President Donald Trump issued a letter to America’s governors thanking them for stepping up alongside health care workers in confronting the coronavirus pandemic and outlining the administration’s plan to identify at-risk counties in the next phase of stemming the spread of COVID-19. 

The president said expanded testing capabilities will allow the administration to coordinate with the country’s patchwork of health officials to target counties that continue to pose risks of spreading the virus. Through “surveillance testing,” he said, health officials will categorize these counties as “high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.” 

“There is still a long battle ahead, but our efforts are already paying dividends,” Trump wrote. “As we enhance protections against the virus, Americans across the county are hoping the day will soon arrive when they can resume their normal, economic, social, and religious lives.” 

Trump has said he’d like to see the country “back to work” by Easter, Sunday, April 12, as fallout over the spread of the coronavirus continues to cripple the U.S. economy. The president has suggested that harder-hit areas would remain under White House coronavirus task force social distancing guidelines while other regions could resume public life. 

But the president’s strategy appears at odds with dozens of state and local officials, who continue to implement more stringent orders to stay at home or close nonessential businesses amid the outbreak. Some governors have indicated they only plan to lift some of those restrictions when health officials say it’s safe to do so. 

“You can’t put a timeline on saving people’s lives,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told reporters Wednesday. 

The Republican governor, who chairs the National Governors Association, added: “We’re going to make decisions based on the scientists and the facts.”

Trump participated in a video teleconference call with the country’s governors and Vice President Mike Pence earlier on Thursday. He tweeted he plans to discuss that call, along with a G20 Leaders’ video teleconference call, at the coronavirus task force briefing later on Thursday. 

— Courtney Subramanian

Rep. McCarthy, Pelosi at odds as aid package heads to House 

WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is not as eager as his Democratic counterpart for Congress to take additional action after the House’s expected passage Friday of a historic stimulus package.

“I would not be quick to say you have to write something else,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “Let this bill work.”

Less than an hour earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had outlined multiple items that she said still need to be addressed as part of Congress’ efforts to confine coronavirus pandemic.

Pelosi also took credit for changes made to the pending $2 trillion package, saying House Democrats did “jiu-jitsu” on the bill that Senate Republicans had put together.

“That is an outright lie,” McCarthy said. “The fundamental portions of this bill have not changed since Sunday.”

– Maureen Groppe

Pelosi lays out priorities for future coronavirus package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her weekly press conference, told reporters “we will have a strong bipartisan vote” tomorrow on the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. 

The bill passed the Senate last night by a 96-0 vote. House Democratic leaders said last night they would pass it on Friday morning.

The House Speaker also laid out her priorities for another coronavirus bill:

  • A “better definition of who qualifies for family and medical leave”
  • Stronger OSHA protections
  • Shoring up pensions
  • Increased SNAP benefits
  • More money for state and local governments, including Washington, D.C.
  • Increased coverage for testing, doctor’s visits, and treatments after a doctor’s visit for coronavirus

“There’s so many things we didn’t get in any of these bills yet in the way that we need to,” she said.

– Nicholas Wu and Maureen Groppe

Trump campaign seeks to block political ad critical of coronavirus response

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has sent a cease-and-desist letter to a pro-Democratic political action committee over an ad that attacks his response to the spread of coronavirus, though the Super PAC says it will continue sponsoring the spot.

Priorities USA Action Fund put up the ad entitled “Exponential Threat,” which replays Trump comments downplaying the coronavirus threat in January and February, even as the number of cases and deaths in the United States rose.

In its letter of complaint, the Trump campaign says the ad is “false, misleading, and deceptive” in implying that the president described the virus itself as a “hoax.”

“The facts show beyond reasonable doubt that he was talking about the Democrats’ politicization of the outbreak when he used the word ‘hoax,'” the letter said.

Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA, said a pro-Trump Super PAC is also threatening his organization, and that they and the Trump campaign “are resorting to desperate threats to keep Americans from hearing the truth about his failed COVID response” that has put all Americans at risk.

“The ads are still running and Priorities USA will continue ensuring voters hear the truth,” McHugh said.

The pro-Trump groups would have to go to court to get the ads stopped.

– David Jackson

Mnuchin: unemployment numbers ‘aren’t relevant’

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is downplaying record-setting jobless claims recorded last week, saying employment will bounce back after the threat of the coronavirus passes.

“To be honest, I think these numbers right now aren’t relevant, whether they’re bigger or smaller, in the short term,” Mnuchin said in a telephone interview on CNBC.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delivers a statement at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.

Mnuchin, who represented the White House in negotiations on a massive stimulus deal the Senate passed Wednesday, spoke shortly after the Labor Department announced the number of jobless claims filed the week ending March 21 hit 3.3 million – a record-shattering number.

The overall unemployment rate – which has hit record lows recently, and was expected to be a major plank in President Donald Trump’s re-election bid – is also expected to soar in the coming weeks and months.

In his CNBC interview, Mnuchin predicted that businesses will start re-hiring as the epidemic passes, thanks in part to the $2 trillion stimulus bill now pending in Congress.

Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council under Trump, appeared to hit Mnuchin for his use of the term “relevant.”

“The 3+ million unemployment claims were expected but are very relevant,” Cohn tweeted. “Each represents a dire situation.”

Cohn, like Mnuchin, urged the House to pass the stimulus bill that includes aid to the unemployed, and “get it distributed immediately.”

– David Jackson

Pentagon: coronavirus cases increase 38% 

Cases of COVID-19 continued to rise on Wednesday, reaching 574 cases among troops, their families and civilian employees, the Pentagon reported Thursday. That compares with 415 on Tuesday, an increase of 38%.

Troops had the largest share of cases with 280 ill with the disease. Its spread among the ranks prompted Defense Secretary Mark Esper late Wednesday to halt travel for all troops and their families for 60 days, essentially ordering them to shelter in place. The order will affect about 90,000 troops whose deployments and moves to new posts will be postponed.

Wednesday also saw the first case of COVID-19 inside the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. military. A Marine tested positive for the coronavirus, and his workplace was sanitized by a dedicated team. Pentagon officials are determining the Marine’s contacts with others.

At sea, the Navy is dealing with an outbreak on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. On Tuesday, three sailors tested positive for the virus and were flown from the ship, which is operating in the Pacific. Five more sailors were found infected on Wednesday, and, they, too were airlifted to a military hospital. Navy officials are tracing their contacts among the 5,000 sailors aboard the Roosevelt.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Trump, G-20 leader hold video conference on coronavirus

President Donald Trump and other leaders of the Group of 20 nations – the G-20 – met by video conference Thursday to discuss some kind of global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus was scheduled to address the group about the need to finance and produce more personal protection equipment like masks and gloves for besieged medical workers across the globe.

The event was closed to the press.

The current G-20 chairman, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, said he called the “virtual summit” to work on a “global response” to the outbreak.

“As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges to healthcare systems and the global economy, we convene this extraordinary G20 summit to unite efforts towards a global response,” he tweeted before the meeting. “May God spare humanity from all harm.”

The conference came a day after another international economic group – the Group of Seven industrialized nations, or G-7 – failed to agree on a joint statement about coronavirus.

The reason: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on referring to the epidemic as the “Wuhan virus,” saying China has a special responsibility to address the impact of the disease because it started in that country. Other G-7 members called the designation needlessly provocative.

– David Jackson

Pelosi’s 80th birthday comes ahead of big House vote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated her 80th birthday Thursday getting ready to shepherd the biggest economic bill in history through the U.S. House she leads. The Senate version of the coronavirus relief bill turned out to be 880 pages long, presumably a coincidence and not a tribute.

Eighty years ago, news of her birth, the daughter of a first-term Baltimore congressman, also made headlines in the local press. It was a time, though, that any thoughts of a political dynasty focused on her five older brothers, not on the only girl in the family. 

“It’s a Girl for the D’Alesandro’s,” The Baltimore News-Post headline declared over a four-column photo at the top of the front page that showed the swaddled newborn only hours after she was born at the city’s St. Joseph Hospital. 

The Baltimore Sun took a more political tilt: “Tommy D’Alesandro Announces Another Sure Vote – It’s a Girl.” 

The Baltimore Guide offered a prediction that in retrospect seems practically prescient. “D’Alesandro Will Find New Boss in First Daughter,” it said, adding, “We predict that this little lady will soon be a ‘Queen’ in her own right.”

– Susan Page

Senate passes coronavirus package. House to vote Friday

The Senate passed a $2 trillion economic rescue package – the largest such measure in U.S. history – just before midnight on Wednesday in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on the measure Friday. 

“Congratulations AMERICA!” President Donald Trump tweeted after the measure was approved in a 96-0 vote following days of heated debate. Two earlier efforts to introduce the initial version of the bill failed to make it to a final vote before Democrats agreed to the current package. 

Trump plans to sign the bill once it clears the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it is expected to pass when the body reconvenes at 9 a.m. EDT on Friday. 

The third, and largest, economic aid package out of Congress since the coronavirus outbreak began includes one-time payments of $1,200 to individuals making less than $75,000, as well as $500 per child, $367 billion for small businesses, more than $130 billion toward the health care system, expanded unemployment benefits and $500 billion in loans for ailing industries. 

Full text:The $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill released

The virus has spread to all 50 states and the U.S. now trails only China and Italy in confirmed cases, which now number nearly 70,000. One thousand people have died as of Thursday morning, but that number is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks. 

Businesses across the country have shutdown in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. The aid package aims to lift some of the burden on small businesses that are fighting to avoid collapse amid the crisis and the workers who won’t be collecting paychecks. 

A Labor Department report on Thursday will reveal the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits after the outbreak.

– William Cummings

Fed chairman: ‘We may well be in a recession’

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the economy may be in recession as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but has potential to rebound depending on how quickly the virus is contained.

During an interview with NBC’s Today show, Powell said the economy was in a strong position before the COVID-19 outbreak spread in the United States, citing 50-year lows in unemployment.

“We may well be in a recession,” said Powell during the interview, but added this recession is different from normal, and there is nothing “fundamentally wrong” with the economy.

“This is a situation where people are being asked to step back from economic activity, close their businesses, stay home from work,” said Powell. “In principle, if we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume, and we want to make that rebound as vigorous as possible.”

– Brett Molina

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