Government response updates: Trump says ‘it could have been stopped,’ again blames China

(WASHINGTON) — As the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus passes 9,000 in the U.S. Thursday morning, and the northern border to Canada closes to nonessential travel, President Donald Trump prepares to visit Federal Emergency Management Agency Headquarters Thursday, while his GOP allies enter negotiations for “phase three” of coronavirus relief measures.

He appeared once again at the daily briefing by the White House coronavirus task force and again blamed China.

“We continue our relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus,” he said to open the briefing.

“This is something that happened that was — some people would say it’s an act of God. I don’t view it as an act of God. I would view it as something that adjusts the pride the whole world. If people would have known about it, it could have been stopped in place. It could have been stopped right where it came from, China,” Trump said.

“But now the whole world almost is inflicted with this horrible virus, and it’s too bad. It’s too bad, because we never had an economy as good as the economy we had just a few weeks ago. But we’ll be back. I actually think we’ll be back stronger than ever before,” he said.

“More help is on the way as we speak. Our entire team headed by Secretary Mnuchin is on the Hill,” he said referring to his ttreasury secretary working with Senate Republicans on the economic stimulus package.

“I want Americans to know we’re doing everything we can,” Trump said. “The American public has been incredible. We took the best economy we’ve ever had and we said, ‘Stop, you can’t work. You have to stay home.’ There’s never been a case like this.”

Trump said the Food and Drug Administration was fast-tracking a possible treatment.

“The therapies are something we can move on much faster, potentially. The treatments that will be able to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms, make people better.”

“I’ve directed the FDA to eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy, so this work can proceed rapidly, quickly, and, I mean, fast. We have to remove every barrier. There were a lot of barrier that were unnecessary. They’ve done that to get the rapid deployment of safe, effective treatments, and we think we have some good answers. We’ll find out very, very soon,” Trump said speaking on clinical trials.

Trump said the FDA is authorizing the use of a drug called Chloroquine to treat the symptoms of COVID-19. It’s also used to treat symptoms of malaria and arthritis.

“This is beyond right to try. If treatment is known to be safe in Europe, Japan, or other nations, or effective against a virus, we will use that information to protect the health and safety of American people. Nothing will stand in our way as we pursue any avenue to find what best works against this horrible virus.”

The stimulus negotiations on Capitol Hill come as healthcare workers across the country complain they’re grappling with CDC guidelines on personal protective equipment as supplies like masks and gloves dwindle — and amid alarming data that the disease is hitting younger people harder than projected.

Expected to be one of the largest emergency spending packages in American history, the $1 trillion “phase three” that the White House and Republicans are proposing breaks down to: $500 billion for two rounds of $250 billion of direct payments for Americans to go out around April 6 and May 18; $300 billion to help small businesses meet payroll; $50 billion for the airlines; and $150 billion for loans and loan guarantees for other parts of the economy.

ABC News Chief White House Correspondent White House Correspondent asked Trump if he can guarantee that the money the federal government is giving to hard-hit industries like airlines will not go to executive bonuses or to more stock buybacks.

He replied, “It takes many people, in this case, to tango. As far as I’m concerned, conditions like that would be okay with me.”

Trump signed “phase two” of coronavirus economic relief Wednesday night after the Senate overwhelmingly passed the House-backed bill. It ensures free COVID-19 testing, paid leave for some workers, bolsters unemployment insurance, increases spending on health insurance for the poor and adds $1 billion in food aid.

On Wednesday Trump also signed — but said he had not yet invoked — a rarely used emergency power called the Defense Production Act, which gives the president the power to direct civilian businesses to help meet orders for products necessary for the national defense.

In a written statement Thursday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the president to “immediately use the powers” of the DPA to mass produce and distribute critical supplies.

“The President must immediately use the powers of the Defense Production Act to mass produce and coordinate distribution of these critical supplies, before the need worsens and the shortages become even more dire,” she said. “There is not a day to lose.”

Asked Thursday why not invoke the Defense Production Act immediately, Trump said it’s unnecessary since the nation’s governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work.

“The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. We a not shipping clerk. The governors are supposed to be. As with testing, the governors are supposed to be doing it,” Trump said.

Trump then said he would know soon if he needed to invoke the measure, pointing to the “next two or three days.”

“If we were desperately in need of something, and we, frankly, will know about that very shortly. We want to be ahead — we don’t want to do it as it happens, but before it happens. We will know a lot over the next two or three days. We’ll know a lot.”

When pressed on the availability on masks given complaints about a sever shortage, Vice President Mike Pence said, “They are available now. The 3M facility I was at told me that in January they went to full production on 35 million masks … all 35 million of those that started to be produced at full capacity in January can now be sold to hospitals. That’s the distinction here.” He said they should be available “today.”

Here are Thursday’s most significant developments in Washington:

The White House coronavirus task force is scheduled to hold a briefing at 11 a.m.
Trump is scheduled to visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA Headquarters in the afternoon
Pelosi calls on Trump to invoke Defense Production Act powers: ‘There is not a day to lose’
Trump signed “phase two” of coronavirus relief measures, enters “phase three,” negotiations which includes a proposal to send relief checks directly to Americans
At least two members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19

Here is how developments unfolded on Thursday.

Mnuchin says $1000 checks to most adults + $500 per child

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave an update to the White House’s proposal to send money directly to Americans affected by COVID-19, saying the White House aims to send $1,000 checks to most adult Americans and an additional $500 per child, in a phone interview Thursday morning with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo.

“The plan is 500 billion dollars in two tranches. The first one would be $1,000 per person, $500 dollars per child,” Mnuchin said. “As soon as Congress passes this, we get this out in three weeks.”

Mnuchin went on to say another round of identical payments would be sent out six weeks after that, if the country was still experiencing a national emergency.

It’s one part of the trillion dollar plan in “phase 3″ of the federal government’s economic response to offset COVID-19.

Birx gets a space in the West Wing

Ambassador Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, got office space in the West Wing, according to White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.

Birx raised concerns on Wednesday about reports coming out of Italy and France showing “some young people getting seriously ill and very seriously ill in the ICUs” — a threat the administration appears to be taking seriously.

“We have not seen any significant mortality in the children, but we are concerned about the early reports coming out of Italy and France,” Birx said. “Even if it’s a rare occurrence, it may be seen more frequently in that group, and be evident now.”

Politico first reported the news this morning.

Trump continues to cast himself as a “wartime president”

In his first tweet of the day, President Trump said, “We are going to WIN, sooner rather than later!”

Trump said in Wednesday’s coronavirus task force briefing he is fighting an “invisible enemy.”

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