 1,400 points Wednesday — nearly 6% — as investor anxiety over coronavirus outbreak continues to affect trading.
During the roundtable, he also addressed the state of the economy.
“The numbers from a week ago were great … but now we’re hitting a patch, and we’re going to have to do something in respect to getting rid of this virus as quickly as possible,” Trump said. “Our number one priority is the health of the country.”
Trump tweets he’s prepared to use full power of government
While the president met with banking executives at the White House, he also took to Twitter to tout his authority over the federal government’s response to the “challenge” of the coronavirus, saying he’s prepared to use its “full power.”
“I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!” Trump tweeted.
Moments before, he had another indirect message to congressional Democrats:
“Someone needs to tell the Democrats in Congress that CoronaVirus doesn’t care what party you are in. We need to protect ALL Americans!” he tweeted.
“America is the Greatest Country in the world. We have the best scientists, doctors, nurses and health care professionals. They are amazing people who do phenomenal things every day…Together we are putting into policy a plan to prevent, detect, treat and create a vaccine against CoronaVirus to save lives in America and the world. America will get it done!”
The president’s tweets come just few hours after Fauci testified that it will take at least a year to develop a vaccine for the new virus.
Democratic leaders crafting economic relief bill
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders are working to craft a bill to address the economic consequences of the novel coronavirus virus, with a vote possible as soon as Thursday — just before lawmakers recess for 10 days.
“We don’t want to panic, but on the other hand, nor do we want to give any impression that this is not a major, critical health challenge confronting us that we need to handle responsibly,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters in his Capitol Hill office Wednesday morning. “Tomorrow we’re going to be addressing — and I’m sure in the future addressing — the economic consequences to individuals and trying to assure that they don’t fall through the cracks.”
The Democrats’ bill includes unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, nutrition assistance and ensures that all the costs of tests for COVID-19 are fully covered. Hoyer said he does not anticipate a payroll tax cut to be included in the bill.
The effort to address the economic consequences of the virus comes amid continued financial decline and as the number of infected Americans continues to grows.
The measure comes one week after Congress sent Trump an $8.3 billion package to address the health issues created by the outbreak.
Fauci tells Congress: ‘It’s going to get worse’
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the widely-respected director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked directly by House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, if the worst is yet to come.
“Yes, it is,” he answered bluntly. “Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” he said, adding that the U.S. will certainly see more cases and how much worse it gets depends on the ability to contain those infected.
Moments before, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield announced “with sadness” the 31st American death from the coronavirus.
Maloney leveled harsh criticism of the administration’s response.
“My question is if the Trump administration is exacerbating the crisis by downplaying it,” she said. “My constituents are telling me they can’t get tested.”
“South Korea can test more people in one day than we have in the last two months,” Maloney noted, asking why the U.S. hasn’t tested more people.
Redfield defended the CDC, saying tests were always available at the CDC in Atlanta suggested some responsibility lay with the private sector.
But he said he’s “not confident” that U.S. labs have an adequate stock of supplies used to extract genetic material from a virus in a patient’s sample — a critical step in coronavirus testing.
The hearing turned especially testy when Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., confronted the witnesses with misleading statements made by President Trump, repeating his claims that the tests were available to anybody who wanted one and are “perfect” and “beautiful.”
“The president has made some bizarre statements,” Lynch said. “We really need honesty here.”
“When the president is making statements like this, we need pushback from the public health officials,” he continued. “Standing behind him and nodding silently or an eye roll every once in awhile is not going to get us there.”
“I appreciate your comments,” Fauci pushed back,sounding offended. “But I can tell you absolutely that I tell the president, the vice president and everyone on the task force what the data is and what the evidence is. I have never held back on exactly what is going on from a public health standpoint.”
When asked to give a projection on the number of cases, Fauci said it depends on the government’s response.
“I can’t get you a realistic number until we put into the factor of how we respond. If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up to many, many millions.”
In a statement in contrast with what Trump has suggested, Fauci said that there’s no guarantee warm weather will stop the spread of the virus.
“We do not know what this virus is going to do. You would hope that when we get to warmer weather it would go done, but we can’t operate under that assumption.”
When asked to compare coronavirus to the flu, Fauci said the coronavirus has a mortality rate ten times higher.
“This is a really serious problem, and people need to take it seriously,” he said.
“We would recommend that there are not large crowds,” Fauci said. “If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it.”
“People always say, ‘The flu this, the flu that.’ The flu has a mortality of 0.1%. This has a mortality of 10 times that,” Fauci said, in another statement conflicting with claims Trump has made.
“We’ve got to change our behavior. We have to essentially assume that we are going to get hit. That’s why we talk about making mitigation and containment in a much more vigorous way. People ask, ‘why would you want to make any mitigation? We don’t have any cases."” he said. “That’s when you do it.”
At another House hearing, amid testing delays and supply chain issues, lawmakers continued demanding answers from the Food and Drug Administration.
No one pressed harder than Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, asking why the administration continues to highlight testing capacity without providing clear updates on how quickly labs can see results from those tests.
“This is the problem that I keep hearing from people,” Pocan told FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. “They feel like they’re not being told the total truth.”
Independent analysts have said the ability to process COVID-19 tests remains relatively low compared to the number of available tests, which Hahn said was just under a million. On Wednesday, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb pegged the estimated test processing capacity at 15,500, noting it’s expected to hit 20,000 by the end of the week with help from private and public labs.
Asked exactly how many tests could be processed each day, Hahn said he would need to provide a later update to ensure the information was “accurate.”
“I can’t speak to the absolute numbers,” Hahn said.
Pressed further on the availability of treatments and the chemical agents needed to conduct tests, Hanh acknowledged the current strain.
“We’re out there with the laboratories providing them alternatives for these reagents,” Hahn said. “When we become aware of shortages we are going to let the American people know.”
“Honestly, no offense, those are not answers you’re giving me,” Pocan shot back. Those should be at the tip of your tongue. We really need to know that.”
The tests are being distributed through a network of pre-certified private and public labs, Hahn said.
“While capacity isn’t evenly distributed around nation, LabCorp and Quest provide important swing capacity,” his predecessor Gottlieb tweeted Wednesday.
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