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The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to grant an extra year of eligibility to all student-athletes in spring sports whose seasons were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the Buccaneers were openly interested in signing Tom Brady, Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht said the 42-year-old quarterback gave the Bucs his best sales pitch in their first phone call.
Free-agent safety Eric Reid wants the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement invalidated over language added following ratification of the pact earlier this month.
More than 115 athletes, coaches and sports personalities from 13 countries have joined to raise money for a COVID-19 response fund aimed at providing assistance for individuals fighting the global pandemic.
Roger Federer put on a show for fans via Twitter on Monday, pulling off trick shots against a wall in the snow.
Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal attempted to clarify his brief appearance on the hit Netflix documentary 'Tiger King,' saying that while he loves big cats, he 'had no idea' what was going on at the Oklahoma ranch.
ESPN.com panelists share their thoughts and opinions on the championship round.
The Chiefs are still on top, while the additions of DeAndre Hopkins and Tom Brady have their new teams on the rise.
Kinlaw, a defensive tackle out of South Carolina projected to go in the top 20 picks of the NFL draft, has come a long way from spending part of his childhood homeless.
For a single season, these players raised their game to levels they had never achieved before -- or would again.
For the NBA and Team USA, moving the Olympic Games to 2021 raises big questions. Here are the answers so far.
The lightweight champ says he's stuck in Russia, so our panel considers who could step in against Tony Ferguson.
An expert in critical event preparedness and response at Johns Hopkins Medicine answered many of the questions people are asking about exercising and playing outside during the coronavirus pandemic.
Two Kansas City Chiefs might have signed themselves up for a showdown with an esports pro.
What do NHL stars think should be done for the playoffs? How are they all staying in shape? What will the draft and free agency look like?
Like everyone else, Gritty is finding ways to stay entertained while social distancing. Plus, tips on hygiene, connecting with friends and more.
Someone on Twitter suggested it to Mickelson. While the golf world is shut down, get two of the biggest names in the sport together with a single camera person. Phil's response: "Working on it."
To help you get your baseball fix, ESPN will air some of the most memorable games of the past 25 years, with more classics available on ESPN+.
Dave Martinez, Kevin Cash, Joe Girardi and others talk about connecting with their players, missing baseball and enjoying some extra family time.
The Premier League's latest idea of keeping all 20 teams together, isolated and safe, to finish the season is silly. PLUS: Kane's not leaving Spurs.
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Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows officially resigned from Congress on Monday, more than three weeks after he was chosen to be President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff.
The resignation was effective at 5 p.m. Monday, and he will start his new role Tuesday, his spokesman said.
“Serving the people of North Carolina’s eleventh congressional district for these last seven years has been the honor of my life,” Meadows wrote in a resignation letter. “I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.”
The FBI has reached out to Sen. Richard Burr about his sale of stocks before the coronavirus caused markets to plummet, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.
The outreach suggests federal law enforcement officials may be looking to determine whether the North Carolina Republican exploited advance information when he dumped as much as $1.7 million in stocks in the days before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the economy.
Burr has denied wrongdoing but has also requested an ethics review of the stock sales.
The Justice Department’s action, first reported by CNN, was confirmed by a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Justice Department declined to comment.
In a statement, Alice Fisher, an attorney for Burr, said, “The law is clear that any American – including a Senator – may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did.
“When this issue arose, Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry. Senator Burr welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate,” the statement said.
Burr, whose stock sales were first reported by ProPublica and The Center for Responsive Politics, is one of several senators whose financial dealings have generated scrutiny in recent weeks.
Senate records show that Burr and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 transactions in late January and mid-February, just before the market began to nosedive and government health officials began to sound alarms about the virus. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.
Burr has acknowledged selling the stocks because of the coronavirus but said he relied “solely on public news reports,” specifically CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of Asia, to make the financial decisions.
There is no indication that Burr, whose six-year term ends in 2023 and who does not plan to run for reelection, was acting on inside information. The intelligence panel he leads did not have any briefings on the pandemic the week when most of the stocks were sold, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential committee activity.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.
As the coronavirus pandemic knocks primary election after primary election off schedule, Democrats argue the outbreak shows the country needs to move toward one of their longtime goals — widespread voting by mail — to protect the November election.
But Democrats’ hopes for using the crisis to expand voting by mail face firm Republican opposition, as well as significant logistical challenges. In some states, it would amount to a major revamp of their voting system just eight months before an election.
Vote-by-mail boosters already lost the first round of the fight. Democrats tried and failed to insert a broad mandate expanding voting by mail in the stimulus bill, a proposal that could cost as much as $2 billion. Instead, the bill included $400 million to help states adjust elections however they see fit before November.
But Democrats in Washington say they will keep pressing the issue, pointing to the increasing number of states that are shifting to mail-in voting for primaries as evidence that the time is right. A poll from the Pew Research Center released Monday found that about two-thirds of Americans would be uncomfortable voting at polling places during the outbreak.
“Practically every single Tuesday, we see another state reacting to their inability to run their election in the middle of this incredible health care pandemic,” said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the first state to vote entirely through the mail. He called expanded mail voting “not even a close call.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, joined the push Sunday. “We should be looking to all-mail ballots across the board,” Biden said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We should be beginning to plan that in each of our states.”
Every state already allows some form of voting by mail, but only six Western states are set up to allow all-mail voting in every county, according to Wendy Underhill at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Meanwhile, 17 states require a formal excuse for voters to get ballots they can mail in, and some have additional requirements. In Alabama, for example, applications for ballots must be returned with a copy of a state ID.
Democrats have long sought to eliminate such rules — either on the state level or by federal mandate — arguing they are barriers to voting, particularly for minorities, the elderly or the disabled.
While Republicans have backed the trend toward mail voting, the party remains suspicious of widespread use of the method — even though there is evidence that its voters benefit the most from it.
President Donald Trump summed up GOP complaints about Democrats’ mail-in-voting proposal during an interview Monday on “Fox & Friends.” “The things they had in there were crazy. They had things — levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said of Democrats.
Many Republicans argue that a major expansion of mail-in voting opens up new concerns about fraud and security and that the decisions should be made at the state level rather than be dictated by Congress.
“These people who are saying all these states have to change and vote by mail don’t know what they are talking about,” said John Merrill, Alabama’s Republican secretary of state who has worked to expand mail voting in his home state. “I think every state ought to be able to make up their mind about what to do in elections.”
There are other, practical hurdles. Mail-in voting requires an expensive upfront investment in machines to process mail ballots, poll workers and election judges to be retrained to use the devices and verify voters’ signatures on their envelopes and other wrinkles.
“You can’t just flip the switch and go from one system to another,” Underhill said. She noted that official ballots must be printed on durable paper stock, and states may not be able to secure enough for November without sufficient advanced planning. “You can’t just get it at Kinko’s.”
It’s also not clear that voting by mail is necessarily pandemic-proof. In Washington state, an early epicenter of the outbreak, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, recommended that a special election set for April 28 across 18 counties be canceled because of the virus.
She noted that, under Washington law, voters can register up until Election Day, which requires personal contact with government workers. And sorting of mail ballots typically takes place in crowded offices.
“Most people focus on Election Day and people being able to return a ballot. But there’s lots of activities on the back-end in elections offices,” she said.
Many local officials are focused on finding ways to make voting in person safer. In Alabama, Merrill, who pushed local primaries back until mid-July because of the virus, said he plans to spend more money ensuring that polling stations are heavily cleaned and that poll workers have access to protective equipment and sanitizer.
He doesn’t want to try to change the state’s voting system in a few months. “We’re not for introducing new problems. We’re for fixing current problems, Merrill said.
Some Republicans see Democrats as trying to take advantage of a crisis.
“Some of these are things that have been kind of partisan issues for a long time and now are being presented as a kind of response to COVID-19,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who opposes a federal mandate. “I’ve called that crisis opportunism. I don’t think making big policy changes in response to a crisis is the right thing to do.”
Ohio’s March 17 primary was delayed at the last minute and changed to an almost-exclusively mail-in contest for April 28.
Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who tracks voting issues, notes secretaries of state have long resented mandates from Washington on how to conduct elections. But after upfront costs, mail voting is demonstrably cheaper than casting ballots in-person, McDonald said. It also may favor Republicans, whose voters tend to be older and more likely to cast absentee ballots, McDonald found, while Democrats are more likely to vote in person.
Mail voting can also delay election counts, especially in California, which allows voters to mail in their ballots on Election Day. The state is still counting votes from its March 3 primary, in part because the virus outbreak has scrambled staffing in county elections offices across the state.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said he was disappointed that Congress balked at including voting reforms in the stimulus.
“They missed a golden opportunity to strengthen the resiliency of our elections system,” Padilla said.
Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, and Christina Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.
President Donald Trump is poised to roll back ambitious Obama-era vehicle mileage standards and raise the ceiling on damaging fossil fuel emissions for years to come, gutting one of the United States’ biggest efforts against climate change.
The Trump administration is expected to release a final rule Tuesday on mileage standards through 2026. The change — making good on the rollback after two years of Trump threatening and fighting states and a faction of automakers that opposed the move — waters down a tough Obama mileage standard that would have encouraged automakers to ramp up production of electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient gas and diesel vehicles.
“When finalized, the rule will benefit our economy, will improve the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, will make vehicles more affordable, and will save lives by increasing the safety of new vehicles,” EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said Monday, ahead of the expected release.
Opponents contend the change — gutting his predecessor’s legacy effort against climate-changing fossil fuel emissions — appears driven by Trump’s push to undo regulatory initiatives of former President Barack Obama, and say even the administration has had difficulty pointing to the kind of specific, demonstrable benefits to drivers, public health and safety or the economy that normally accompany standards changes.
The Trump administration says the looser mileage standards will allow consumers to keep buying the less fuel-efficient SUVs that U.S. drivers have favored for years. Opponents say it will kill several hundred more Americans a year through dirtier air, compared to the Obama standards.
Even “given the catastrophe they’re in with the coronavirus, they’re pursuing a policy that’s going to hurt public health and kill people,” said Chet France, a former 39-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he served as a senior official over emissions and mileage standards.
“This is first time that an administration has pursued a policy that will net negative benefit for society and reduce fuel savings,” France said.
Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the senior Democrat on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, called it “the height of irresponsibility for this administration to finalize a rollback that will lead to dirtier air while our country is working around the clock to respond to a respiratory pandemic whose effects may be exacerbated by air pollution.
“We should be enacting forward-looking environmental policy, not tying our country’s future to the dirty vehicles of the past,” Carper said.
In Phoenix, Arizona, meanwhile, resident Columba Sainz expressed disappointment at the prospect of losing the Obama-era rule, which she had hoped would allow her preschool age children to break away from TV indoors and play outside more. Sainz reluctantly limited her daughter to a half-hour at the park daily, after the girl developed asthma, at age 3, at their home a few minutes from a freeway.
“I cried so many times,” Sainz said. “How do you tell your daughter she can’t be outside because of air pollution?”
Trump’s Cabinet heads have continued a push to roll back public health and environment regulations despite the coronavirusoutbreak riveting the world’s attention. The administration — like others before it — is facing procedural rules that will make changes adopted before the last six months of Trump’s current term tougher to throw out, even if the White House changes occupants.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been the main agency drawing up the new rules, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The standards have split the auto industry with Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen siding with California and agreeing to higher standards. Most other automakers contend the Obama-era standards were enacted hastily and will be impossible to meet because consumers have shifted dramatically away from efficient cars to SUVs and trucks.
California and about a dozen other states say they will continue resisting the Trump mileage standards in court.
Last year, 72% of the new vehicles purchased by U.S. consumers were trucks or SUVS. It was 51% when the current standards went into effect in 2012.
The Obama administration mandated 5% annual increases in fuel economy. Leaked versions of the Trump administration’s latest proposal show a 1.5% annual increase, backing off from its initial proposal simply to stop mandating increases in fuel efficiency after 2020.
The transportation sector is the nation’s largest source of climate-changing emissions.
John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing automakers, said the industry still wants middle ground between the two standards, and it supports year-over-year mileage increases. But he says the Obama-era standards are outdated due to the drastic shift to trucks and SUVs.
The Trump administration standards are likely to cause havoc in the auto industry because due to expected legal challenges, automakers won’t know which standards they will have to obey.
“It will be extraordinarily disruptive,” said Richard J. Pierce Jr., a law professor at the George Washington University who specializes in government regulations.
States and environmental groups will challenge the Trump rules, and a U.S. District Court likely will issue a temporary order shelving them until it decides whether they are legal. The temporary order likely will be challenged with the Supreme Court, which in recent cases has voted 5-4 that a District judge can’t issue such a nationwide order, Pierce said. But the nation’s highest court could also keep the order in effect if it determines the groups challenging the Trump standards are likely to win.
“We’re talking quite a long time, one to three years anyway, before we can expect to get a final decision on the merits,” Pierce said.
Krisher reported from Detroit.
New York’s governor issued an urgent appeal for medical volunteers Monday amid a “staggering” number of deaths from the coronavirus, as he and health officials warned that the crisis unfolding in New York City is just a preview of what other communities across the U.S. could soon face.
“Please come help us in New York now,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as the state’s death toll climbed by more than 250 in a single day to a total of more than 1,200 victims, most of them in the city. He said an additional 1 million health care workers are needed to tackle the crisis.
“We’ve lost over 1,000 New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “To me, we’re beyond staggering already. We’ve reached staggering.”
Even before the governor’s appeal, close to 80,000 former nurses, doctors and other professionals in New York were stepping up to volunteer, and a Navy hospital ship, also sent to the city after 9/11, had arrived with 1,000 beds to relieve pressure on overwhelmed hospitals.
“Whatever it is that they need, I’m willing to do,” said Jerry Kops, a musician and former nurse whose tour with the show Blue Man Group was abruptly halted by the outbreak.
He returned to his Long Island home, where he volunteered to be a nurse again. While waiting to be reinstated, Kops has been helping at an assisted-living home near his house in Shirley, N.Y.
The spike in deaths in New York was another sign of the long fight ahead against the global pandemic, which was filling Spain’s intensive care beds and shutting millions of Americans inside even as the crisis in China, where the outbreak began in December, kept easing.
More than 235 million people — about two of every three Americans — live in the 33 states where governors have declared statewide orders or recommendations to stay home.
In California, officials put out a similar call for medical volunteers as coronavirus hospitalizations doubled over the last four days and the number of patients in intensive care tripled.
“Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days, and this is a very vital 30 days,” President Donald Trump told reporters. “The more we dedicate ourselves today, the more quickly we will emerge on the other side of the crisis.”
In Europe, meanwhile, hard-hit Italy and Spain saw their death tolls climb by more than 800 each, but the World Health Organization’s emergency chief said cases there were “potentially stabilizing.” At the same time, he warned against letting up on tough containment measures.
“We have to now push the virus down, and that will not happen by itself,” Dr. Michael Ryan said.
More than three-quarters of a million people worldwide have become infected and over 37,000 have died, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. reported more than 160,000 infections and over 3,000 deaths, with New York City the nation’s worst hot spot, and New Orleans, Detroit and other cities also seeing alarming clusters.
“Anyone who says this situation is a New York City-only situation is in a state of denial,” Cuomo said. “You see this virus move across the state. You see this virus move across the nation. There is no American who is immune to this virus.”
Some hospitals are now parking refrigerated trailers outside their doors to collect the dead. At two Brooklyn hospitals, videos posted by bystanders and a medical employee showed workers in masks and gowns loading bodies onto trailers from gurneys on the sidewalk.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, similarly warned that smaller cities are likely about to see cases “take off” the way they have in New York City.
“What we’ve learned from painful experience with this outbreak is that it goes along almost on a straight line, then a little acceleration, acceleration, then it goes way up,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
In other developments around the world:
— Bells tolled in Madrid’s deserted central square and flags were lowered in a day of mourning as Spain raced to build field hospitals to treat an onslaught of patients. The death toll topped 7,300.
— In Japan, officials announced a new date for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — summer of 2021 — as a spike in reported infections fueled suspicions that the government had been understating the extent of the country’s outbreak in recent weeks while it was still hoping to salvage the Summer Games.
— Moscow locked down its 12 million people as Russia braced for sweeping nationwide restrictions.
— Israel said 70-year-old Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quarantining himself after an aide tested positive for the virus. And in Britain, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne who tested positive for the virus, ended his period of isolation and is in good health, his office said.
Italy’s death toll climbed to nearly 11,600. But in a bit of positive news, newly released numbers showed a continued slowdown in the rate of new confirmed cases and a record number of people recovered.
“We are saving lives by staying at home, by maintaining social distance, by traveling less and by closing schools,” said Dr. Luca Richeldi, a lung specialist.
At least six of Spain’s 17 regions were at their limit of intensive care unit beds, and three more were close to it, authorities said. Crews of workers were frantically building more field hospitals.
Nearly 15% of all those infected in Spain, almost 13,000 people, are health care workers, hurting hospitals’ efforts to help the tsunami of people gasping for breath.
In a sign of the mounting economic toll exacted by the virus in the United States, Macy’s said it would stop paying tens of thousands of employees thrown out of work when the chain closed its more than 500 department stores earlier this month.
The majority of its 130,000 workers will still collect health benefits, but the company said it is switching to the “absolute minimum workforce” needed to maintain basic operations.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia. More than 160,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins.
The crisis in China, where the outbreak began in late December, continued to ease. China on Monday reported 31 new COVID-19 cases, among them just one domestic infection, and the city at the center of the disaster, Wuhan, began reopening for business as authorities lifted more of the controls that locked down tens of millions of people for two months.
“I want to revenge-shop,” one excited customer declared.
Japanese automaker Toyota halted production at its auto plants in Europe, but all of its factories in China resumed work Monday.
Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
Former Vice President Joe Biden took his virtual presidential campaign to the next level Monday when he launched a podcast as the coronavirus forces him to get creative in reaching voters otherwise distracted by a global pandemic, NBC News reports.
The podcast “Here’s the Deal” is intended to provide listeners “a voice of clarity during uncertain times” by delving into pressing subjects affecting Americans’ day-to-day lives in conversations between Biden and “national top experts,” according to its media kit.
“Hey, Team Biden. It’s Joe, and I’m sitting in Wilmington, Delaware,” Biden says at the top of the debut podcast. “It’s a scary time, people are confused, things are changing every day, every hour so I wanted to have this conversation with you now if we could.”
The podcast is another way for the campaign to try to connect with voters confined to their homes — a challenge recent political candidates have not had to face. The launch comes one week after Biden debuted his home TV studio in his basement, where he was able to reinsert himself into the national conversation on cable news following several technical difficulties encountered in his first week of “working from home.”
Read the full story on NBCNews.com
The second-largest river in California has sustained Native American tribes with plentiful salmon for millennia, provided upstream farmers with irrigation water for generations and served as a haven for retirees who built dream homes along its banks.
With so many competing demands, the Klamath River has come to symbolize a larger struggle over the increasingly precious water resources of the U.S. West, and who has the biggest claim to them.
Now, plans to demolish four hydroelectric dams on the river’s lower reaches to save salmon — the largest such demolition project in U.S. history — have placed those competing interests in stark relief. Each group with a stake — tribes, farmers, ranchers, homeowners and conservationists — sees its identity in the Klamath and ties its future to the dams in deeply personal terms.
“We are saving salmon country, and we’re doing it through reclaiming the West,” said Amy Cordalis, a Yurok tribal attorney fighting for dam removal. “We are bringing the salmon home.”
The project, estimated at nearly $450 million, would reshape the Klamath River and empty giant reservoirs. It could also revive plummeting salmon populations by reopening hundreds of miles of potential habitat that has been blocked for more than a century, bringing relief to a half-dozen tribes spread across hundreds of miles in southern Oregon and northern California.
The proposal fits into a trend toward dam demolition in the U.S. that’s been accelerating as these infrastructure projects age and become less economically viable. The removals are also popular with environmentalists who are fighting for the return of native fish species to rivers long blocked by concrete.
More than 1,700 dams have been dismantled around the U.S. since 2012, according to American Rivers, and the Klamath River project would be the largest by far if it proceeds.
Backers of the dam removal say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could vote this spring on whether to transfer the dams’ hydroelectric licenses from the current operator, PacifiCorp, to a nonprofit formed to oversee the demolition. Drawdown of the reservoirs behind the dams could begin as early as 2022, according the nonprofit, the Klamath River Renewal Corp.
Opponents, including a group of residents who live around a meandering lake formed by the oldest dam, have vowed to fight the project. Without the dam to create the reservoir, they say, their bucolic waterfront properties will become mudflats. Many say their homes have already lost half their value.
“If we get halfway through and they blow a hole in the dam just to let the water out — to say, ‘Yeah, we done this’ — they can walk away from it. And we have no recourse whatsoever,” said Herman Spannus, whose great-grandfather first ran a ranch in the area in 1856.
The structures at the center of the debate are the four southernmost dams in a string of six constructed in southern Oregon and far northern California beginning in 1918.
They were built solely for power generation. They are not used for irrigation, they are not managed for flood control, and none has “fish ladders,” concrete chutes fish can pass through.
Two dams to the north are not targeted for demolition. Those dams have fish passage and are part of a massive irrigation system that straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to more than 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) of alfalfa, potatoes, barley and other crops.
Those farmers won’t be directly affected by the demolition but worry it will set a precedent that could eventually endanger the dams they rely on. An earlier, more comprehensive agreement would have given farmers a guaranteed annual minimum of water in exchange for the lower dams’ removal, but it fell apart in Congress. That leaves irrigators on the sidelines now during the most critical water-management decision for the larger Klamath River system in generations.
Farmer Ben DuVal said he’s optimistic the demolition will help restore salmon but also has “some real concerns.”
“Dam removal on this scale is kind of unprecedented,” said DuVal, who inherited his 300-acre (121-hectare) farm from his grandfather, a World War II veteran who won the land in a lottery in 1949. “I don’t want to be the one who ends up giving up my livelihood in order to fix a problem down there that was caused by a big experiment.”
The demolition plan is good business for PacifiCorp, which holds the dams’ hydroelectric license. The dams make up less than 2% of its overall power portfolio and are no longer an important part of the regional power picture due to new energy sources such as wind and solar and other factors, it says. In addition, the hydroelectric licenses have expired, and renewing them would require more than $400 million in federally mandated modifications.
Under the plan awaiting federal officials’ approval, $200 million for the demolition and river restoration will come from California and Oregon ratepayers, and $250 million will come from a voter-approved California water bond, with no liability for PacifiCorp and a guaranteed cap on its costs.
For the region’s tribes, however, the push to remove the dams is much more than financial calculus.
Salmon were once plentiful in the Klamath River, and the people who have lived alongside it for thousands of years have a powerful connection to the fish. Even now, with numbers of coho salmon and spring and fall chinook in free fall, tribal members name their children after the river and its fish, tattoo their bodies with elaborate images of fish hawks clutching salmon, and return to fishing holes that have been passed down through generations.
“I actually credit a lot of our men and women’s depression to the fact that they fish for days and days and days and days and don’t catch anything,” said Georgiana Gensaw, who is Yurok and lives on the reservation.
“We want to bring salmon home. We want to show off in front of our kids,” she said. “We want to show them how to do it and how to pass that on. And you can’t do that if there’s nothing in your net.”
Coho salmon from the Klamath River are listed as threatened under federal and California law, and their population in the river has fallen anywhere from 52% to 95%. Spring chinook, once the Klamath Basin’s largest run, has dwindled by 98%.
Fall chinook, the last to persist in any significant numbers, have been so meager in the past few years that the Yurok canceled fishing for the first time in the tribe’s memory. In 2017, they bought fish at a grocery store for their annual salmon festival.
Tribal members see a rejection of their entire way of life in the opposition to dam removal.
“It ain’t about how much they love those dams. It ain’t about that. It’s about Indians having any say or having any power or having anything kind of go our way (that) is a danger to American ideals. We’re supposed to be gone. We’re not supposed to be here,” said Chook-Chook Hillman, a Karuk Indian whose 10-year-old son wrote a rap song about damage to tribal traditions titled “Dry Your Eyes.”
But homeowners around the biggest reservoir, Copco Lake, say it’s not so simple — and they, too, feel a strong sense of place in the homes they built decades ago, with no idea the dams could ever come down and drain the man-made lake. Their property values have plunged.
“The real estate people are not anxious to take listings here because it’s the rumors there all the time,” said Tom Rickard, who had to take the retirement home he and his wife built 20 years ago off the market last summer when it didn’t sell.
“You hear people from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, all over the place, and they keep asking, ‘Well, what’s going to happen to the dams?’”
Other residents say removing the dams will mean losing an easily accessible water source for fighting wildfires. Voters in three counties who would be affected by dam removal voted against it in a non-binding question that demolition advocates say was an “opinion poll.”
“Does it really fix the fish equation just by removing the dams? I haven’t seen anything that tells me this is foolproof and we’re not going to have any problems,” said Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff.
Even demolition advocates say dam removal, while critical, won’t be enough on its own to restore the salmon.
Salmon face deteriorating ocean conditions due to climate change, and the many tributaries that feed into the Klamath River — critical spawning habitat for returning salmon — are degraded. Some ranchers who graze cattle along those tributaries are working with environmentalists, but were stung when the earlier agreement among farmers, ranchers and tribes fell apart.
Dam removal “is such a small piece of the restoration of the entire basin,” said Becky Hyde, who runs a cattle ranch near Beatty, Oregon, with her husband.
“The pieces of what would bring stability to the entire basin and the agricultural community are gone — and we’re supposed to be cheerleading for dam removal,” she said. “This is not good enough.”
Dubai’s largest, fully private real estate developer posted on Sunday its first yearly loss since becoming a publicly traded company, a worrying sign for the sheikhdom’s already-reeling vital property market that’s been hit with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
DAMAC Properties, which has business ties to U.S. President Donald Trump and hosts the Mideast’s only Trump-branded golf course, reported a loss of 36.8 million dirhams ($10 million) in 2019 off revenues of nearly 4.4 billion dirhams ($1.19 billion).
That’s compared to a 1.15 billion dirham ($313 million) profit in 2018 off revenues of 6.13 billion dirhams ($1.16 billion). The company became publicly traded in 2013.
In a statement posted to the Dubai Financial Market stock exchange, DAMAC chairman Hussain Sajwani praised Emirati leaders for working toward stabilizing the economy.
“Thanks to the reform-oriented leadership of this country, the market is poised for a long-term upswing,” Sajwani said.
That optimism may be belied by the economic repercussions of the new pandemic, which has halted global travel. Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, largely has shut down, along with many private businesses.
DAMAC’s 2019 results did not show the impact of the coronavirus outbreak which began in January, though a note at the end of its 56-page financial results mentioned it as a “subsequent event.” It said DAMAC “will take necessary measures to safeguard” the interests of shareholders, without elaborating.
Dubai has seen a boom-and-bust real estate market since allowing foreigners to buy property in 2002. Values have dropped by a third since 2014, when Dubai announced it would host Expo 2020, or world’s fair, beginning this October.
Now, apartments, villas and office spaces stand empty, and more properties are due to come onto the market in the coming years. Dubai’s government set up a commission to come up with ways of heading off the problem even before the pandemic struck. Local Expo 2020 organizers also plan to discuss their options Monday.
Late Saturday, global ratings agency S&P announced it lowered its rating for Damac from B+ to B over the outbreak and the COVID-19 illness it causes. It also lowered its ratings for the Dubai real estate juggernaut Emaar Properties, of which the sheikhdom’s sovereign wealth fund owns about a third.
The ratings agency said it expected the fall in residential prices in Dubai will be steeper than previously forecast, with “adverse trends” stretching into 2021.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 is adding to the strain on Dubai’s already weak real estate market,” S&P said.
President Donald Trump visited Norfolk, Va. on Saturday to see off the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship that is headed to New York to provide extra space and support to medical workers in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
“In a few moments the crew of the navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is really something, will embark for New York City where they will join the ranks of tens of thousands of amazing doctors, nurses and medical professionals who are battling to save American lives,” Trump said, speaking in front of the ship.
“This great ship behind me is a 70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the incredible people of New York. A place I know very well, a place I love,” Trump continued.
The USNS Comfort will be used to treat patients who are not infected with COVID-19 in order to free up much-needed hospital space for infected patients in New York City.
“People will be coming out of hospitals who don’t have the virus and they’ll be on the ship where they have great operating rooms and great facilities,” Trump said. “By serving these emergency patients away from the hospitals, beds will be opened up all over the city for those who are infected.”
Read the full story on NBCNews.com
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was stubborn as a mule and conservative to his core. But the Oklahoma family doctor, known for railing against federal earmarks, didn’t let political differences dictate whom he called friends — even if it didn’t sit well with some of his supporters.
Coburn, who died early Saturday at age 72, joined the U.S. Senate the same year as President Barack Obama, and the pair became fast friends despite their contrasting ideologies. In Oklahoma, where Obama failed to carry a single county in his 2008 presidential bid, voters took note.
But the Republican senator shrugged off complaints in 2009, when the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, ran a front-page photograph that showed him hugging Obama after the Democratic president gave a speech to a joint session of Congress.
“I’m not aligned with him politically. I don’t know what people back home in Oklahoma would be worried about,” Coburn, who was re-elected the following year, said at the time. “But you need to separate the difference in political philosophy versus friendship. How better to influence somebody than love them?”
Coburn’s death was confirmed to The Associated Press by cousin Bob Coburn. He did not provide a cause of death, but Tom Coburn had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer for years.
Coburn earned a reputation as a conservative political maverick in Congress. He also delivered more than 4,000 babies while an obstetrician and family doctor in Muskogee, where he treated patients for free while in the Senate.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford called Coburn “an inspiration to many.”
“He was unwavering in his conservative values, but he had deep and meaningful friendships with people from all political and personal backgrounds,” Lankford said in a statement.
Known for bluntly speaking his mind, Coburn frequently criticized the growth of the federal deficit and what he said was excessive government spending endorsed by politicians from both political parties.
“I’ve got a flat forehead from beating my head against the wall,” he told voters in July 2010.
First elected to the U.S. House during the so-called Republican Revolution in 1994, Coburn fiercely criticized the use of federal money for special state projects and was among the few members of Congress who refused to seek such earmarks for their home states.
He represented northeastern Oklahoma for three terms, keeping a pledge in 2000 not to seek re-election. He returned to his medical practice in Muskogee before asking voters to send him back to Washington in 2004, this time to the Senate, so he could fight big spenders and ensure “that our children and grandchildren have a future.”
Coburn was re-elected in 2010, but left his second term early, in January 2015, after he was diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer. He said he was convinced he could “best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”
In the Senate, Coburn released a series of oversight reports detailing what he described as wasteful government spending. A 37-page report in 2011, dubbed “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous,” detailed nearly $30 billion spent annually in government subsidies, tax breaks and federal grant programs to millionaires.
“From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous,” Coburn wrote in the report.
A joint report issued in August 2010 by Coburn and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018, criticized stimulus spending, including $1.9 million for international ant research and $39.7 million to upgrade the Statehouse and political offices in Topeka, Kansas.
Coburn’s stubbornness and thwarting of legislation considered worthy by Democrats frustrated then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“You cannot negotiate with Coburn,” Reid, a Democrat, declared in 2008. “It’s just something you learn over the years is a waste of time.”
During debate over the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011, Coburn was part of a bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators who supported an alternative plan to cut the deficit by almost $4 trillion over the next decade through budget cuts and increased revenue through changes to the tax code.
After leaving the Senate, Coburn continued to crusade against taxes, criticizing the Oklahoma Legislature when it passed increases in 2018 to shore up the state budget. A group led by Coburn attempted to launch a petition drive to overturn the tax hikes, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Born in Casper, Wyoming, on March 14, 1948, Coburn grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma. After graduating from Oklahoma State University, he went to work at his family’s business in Virginia, Ophthalmic Division of Coburn Opticals, from 1970 to 1978. He later attended medical school at the University of Oklahoma.
By the time he jumped into politics — a decision he said was based on runaway government spending and his distaste for career politicians — he was married to his wife, Carolyn, with three children and had established a successful medical practice.
Coburn had several health scares during his time in office. He was treated for malignant melanoma in 1975, and in 2011, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.
Health woes didn’t seem to damper his contentious attitude.
After revealing in 2003 that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy, he told a Tulsa World reporter: “You should be writing about Medicaid and Medicare instead of my health.”
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Coburn left the Senate in early 2015.
In tiny Munfordville, Kentucky, the closure of the public library has cut people off from a computer used only for filling out census forms online. In Minneapolis, a concert promoting the once-a-decade count is now virtual. In Orlando, Florida, advocates called off knocking on doors in a neighborhood filled with new residents from Puerto Rico.
Across the U.S., the coronavirus has waylaid efforts to get as many people as possible to participate in the count, which determines how much federal money goes to communities. The outbreak and subsequent orders by states and cities to stay home and avoid other people came just as the census ramped up for most Americans two weeks ago.
On Saturday, the Census Bureau announced it was going to continue to suspend its 2020 census field operations for another two weeks to April 15.
That leaves thousands of advocates, officials and others who spent years planning for the U.S. government’s largest peacetime mobilization scrambling to come up with contingency plans for pulling it off amid a pandemic.
“Right now, everybody is faced with figuring out how to outreach to our communities not being face to face,” said Jennifer Chau, leader of a coalition of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander organizations in Phoenix that passed out 300 reusable boba tea cartons in January to anyone who signed a card pledging to complete their census form.
Nonprofits and civic organizations leading census outreach efforts are pivoting to digital strategies. Texting campaigns, webinars, social media and phone calls are replacing door-knocking, rallies and face-to-face conversations. But it comes at a cost: Experts say connecting with trusted community leaders in person is the best way to reach people in hard-to-count groups that may be wary of the federal government.
“It’s making it exponentially more difficult to get the kind of accurate count that is needed for this census. There’s no sugarcoating it. It’s really tough,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group. “Thank goodness for technology. We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without it.”
Although the U.S. Census Bureau is spending $500 million on outreach efforts, including advertising, it’s relying on more than 300,000 nonprofits, businesses, local governments and civic groups to encourage participation in their communities.
The groups are recalibrating their messaging to address the upheaval in people’s lives, including job losses and stay-at-home orders, and to focus on how census numbers help determine the distribution of federal aid or medical supplies their communities may get during the coronavirus crisis. The groups also are emphasizing that if people answer the questionnaire online, by phone or by mail now, they can avoid having a census taker sent to their house to ask them questions come late spring and summer.
“We want people to understand that even though we have this health emergency going on, there’s a connection to the census with how the distribution of funds to states is all going to rest on how many people there are in a community,” Minnesota’s demographer Susan Brower said.
The 2020 census will help determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets, as well as the distribution of some $1.5 trillion in federal spending.
The coronavirus has forced the U.S. Census Bureau to delay the start of tallies of homeless people and other transient populations such as racetrack workers, college students, prisoners and nursing home residents. It has pushed back the deadline for wrapping up the count by two weeks, to mid-August.
“Of all of our worst nightmares of things that could have gone wrong with the census, we did not anticipate this set of actions,” said Al Fontenot of the Census Bureau. “But our staff has been extremely resilient about looking for solutions.”
On the plus side, more people at home now have time to answer the questionnaire, and the deadline extension offers chances to reach out to more people, Brower said.
In some places, outreach done well before the virus spread in the U.S. is paying off, but organizers aren’t sure it will last. For the first week that people could start answering the 2020 questionnaire, New York City — which had dedicated $40 million to outreach efforts — was well ahead of its 2010 pace of self-responses. But now it’s the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, including fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
More than 30% of U.S. residents already had answered the census questionnaire as of Friday. Most of the temporary census takers hired by the government won’t be sent out until May to knock on the doors of homes where people haven’t yet responded.
“We are trending much better than 10 years ago, even in this craziness,” said Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City.
That’s despite events meant to generate participation getting canceled or delayed.
Pittsburgh had commissioned Jasmine Cho, who uses cookie decorating to highlight Asian American and social justice issues, to lead decorating workshops with a census theme. An October session drew almost 50 people and grabbed attention, but workshops planned for March and April were canceled.
“I’m hopeful that under the current quarantine measures, that people will actually pay more attention to their census mailings and take the time to complete it,” Cho said.
The self-described “cookie activist” and the city are in talks to make an online instructional video about census-themed cookie decorating.
San Francisco was supposed to ring in Census Day on April 1 with one of its famous cable cars rolling through iconic neighborhoods, but that became a casualty of COVID-19. Money from a $3.5 million budget earmarked for food and venues for census form-filling parties and town halls in the Bay Area will now go toward video marketing and printed materials, according to Stephanie Kim of the United Way Bay Area.
“It’s been hard to have to pivot on all the activities and events they were planning for for a long time,” Kim said. “So many organizations had planned for big community get-togethers.”
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP. Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP.
What to Know
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection issued a 14-day travel advisory Saturday night at the request of President Donald Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“Due to extensive community transmission of COIVD-19 in the area, CDC urges residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately,” the CDC advisory read.
The CDC says the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have full discretion of the advisory’s implementation. The advisory does not extend to “employees of critical infrastructure industries,” as defined by Homeland Security.
President Donald Trump weighed the possibility of a 14-day quarantine for New York State, and possibly New Jersey and Connecticut as well. Ultimately, the president said he asked the CDC to issue a travel advisory instead.
“On the recommendation of the White House CoronaVirus Task Force, and upon consultation with the Governor’s of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I have asked the @CDCgov to issue a strong Travel Advisory, to be administered by the Governors, in consultation with the Federal Government. A quarantine will not be necessary. Full details will be released by the CDC tonight. Thank you!” Trump tweeted Saturday evening.
Before the president settled on a travel advisory, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared on CNN, calling the idea to quarantine entire states a “civil war-kind of discussion.”
“I don’t believe he’s serious – that any federal administration could be serious about physical lockdown of states or parts of states across this country. I don’t believe it’s legal. I think it would be economic chaos. I don’t think the American people would stand for it,” Cuomo said to CNN’s Ana Cabrera.
When asked about reports of the Rhode Island governor ordering all vehicles with New York State license plates be stopped when entering the state, Gov. Cuomo told Cabrera his state would sue over the “unconstitutional” practice.
“If they don’t roll back that policy, I’m going to sue Rhode Island, because that clearly is unconstitutional,” said Cuomo. “I understand people are nervous and people are anxious and this is a frightening situation, but we have to keep it in focus, and we have to keep the ideas and the policies we implement positive, rather than reactionary and emotional.”
New York City health officials reported an additional 155 deaths since 10 a.m. Saturday, marking the highest number of recorded deaths in a single day, and bringing the death total in the city to 672.
The number of people that have tested positive for COVID-19 in New York City reached 30,765. Among those who tested positive Saturday, were MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye and Knicks owner James Dolan.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shared positive news earlier in the day: the additional of 250,000 surgical masks. The mayor announced the United Nations was donating the masks to the city’s medical staff on the front lines.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, meanwhile, said the state saw another 2,289 positive test results overnight Friday into Saturday, bringing the statewide total to 11,124. Another 32 New Jersey residents have died, Murphy added, bringing the number of deaths in the state to 140.
Murphy also announced a 90-day “grace period” for mortgage payments for any borrowers who have been economically impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This grace period CANNOT and WILL NOT be used to downgrade anyone’s credit rating,” Murphy wrote on Twitter. “Lenders will also waive any late fees or other costs which would otherwise arise, because of this 90-day grace period.”
Landlords, Murphy added, will not be able to kick renters facing evictions out of their homes.
“If you try to, we are not going to take it lightly, and we will make an example out of you for violating the law,” Murphy said at a news conference.
New Jersey will also require health care facilities to report “daily data” on their personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory, their bed capacity and their ventilator inventory, Murphy said.
Rutgers University announced late Saturday that it would expedite graduations for 192 medical students in the coming weeks. The medical students will graduate in April and allow them to begin their hospital residencies early.
At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Cuomo announced that he would postpone New York’s presidential primary to June 23 in light of the growing crisis. It was originally scheduled to take place on April 28.
Asked about Trump’s remarks about a possible tri-state quarantine, Cuomo said he spoke with the president on Saturday morning, but did not discuss the possibility of a quarantine for the tri-state.
“I haven’t had those conversations,” he told a reporter. “I don’t even know what that means.”
“I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable, and from a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing,” he added. “Not even understanding what it is, I don’t like the sound of it.”
The best current estimate for the peak number of COVID-19 cases in New York is still 14 to 21 days away, according to the governor.
New York State did see a drop in the number of daily intensive care unit admissions from Thursday to Friday, Cuomo noted. On Thursday, the state saw 374 ICU admissions, Cuomo said; Friday saw 172 ICU admissions.
Even after President Donald Trump signed a relief bill that is set to inject more than $2 trillion dollars into the economy and the country’s health system, there aren’t many around the tri-state ready to celebrate quite yet.
That’s because New York, the state hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, is still seeing a steady rise in confirmed cases that’s in the thousands each day.
Coronavirus cases soared to nearly 46,000 by the end of Friday, with deaths surpassing 600 as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City announced nearly 7,000 new positives.
COVID-19 has, in two weeks, claimed more lives in New York City than homicides did all of last year.
The number of hospitalizations is up 13-fold over the last 10 days, Cuomo said, but the rate of admittances doubling is slowing — from every two days earlier this week to every four days by Thursday. That, despite the surge in overall numbers, could signal a slowing rate of spread, Cuomo says. But, he acknowledged, the height of the crisis is still ahead — about 21 days out.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
“This doesn’t attack the strong among us. It attacks the weak among us, the people we’re supposed to protect,” Cuomo said Friday. “These are our parents, our aunts and uncles, a relative who is sick. Every instinct says protect them, they need us. But those are the exact people this enemy attacks.”
As of Friday night, New York had a total of 45,934 cases and 603 deaths, officials said; about 14.5 percent of the total cases required hospitalization, and of those, nearly a quarter were in intensive care. The city, impaired by the density that makes it one of the world’s most vibrant places, bears the brunt of the impact, with over 26,600 cases across the five boroughs. About 20 percent, slightly higher than the state average, have required hospitalization.
The city death toll, meanwhile, soared to 450 Friday night, the mayor’s office said — that’s almost a third of the total fatalities nationwide, by NBC News estimates. While most NYC cases are people younger than 50, three-quarters of the fatalities are people 75 and older. All but 3 percent of those who have died have had underlying conditions. The dead include people on the front lines of the crisis; a Mount Sinai nursing manager who passed away Tuesday was in his 40s.
New York remains far and away the most impacted state in America with a case count five times higher than the second most afflicted state, New Jersey. Deaths are spiking in the Garden State, too. Previously, the highest single-day increase was 19 — that was a day ago. On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy added another 27 souls to the now 108 total. He also reported nearly 2,000 more confirmed cases.
Connecticut, with the smallest number of cases in the tri-state, has nearly 1,300 cases and 27 deaths — both of which are still more than a vast majority of other states.
In an increasing number of cases, loved ones don’t get a chance to say goodbye.
“Too many people are dying alone,” New York City emergency room physician Dr. Kamini Doobay told the AP. “It’s been incredibly painful to see the suffering of family members who I call from the ICU, hearing the tears, crying with them on the phone. It’s one of the most horrific things.”
The signs of strain are everywhere: Lines of people to get tested stretching around city blocks before sunrise, including at Elmhurst Hospital, which reported 13 fatalities in a single day; doctors describing their ERs as “apocalyptic;” adult children begging to see their parents in nursing homes; healthcare workers treating patients for hours on end, venting their desperation and fear on social media.
Some have called coronavirus “the humanitarian mission of our lifetimes.” Others have described it as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in a century.”
One doctor told NBC News that “Every time I leave from a shift, I cry. Each shift. Every shift I work I have cried after leaving…because of the pain and suffering we see and the amount of exposure that myself and my nurses as well as my doctors (experience).”
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio say they have enough supplies to get hospitals what they need right now. But they literally mean “right now” — and “right now” gets more taxing with each day. Still, Cuomo says, we will get through this together — and he drove the point home in emotional tribute at the Javits Center Friday.
“You are living a moment in history. This is a moment that is going to change this nation. This is a moment that forges character, forges people, changes people,” Cuomo said. “Ten years from now you will be talking to your children, your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost, the faces, the names. You will remember how hard we worked and we still lost loved ones. But you will also be proud. You will be proud that you showed up.”
At a press conference later in the day, de Blasio said the “crucial date” right now is April 5: That’s when the city could potentially run out of the necessary medical supplies to treat COVID-19 patients.
“We have what we need for next week. But after (April 5) is when I get very, very worried,” de Blasio said. “That is a decisive moment for the City of New York.”
Hunt for Hospital Beds — and Ventilators
New York state has a new goal — to get 1,000-plus bed overflow facilities in all five boroughs as well as in Westchester, Suffolk, Nassau and Rockland counties, Cuomo said Thursday. The state is also working to shift some patient load from overwhelmed downstate hospitals to upstate facilities, he said. De Blasio, meanwhile, is working within his administration to triple NYC bed capacity.
The Javits Center operation — the 1,000-bed project developed by the state and the four 250-bed FEMA-run and staffed areas — will be fully operational by Monday, Cuomo said Friday. As he told personnel, “You built a hospital in a week.” The Manhattan center will house non COVID-19 patients to help take some of the non-viral crowd off the shoulders of hospitals.
Cuomo is looking into four new potential sites for temporary hospitals as well: Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, the Aqueduct Racetrack facility in Queens, CUNY Staten Island, and the NY Expo Center in the Bronx. Each would have 1,000 beds. Cuomo said he would ask Trump to authorize the plan later Friday. The governor said Friday he was suspending all non-essential construction in the state, though declined to give specifics. Presumably, work on hospital infrastructure continues.
There are a number of FEMA-run field hospitals going up in New Jersey as well, including one at the sprawling Meadowlands complex just across the river.
Cuomo said Thursday the facts are such that “almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the current capacity of the health care system.”
The latest battlefront is ventilators. Thousands of people with COVID-19 are sick enough that they need ventilators to help them breathe — in some cases, Cuomo said, for 20 days or more. But New York alone is more than 18,000 units short of what it expects to need at the peak of the crisis. To claims, including by Trump, that Cuomo is overestimating the number of ventilators the state will need, the governor said Friday he hopes the doubters are right, but for now he’s just going by facts.
The head of surgery at New York Presbyterian said that the number of patients on ventilators at the hospital has “more than doubled over the past three days,” a faster pace than the overall increase in new cases. The center says it is at risk should the current pace continue. In Hoboken, a chief hospital executive says her staff now check inventory twice daily and fear they may run out of key equipment, especially ventilators, by next week.
De Blasio said he supports Cuomo’s call to get 30,000 ventilators for the state, with the city in need of many as well. The mayor said that because New York is getting the virus first, the state would send the ventilators where they need to be as the virus is likely to spread elsewhere.
Hospitals struggling to stay afloat will get more relief, as will many others. On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed and President Trump signed the historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a package that promises to infuse business, state and city governments and individuals with direct cash and immediate support. Checks could be flowing within three weeks.
Trump wants to have the economy “raring to go” by Easter — a concept de Blasio has blasted as “literally inconceivable” for his city, the epicenter of the national outbreak. Murphy said it won’t work for New Jersey either; he said nothing would make him happier than reviving the economy but doing so too soon would be akin to throwing gasoline on an already raging fire.
Initial unemployment claims nationwide hit 3.28 million Thursday, nearly five times the previous all-time record. De Blasio predicts that as many as half a million city residents either have lost or will lose their jobs due to the outbreak.
The demand for medical personnel, on the other hand, is far outpacing the supply — so much so that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all called on retirees to return to work and help answer the call. Cuomo says 62,000 people from physicians to RNs to respiratory therapists have responded to date. Mental health professionals, thousands of them so far and more daily, have also signed up to field calls via the state’s new hotline. On the other side of the spectrum, NYU says it will graduate its medical students early to help shoulder the load.
In New York City, hospital staffs have been moved around in an effort to address shortages at different locations. More than 60 clinicians (including RNs, nurse practitioners, physicians and physician assistants) have been sent to help with the influx of patients at Elmhurst Hospital, along with 40 ventilators. On Saturday, more than 100 additional nurses will be reassigned to the fatigued hospital.
Private companies are stepping to the plate, donating millions of masks and thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer. JetBlue is flying volunteer medical workers to New York state for free. At least one hotel — the Four Seasons in New York City — has opened its rooms to healthcare workers free of charge, while Hertz is offering free vehicle rentals to healthcare workers. The Brooklyn Navy Yard has turned into a “wartime factory,” as de Blasio describes it, with two companies shipping tens of thousands of newly made medical face shields to first responders out of a warehouse that didn’t even exist before the crisis.
New York City has been providing childcare for essential workers and New Jersey has ordered all daycare centers to solely care for children of those key personnel as well. If not, they must close by April 1. As for when schools will reopen, that remains very much up in the air. Cuomo said Friday New York schools will stay closed at least for another two weeks, but if the current numbers increase continues, they’ll be closed for longer. Murphy says he won’t even reconsider the matter in New Jersey until April 17. He said Friday he doesn’t envision a scenario where the current restrictions would be lifted prior to May, a premise de Blasio put forward earlier in the day as it relates to New York City.
More Testing, More Cases
Numbers will continue to rise as more people are tested, officials have said. New York has accounted for 25 percent of all COVID-19 testing in America to date, Cuomo said Thursday. That is an accomplishment, he noted: Find the cases, isolate the positives and treat them. That, in conjunction with the social distancing and economic measures in place, will curb the spread of infection.
New Jersey and Connecticut have both seen their totals rise as well, standing at 8,825 and 1,012, respectively, as of last reporting. Their death tolls have also spiked (108 in NJ, 21 in CT). Regionally, the tri-state area has 56,050 COVID-19 cases; at least 738 people have died.
As Murphy said Friday, “The fact that we have among – if not the – the highest positivity rates is a good thing, and shows we are using our limited resources to their highest and best use.”
Governors are working to accelerate action on the drug front as well. New York launched a clinical trial for an experimental treatment Tuesday and plans to be the nation’s first state to try to heal critically ill patients using recovered people’s plasma — a process called convalescent plasma that was used during the flu epidemic of 1918. Right now, everything is on the table.
Responding to the Crisis
Where Do We Go From Here?
The depths of the outbreak — and its impact — are incomprehensible at this point but most definitely catastrophic: Billions upon billions of dollars have been lost and more will be lost; many have died, far more have been sickened. The grim totals will rise — and it may be months before we see the curve flatten out.
The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, the first coronavirus to ever earn the dubious distinction. It’s novel — that means it’s new and no one has immunity to it.
Nationally, NBC News estimates more than 101,000 have been infected with the novel coronavirus and at least 1,500 people have died – a mortality rate of about 1.5 percent. By way of comparison, the CDC says in the 2018-2019 flu season, about 0.1 percent of those infected ultimately died.
The numbers are far more stark globally. WHO offered a somber outlook in a recent situation paper: It took three months to get to the first 100,000 cases. It took 12 days to get to the next 100,000, and just five days to get the next 100,000 after that.
On Thursday, the U.S. overtook China in countries with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Just a day later, it became the first country in the world to have more than 100,000 cases.
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Republicans who have spent the past decade howling about the danger of ballooning deficits embraced the coronavirus rescue package approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, shrugging off past concerns about spending in the face of a public health crisis.
In many cases, the conservatives who backed the $2 trillion bill — the largest economic relief measure in U.S. history — were the very same who raged against the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus package backed by the Obama administration.
But facing the unprecedented threat of a global pandemic — and working under a Republican president who has largely brushed off concerns about debt and deficits — the GOP was willing to overlook an unprecedented flood of taxpayer spending. Leading budget hawk Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who insisted in 2009 that government cannot spend its way out of a recession, this week joined a unanimous Senate majority that approved what he described as “the biggest government intervention in the economy in the history of the world.”
“This is a response to an invasion,” he told reporters. “This is the kind of thing you’d have to do if we were at war.”
Like other conservatives, he noted that much of the nation’s current economic distress was caused by the government’s social distancing orders, while the Obama stimulus was in response to a crisis created by the private sector.
Failing to take dramatic action now, Toomey said, “would be a wildly imprudent thing, and it would probably result in such a severe recession — it might very well be a depression — and it could take decades to come out of this.”
Even before the health crisis struck, the Republican-aligned fiscal conservative movement had dramatically diminished under Trump, who has pushed the nation’s budget deficit to heights not seen in nearly a decade. That’s prompted arguments that the GOP is hypocritical when it comes to government spending.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s outgoing chief of staff and a former Republican congressman aligned with the tea party, told a private audience last month that the GOP only worries about deficits “when there is a Democrat in the White House,” according to a report in The Washington Post.
For the first time in the modern era, Republicans are on record supporting direct cash payments to most American adults — a government-backed measure more likely to be found in socialist countries. While a 2008 stimulus package offered tax rebates to many taxpayers, the 2020 legislation offers all Americans making less than $100,000 grants of up to $1,200 each with an additional $500 for each child. Also in the bill: a massive expansion of unemployment benefits, $500 billion in loans to businesses and local governments, and tens of billions more for the airline industry, hospitals and food assistance.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, Washington’s preeminent fiscal conservative watchdog, which Toomey previously led, raised the possibility that the coronavirus package could push this year’s budget deficit to $4 trillion. The largest annual deficit in U.S. history was $1.4 trillion in 2009.
“The spending is just outrageously high,” McIntosh said in an interview. “But on the short-term basis, we’re pleased.”
He opposed the direct payments to Americans but was satisfied that a significant portion of the taxpayer-funded package consists of loans likely to be repaid. He added that Congress rejected what he called the Democrats’ list of unrelated “political goodies.”
“Yes, it’s too much, and we’re worried about overall spending, but we recognize something has to be done,” McIntosh said. “That’s the kind of comment I’m hearing from conservatives who would normally oppose big spending bills.”
What remains of the tea party movement, which sprang up early in Barack Obama’s presidency to oppose government spending, has largely been silent. One major exception: Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who upset congressional leaders — and Trump himself — on Friday by unsuccessfully trying to force a formal House vote on the historic legislation.
Massie tweeted that the $2 trillion rescue package, in addition to $4 trillion in stimulus from the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department, would create roughly $17,000 in new debt for every American citizen.
“Not a good deal,” he wrote.
Trump, in a rare public rebuke of another Republican, punched back on Twitter: “Throw Massie out of the Republican Party.”
The Congressional Budget Office reported weeks before the coronavirus outbreak that the national debt was already on track to reach nearly 100% of the gross domestic product in just 10 years. The current package, and a subsequent round of government intervention already being discussed, will substantially escalate that timeline.
The budget office did not release specific projections on the fiscal impact of the legislation before it passed. Not including the rescue package, the current national debt exceeds $23.5 trillion, which is $3.5 trillion more than when Trump took office.
The coronavirus spending surge will put heightened pressure on lawmakers to cut the social safety net in the coming year, including Social Security and Medicare. Trump and leading Democratic rival Joe Biden have both promised not to touch the popular entitlement programs, yet they consume a disproportionate share of government spending.
“The future will be more painful,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Still, she added: “This is definitely not the time to worry about the deficit. This is the time to be borrowing as much as we need to deal with the huge health crisis.”
Grover Norquist, one of Washington’s most notorious fiscal hawks, praised a series of temporary deregulations in the legislation that he hopes might permanently eliminate bureaucracy controlling such things as medical professionals’ ability to work in other states, the use of health savings accounts and liquor store deliveries.
He predicted that the rescue package could actually lead to a “more open society with more freedom.”
“There’s no permanent damage,” Norquist said. “On balance, it seems to have been the best you could do under the circumstances.”
The 191 parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have decided to postpone a conference to review its implementation because of the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations said Friday.
The treaty is considered the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and the parties hold a major conference every five years to discuss how it is working. The meeting had been scheduled for April 27-May 22 at U.N. headquarters in New York.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the review conference will be held “as soon as the circumstances permit, but no later than April 2021.”
The U.N. said earlier this week that the conference was likely to be postponed, but the conference president-designate, Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina, wanted to consult governments that are parties to the treaty.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which reached its 50th anniversary March 5, is credited with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to dozens of nations. It has succeeded in doing this via a grand global bargain: Nations without nuclear weapons committed not to acquire them; those with them committed to move toward their elimination; and all endorsed everyone’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.
The 191 state parties include every nation except India, Pakistan and North Korea, which possess nuclear weapons, and Israel, which is believed to be a nuclear power but has never acknowledged it.
Members try to agree on new approaches to problems, not by updating the treaty, which is difficult, but by trying to adopt a consensus final document calling for steps outside the treaty to advance its goals. That has also proven difficult at recent review conferences,
U.N. disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu warned earlier this month that the specter of an unbridled nuclear arms race is threatening the world for the first time since the 1970s, the height of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
She didn’t name any countries but she was clearly referring to the United States and Russia, and possibly China, when she told the U.N. Security Council that “relationships between states — especially nuclear-weapon states — are fractured.”
“So-called great power competition is the order of the day., Nakamitsu said.
Russia-U.S. relations have been at post-Cold War lows since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Russia and the U.S. clashed at the Security Council meeting where Nakamitsu spoke but they joined in supporting a statement saying the treaty “remains the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
The council resolved to advance the treaty’s goals and underlined its essential role “in the preservation of international peace, security and stability as well as the ultimate objective of a world without nuclear weapons.”
For many in the public health and political worlds, Dr. Deborah Birx is the sober scientist advising an unpredictable president. She’s the data whisperer who will help steer President Donald Trump as he ponders how quickly to restart an economy that’s ground to a halt in the coronavirus pandemic.
Others worry that Birx, who stepped away from her job as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator to help lead the White House coronavirus response, may be offering Trump cover to follow some of his worst instincts as he considers whether to have people packing the pews by Easter Sunday.
In coming days, immunologist Birx will be front and center in that debate along with the U.S. government’s foremost infection disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as well as Vice President Mike Pence. Birx will bring to the discussion what she fondly refers to as her sheet music — data on testing, mortality, demographics and much more.
“What the president has asked us to do is to assemble all the data and give him our best medical recommendation based on all the data,” Birx told reporters. “This is consistent with our mandate to really use every piece of information that we can in order to give the president our opinion that’s backed up by data.”
But will Trump listen?
The president has sent mixed messages on that. He plans to meet with the two doctors and Pence on Monday to review the latest data on the spread of the disease. His administration’s original 15-day guidelines promoting social distancing expire Tuesday.
Over a matter of weeks, Trump has veered from playing down the virus threat to warning Americans it could be summer before the pandemic is under control. And in more recent days, he’s talked eagerly about having parts of the country raring back by Easter in two weeks.
As the president’s message has vacillated, Birx has emerged as one of the most important voices laying out the administration’s pandemic response. She has a way of spelling out the implications of the virus to Americans in personal terms while offering reassurances that the administration is approaching the pandemic with a data-driven mindset.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who helped shepherd Birx’s ambassadorial nomination through the Senate in the Obama administration, said it’s like Birx and Fauci have become a tag team for science in the midst of calamity.
“I can’t imagine how complicated it is to have a boss –- if you will — who insists on saying things on a regular basis that are just not true and aren’t based on any science,” Sebelius said.
In her public comments, Birx has taken pains to avoid publicly contradicting Trump when he’s offered some decidedly unscientific riffs, unlike Fauci, a professional mentor, who has been known to push back pointedly.
Instead, her messaging has toggled between providing digestible interpretations of what the data is saying about the spread of the virus and offering relatable pleas to the American public to practice social distancing to help stem the disease.
In recent days, Birx has received praise from Trump backers and pushback from some fellow scientists after she minimized what she called “very scary” statistical modeling by some infectious disease experts.
One study, published this month by Harvard University epidemiologists, found that the need to maintain social distancing remains crucial in the weeks ahead to prevent the American healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed by new cases.
“The scenario Dr. Birx is ‘assuring’ us about is one in which we somehow escape Italy’s problem of overloaded healthcare system despite the fact that social distancing is not really happening in large parts of the US,” Marc Lipsitch, a co-author of the study, wrote on Twitter.
Birx also has drawn criticism for asserting that there are still beds in intensive care units and a “significant” number of ventilators available in hospitals around New York City — the area hardest hit by virus. That message doesn’t jibe with the dire warnings of city hospital workers, who in recent days have said they’re ill-equipped and in danger of being overwhelmed by patients stricken with the virus.
Birx’s friends and colleagues say she is one of the adults in the room who is providing the president with clear-headed advice and giving Americans the information they need to stay safe.
“She’s a tough cookie,” said Michael Weinstein, who heads the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and got to know Birx professionally after she was named the global AIDS coordinator in 2014. “She’s 100% about the data.”
In the sea of men in dark suits who have been appearing with Trump for daily briefings, the 63-year-old mother of two with a fondness for colorful scarves stands out. Her seemingly endless scarf collection was even fodder for comedian Paula Poundstone recently on the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t tell me!”
Birx’s resume is impressive: She is a U.S. Army physician and recognized AIDS researcher who rose to the rank of colonel, head of the global AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a rare Obama administration holdover as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large leading a U.S. taxpayer-funded worldwide campaign to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Birx has also developed a reputation as a tough boss. Some who fall under her watch at the global effort known as PEPFAR have complained that the leadership of her office has been“dictatorial” and “autocratic,” according to a State Department Office of Inspector General audit released earlier this year.
“She has somewhat of a reputation of being a hard task-master,” said John Auerbach, head of the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health.. “She is incredibly hard-working, someone who was driven and would drive other people to work really hard and to do their best work.”
Birx has also been perhaps the most outspoken in calling for Americans to be mindful in how they are interacting with others. And she’s made the case in personal terms.
The doctor says she’s avoided visiting with her young grandchildren as she practices social distancing, and she’s spoken in admiring tones of her two millennial daughters when making the case that younger Americans’ actions will play a key role in determining how quickly the country can contain the virus.
She also has spoken of her grandmother living with a lifetime of guilt, because she caught the flu at school as a girl and, in turn, infected her mother — one of an estimated 50 million people worldwide who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.
“She never forgot that she was the child that was in school that innocently bought that flu home,” Birx said of her grandmother.
Birx, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told a Christian TV network popular with Trump’s evangelical base that she’s confident that the president is, like her, a student of data.
“He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data,” Birx told CBN. “I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues because in the end, data is data.”
The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought against racial discrimination, died Friday, a family statement said. He was 98.
A charismatic and fiery preacher, Lowery led the SCLC for two decades — restoring the organization’s financial stability and pressuring businesses not to trade with South Africa’s apartheid-era regime — before retiring in 1997.
Lowery, considered the dean of civil rights veterans, lived to celebrate a November 2008 milestone that few of his movement colleagues thought they would ever witness — the election of an African American president.
At an emotional victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama in Atlanta, Lowery said, “America tonight is in the process of being born again.”
An early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama over then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Lowery also gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.
“We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union,” he said.
In 2009, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
In a statement Saturday, Obama said Lowery “changed the face of America.”
“He carried the baton longer and surer than almost anybody. It falls to the rest of us now to pick it up and never stop moving forward until we finish what he started — that journey to justice,” he said.
Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, were grateful for Lowery’s “personal and spiritual support he offered us from the early days of our campaign … and for the friendship and counsel he provided ever since.”
In another high-profile moment, Lowery drew a standing ovation at the 2006 funeral of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, when he criticized the war in Iraq, saying, “For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.” The comment also drew head shakes from then-President George Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush, who were seated behind the pulpit.
Lowery’s involvement in civil rights grew naturally out of his Christian faith. He often preached that racial discrimination in housing, employment and health care was at odds with fundamental Christian values such as human worth and the brotherhood of man.
“I’ve never felt your ministry should be totally devoted to making a heavenly home. I thought it should also be devoted to making your home here heavenly,” he once said.
Lowery remained active in fighting issues such as war, poverty and racism long after retiring, and survived prostate cancer and throat surgery after he beat Jim Crow.
“We have lost a stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement, and I have lost a friend and mentor,” House Majority Whip, U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, in a statement Saturday. “His wit and candor inspired my generation to use civil disobedience to move the needle on ‘liberty and justice for all.’ It was his life’s work and his was a life well lived.”
Former President Bill Clinton remembered walking with Lowery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the 35th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. “Our country has lost a brave, visionary leader in the struggle for justice and a champion of its promise, still unrealized, of equality for all Americans. Throughout his long good life, Joe Lowery’s commitment to speaking truth to power never wavered, even in the hottest fires.”
His wife, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who worked alongside her husband of nearly 70 years and served as head of SCLC/WOMEN, died in 2013.
“I’ll miss you, Uncle Joe. You finally made it up to see Aunt Evelyn again,” King’s daughter, Bernice King, said in a tweet Friday night.
Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1950s when he met King, who then lived in Montgomery, Alabama. Lowery’s meetings with King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and other civil rights activists led to the SCLC’s formation in 1957. The group became a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
Lowery became SCLC president in 1977 following the resignation of Abernathy, who had taken the job after King was assassinated in 1968. He took over an SCLC that was deeply in debt and losing members rapidly. Lowery helped the organization survive and guided it on a new course that embraced more mainstream social and economic policies.
Coretta Scott King once said Lowery “has led more marches and been in the trenches more than anyone since Martin.”
He was arrested in 1983 in North Carolina for protesting the dumping of toxic wastes in a predominantly black county and in 1984 in Washington while demonstrating against apartheid.
He recalled a 1979 confrontation in Decatur, Alabama, when he and others were protesting the case of a mentally disabled black man charged with rape. He recalled that bullets whizzed inches above their heads and a group of Klan members confronted them.
“I could hear them go ‘whoosh,'” Lowery said. “I’ll never forget that. I almost died 24 miles from where I was born.”
In the mid-1980s, he led a boycott that persuaded the Winn-Dixie grocery chain to stop selling South African canned fruit and frozen fish when that nation was in the grip of apartheid.
He also continued to urge blacks to exercise their hard-won rights by registering to vote.
“Black people need to understand that the right to vote was not a gift of our political system but came as a result of blood, sweat and tears,” he said in 1985.
Like King, Lowery juggled his civil rights work with ministry. He pastored United Methodist churches in Atlanta for decades and continued preaching long after retiring.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1921, Joseph Echols Lowery grew up in a Methodist church where his great-grandfather, the Rev. Howard Echols, was the first black pastor. Lowery’s father, a grocery store owner, often protested racism in the community.
After college, Lowery edited a newspaper and taught school in Birmingham, but the idea of becoming a minister “just kept gnawing and gnawing at me,” he said. After marrying Evelyn Gibson, a Methodist preacher’s daughter, he began his first pastorate in Birmingham in 1948.
In a 1998 interview, Lowery said he was optimistic that true racial equality would one day be achieved.
“I believe in the final triumph of righteousness,” he said. “The Bible says weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Lowery is survived by his three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery and Cheryl Lowery. He died at home in Atlanta from natural causes unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak, the family said.
While plans are underway for a private family service in alignment with public health guidelines on social distancing amid the pandemic, the family said late Saturday, a public memorial will be held in late summer or early fall.
This story has been corrected to show that one of Lowery’s daughters is Cheryl Lowery, not Cheryl Lowery-Osborne. The spelling of the Edmund Pettus Bridge also has been corrected.
Errin Haines, a former staffer of The Associated Press, was the principal writer of this obituary.
A retired Venezuelan army general indicted alongside Nicolás Maduro has surrendered in Colombia and is being taken by Drug Enforcement Administration agents to New York for arraignment, four people familiar with the situation said Friday.
Cliver Alcalá has been an outspoken critic of Maduro for years. But he was charged Thursday with allegedly running with Maduro, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello and another retired army general a narcoterrorist conspiracy that U.S. prosecutors say sent 250 metric tons of cocaine a year to the U.S. and turned the Venezuelan state into a platform for violent cartels and Colombia rebels. The Justice Department had offered a $10 million reward for Alcalá’s arrest.
Alcalá was being flown on a chartered plane to the U.S. from Barranquilla, Colombia, after waiving an extradition hearing and agreeing to collaborate with prosecutors, said the four people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss actions that had not yet been made public.
Alcalá has been living in the coastal city since fleeing Venezuela in 2018 after the discovery of a conspiracy that he was secretly leading in hopes of ousting Maduro.
After being indicted Thursday, Alcalá shocked many by claiming responsibility for a stockpile of U.S.-made assault weapons and military equipment seized on a highway in Colombia for what he said was a planned incursion into Venezuela to remove Maduro. Without offering evidence, he said he had a contract with opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his “American advisers” to purchase the weapons.
“We had everything ready,” Alcalá said in a video published on social media. “But circumstances that have plagued us throughout this fight against the regime generated leaks from the very heart of the opposition, the part that wants to coexist with Maduro.”
The confusing remarks from someone who was among Maduro’s loudest critics were seized on by Venezuela’s socialist leader, who accused the DEA of being behind a plan by Alcalá to assassinate him and other political leaders.
According to the indictment, Alcalá in 2008, when he was a trusted aide to then President Hugo Chávez, was given additional duties to coordinate drug shipments with corrupt elements of the Venezuelan military and guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which the U.S. listed as a terrorist group.
The DEA referred requests for comment to the Justice Department. Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokesperson, declined to comment.
Moments before his surrender, Alcalá published a video on social media bidding farewell to his family.
“I face the responsibilities for my actions with the truth,” he said.
After days of desperate pleas from the nation’s governors, President Donald Trump took a round of steps to expand the federal government’s role in helping produce critically needed supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic even as he warned the leaders of hard-hit states not to cross him.
“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said Friday after the White House announced that he would be using the powers granted to him under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to try to compel auto giant General Motors to produce ventilators.
Yet Trump — who hours earlier had suggested the need for the devices was being overblown — rejected any criticism of the federal government’s response to a ballooning public health crisis that a month ago he predicted would be over by now.
“We have done a hell of a job,” Trump said, as he sent an ominous message to state and local leaders who have been urging the federal government to do more to help them save lives.
Trump said he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to call the governors of Washington or Michigan — two coronavirus hotspots — because of their public criticism. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said.
The comments came after Trump unveiled a slew of executive actions to bolster states’ capacities to respond to the pandemic, including authorizing Defense Secretary Mark Esper to call up an unspecified number of federal reservists to help with the coronavirus response.
Friday’s invocation “should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis,” Trump said.
Trump had been saying for more than a week that he was reluctant to use the Defense Production Act — even after he invoked it — because companies were already doing what he wanted and he didn’t need arm-twisting to make them comply.
Yet Trump continued to suggest that states’ own failures were to blame for the needed intervention. “Normally these would be bought for states, just so you understand,” he said.
The nation’s governors have been exerting growing pressure on the president to do more to bolster supplies, despite the perceived risks of speaking out. From New York to Washington, they have pleaded with him to use the DPA to force companies to manufacture critical equipment. And they have begged for help in obtaining supplies like masks and testing agents, saying that states have been forced to compete against one another as well as the federal government on the open market, driving up prices, even as federal officials have pledged their help if states fail.
The notoriously thin-skinned Trump has not taken well to their criticism. Instead, he has lashed out at the governors, continued to diminish the risk posed by the virus and insisted that the federal government was only a “backup” as he looked to avoid political costs from a pandemic that has reshaped his presidency and tested his reelection plans.
In a Thursday night interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump declared that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee “should be doing more” and “shouldn’t be relying on the federal government.” He dismissed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s requests for additional ventilators to keep patients alive, saying, “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000” of the devices, which force air into the lungs of those too sick to breathe. And he said he was still weighing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request for a disaster declaration, saying, “We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor from, you know who I’m talking about, from Michigan.”
“You know,” he added from the White House, “we don’t like to see the complaints.”
On Saturday, however, the White House announced that Trump had approved Whitmer’s request on Friday and ordered federal assistance be provided to Michigan.
The administration’s mantra, frequently articulated by Mike Pence, has long been that the fight against the virus must be “locally executed, state managed, and federally supported.”
But Trump has show little public empathy for the states’ predicament, with his emphasis skewed toward the “locally executed” portion of that trifecta.
Whitmer, in particular, has criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic –- including on national cable TV shows — saying that the federal government should do more and that Michigan’s allotment of medical supplies from the national stockpile is meager.
“It’s very distressing,” the Democratic governor told radio station WWJ. “I observed early on, like a lot of governors on both sides of the aisle, that the federal preparation was concerning. That apparently struck a nerve, and I’ve been uniquely singled out despite my voice not being the only one that observed that,” she said.
“I don’t go into personal attacks. I don’t have time for that,” she said. “I need partnership out of the federal government. We have to be all hands on deck here.”
Cuomo has also been on the forefront, some days criticizing the administration’s failure to act and at other times commending federal assistance. But the New York Democrat has remained clear that the state, which is now the epicenter of the crisis, needs many more ventilators than it has at the ready.
“That’s what the data and the science said,” Cuomo said Friday as he defended his ask for additional ventilators and issued a new request to Washington for an additional 41,000 beds in temporary hospitals.
“What is unclear to me is why the federal administration refuses to direct industries to manufacture critical PPE,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said Wednesday, referring to personal protective equipment. “I’m not exaggerating when I say this outrageous lack of action will result in lost lives. Including those of our health care workers.”
“The governors have been very gracious, for the most part,” Trump said Friday. But he complained that, “There are a couple that aren’t appreciative” of the “incredible job” he claimed to be doing, adding: “They have to do a better job themselves, that’s part of the problem.”
Just a month ago, Trump was predicting the U.S. was days away from being “close to zero” coronavirus cases. Now, the country has more than 100,000 cases nationwide.
The Friday order Trump signed on General Motors instructs his administration to explore forcing the company to accept and prioritize federal contracts to produce ventilators. He also sent a letter to Congress on Friday that said he had authorized Esper to order units and individual members of the Selected Reserve, as well as certain Individual Ready Reserve members, to active duty. They are separate from, and in addition to, National Guard members who have been mobilized by state governors.
The reserve call-up likely is intended to fill gaps in medical expertise as the military deploys field hospitals to cities hard hit by COVID-19 and provides other forms of medical support to state and local authorities.
Trump also named trade adviser Peter Navarro to lead the government’s production effort.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority recover.
Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing, Mich., Tom Krisher in Detroit, Andrew Selsky in Salem, Ore., and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke from the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan Friday where members of the New York National Guard are constructing a 1,000-bed field hospital to help in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Below is the text of Cuomo’s rallying cry for what he called a rescue mission that will change the nation forever and forge character:
“And I want to thank our National Guard because you are the best of us.
And whenever we call on you, you are there. And what you did in this facility in one week creating a hospital is just incredible.
I don’t know how you did it. Now you did such a good job that I’m asking for four more from the president. That’s the downside of being as good as you are at what you did. But what you did is really incredible.
And I want to make two points to you, and I want to make two promises to you: This is a different beast that we’re dealing with. This is an invisible beast. It is an insidious beast.
This is not going to be a short deployment. This is not going to be that you go out there for a few days, we work hard and we go home.
This is gonna be weeks and weeks and weeks.
This is going to be a long day. And it’s gonna be a hard day. And it’s gonna be an ugly day. And it’s gonna be a sad day.
This is a rescue mission that you’re on. The mission is to save lives — that’s what you’re doing. The rescue mission is to save lives and as hard as we work we’re not going to be able to save everyone.
And what’s even more cruel is this enemy doesn’t attack the strongest of us. It attacks the weakest of us. It attacks our most vulnerable, which makes it even worse in many ways.
Because these are the people that every instinct tells us we are supposed to protect. These are our parents and grandparents. These are our aunts, our uncles. These are our relatives who are sick. And every instinct says protect them, help them, protect them because they need us.
And those are the exact people that this enemy attacks.
Every time, I’ve called out the National Guard I’ve said the same thing to you. I promise you, I will not ask you to do anything that I will not do myself and I’ll never ask you to go anywhere that I won’t go myself. And the same is true here.
We’re going to do this and we’re going to do this together.
My second point is, you are living a moment in history. This is going to be one of those moments they are going to write about and they’re going to talk about for generations. This is a moment that is going to change this nation. This is a moment that forges character, forges people, changes people, make them stronger, make them weaker. But this is a moment that will change character.
And 10 years from now you’ll be talking about today to your children or your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost, and you’ll remember the faces and you’ll remember the names, and you’ll remember how hard we worked and that we still lost loved ones.
And you’ll shed a tear and you should because it will be sad. But you will also be proud. You’ll be proud of what you did. You’ll be proud that you showed up — you showed up — when other people played it safe you had the courage to show up and you had the skill and the professionalism to make a difference and save lives.
That’s what you will have done and at the end of the day nobody can ask anything more from you. That is your duty, to do what you can when you can. And you will have shown skill and courage and talent. You’ll be there with you mind. You’ll be there with your heart. And you’ll serve with honor and that will give you pride and you should be proud.
I know that I am proud of you. And every time the National Guard has been called out they have made every New Yorker proud. And I am proud to be with you yet again. And I’m proud to fight this fight with you and I bring you thanks from all New Yorkers, who are just so appreciative of the sacrifice that you are making, the skill that you are bringing, the talent that you’re bringing. And you give many New Yorkers confidence.
So I say, my friends, that we go out there today and we kick coronavirus ass.
That’s what I say. And we’re going to save lives and New York is going to thank you. God bless each and every one of you.”
He has earned the label “Mr No” for his opposition to bills in Congress. He refused to self-quarantine when someone who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in February tested positive for the coronavirus though he had been there also. And on Friday, he was called a “third-rate Grandstander” by President Donald Trump.
At the moment it is hard to find many people happy with Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, a 49-year-old Kentucky congressman who forced members of the House of Representatives to race back to Washington, D.C., in the midst of a pandemic especially dangerous for older people, as many of them are.
They feared Massie would threaten passage of the $2 trillion economic relief package by demanding a recorded vote instead of a voice vote and he did. Friday morning he tweeted:
At least 216 representatives would need to show up to vote on the floor so that the bill, known as the CARES Act, would not be delayed.
In the end, Massie lacked the support of other members for his move, and after three hours of debate the House passed the bill in a voice vote. It was headed the Trump’s desk Friday afternoon.
Friday morning Trump was tweeting that Massie should be thrown out of the Republican party.
Rep. Peter King, a fellow Republican from Long Island, did not name Massie but called his action “disgraceful” and “irresponsible.”
“Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House,” King tweeted. “Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed.”
Massie has not been sympathetic.
“I’m having a really hard time with this. Because they’re saying, well it’s hard to travel, yadda yadda yadda,” Massie said, according to Kentucky’s Courier Journal. “Well, last night, 96 out of 100 Senators voted.
The Senate on Wednesday approved the bill 96-0, but Massie has made it clear on social media that he disapproves.
On Twitter, he has criticized measures taken to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and to flatten the curve of increasing infections. He was one of 17 Republicans who did not vote for the earlier Coronavirus Relief Bill two weeks ago that provides free virus testing for those who do not have insurance, paid sick leave, other family and medical leave programs and additional aid for food.
He told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he had he been in Washington, D.C., he would have voted no because he was concerned the bill would put small companies out of business.
Massie is running for his fifth term in Congress and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Julia Fair in February wrote a profile of him. It began like this:
“Inventor. Blogger. Father. Off-the-grid farmer. Believer in the “deep state” and raw milk.
Oh, and Congressman.
Thomas Massie holds many titles. Which makes him hard to explain.”
He is an engineer educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who invented a device that gives computer users a sense of touch and which has since been used to simulate surgery in training. He built an off-the-grid house powered by solar panels, told CNN he was a believer in the Deep State and wants to legalize raw milk. Earlier in the year, he was one of just four representatives to oppose making lynching a federal hate crime.
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Massie also once called Secretary of State John Kerry’s political science degree from Yale University “pseudoscience” during a dispute over climate change.
“It’s somewhat appropriate that someone with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience before our committee today,” Massie told Kerry during a congressional hearing in 2019.
On Friday, Kerry got his comeback.
–Emilie Mutert contributed to this article.
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When a federal correction officer geared up for duty recently at a Florida prison complex, he added an N95 mask amid coronavirus fears. He has a sister who had an organ transplant and an elderly mother at home.
But a supervisor ordered him to take it off and threatened disciplinary action if he refused. At other federal prisons, though, he would have been told to wear one. Rules on protective gear vary widely from prison to prison.
And inmates say there is little guidance on what to do if they experience flu-like symptoms and very little social distancing. Some who have symptoms are not tested.
Together, these accounts detail a scattershot policy on COVID-19 safety at the federal Bureau of Prisons amid the growing pandemic. Advocates and even prison guards are calling for reforms to head off a potential outbreak in a prison system plagued for years by violence, misconduct and staffing shortages.
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This report is based on interviews with nearly two dozen correction officers, inmates, attorneys and advocates, many of whom spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Health officials have been warning for more than a decade about the dangers of epidemics in jails and prisons, which are ideal environments for virus outbreaks: Inmates share small cells with strangers, use toilets just a few feet (meters) from their beds and are herded into day rooms where they spend hours at a time together.
While statistically the number of confirmed coronavirus cases within the Bureau of Prisons system is far lower than the rate outside prisons in the U.S., there is widespread fear among inmates and staff members that the virus could spread rapidly. So far, 10 inmates and eight staff members within the federal prison system have been confirmed to have COVID-19.
Attorney General William Barr said Thursday that the Justice Department takes seriously “our responsibility to protect those who are put in our custody.”
“We want to make sure that our institutions don’t become petri dishes,” he said. “But we have the protocols that are designed to stop that, and we are using all the tools we have to protect the inmates.”
In a statement to the AP, Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal said the agency has “thus far been fortunate in that our rate of COVID-19 infection is remarkably low.”
“We believe that the low number of cases to this point, in a system this large, is a testament to our effective planning and execution to date,” he said.
And the Bureau of Prisons said its employees were expected to follow its guidance on the coronavirus and would investigate if officials are “made aware of specific circumstances that would lead us to believe that policy or guidance may not have been followed.”
There are approximately 146,000 inmates at the 122 federal correctional facilities across the U.S., including about 10,000 over the age of 60. New inmates coming into the federal prison system are screened for COVID-19 risk factors, have their temperature taken and are being quarantined for 14 days.
But inmates nationwide contacted by the AP raised a similar issue: There are no signs or documents listing the symptoms of COVID-19, and there’s been little communication about what they should do if they experience flu-like symptoms.
Some exhibiting flu-like symptoms were not tested or quarantined at several facilities, including at the FCI Yazoo City in Mississippi and at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, according to inmates and advocates. There have been confirmed COVID-19 cases at both.
Joseph Plany, locked up at a federal prison camp in Beaumont, Texas, said one inmate sought treatment for respiratory symptoms and was turned away at the medical unit and sent back to his dorm.
“They’re not telling us anything,” he said in an interview with the AP. “They just they’re not equipped to handle it.”
Congressional leaders and prison advocates are pressing the Justice Department to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak, arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet (1.83 meters) away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.
“There is no adequate possible plan, certainly not without greatly decreasing the population in these institutions,” said David Patton, executive director and chief attorney at the Federal Defenders of New York. “There is simply not enough space in there.”
Barr sent a memo to the Bureau of Prisons on Thursday to increase the use of home confinement and identify non-violent, at-risk inmates who “might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement rather than in BOP facilities.”
Prison staff members in Florida and South Carolina described scenes of inmates allowed to be far closer than the 6-foot recommendation, situations that leave correctional officers and prison employees also at risk.
At Coleman, a large federal prison complex near Orlando, Florida, dozens of inmates were crowded last week into the commissary, admissions area and prison yard, a staff member said.
At a minimum security federal prison in Bennettsville, South Carolina, inmates were let out of their cells two units at a time, nearly 250 people at a time. They crowded into open spaces and filled up a room to watch television — about 20 inmates sitting no more than 3 feet (0.91 meters) apart, correctional officer Charles D’Apice said.
“There is no social distancing on the inside,” D’Apice said. “They’re telling the inmates to stay 6 feet apart from each other, but then they let 120 in a unit out together. They get as close as they want.”
At the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the notorious federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself last year, one staff member said gloves are readily available but masks are not. The staff restrooms are running empty of even the most basic pandemic need: soap.
Carvajal said in a statement that cleaning, sanitation and medical supplies had been inventoried and there were “ample supplies on hand and ready to be distributed or moved to any facility as deemed necessary.” The agency had also ordered additional supplies, he said.
Visitors are now banned from prisons, but inmates are still being shuttled to and from court appearances, where employees fear they could come into contact with the virus and bring it back behind bars. Inmates making those trips still need to be patted down and escorted by officers — close contact that flies in the face of social distancing requirements.
As part of the agency’s protocols for dealing with the virus, staff members who work in facilities in areas with “sustained community transmission” are having their temperature taken before their shifts start. If it’s too high, they’ll be sent home.
But officers at a medium-security federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, described broken thermometers hampering screenings. When a staff member got a frighteningly low reading of 89 degrees — an indication of hypothermia — management argued that each person’s body temperature is different and refused to replace the thermometers, they said.
Pam Milwood, a local union president at Jesup, said staff members who report being sick are still being told to work, their temperatures taken not by medical staff.
“How do you determine that I look sick and you don’t? Who makes that call? You have a factory foreman over there taking our temperatures, not even clinical. Who is he to make that call?” she said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Worldwide, there have been more than 535,000 cases and more than 24,000 deaths. In the United States, there have been about 86,000 cases and about 1,300 deaths.
Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press writers Jim Mustian and Martha Mendoza contributed to this report.
Follow Balsamo and Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 and twitter.com/MikeSisak.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the new coronavirus, the first leader of a major nation to contract COVID-19, but he insisted Friday that he remains in charge of the U.K.’s response to the outbreak.
Two of Johnson’s top aides in the fight against the virus — his health secretary and top medical adviser — also said they had the disease.
Johnson, 55, said he was tested Thursday after showing “mild symptoms”: a temperature and a persistent cough.
“I’ve taken a test, that’s come out positive so I am working from home, I am self-isolating, and that’s entirely the right thing to do,” Johnson said in a video message posted on his Twitter account.
“But be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was also confirmed to have the virus. Hancock, 41, tweeted: “Thankfully my symptoms are mild.”
Chris Whitty, who is chief medical officer for England, tweeted that he had “symptoms compatible with COVID-19” and would be self-isolating at home for a week.
Johnson, Hancock and Whitty have attended meetings of the government’s COVID-19 crisis committee and appeared at the government’s daily coronavirus press conferences.
Johnson is the highest-profile political leader to have contracted the virus, which has infected more than 500,000 people around the world.
Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa have all been tested and found to be negative. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau self-isolated after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
The British diagnoses are the latest evidence that no one — no matter how high-profile — is untouched by the global pandemic.
Politicians may be especially exposed, since they interact with large numbers of people. Britain’s Parliament continued to meet as the virus spread, before it was eventually suspended on Wednesday — hours after Johnson held his regular question-and-answer session with lawmakers.
Parliamentary authorities are now facing questions about why they did not shut down sooner.
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, said that those in government should “practice what they preach” about social distancing.
“Given the transmission routes of touching contaminated surfaces and breathing in virus-laden droplets, it should not come as a surprise to hear that the PM and health secretary have tested positive for coronavirus,” she said.
On Friday health officials said Britain had 14,579 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 759 people have died — 181 deaths in 24 hours, the highest daily toll yet.
Britain’s government is run from a series of interconnected buildings centered on 10 Downing St. and adjoining houses — a warren of rooms and narrow corridors that is both the prime minister’s home and the workplace of hundreds of people.
Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said the prime minister was self-isolating in his apartment, which is above 11 Downing St., and would have his meals left outside his door by staff.
“For now the prime minister’s symptoms are mild and he is continuing to do all of the same functions he was performing before. The only difference is he will now have to do that by teleconferencing,” Slack said.
He would not say whether Johnson’s 32-year-old fiancee, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, was currently living in Downing St.
Slack said several other Downing St. staff are self-isolating but he did not know of any other confirmed cases.
The government said that if Johnson is unable to work, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will replace him.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and sometimes death.
On Thursday evening, Johnson stood outside his front door to join in a national round of applause for health care workers. Slack said the prime minister was careful to observe social distancing rules while he did so, standing several meters away from Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, who also took part.
Earlier this week Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, announced that he had tested positive for the virus. His mother, 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, is self-isolating at Windsor Castle as a precaution.
Buckingham Palace said Johnson and the Queen last met on March 11. The pair have held their weekly audience by phone for the past two weeks.
Johnson has been criticized by his opponents for his Conservative government’s initial reluctance to impose tough restrictions on movement and the economy to try to stem the spread of the virus.
Early this month, Johnson recounted shaking hands with medics treating coronavirus patients at a hospital and said “I continue to shake hands.”
The government’s initial advice was that people should wash their hands frequently. As the number of cases soared, that escalated to include the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and a nationwide order for everyone but key workers to stay home.
Johnson spoke by phone Friday with U.S. President Donald Trump, who wished him a speedy recovery, the White House said.
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration sent Johnson “our very best wishes.”
“He is a great leader. The president admires him. We consider him a friend,” Pence said on American news channel CNBC.
Johnson’s political opponents also wished him well. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, wished the prime minister a speedy recovery and relayed his hope that his family is “safe and healthy.”
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President Donald Trump on Friday signed a $2.2 trillion rescue package, tossing a life preserver to a U.S. economy and health care system left flailing by the coronavirus pandemic.
The House approved the sweeping measure by a voice vote, as strong majorities of both parties lined up behind the most colossal economic relief bill in the nation’s history. It will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation’s all but overwhelmed health care system.
“The American people deserve a government wide, visionary, evidence-based response to address these threats to their lives and their livelihood. And they need it now,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
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“We are going to help Americans through this. We are going to do this together,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Passage came after Democratic and Republican leaders banded together and outmaneuvered a maverick GOP lawmaker who tried forcing a roll call vote.
With many lawmakers scattered around the country and reluctant to risk flying back to the Capitol, that could have delayed approval.
But after Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a libertarian who often bucks the GOP leadership, tried insisting on a roll call vote, the presiding officer — Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md. — ruled that there was no need for one and the bill passed.
For the most part, Democrats who saw a taxpayer giveaway to big business and Republicans who considered it ladened with waste backed the measure for the greater good of keeping the economy alive.
There were hand sanitizers at the end of each aisle in the chamber, where most lawmakers sat well apart from one another.
Massie’s moved infuriated Trump and many lawmakers, who would have been forced to return to the Capitol to vote on legislation that was certain to pass anyway.
Trump tweeted that Massie is “a third rate Grandstander” and said he should be drummed out of the GOP. “He is a disaster for America, and for the Great State of Kentucky!” Trump wrote.
Massie, who opposed the massive bill, was in the chamber during the debate, chatting occasionally with others and checking his phone. Posting on Twitter, he cited a section of the Constitution that requires a majority of lawmakers — some 216 of them — to be present and voting to conduct business.
The debate was mostly conciliatory, with members of both parties praising the measure as a rescue for a ravaged nation. The lecturns in the chamber’s well were wiped down between many of the speeches.
“While no one will agree with every part of this rescue bill, we face a challenge rarely seen in America’s history. We must act now, or the toll on lives and livelihoods will be far greater,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
“We have no time to dither,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. “We have no time to engage in ideological or petty partisan fights. Our country needs us as one.”
But still, there were outbursts.
Freshman Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., donned pink latex gloves and yelled well beyond her allotted one minute, saying she was speaking “not for personal attention but (to encourage you) to take this disease seriously.” Much of what she said could not be heard above Republican shouts.
Numerous high-ranking Republicans called Massie in an attempt to persuade him to let the voice vote proceed, according to a top House GOP aide. They included McCarthy and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., whom Trump has chosen as his new chief of staff. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
Democratic leaders urged lawmakers who are “willing and able” to come to the Capitol to do so. And members of both parties were clearly upset with Massie.
“Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation. Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., wrote on Twitter. “Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.”
South Dakota GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson posted a selfie of himself and three other lawmakers from the upper Midwest traveling to Washington on an otherwise empty plane.
Friday’s House session followed an extraordinary 96-0 Senate vote late Wednesday. The bill’s relief can hardly come soon enough.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday the economy “may well be in recession” already, and the government reported a shocking 3.3 million burst of weekly jobless claims, more than four times the previous record. The U.S. death toll from the virus rose to 1,300.
It is unlikely to be the end of the federal response. Pelosi said issues like more generous food stamp payments, aid to state and local governments and family leave may be revisited in subsequent legislation.
The legislation will give $1,200 direct payments to individuals and make way for a flood of subsidized loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses facing extinction in an economic shutdown caused as Americans self-isolate by the tens of millions. It dwarfs prior Washington efforts to take on economic crises and natural disasters, such as the 2008 Wall Street bailout and President Barack Obama’s first-year economic recovery act.
But key elements are untested, such as grants to small businesses to keep workers on payroll and complex lending programs to larger businesses.
Policymakers worry that bureaucracies like the Small Business Administration may become overwhelmed, and conservatives fear that a new, generous unemployment benefit will dissuade jobless people from returning to the workforce. A new $500 billion subsidized lending program for larger businesses is unproven as well.
The bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House’s best guess of the spending it contains.
The legislation would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.
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Source: Staff reports, NBC News
Unemployment insurance would be made far more generous, with $600 per week tacked onto regular state jobless payments through the end of July. States and local governments would receive $150 billion in supplemental funding to help them provide basic and emergency services during the crisis.
The legislation also establishes a $454 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries in hopes of leveraging up to $4.5 trillion in lending to distressed businesses, states, and municipalities. All would be up to the Treasury Department’s discretion, though businesses controlled by Trump or immediate family members and by members of Congress would be ineligible.
There was also $150 billion devoted to the health care system, including $100 billion for grants to hospitals and other health care providers buckling under the strain of COVID-19 caseloads.
Republicans successfully pressed for an employee retention tax credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax. A huge tax break for interest costs and operating losses limited by the 2017 tax overhaul was restored at a $200 billion cost in a boon for the real estate sector.
An additional $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.
Most people who contract the new coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stood defiant in the face of a $15 million bounty by the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges, calling Donald Trump a “racist cowboy” and warning that he is ready to fight by whatever means necessary should the U.S. and neighboring Colombia dare to invade.
Maduro’s bellicose remarks Thursday night came hours after the U.S. announced sweeping indictments against the socialist leader and several members of his inner circle for allegedly converting Venezuela into a criminal enterprise at the service of drug traffickers and terrorist groups.
One indictment by prosecutors in New York accused Maduro and socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, head of the rubber-stamp constitutional assembly, of conspiring with Colombian rebels and members of the military “to flood the United States with cocaine” and use the drug trade as a “weapon against America.”
Maduro, a former bus driver who fashions himself an everyman icon of the Latin American left, said the charges were politically motivated. He said they ignore U.S. ally Colombia’s role as the main source of the world’s cocaine and his own role in facilitating peace talks between Colombia’s government and that country”s rebels over the past decade.
“Donald Trump, you are a miserable human being,” Maduro railed during his televised address. “You manage international relations like a New York mafia extortion artist you once were as a real estate boss.”
What was some of Maduro’s most venomous rhetoric ever against Trump also came with a threat of military force: “If one day the imperialists and Colombian oligarchy dare to touch even a single hair, they will face the Bolivarian fury of an entire nation that will wipe them all out.”
Earlier, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor opened an investigation against opposition leader Juan Guaidó for allegedly plotting a coup with retired army Gen. Cliver Alcalá, who after being named in the U.S. indictments said he had stockpiled assault weapons in Colombia for a cross-border incursion. Without offering evidence, Maduro said the Drug Enforcement Administration was behind a plan by Alcalá to assassinate him and other political leaders.
The indictment of a functioning head of state is highly unusual and is bound to ratchet up tensions with Washington as the spread of the coronavirus threatens to collapse Venezuela’s shortage-plagued health system. Maduro has ordered Venezuelans to stay home in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, which officials say has infected 107 people and claimed its first death Thursday.
Criminal acts to advance a drug and weapons conspiracy that dates back to the start of Hugo Chavez’s revolution in 1999 occurred as far afield as Syria, Mexico, Honduras and Iran, the indictment alleges. Attorney General William Barr estimated the conspiracy helped smuggle as much as 250 metric tons of cocaine a year out of South America.
“The Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality,” Barr said in an online news conference from Washington. “While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money, and the proceeds of their corruption. And this has to come to an end.”
The coordinated unsealing of indictments against 14 officials and government-connected individuals, along with the announcement of rewards of $55 million against Maduro and four others, attacked all the key planks of what Barr called the “corrupt Venezuelan regime,” including the Maduro-dominated judiciary and the powerful armed forces.
In Miami, prosecutors charged Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno with laundering in the U.S. at least $3 million in illegal proceeds from case fixing in Venezuela, including one involving a General Motors factory. Much of the money he spent on private aircraft, luxury watches and shopping at Prada, prosecutors allege.
Maduro’s defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino, was charged with conspiracy to smuggle narcotics in a May 2019 indictment unsealed in Washington.
“This announcement is a major blow for Maduro who has been running Venezuela like a mafia state, with rampant corruption and widespread atrocities, and absolute impunity,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch. “With this indictment he may now lose his aura of invincibility, of being completely above the law, which is very welcome news.”
But its unclear how it brings Venezuela any closer to ending a 15-month standoff between Maduro, who has the support of Russia and China, and the U.S.-backed Guaidó. It also could fragment the U.S.-led coalition against Maduro if European and Latin American allies think the Trump administration is overreaching. An estimated 5 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, fleeing hyperinflation and widespread food and medicine shortages.
“It’s an incredibly dangerous gamble to redouble the offensive against Maduro’s regime when the priority must be to shore up the country’s collapsing health system and prevent an even worse migrant exodus,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin America director for the Crisis Group. “These U.S. charges could spell doom for any thaw, expose Guaidó to grave risks, and appear high-handedly indifferent to the immediate suffering of Venezuela’s people.”
Maduro has long accused the U.S. “empire” of looking for any excuse to take control of the world’s largest oil reserves, likening its plotting to the 1989 invasion of Panama and the removal of strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega to face drug trafficking charges in Florida.
Barr and Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy on Venezuela, are driving the hawkish U.S. stance toward Maduro, much as they pushed for Noriega’s ouster in the late 1980s — Barr as a senior Justice Department official and Abrams as assistant secretary of state for Latin America.
U.S. officials see other parallels as well. Noriega transformed Panama into a playground for violent, international drug cartels, and the Trump administration has accused Maduro and his military henchmen of harboring drug traffickers, guerrillas from Colombia and even Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group.
They also have accused government officials together with well-connected businessmen of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the state coffers, much of it from state oil giant PDVSA, which has seen its production plunge to a seven-decade low.
Still, charging Maduro was no easy task. Sitting foreign leaders normally enjoy immunity from prosecution under U.S. law and international norms.
But the U.S. is among 60 countries that no longer consider Maduro a head of state even if he does hold de facto power. They instead recognize Guaidó, the head of the congress, as Venezuela’s rightful leader following the socialist’s re-election in a 2018 race marred by allegations of fraud and an opposition boycott.
The evidence against Maduro was collected over several years by investigators in Miami, New York, Houston and Washington who have brought drug trafficking, foreign bribery and money-laundering charges against several senior Venezuelan officials, members of the military and government-connected businessmen.
To the surprise of many, Maduro has stubbornly clung to power. The Trump administration raised the ante last fall, withdrawing support for a Norway-sponsored mediation effort and extending sanctions so that even foreign companies faced retaliation for extending Maduro a lifeline.
Separately, Barr prioritized investigations into Maduro’s inner circle, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Justice Department deliberations.
The pressure to deliver, the people said, went into overdrive around the time Guaidó visited Washington in February and Trump praised him as his guest at the State of the Union address, calling him “a very brave man, who carries with him the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Venezuelans.”
Frank Mora, a former Pentagon official, said the U.S. is right to condemn Maduro and others for repressing his people, stealing from state coffers and turning Venezuela into a criminal state.
But he worries the indictments play more into the emotion of voters in Florida — a must-win state for Trump where Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian governments have political muscle — than help address the country’s grinding crisis.
“We’re not going to go in and capture him,” said Mora, who now heads the Latin America studies institute at Florida International University. “This isn’t about regime change or restoring democracy to Venezuela. It’s about electoral politics.”
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman reported this story in Miami and AP writer Scott Smith reported from Caracas, Venezuela. AP writers Jim Mustian in New York and Michael Balsamo and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday abruptly waived enforcement on a range of legally mandated public health and environmental protections, saying industries could have trouble complying with them during the coronavirus pandemic.
The oil and gas industry were among the industries that had sought an advance relaxation of environmental and public health enforcement during the outbreak, citing potential staffing problems. The EPA’s decision was sweeping, forgoing fines or other civil penalties for companies that failed to monitor, report or meet some other requirements for releasing hazardous pollutants.
The move was the latest, and one of the broadest, regulation-easing moves by the EPA, which is seeking to roll back dozens of regulations as part of President Donald Trump’s purge of rules that the administration sees as unfriendly to business. Civil and criminal enforcement of polluters under the administration has fallen sharply.
Former Obama-era EPA chief Gina McCarthy, now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the announcement “an open license to pollute.”
The administration was “taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health,” McCarthy said, in part of what was a flurry of condemnation from environmental groups to the announcement.
In a statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the open-ended waiver was temporary and retroactive to March 13.
“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” Wheeler said. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”
The EPA directive said industries would be expected to comply with regulations “where reasonably practicable.” Businesses that broke regulations would have to be able to show that they tried to reduce the harm, and show how any violations were caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the EPA said.
Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, called the move “an assault on our public health and an absolute abdication of the legal responsibilities of the EPA.”
The EPA said the advance pass on enforcement did not apply to criminal violations by polluters.
While there were circumstances where a disaster like the pandemic might make compliance impossible, those instances called for narrow decisions by regulators on clemency, said Cynthia Giles, a former senior EPA enforcement during the Obama administration.
Giles said she knew of no previous time in the EPA’s half-century history where it “relinquished its fundamental authority” as she said it did Thursday.
The FBI won’t give up on “finding out what happened” to former agent Robert Levinson, who the U.S. government believes died in the custody of the Iranians after vanishing more than a decade ago, according to an email FBI Director Chris Wray sent to the FBI workforce on Thursday.
Wray also writes in the email, which was obtained by The Associated Press, that he himself met with the Levinson family and “we explained that the most credible evidence we have collected over the past 13 years points to the likelihood that Bob died in captivity.”
“It pained me to deliver that news, but I believe that we owed Bob’s family a thorough and candid presentation of the information that we’ve collected,” Wray wrote.
Wray’s message did not elaborate on the “credible evidence” he said the family had received.
The email was sent a day after Levinson’s family revealed that U.S. government officials had recently told them that they believed Levinson was dead. U.S. officials have not specified the nature or circumstances of Levinson’s death, except to say they believe it happened some time ago.
The death is believed to have occurred before the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak that has has gravely affected Iran, Levinson’s family said.
The email comes as Trump administration officials have called on Iran to provide a more complete accounting of Levinson’s abduction and his time in captivity. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement Thursday that “only Iran knows for certain what happened” to Levinson.
Levinson disappeared March 9, 2007, when he was scheduled to meet a source on the Iranian island of Kish. For years, U.S. officials would say only that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation. But a 2013 Associated Press investigation revealed that Levinson had been sent on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to run such an operation.
In his email, Wray said the FBI would not give up trying to find out more information about Levinson’s captivity.
Though the FBI believes he is dead, “this does not mean that the FBI has given up on finding out what happened to Bob,” Wray wrote.
“We’re going to keep working doggedly to determine the circumstances surrounding Bob’s abduction and his time in captivity, to find the answers we all want and that the Levinsons deserve,” Wray said.
President Donald Trump and coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said the United States had done more testing for COVID-19 infections in eight days than South Korea had done in eight weeks, but that ignores the fact that South Korea has a much smaller population. On a per-capita basis, the U.S. lags behind the Asian country, and other nations.
We also found the raw numbers show the U.S. testing totals for the eight-day period were still a bit lower, but close, to South Korea’s eight-week figures.
In addition, Trump has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. test is “better” or “the best test,” but there is no evidence to support that.
South Korea and the Importance of Testing
South Korea has been held up as a relative success story in containing the coronavirus outbreak, due in part to an extensive, and early, testing program. The daily growth in new cases dropped off considerably in early March after spiking in late February. In other words, South Korea, so far, appears to have begun flattening the curve, which is the much-talked-about goal of social distancing efforts in the United States.
Both countries reported their first confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the same time, on Jan. 20 and 21. But South Korea ramped up its testing program sooner, and, therefore, was able to identify and isolate cases early in the pandemic. Testing a higher proportion of the population has given the country a greater capacity to control the total spread of the disease.
Around Feb. 19, South Korea first began reporting daily spikes in confirmed cases, while the U.S. was a few weeks behind that. The curve of confirmed cases for the U.S. is still on the rise, as the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine interactive tracking map of the worldwide outbreak shows.
As Science magazine wrote on March 17, while many countries, including several in Europe, had shown “dire trends” in rising case counts and deaths from COVID-19, “South Korea has emerged as a sign of hope and a model to emulate.” The country has received praise for its testing program, while the U.S. government has faced criticism for a slow testing rollout and a lack of sufficient numbers of test kits.
(South Korea also has undertaken substantial efforts to isolate infected individuals and trace their contacts with others, including by publicly releasing information on those individuals’ recent movements, which has raised privacy concerns.)
Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University, told Science magazine that the country’s experience with a 2015 MERS outbreak “showed that laboratory testing is essential to control an emerging infectious disease.”
The director-general of the World Health Organization highlighted the efforts of South Korea in a statement on March 18, saying the WHO was working with other countries “to apply the lessons learned in Korea and elsewhere.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under the Trump administration, also has pointed to South Korea as a model. On Twitter on March 12 he said the U.S. “probably lost chance to have an outcome like South Korea,” and wrote of the importance of “aggressive screening to get people diagnosed.” The U.S., Gottlieb said, was “far behind current caseloads” with too many people not being able to get tested. “So we can’t identify clusters and isolate disease.”
As we’ve explained before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a manufacturing problem with its test kit early in February when it shipped those kits to state and local public health labs.
In the March 24 coronavirus task force briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke about the importance of testing in helping the U.S. understand how pervasive the disease is and to contain it.
For areas of the country that don’t yet show large numbers of cases, “they still have a window of significant degree of being able to contain,” Fauci said. “In other words, when you test, you find somebody, you isolate them, you get them out of circulation, and you do the contact tracing.”
With a large outbreak already underway, he said, “it’s tough to do anything but mitigation.” But with more testing, “you’re going to be hearing more about how we can inform where we’re going, particularly because we have the ability to test.”
The U.S. Versus South Korea, By the Numbers
The Trump administration has now claimed a milestone of sorts, compared with South Korea.
In a March 24 virtual town hall that was aired on Fox News, Birx said that the U.S. by that day “will have done more tests than South Korea did in eight weeks in the last eight days.” She acknowledged, “We have to do more.”
Trump repeated the claim later in the town hall, and both cited it again in the coronavirus task force briefing that day.
Birx gave some specific figures. “We now have 370,000 tests that have been done. The majority of those — over 220,000 in the last eight days, which, those of you who have been tracking the South Korea numbers, put us equivalent to what they did in eight weeks that we did in eight days,” she said.
According to figures provided by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Korea had conducted 348,582 tests as of March 24 (including some that were pending). Beginning Jan. 31, about eight weeks earlier, testing using a diagnostic that could detect the virus within six hours had been conducted at government public health institute locations, and it was distributed to other health facilities on Feb. 7, according to the Korean CDC.
The U.S. CDC hasn’t released up-to-date figures on testing, which can take a number of days for results, according to LabCorp, one of the commercial labs conducting testing in the United States. Data provided by the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists, researchers, scientists and others, shows higher figures for the U.S. than Birx cited: 317,347 tests completed or pending in the U.S. over the eight-day period of March 17 to 24. That’s less than South Korea’s roughly eight-week figure, but it’s close.
South Korea has tested 0.7% of its population, or about 1 test for every 149 residents over that eight-week period. The United States has tested about 0.1% of its population, or 1 test for about every 1,038 residents over the eight-day period.
Rangarajan Sampath, the chief scientific officer of the nonprofit Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, told us that in order to cover a larger percentage of the population, which is what South Korea is trying to do, the U.S. would need to conduct more tests per capita. “[S]imply pointing to total number of tests run without paying attention to the denominator of total population coverage, is misleading,” he said in an email.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
To match South Korea’s testing rate, the U.S. would have needed to conduct about 2.3 million tests. The COVID Tracking Project shows a total of 433,545 tests completed or pending in the U.S. as of March 25. It’s feasible for the U.S. to match South Korea’s testing rate over several weeks, given the fact that the tracking project’s figures show about 50,000 to 70,000 tests being completed per day over the past few days.
“The percentage of people tested in the US is much, much lower than South Korea,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told us.
Nuzzo noted a different testing philosophy between the two countries. The U.S. is reporting nearly 70,000 confirmed cases (as of March 26), but “this is likely a large underestimate of the actual number of cases, as most of the testing done to-date is limited to patients who are sick enough to be hospitalized. Conversely, South Korea, which has only reported fewer than 10,000 cases is testing widely — not just limiting tests to hospitalized cases.”
In the March 25 coronavirus task force briefing, Trump repeated the claim about South Korea and said: “We have tested, by far, more than anybody. We’re testing more than anybody right now. There’s nobody even close.”
But there are other countries that have done more tests on a per-capita basis than the United States, in addition to South Korea.
A chart compiled by Our World in Data, from official country reports, shows the U.S. lagging behind several countries on a per-capita testing basis as of March 20. And the U.S. hasn’t yet caught up to some of those countries. For instance, Australia had tested 4,473.4 people per million inhabitants as of March 20, while the latest figures for the U.S., which include five extra days, show a rate of 1,316 tests per million people, as of March 25.
Other countries that outpace the U.S. testing per capita include the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Austria, according to figures as of no later than March 20.
Similarly, testing data compiled by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, shows Italy had conducted 5,199 tests per million people, as of March 25; Switzerland had conducted 9,519 tests per million people, and the United Kingdom was just above the U.S. in per-capita terms, with 1,375 tests per million.
No Evidence U.S. Tests Are ‘Best’
Trump also has claimed in the past few days, without evidence, that the U.S. has “the best tests,” asserting they are “the most accurate tests,” “better” than South Korea’s and that this “makes a big difference.”
Sampath, whose organization is testing COVID-19 tests from various manufacturers to provide independent verification for countries, told us there’s “no data that would support” the president’s claim, and “no reason to believe US tests are any better (or worse)” than those being run in other countries.
We asked the White House for support for the president’s claim, and we haven’t received a response.
Sampath told us in a phone interview that “98% of all of the tests being done are molecular tests,” and those are “comparable” no matter where they are run.
He said at some point there will be data available to make comparative evaluations, but right now it “doesn’t exist.”
The U.S. Congress passed legislation on Friday that provides $2.2 trillion in aid to citizens, states and businesses small and large. Part of the law (full text here) would provide direct payment checks to taxpayers who need an infusion of cash to weather the outbreak and resulting shutdown.
President Donald Trump signed it into law Friday after the House voted final congressional approval.
The stimulus payments will be determined by a person’s 2019 federal income tax filing. If you have not yet filed your 2019 taxes, your 2018 return will be used. The payments will be made by either direct deposit or check. Direct deposits could come within two weeks and checks in four weeks.
If you have not filed taxes in the past few years, you need to reach out to the IRS and provide your personal information so the checks can be mailed to your home, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said Thursday.
Individuals making $75,000 a year or less can get $1,200. The payments are capped for folks making $99,000 a year or more. Couples making $175,000 or less can get $2,400. The total for couples is capped at $198,000 a year. Parents can receive an additional $500 per child.
These will be based on adjusted gross income, which is the amount of money you make in a year minus allowable deductions. The payment will not be taxed, lawmakers tell us.
To help you better understand how much money you may get, you can use the calculator below:
Calculate Your Coronavirus Stimulus Payment
Source: Staff reports, NBC News
These calculations are estimates based on the legislation as of Friday, Mar. 27, 2020 and information provided by you. They are subject to change.
Immigration attorneys have sported swim goggles and masks borrowed from friends to meet with clients in detention centers. Masked judges are stocking their cramped courtrooms with hand sanitizer for hearings they want to do by phone.
While much of daily life has ground to a halt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the Trump administration is resisting calls from immigration judges and attorneys to stop in-person hearings and shutter all immigration courts. They say the most pressing hearings can be done by phone so immigrants aren’t stuck in detention indefinitely.
Rules change daily as the virus spreads and federal officials struggle to figure out how and whether they can keep the massive system running. Officials say they have not ruled out a total shutdown but are closing specific courts and delaying hearings.
The U.S. Justice Department on Monday postponed hearings for asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico, but only after judges in San Diego canceled hearings in defiance of orders to keep them running amid the pandemic. The government has delayed hearings for immigrants who aren’t in detention but is moving forward for those who are.
Suspected coronavirus infections have forced immigration courts in New York, New Jersey and Colorado to temporarily shut down in the past week. As a precaution, the government announced the closure of several more Wednesday. Others that previously closed had reopened Thursday, including in Seattle. A handful of courts are only accepting documents.
But most of the 68 U.S. immigration courts are still holding hearings.
That’s leaving judges and attorneys to try to protect themselves. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told lawyers to bring their own masks and gloves, which many hospitals can’t even find.
And social distancing in a small courtroom is challenging, with judges passing paperwork back and forth to legal assistants while lawyers and immigrants’ families crowd in. Interpreters fly across the country for hearings.
Immigration lawyers and unions for judges and the Homeland Security Department’s own attorneys have jointly demanded that all courts close.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
“We know the coronavirus is contagious even when people are not symptomatic, and so everyone is very concerned about it. It’s not enough to be reactive. At that point, it’s too late,” said Samuel Cole, an immigration judge in Chicago who is also spokesman for the National Association of Immigration Judges. “So everyone is being put at risk.”
The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees U.S. immigration courts, said in an email to The Associated Press that it continually evaluates the situation and makes decisions based on public health information. Some courts may close even without a confirmed exposure.
“Depending on the nature, scale, scope, and extent of any incident,” the court system will respond appropriately, including closing courts, spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said.
The immigration courts encourage video conferencing when possible to reduce the risks, Mattingly said. No one, she said, is required to file documents in person.
The system faces a backlog of 1.1 million cases, and in many places, lawyers are considered essential workers exempt from state and city orders to stay home. In the criminal courts, some trials have been delayed and some states have closed courtrooms as the virus spreads.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Some immigration judges are telecommuting, while others are simply refusing to come in, according to the judges’ union.
At a New York City immigration court, attorneys arrived Monday to find all three immigration judges absent, said Andrea Saenz, supervising attorney for Brooklyn Defender Services, which represents detained immigrants.
Hours later, her attorneys learned that the court was closing after a suspected infection. Attorneys say they’re having to decide between risking their health by going to court or staying away and having their client miss out on being released from detention.
“It’s a disaster,” Saenz said.
In New Jersey, requests for such hearings can be made online and have been granted rapidly. But in New York, they are often ignored, attorneys say.
After a New York attorney got no response, an immigrant’s mother took a train from Long Island and then a New York City subway to court to hand-deliver the lawyer’s written request for a telephone hearing. The woman has since been diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to a letter from the Association of Deportation Defense Attorneys to the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
“Can you imagine the number of people she came into contact with as the result of the decision to keep this court open?” the letter asked.
While hearings by phone work for some cases, they don’t for children, according to attorneys who want those proceedings postponed.
“How are we supposed to make sure they’re understanding things?” said Laura Barrera, managing attorney for the Tucson Children’s Program at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.
She said she asked to delay hearings set for Friday for 11 children in government custody but was denied. Now, the plan is to gather together the children from different shelters for a hearing by video, putting them at risk of exposing each other to the virus, Barrera said.
Attorneys also are struggling to meet with their adult clients to build cases.
Immigration lawyers in Arizona have been told that detention centers require visitors to wear a surgical mask, eye wear and medical gloves, which are hard to come by even for health providers.
Attorney Margarita Silva improvised. When she reached a detention facility in Eloy, Arizona, on Monday, she was wearing her husband’s land surveyor goggles, a mask she borrowed from a friend and medical gloves she got from a hardware store. She said she felt ridiculous wearing the gear to meet a new client.
“My goggles were fogging up because every time I breathe into my mask, it goes to my goggles,” Silva said.
Another lawyer had only a mask and a second donned swimming goggles, while the guards and detainees at the facility wore nothing, she said.
Silva said she wishes immigration authorities would release detainees who don’t have a criminal history or only minor infractions, like her client. That, she said, would relieve the need for so many court hearings.
Taxin reported from Orange County, California.
The human and economic toll of the lockdowns against the coronavirus mounted Thursday as India struggled to feed the multitudes, Italy shut down most of its industry, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week. The U.S. overtook China as the country with the highest number of infections.
As the number of infections worldwide reached a half-million and deaths climbed past 23,000, the damage to people’s livelihoods and their well-being from the effort to flatten the rising curve started to come into focus.
In India, where the country’s 1.3 billion people were under orders to stay home, legions of poor were suddenly thrown out of work, and many families were left struggling for something to eat.
“Our first concern is food, not the virus,” said Suresh Kumar, 60, a bicycle rickshaw rider in New Delhi whose family of six relies on his daily earnings of 300 rupees, or $4. “I don’t know how I will manage.”
India has the world’s second-highest number of people living in extreme poverty. Rickshaw drivers, produce peddlers, maids, day laborers and other low-wage workers form the backbone of the economy, and many live day to day on their pay and have no savings to fall back on.
The Indian government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee ($22 billion) economic stimulus package that will deliver monthly rations of grain and lentils to a staggering 800 million people.
Around the globe, the death toll rose to about 8,200 in Italy, 4,100 in Spain and 1,700 in France, including a 16-year-old. The U.S. had about 1,200 deaths, about 400 of them in New York State, the worst hotspot in the nation. Most of those victims were in New York City, where hospitals are getting swamped.
On Thursday, a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University showed the United States now had the most confirmed cases of any country, with more than 82,000. Italy and China, the latter of which was the origin of the outbreak late last year, both had more than 80,000.
Louisiana was quickly becoming another smoldering hotspot. The number of new cases there jumped by more than 500 Thursday, for a total of over 2,300, with 86 deaths, including a 17-year-old, the health department said. The higher infection numbers reflected an increase in testing. New Orleans was gearing up for a possible overflow at hospitals, with plans to treat as many as 3,000 patients at the city’s convention center.
From New York’s Fifth Avenue and London’s Piccadilly Circus to the boulevards of Paris and the streets of Rome and Madrid, restaurants, hotels, airlines, giant chains and small shops are all shuttered, and factories across both continents have ground to a halt, as cities, states and entire countries have ordered the closing of nonessential businesses and instructed people to stay home.
Companies in Europe are laying off workers at the fastest pace since 2009, according to surveys of business managers. And the U.S. is bleeding jobs as well: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week was nearly five times the old record, set in 1982.
Dann Dykas, 37, of Portland, Oregon, was laid off from his job helping design and set up displays for trade shows.
“Everything is so surreal,” he said. “I can’t even get an interview for another job, and we now have to worry more about being careful and taking care of ourselves.”
In Georgia, 33-year-old Ian Smith was let go from his job at a wine bar and is working “side hustles” and relying on the generosity of friends.
“On my worst days, it’s hopelessness, and on some of my better days, it’s ‘What possibility can I create in all of this?’” he said. “I can’t pretend that I always feel that, though.”
In a rare positive sign, stocks rallied on Wall Street for the third straight day after an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help businesses, hospitals and ordinary Americans pull through the crisis won passage in the Senate. The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped more than 1,350 points, or over 6%.
The rescue plan, which is expected to be voted on in the House on Friday, would dispense checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, announced that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread, as he aims to ease the restrictions meant to slow the outbreak.
Italy, the eurozone’s third-biggest economy and a major exporter of machinery, textiles and other goods, became perhaps the first Western developed nation to idle most of its industry, extending a shutdown on smaller, nonessential businesses to heavy manufacturers.
Among the companies in Italy that have shut down or rolled back production: Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari, Pirelli tires and Luxottica eyewear, maker of Ray-Bans and Oakleys.
The industrial lobby Confindustria estimates a cost of 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($77 billion-$110 billion) of national wealth a month if 70% of companies are closed, as anticipated.
“We are entering a war economy,’’ said Confindustria President Vincenzo Boccia.
Elsewhere around the world, South Africa, with the most industrialized economy in Africa, headed into a three-week lockdown starting Friday. The country is already in recession, with an unemployment rate of 29%.
And Britain unveiled another relief effort, this time aimed at the gig economy, many of whose workers are facing financial ruin. The government will give the self-employed grants equal to 80% of their average monthly profits, up to 2,500 pounds ($2,975) per month.
In other developments:
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
So far, more than 120,000 people have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.
Long reported from Washington, Rising reported from Berlin and Schmall from New Delhi. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
The head of the United Nations told leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialized nations during an emergency virtual summit Thursday that “we are at war with a virus — and not winning it” despite dramatic measures by countries to seal their borders, shutter businesses and enforce home isolation for well over a quarter of the world’s population.
The unusual video call in lieu of a physical gathering comes as governments around the world stress the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of the highly infectious virus, which has prompted closures, curfews and lockdowns globally.
The Group of 20 nations, criticized for not taking cohesive action against the virus or its economic impact, vowed to work together and said they are collectively injecting more than $4.8 trillion into the global economy to counteract the social and financial impacts of the pandemic.
In a final statement after the meeting, the G20 said they were committed to strengthening the World Health Organization’s mandate. They said “global action, solidarity and international cooperation” were needed more than ever, but made no specific commitments.
“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities,” the group said. “The virus respects no borders.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to adopt a war-time plan to tackle the pandemic.
“It took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection,” he said. “The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. The third took four days. The fourth, just one and a half.”
“This is exponential growth and only the tip of the iceberg,” Guterres said, adding that countries must be able to combine systematic testing, tracing, quarantining and treatment, as well as coordinate an exit strategy to keep it suppressed until a vaccine becomes available.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said later that the secretary-general “thought the meeting was an important step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go for truly concerted and effective global leadership in response to this pandemic and its impact.”
The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the G20 leaders: “We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart — if we let it.“
He urged leaders to fight without excuses, without regrets, thanking countries that have already taken steps to fight the pandemic and urging them to do more. He also encouraged leaders to unite, saying no country can fight COVID-19 alone.
Saudi Arabia, which is presiding over the G20 this year, opened the meeting with an urgent appeal by King Salman for the world’s most powerful nations to finance the research and development of a vaccine for the virus.
“This human crisis requires a global response. The world counts on us to come together and cooperate in order to face this challenge,” the Saudi monarch said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced during the call that the UK was providing additional funding to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is supporting the development of vaccines, bringing its contribution to 250 million pounds ($302 million).
The meeting was not open to the media, and governments and organizations distributed the participants’ comments after it concluded.
In the video call, world leaders like India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, whose wife has contracted the virus, could be seen in little boxes on a screen seated at desksin photos sharedon Twitter by European Council President Charles Michel.
President Donald Trump was shown seated at the end of a long conference table in Washington with other American officials in photos shared on social media by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
“We talked about the problem. And hopefully it won’t be a problem for too much longer,” Trump said about the call. “The United States is working with our friends and partners around the world to stop the spread of the virus.
“We discussed how vitally important it is for all of our nations to immediately share information and data. And we’ve been doing that to a large extent, but we’ll do it even more. Tremendous spirit among all of those countries at 20 countries. … A tremendous spirit to get this over with.”
The meeting also included Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was taking part in the summit from her apartment in Berlin where she is in quarantine after a doctor who gave her a pneumonia vaccine had tested positive for the virus. Two tests on Merkel have come back negative, but she’ll still need more tests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested setting up a special fund under the IMF that would offer interest-free loans, and he emphasized the need to create “green corridors” for free movement of supplies and technologies intended to deal with the pandemic. He also proposed a moratorium on sanctions with regard to essential goods.
Putin noted “it’s a matter of life and death,” emphasizing the need to get rid of “political rubbish.”
He did not name any specific country but appeared to refer to U.S. sanctions on Iran, which has been badly hit by the outbreak. Russia has also faced waves of Western sanctions over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, whose country has been hardest-hit in Europe by COVID-19, said the G20 must use all fiscal and monetary policy tools to safeguard economies, “and national responses must be coordinated, enhancing their effectiveness.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose country has also been hard hit, asked the G20 to work with the WHO and other organizations to do “whatever it takes” to contain the pandemic. He asked for an “unprecedented, robust and large scale” response.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on G20 leaders to use all available “humanitarian aid financing resources” to help Syrians and other people in war-torn regions, who are most disadvantaged by the outbreak.
“I invite all countries to participate in the fight against this global health crisis in a just manner until all of humanity can breathe easily,” Erdogan said.
The virtual summit additionally included leaders from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Labor Organization and others.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva asked G20 leaders for their backing to double the fund’s $50 billion emergency financing capacity. She said vulnerable households and businesses need targeted financial support to stay afloat and get back to work quickly.
“Otherwise it will take years to overcome the effects of widespread bankruptcies and layoffs,” she warned. The IMF has said it stands “ready to deploy” all of its $1 trillion lending capacity, with nearly 80 countries currently requesting help.
Ethiopia’s government told G20 finance ministers in a call ahead of Thursday’s summit that Africa needs a $150 billion emergency financing package due to the impact of the virus.
The global death toll from the virus, which in most cases causes mild to moderate flu-like symptoms but for some, especially the elderly and those with existing illnesses, can lead to pneumonia and death, has climbed past 22,000 and the number of infections has surpassed 480,000, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for rocking oil markets by ramping up production next month and slashing prices to gain market share after Russia refused to extend a production cut agreement. The U.S. has pressed Saudi Arabia to reconsider it’s current strategy.
The International Labor Organization says nearly 40% of the world’s population has no health insurance or access to national health services and that 55% — or 4 billion people — do not benefit from any form of social protection. It said the current health crisis makes clear that not nearly enough progress has been made by governments in the years since the 2008 financial crisis to expand access to health services, sickness benefits and unemployment protection.
Lederer reported from New York. Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized democracies sparred Wednesday over whether to call out China as the source of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meeting by video conference because of the outbreak, the ministers agreed on the need for joint efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease being called COVID-19. But U.S. and European diplomats said the ministers were unable to agree on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call for the virus to be identified by name as the “Wuhan virus.”
As a result, just a day after G-7 finance ministers and central bankers issued a joint communique referring to the COVID-19 virus, the foreign ministers opted against releasing a group statement. U.S. officials pointed to Tuesday’s finance ministers’ statement to reject suggestions of G-7 disunity and said the foreign ministers had never intended to release their own communique.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
European officials said Pompeo had insisted on identifying the COVID-19 virus as the “Wuhan virus” even though the World Health Organization and others have cautioned against giving it a geographic name because of its global nature. In recent weeks, Pompeo has stepped up his use of “Wuhan virus,” accusing China of putting the world at risk by not revealing more details about the outbreak, which was first reported in the city of Wuhan.
President Donald Trump had until very recently frequently referred to the novel coronavirus as the “China virus” or the “Chinese virus,” but since the beginning of this week has steered away from those terms as critics have said they foster discriminatory sentiments and behavior against Asians and Asian Americans.
In a solo news conference after the meeting, Pompeo again referred to the “Wuhan virus,” saying it was “the most pressing agenda item.” He said all the foreign ministers had “committed to fighting (it) with transparency, as is necessary all around the world.” He did not deny there had been disagreements over what to call the virus, but said all the ministers had acknowledged that China had not been forthcoming about its details early on and was now trying to shift the narrative about it.
“Every one of the nations that was at that meeting this morning was deeply aware of the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in to try and deflect from what has really taken place here,” Pompeo said.
Other foreign ministers were not nearly as emphatic in their own comments about the meeting, with at least one leaving open the suggestion that China is not the only country trying to use the outbreak to advance political points.
French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian said in a statement that he had “underscored the need to combat any attempt to exploit the crisis for political purposes and expressed the view that the unity of all in order to effectively combat the pandemic must now take precedence over any other considerations.”
The disagreement over the virus terminology was first reported by the German publication Der Spiegel. German officials said they were more concerned about what would come from a virtual summit of the Group of 20 nations leaders that is supposed to be held on Thursday at the request of Saudi Arabia.
U.S. officials meanwhile downplayed the disagreement among the foreign ministers and pointed to the G-7 finance ministers’ statement from Tuesday that did not mention either “Wuhan” or “China” in relation to the virus and instead referred to it repeatedly as the COVID-19 virus.
Senate leaders and the White House have reached an agreement on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
The package is intended as a weeks-long or months-long patch for a spiraling economy and a nation facing a grim toll from a coronavirus that’s killed nearly 21,000 people worldwide. The full text has yet to be released, but the bill heads to the House next. Representatives will likely vote on the bill on Friday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized the measure during a Wednesday press conference, saying it does not go far enough. Despite uncertainty about the bill’s fate, here is what we know so far about what’s in the bill:
Direct Payments to Americans
The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, though the amount could vary from person to person.
First, the measure calculates how much you receive from the government based on your 2018 tax return. And while that calls for $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for those who are married and filing jointly, it can vary. The payments would decrease for those making more than $75,000, with an income cap of $99,000 for individuals or $198,000 for couples. It also includes $500 per child.
Put another way: If your tax bill is below $600 as an individual, you get $600. If your tax liability is above $1,200, it would be capped at $1,200. Those amounts would be doubled for married couples.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
Bigger Unemployment Checks and Help for ‘Gig Economy’ Workers
The measure would provide relief for those who have lost jobs, business or wages due to the coronavirus by beefing up the nation’s unemployment insurance program, a state-administered program that provides temporary income support for out-of-work Americans.
Under the legislation, unemployed workers would receive an additional $600 per week for up to four months on top of what beneficiaries normally receive from states, CNBC reports. It also expands eligibility to self-employed people and independent contractors.
It was this section of the bill that was still being debated Wednesday afternoon, with a group of Republican senators arguing that the core provision of the legislation could encourage companies to lay off workers and Americans to stay unemployed, CNBC reported.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., then said he would hold up the bill if his GOP colleagues did not drop their opposition. He said he is “prepared to put a hold on this bill” to lobby for tighter restrictions on companies receiving aid from a taxpayer pool of $500 billion.
Help for Small Businesses
Roughly $350 billion would go toward loans for small businesses.
Companies with fewer than 500 employees could be eligible for up to $10 million in forgivable small-business loans to allow them to keep paying their employees, NBC News reported.
Small businesses that maintain payroll would be eligible for assistance for costs such as mortgage interest, rent and utilities.
Bailouts for Hard-Hit Companies
Loans for distressed companies would come from a $425 billion fund controlled by the Federal Reserve, and an additional $75 billion would be available for industry-specific loans, including to airlines and hotels, the New York Times reported.
According to the Times, Senate Democrats have pushed for strong oversight of the loans, “including installing an inspector general and congressionally appointed board to monitor it.” Companies that benefit could not engage in stock buybacks while they received government assistance and for an additional year after that.
The agreement comes after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure, and it still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.
Health Care Relief
The bill will put $117 billion into hospitals and veterans’ health care, CNBC reports. It will also provide $16 billion for the nation to stockpile pharmaceutical and medical supplies.
Delay of Student Loan Payments
Federal student loan payments will be suspended through Sept. 30 with no accrual of interest on those loans, CNBC reports.
The virus has sickened over 69,000 people in the U.S., and killed more than 1,000. Worldwide, more than 471,000 people have been infected and more than 21,000 have died from the virus that first emerged in central China late last year.
What to Know
As Congress pushes through a $2 trillion stimulus bill, some Americans can expect checks from the government to help them cope with the economic devastation stemming from the coronavirus crisis.
Those payments are expected to be $1,200 for individuals, or $2,400 for those who are married and file income taxes jointly. It also includes $500 per child.
But you have to meet certain qualifications in order to be eligible for the money, based on your adjusted gross income in your 2018 tax returns. If you earn more than $75,000 as an individual, $112,500 as the head of household or $150,000 if you are married and filing jointly, the amount of those checks starts to get reduced.
Checks will be reduced by $5 for every $100 exceeding those thresholds. It completely phases out at $99,000 in income for individuals, $146,500 for head of household filers with one child and $198,000 for joint filers with no children.
However, you are still eligible for a check if you have no income or if you rely solely on non-taxable government benefit programs like Supplemental Security Income benefits, or SSI, from Social Security.
You also must have a valid Social Security number in order to receive the funds.
If you didn’t yet file a 2019 return, the government will use your 2018 information if it has it. It also may use a 2019 Social Security benefit statement, or Form SSA-1099, or the Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099.
Some individuals are specifically excluded from receiving payments. That includes nonresident aliens, individuals whose deductions can go to another taxpayer, and estates or trusts.
The legislation calls for sending out the payments “as rapidly as possible.” Eligible individuals will receive the funds electronically if they previously authorized refunds to be delivered to them that way. Otherwise, they will be sent out via postal mail.
Congress’ coronavirus relief bill would also significantly expand unemployment benefits for Americans who lose their jobs due to the country’s recent economic contagion.
Self-employed workers, those seeking part-time work, and workers who quit their job or can’t reach their place of work as a result of COVID-19 are among those eligible for benefits.
This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:
For most Americans alive today, the idea of shared national sacrifice is a collective abstraction, a memory handed down from a grandparent or passed on through a book or movie.
Not since World War II, when people carried ration books with stamps that allowed them to purchase meat, sugar, butter, cooking oil and gasoline, when buying cars, firewood and nylon was restricted, when factories converted from making automobiles to making tanks, Jeeps and torpedos, when men were drafted and women volunteered in the war effort, has the entire nation been asked to sacrifice for a greater good.
The civil rights era, Vietnam, the Gulf wars, 9/11 and the financial crisis all involved suffering, even death, but no call for universal sacrifice. President George W. Bush encouraged people to buy things after the terrorist attacks to help the economy — “patriots at the mall,” some called it — before the full war effort was underway. People lost jobs and homes in the financial crisis, but there was no summons for community response.
Now, with the coronavirus, it’s as though a natural disaster has taken place in multiple places at once. Millions will likely lose their jobs. Businesses will shutter. Schools have closed. Thousands will die. Leaders are ordering citizens into isolation to stop the virus’ march.
Suddenly, in the course of a few weeks, John F. Kennedy’s “ask what you can do for your country” injunction has come to life. Will Americans step up?
“This is a new moment,” said Jon Meacham, a historian and author of “The Soul of America.”
“Prolonged sacrifice isn’t something we’ve been asked to do, really, since World War II,” Meacham said. “There was a kind of perpetual vigilance in the Cold War — what President Kennedy called ‘the long twilight struggle’ — but living with the fear of nuclear war is quite abstract compared to living with the fear of a virus and of a possible economic depression.”
The second world war involved a common enemy and common purpose, with clear sides drawn across the globe. While President Donald Trump has at times tried to summon that feeling about attacking the coronavirus, he has abruptly changed course, suggesting Monday that restrictions he has sought on American life may be as short-lived as his slogan about “15 days to slow the spread,” even as others are warning that most of the country is about to be hit by a crush of new cases.
In Congress, some talk of coming together while others excoriate their partisan opposites. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) laid the early blame for lack of congressional action entirely at the feet of Democrats.
“A request to do anything becomes a point of attack, and we are always 10 steps back from where we should be on big legislative agreements,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton. “So intense polarization in a moment of crisis — with a president who is not interested in time-tested forms of governance and the job of uniting — make this much more difficult.”
That has not been universal. Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), moved swiftly to shut down most activity in his state and he implored Ohioans to help.
“We have not faced an enemy like we are facing today in 102 years,” DeWine said recently. “You have to go back to the 1918 influenza epidemic. We are certainly at war. … In the time of war, we must make sacrifices, and I thank all of our Ohio citizens for what they are doing and what they aren’t doing. You are making a huge difference, and this difference will save lives.”
As a nation, Americans are accustomed to seeing swaths of the country destroyed by hurricanes, floods, wildfires and blizzards. But there is then a season of rebuilding and renewal. The coronavirus, with its rapid spread, is giving Americans a public-health Katrina that knows few borders or boundaries, even though some parts of the country are suffering far more than others.
To date, for many, the sacrifices have been mere inconveniences. No restaurants or movie theaters. Maybe the need to buy exercise equipment because the gym has closed. Or to leave the cardboard box from Amazon outside for 24 hours to make sure the virus doesn’t somehow enter the home.
A week of being told to work from home can resemble a working vacation. A week of not being able to work at all is frustrating but, potentially, eventually reversible.
But when a week bleeds into a month, or longer, how will we react?
“We used to tax in times of crisis. Now we don’t,” Zelizer said. “We asked people to ration in times of crisis. Now we don’t. We asked people to serve in times of crisis. Now we don’t. So this is a sea change. The thing is, Americans might not have a choice.”
For many, the choices are personal and painful. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) cannot see her parents or her in-laws for the foreseeable future because she may have been exposed to the virus. But she is also seeing the impact of the virus in many other ways that are far more harmful.
“I think we are at the beginning stages of people understanding what the sacrifice is,” Spanberger said. “People with loved ones in nursing homes are told they can’t go visit their loved ones. That brings it home. For people who have kids, trying to explain why they can’t go to school, can’t have playdates, can’t see friends, can’t see family members.
“It is this element of everyone needs to disrupt their lives so that other people won’t die,” she said. “It’s different than eating less meat because of war or working in a factory because a husband is overseas. But you also can’t engage with the community, so it makes it harder. You can’t lean on your social circle, church, or school. All of those things are taken from us trying to keep people safe.”
With people being asked to sacrifice their jobs, their children’s education, their ability to commune with family and friends, Spanberger said, “the depth of empathy that that should be available and the strength of concerns over these decisions needs to be unparalleled and we do not see that, at least not from the administration.”
What the nation’s leaders do or don’t do will shape the course of the pandemic and its lethality. But it will be Americans’ willingness to sacrifice that may well matter more.
“In the end, this presents a great and compelling test of our national sense of ourselves as exceptional, generous and resilient,” Meacham said. “Perhaps we are all of those things. One thing’s for sure: We’re about to find out.”
A former personal lawyer for President Donald Trump was denied early release from a three-year prison sentence Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said it seemed Michael Cohen’s request for release to home confinement after serving 10 months in prison “appears to be just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle.”
The judge noted that Cohen raised the danger of getting the coronavirus in prison as the latest reason why he believed he was entitled to a reduced sentence.
He also rejected the request on other grounds, including that the defense lawyers were making a request that only prosecutors were entitled to make.
Pauley noted that Cohen attempted to cooperate with prosecutors after his December 2018 sentencing in Manhattan federal court in the hopes that he could earn a reduced sentence.
But he said prosecutors believe he made false statements about facts in his sessions with prosecutors.
“Unable to articulate how he advanced any investigation or prosecution, Cohen and his surrogates make extravagant allegations that the Department of Justice — from the Attorney General down to line prosecutors — acted in bad faith. Those ad hominem attacks lack any substance and do not trigger the right to remedy or a hearing before this Court,” Judge Pauley wrote.
The judge said it was not for him to second-guess the prosecutors’ decision that Cohen’s false statements and efforts to minimize his crimes justified a decision not to recommend a reduced sentence for Cohen.
In asking for early release, Cohen’s lawyers said their client was the victim of a continuing campaign of “character assassination” by prosecutors.
They claimed the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan “stubbornly refuses” to acknowledge the breadth, scope and relevance of over 170 hours of testimony he gave to nine government agencies.
Cohen, 53, is housed at a federal prison in Otisville, New York, after pleading guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations and lying to Congress, among other charges. He began serving his sentence last May.
Cohen maintains he deserves early release for telling investigators about the president’s misdeeds.
In court papers, prosecutors say Cohen has offered no evidence that he provided them with substantial assistance of the kind that warrants a significant reduction in sentence. And they say Congressional testimony does not earn a reduction either.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018, abandoning his longtime position of loyalty to Trump. He later met with federal and state prosecutors in New York and with the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, telling them he had lied to Congress to protect Trump.
Prior to Cohen’s sentence, Mueller’s team of investigators described his help to their probe, but prosecutors in Manhattan made it clear that Cohen wanted to help them only on his terms, unwilling to submit to the demands that he reveal all of his crimes and cooperate fully and honestly.
President Donald Trump has been holding daily press conferences to provide the latest information about the coronavirus from the federal government, but his rhetoric has sometimes been imprecise, misleading or outright incorrect.
Here are three recent examples:
How Long Did China Conceal News?
News reports suggest China may have known about and concealed emerging information in the weeks after the novel coronavirus was detected. But Trump went too far when he said, “I wish they told us three months sooner that this was a problem.”
The symptoms from the first cases of the virus did not emerge until early December, at the earliest, and China alerted the World Health Organization of mysterious pneumonia cases on Dec. 31. By early January, at the latest, the U.S. government was aware of the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Trump’s right-hand man during the coronavirus crisis, said the president’s statement “doesn’t comport [with the facts], because 2 or 3 months earlier would have been September.”
But the president has since repeated the claim.
In a press conference on March 21, Trump was asked when he first learned that the new coronavirus was going to be a problem. Trump said it was right around the time he imposed travel restrictions on China, which were announced on Jan. 31 and went into effect two days later.
In an interview with Science magazine the following morning, Fauci said he told “the appropriate people” on the White House staff that Trump’s “three to four month” timeline was off.
It didn’t get corrected the next time.
In a press conference later that day, Trump repeated the claim, saying, “I wish they told us three months sooner that this was a problem.”
So when did China know about the virus, and when did the U.S. find out? The answer to both questions is difficult to pinpoint. But let’s start with China.
According to the World Health Organization, symptoms from the first cluster of confirmed cases emerged between Dec. 8 and Jan. 2. A study on the novel coronavirus published in The Lancet reported, “The symptom onset date of the first patient identified was Dec 1, 2019.”
On Dec. 31, the Chinese informed the World Health Organization’s China office “of a pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, China. According to the authorities, some patients were operating dealers or vendors in the Huanan Seafood market.”
The WHO says it then “began monitoring the situation and requested further information on the laboratory tests performed and the different diagnoses considered.”
On Feb. 1, the Washington Post, citing “official statements, leaked accounts from Chinese medical professionals, newly released scientific data and interviews with public health officials and infectious disease experts,” documented efforts by the Chinese government to tamp down information about the virus “during the critical period from mid-December to mid-January.”
According to the Post, “Medical professionals who tried to sound an alarm were seized by police. Key state media omitted mention of the outbreak for weeks. ”
By Jan. 11, the Chinese had shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus, which could then be used by other countries to develop diagnostic kits. Still, the Washington Post reported, “Key information about who got sick and when was not released publicly until weeks later, scientists and researchers said.”
Trump said he didn’t learn that the virus would be a problem until “probably around” the time when he imposed travel restrictions on China. Those were announced on Jan. 31. But the government had growing concerns about the virus weeks before that.
In a press conference on March 20, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the U.S. was alerted to the problems in China “by some discussions that Dr. [Robert] Redfield, the director of the CDC, had with Chinese colleagues on January 3rd. It’s since been known that there may have been cases in December, not that we were alerted in December.”
According to the Washington Post, “U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.” Those agencies warned that “Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.”
The WHO confirmed the first case outside of China on Jan. 13 in Thailand and confirmed three days later that the virus had spread to Japan. At around that time, the WHO warned that there could be a wider outbreak and recommended “all countries to continue preparedness activities.”
In a CNBC interview on Jan. 22, Trump said of the virus, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
On Jan. 24, Trump tweeted, “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!“
On Jan. 30, the WHO declared a global public health emergency, and Trump imposed travel restrictions a day later.
But even into late February, Trump continued to downplay the potential spread of the virus.
“So we’re at the low level. As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Feb. 26. “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
Asked about his Jan. 24 tweet praising China for its “efforts and transparency,” Trump on March 21 said his comments about China’s efforts were true.
“China has worked very hard,” Trump said, but he added that “they weren’t transparent.”
“They were transparent at that time, but when we saw what happened, they could have been transparent much earlier than they were,” Trump said. “I just wish they could have told us earlier. They knew they had a problem earlier. I wish they could have said that.”
Trump has a point about Chinese officials not being transparent with information about the new coronavirus. But suggesting China could have alerted the U.S. and the world three or four months earlier does not comport with the timeline of events.
The first cases were not identified until December. Although it is unclear when exactly China may have pegged the sickness to the novel coronavirus, it was a matter of weeks between when those first cases were discovered and when the world knew about the virus. Those were critical weeks, but they weren’t months.
Sick Leave Legislation
At a March 20 press conference at the White House, Trump said, “We enacted legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers at no cost to employers.” But the assistance isn’t available for everyone. The legislation providing the leave excludes larger companies employing nearly half of the nation’s workforce.
Under a coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump on March 18, workers are to receive paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave. But companies with 500 or more employees are not covered. In addition, the labor secretary can exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees and health care providers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 48% of American workers are employed by companies with 500 or more employees.
The legislation provides workers with two weeks of paid leave if they are sick or quarantined or taking care of sick relatives. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to those taking care of children whose schools are closed or whose child care facilities are unavailable. The bill also provides free coronavirus testing.
Most larger companies offer their employees paid sick leave, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but many provide fewer than the 14 days necessary for a coronavirus quarantine. The average number of paid sick days for private companies with 500 workers or more was eight after one year on the job and 10 after 20 years, based on March 2018 data.
This was not the only time the Trump administration has cited the paid leave without mentioning that many aren’t eligible for it.
For example, on March 19, Trump said: “We’re providing sick leave and family medical leave to those affected by the virus and more help is on the way as we speak.”
That same day, Vice President Mike Pence said, “Last night, as you heard, the president signed the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, family leave for caregivers, and food assistance for the needy, among a broad range of benefits.”
Funding to Fight Diseases
In a press briefing on March 22, Trump was asked whether the proposed coronavirus economic stimulus bill would include financial assistance for countries to fight global pandemics. In response, the president said “no,” but noted that “we give billions and billions and billions of dollars to other countries” to fight diseases. He added: “I don’t think I’ve ever said, ‘No.’ I can’t.”
Trump hasn’t proposed eliminating all funding to combat global diseases, but he has proposed reduced funding. His most recent budget proposal for fiscal year 2021, for instance, includes funding cuts for such programs.
According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, Trump’s most recent budget proposal requests less funding to fight diseases globally than what has been appropriated by Congress in previous years.
For example, Trump requested $3.76 billion for global HIV/AIDS programs, which is $1.59 billion less than what Congress approved in fiscal 2020 and would be the lowest amount of funding since 2007.
The president also requested $283.2 million for tuberculosis programs, or $37.6 million less than what Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2020, and $905.2 million for malaria programs, which would be a reduction of $93.9 million from the funding for the current fiscal cycle.
Plus, Trump proposed cutting U.S. funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a publicly and privately funded international organization, by $902 million — from the $1.56 billion appropriated in FY 2020 to $658 million proposed in the president’s FY 2021 budget.
Trump’s budget would also reduce funding for neglected tropical diseases to $75 million, down more than $27 million from the enacted amount of $102.5 million for 2020. The World Health Organization says NTDs “are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries and affect more than one billion people, costing developing economies billions of dollars every year.”
And, KFF says, compared with 2020, Trump’s budget request seeks almost $119 million less in 2021 for “other” services, which “includes funding for WHO and PAHO [Pan American Health Organization]; global parasitic diseases at CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]; the Fogarty International Center at NIH [National Institutes of Health]; as well as the Emergency Reserve Fund, which was created in the FY17 Omnibus bill to respond to contagious infectious disease outbreaks, and would be made available if there is an ‘emerging health threat that poses severe threats to human health.’”
In fact, according to KFF’s analysis, Trump’s request of $557 million for global health security — which would be an $11 million increase from 2020 — is the only global health program area that would see an increase under Trump’s desired budget for fiscal 2021. With its global health security initiatives, including its work as part of the Global Health Security Agenda, the U.S. aims to help other countries prepare to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats worldwide.
Overall, though, “The FY 2021 President’s budget request proposes to reduce global health funding to $7.7 billion, its lowest level since FY 2008,” KFF said. And Trump has consistently sought cuts to the global health budget since he has been in office, KFF has found.
In addition to programs to fight diseases, the global health category also includes efforts to improve global nutrition and family planning and reproductive health.
As we’ve explained before, a president’s budget request is more a symbolic statement of priorities than anything Congress would enact. A March 2019 Congressional Research Service report details how Congress has repeatedly appropriated more money for certain global health programs than Trump has requested in his budgets.
But the president’s claim that he doesn’t think he has said “no” to providing funds to other countries to fight diseases ignores his budget proposals.
Joe Biden is in the process of narrowing down his list of potential running mates, and his allies in the business community are weighing in with their favorite choices.
Since Biden announced earlier this month that he plans to pick a woman as his nominee for vice president, leaders of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and other industries have been reaching out to him and his presidential campaign about whom they think should join him on the ticket, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Some of these business leaders involved with the lobbying effort are fundraising for Biden’s campaign. They declined to be named in this story because these conversations were deemed private.
Biden said Tuesday that he is looking to cut down his list of potential running mates in order to begin the vetting process, but he would not say whom he is considering.
The names being floated and pushed to Biden by this group include Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, two of his former rivals in the primary; Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; and Florida Rep. Val Demings, these people added.
Cortez Masto has yet to endorse a candidate for president. Harris and Klobuchar endorsed Biden. Demings represents Florida’s 10th congressional district and was one of the House managers during President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Whitmer, who has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak, recently endorsed Biden.
Notably absent from the names mentioned to CNBC is Stacey Abrams, who was the Democratic nominee in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race. She has publicly kept the door open to being a nominee for vice president.
A spokesman for Biden did not return a request for comment.
“Everyone is pushing for their favorite woman,” a Wall Street investor close to Biden said. This person also described how corporate leaders are highlighting Harris’ experience as a senator and California’s attorney general.
Many who have spoken with campaign officials believe Harris is the front-runner, but these people also cautioned that it is still too early to tell whom Biden will choose.
People pushing Klobuchar, of Minnesota, have suggested that she would be able to garner support in Midwestern states, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, where the so-called Democratic “blue wall” fell to Trump.
Biden is still in a primary battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t appear to be dropping out any time soon, even as the former vice president leads in the delegate count after several high-profile primary victories.
Meanwhile, Biden and his campaign have had to switch gears while the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the country. In addition to his criticism of Trump’s response to the outbreak, Biden has started raising money through virtual events.
On Tuesday, Biden did an interview with “The View” remotely from his his home in Delaware. He told the hosts his current list includes 12 to 15 women and that they are plan to cut it down to 11 people in the coming days.
“We are going to start vetting soon and there is a shortlist,” Biden said.
This story first appeared on CNBC.com More from CNBC:
President Donald Trump said he is hoping the United States will be reopened by Easter as he weighs how to relax nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job during the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump’s optimism contradicted the warnings of some public health officials who called for stricter — not looser — restrictions on public interactions. But federal officials suggested that advisories could be loosened in areas not experiencing widespread infection.
With lives and the economy hanging in the balance, Trump said Tuesday he was already looking toward easing the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said during a Fox News virtual town hall. Easter is just over two weeks away — Apr. 12.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” Trump said in a subsequent interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country.”
And as scientists warned the worst is yet to come — with hospital systems tested beyond their capacity and health workers sidelined by exposure — Trump addressed the nation, saying he was beginning “to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Trump’s comments came even as White House officials urged people who have left New York City amid the outbreak to self-quarantine for 14 days after their departure, owing to the widespread rate of infection in the metro area. It also follows on the president encouraging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package — estimated at roughly $6 trillion once the Federal Reserve’s actions are included — to ease the financial pain for Americans and hard-hit industries.
Health experts have made clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
The U.S. is now more than a week into an unprecedented 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities. The guidelines, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are voluntary, but many state and local leaders have issued mandatory restrictions in line with, or even tighter than, those issued by the CDC.
On Monday, the U.S. saw its biggest jump yet in the death toll from the virus, with more than 650 American deaths now attributed to COVID-19. Trump’s comments come after dire warnings by officials in hard-hit areas. New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state’s hospital system will soon hit a breaking point — resulting in avoidable deaths — even with the restrictions already in place.
“I gave it two weeks,” Trump said during the town hall from the Rose Garden. He argued that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from the seasonal flu and in automobile accidents and “we don’t turn the country off.”
When the 15-day period ends next Monday, he said, “We’ll assess at that time and we’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up.” He added, “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”
Trump’s Easter target was not immediately embraced by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House task force, who indicated any move would have to be guided by data still being collected. She suggested that public health professionals could recommend a general easing, while pushing for local restrictions to remain in the hardest-hit areas.
Trump acknowledged that some want the guidance to continue, but claimed without providing evidence that keeping the guidance in place would lead to deaths from suicide and depression.
“This cure is worse than the problem,” Trump said.
During a press briefing Tuesday evening, Trump said public health officials and economists were “working to develop a sophisticated plan to open the economy as soon as the time is right — based on the best science, the best modeling and the best medical research there is anywhere on earth.”
Trump’s enthusiasm for getting people back to work comes as he takes stock of the political toll the outbreak is taking. It sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, did not appear at the virtual town hall, but Trump denied there were any tensions between the two men.
“I will be guided very much by Dr. Fauci and Deborah,” Trump said.
At the press briefing later, Fauci said, “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.” But he suggested he would be willing to examine the potential for easing the CDC advisories in areas that have been less affected by the outbreak.
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday that “public health includes economic health.”
“That’s the key point. And it’s not either-or. It’s not either-or, and that’s why we’re taking a fresh look at it,” he said.
During a private conference call with roughly 30 conservative leaders on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence reinforced Trump’s eagerness to lift coronavirus-related work and travel restrictions “in a matter of weeks, not months.”
When pressed on a specific timeline for lifting restrictions, Pence said there would be no formal decisions made until the current 15-day period of social distancing was complete, according to a conference call participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the private discussion.
Pence told the group that accommodations would need to be made for the highest-risk populations if and when restrictions begin to be lifted.
Despite Trump’s rosy talk, other elements of the government were digging in for the long haul. Top defense and military leaders on Tuesday warned department personnel that the virus problems could extend for eight to 10 weeks, or even into the summer.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Defense Department town hall meeting that restrictions could go into late May or June, possibly even July. He said there are a variety of models from other countries, so the exact length of the virus and necessary restrictions are not yet clear.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.
The coronavirus pandemic and the country’s collapsing economy are forcing Democrats and Republicans to rethink the messaging they thought would help them win November’s elections for White House and congressional control.
Shattered, certainly for now, is President Donald Trump’s ability to tout a brawny economy and record stock market prices as the predicate for his reelection. And it could be hard for Republicans to call Democrats socialists with a straight face as Congress approaches a bipartisan deal on a near $2 trillion rescue package that would essentially have government drive the economy indefinitely.
Democrats say they’re the party that will protect people’s health care, but it’s unclear that would be heard by people focused mostly on when life will return to normal. And by pounding away at Trump’s competence, they’d risk alienating voters who, during a stressful time, want policymakers to produce solutions, not partisan wrangling.
“We’re in the middle of a hurricane. We don’t know all the political consequences. We don’t know if it’s a Cat 1 or a Cat 5,” said GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak, referring to categories used to express the strength of storms.
Trump has seized public attention with almost daily briefings about the government’s response to the pandemic. That’s left former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, and his party’s congressional candidates searching for ways to break into the news cycle.
Clearly, campaign themes are changing.
Five political advertisers had run ads mentioning the coronavirus through last week, according to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks ad data. That included one in Florida, in Spanish, by Biden, and two by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
“In times like this, we must work together,” Collins, who faces a competitive November reelection in a state that prizes independence, tells the camera.
Priorities USA, the largest outside Democratic political organization, planned to start ads Tuesday in election battlegrounds Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The spot contrasts the skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases with Trump’s own words, including, “We have it totally under control,” and ends with the words, “AMERICA NEEDS A LEADER WE CAN TRUST” displayed against a black background.
GOP operatives say Republican candidates must emphasize rallying behind the effort to battle the twin crises.
“The message is, ‘We all need to come together, support the president and vice president and do all we can to fight the virus,’” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “Throw everything else out the window.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee provided a memo last week offering guidance to its candidates.
“Remind followers through your actions that you take this seriously and would be a calm voice through crisis,” the House Democratic political arm said in the guidance obtained by The Associated Press.
It urged candidates to discuss the significance of health care access and affordability — issues that helped the party capture House control in 2018. It suggested asking voters, “How are you doing?” and “Do you need anything” during phone calls.
Among the first to test the new political world will be two rivals for an open seat in a narrowly divided House district in Los Angeles’ northern suburbs.
Republican Mike Garcia and Democrat Christy Smith face a special election in May, when voters seem certain to still be focused on the virus and the battered economy. As elsewhere, efforts to curb the infection’s spread means campaign phone calls and digital communications are replacing public events.
Both concede it’s hard to get people’s attention, but each said they are already sharpening their appeals to voters.
During tough times, people “retrench their patriotic feelings and remember what the important things are, and that’s God, country and family,” Garcia, a Trump supporter and former Navy fighter pilot, said in an interview. “We’re all on the same team.”
Smith, a state assemblywoman, said Americans will “rise to the occasion” but added, “Patriotism alone doesn’t set food on people’s tables.” She said Trump’s virus response has put the U.S. “woefully behind” the infection and it’s time for “a reckoning on what effective government looks like.”
Both parties say it’s too early to know if the virus will be contained and the economy resuscitated by the time voters focus on the fall campaigns — and whether they’ll blame or laud Trump and the GOP for the outcome.
Either way, Trump is casting himself as a wartime president in hopes of garnering the broad public support that usually goes to national leaders in times of crisis.
A Trump campaign fundraising committee emailed supporters Tuesday that despite the emergency, Democrats have “proved yet again that they’d rather HURT our Nation than work with their President and do what’s right.”
Biden used a fundraiser, held by phone, to swipe at Trump, who’s made numerous false statements about the virus, including on its seriousness and the availability of tests.
“We need to tell the American people the truth, the unvarnished truth,” Biden said.
“Look what we have in the White House right now,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., using that same theme. Bustos, who heads House Democrats’ campaign arm, cited Trump’s lashing out at reporters during new briefings and said, “We all look for leaders to lead in a crisis.”
Democrats are also using the virus’ spread to reprise their call for better health care.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats marked Monday’s 10th anniversary of President Barack Obama signing his health care overhaul into law. “We couldn’t need it more” than during this pandemic, Pelosi told reporters about the statute. She blamed Trump for making “mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake” in handling the outbreak.
And on the Senate floor Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., underscored something both parties will be looking for: ways to taint the other for using the life-altering crises to seek political gain.
McConnell accused Democrats of viewing the chamber’s blocked economic bill as “a juicy political opportunity” and trying to stuff it with environmental requirements and other priorities.
“Are you kidding me? This is the moment to debate new regulations that have nothing to do with this crisis?” he said.
Still, Republicans concede the party faces a huge downside should the virus remain uncontrolled.
“If we become Italy,” said the consultant Mackowiak, citing the country with the highest death toll so far, “there’s no question the party in power would pay a political price for that. Absolutely no question.”
Texas’ Lieutenant Governor said Monday night that the U.S. should get back to work in the face of the global pandemic and that people over the age of 70, who the Centers for Disease Control says are at higher risk for the coronavirus, will “take care of ourselves.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the comments while appearing on FOX News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Patrick, 69, went on the program after President Donald Trump said earlier Monday that he wanted the country to get back to business in weeks, not months.
“No one reached out to me, and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? And if that is the exchange, I am all in.” He also said, “Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it,” Patrick said. “And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”
Within hours, Patrick was trending on Twitter.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilbert Hinojosa said, “Texas Democrats believe healthcare is a human right. The lives of our families, our friends, and our communities have no dollar amount.”
A spokeswoman for Patrick did not immediately return to an email seeking comment late Monday, but on Tuesday his office released the following statement to clarify his position on when people should get back to work.
“I was very clear last night that we should continue President Trump’s 15-day plan and if he believes we need more time, then we need more time. I trust his judgment. But at some point, sooner rather than later, we must get back to work before our nation totally collapses.”
“We can do two things at once — address the health care crisis and get people their jobs back — while following the CDC guidelines in a smart way.”
“When you close the doors of every business in America, you cannot help but destroy the economy and with it, the opportunity for the next generation to live the American dream.”
Former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi came to Patrick’s defense on Twitter.
In Washington Tuesday, NBC asked Sen. John Cornyn about Patrick’s comments.
“I don’t think he is going to have to make that choice. Hopefully we will kill the virus, and then we’ll prop up our economy and the jobs that go along with it,” said Cornyn.
During a news conference, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was also asked about what Patrick said.
“The first step we all have, and the primary obligation we all have, is public health and safety. We must do all we can to ensure the health and safety of everyone to save every life, to get everyone through COVID-19, minimizing the loss of life,” said Abbott. He added, “Second, is this reality. If the goal is to get the economy going, the best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get COVID-19 behind us. We must bend the curve on the growth of the coronavirus in Texas. As soon as we do that, the economy will come roaring back.”
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
Health experts have made clear that unless all Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that people 65 years and older are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and eight out of 10 deaths in the U.S. from the disease have been from adults in that age group.
Patrick is a firebrand conservative and former talk radio show host who was elected to office in 2014. He was the Texas chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and has pushed the Texas Senate that he oversees further to the right.
Texas has more than 350 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths related to the virus. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has resisted calling a stay-at-home order for all of Texas but local officials in Dallas and San Antonio have.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Worldwide, more than 375,000 cases have been reported, and while most people recover in weeks, more than 16,000 have died from the virus.
How to Avoid COVID-19 Infection:
The best way to prevent infection is to take precautions to avoid exposure to this virus, which are similar to the precautions you take to avoid the flu. CDC always recommends these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
*Information shared from the Office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Top congressional and White House officials emerged from grueling negotiations at the Capitol over the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package saying they expected to reach a deal Tuesday.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said they had spoken by phone with President Donald Trump during the long night of negotiations. While the two sides have resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some remain.
At midnight Monday, they emerged separately to say talks would continue into the night.
“We look forward to having a deal tomorrow,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office.
“The president is giving us direction, we’re working at his direction, and the president would like to have a deal,” Mnuchin said. “He’s hopeful we can conclude this.”
Moments later, Schumer agreed that a deal was almost within reach. “That’s the expectation — that we finish it tomorrow and hopefully vote on it tomorrow evening,” he said.
The long evening of shuttle negotiations came after a long day trying to close the sweeping aid package amid the growing crisis. Mnuchin said talks were expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
Tensions flared Monday as Washington strained to respond to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, with Congress arguing over a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package and an impatient Trump musing openly about letting the 15-day shutdown expire next Monday, March 30.
As the U.S. braces for an onslaught of sick Americans, and millions are forced indoors to avert a spike that risks overwhelming hospitals, the most ambitious federal intervention in modern times is testing whether Washington can act swiftly to deal with the pandemic on the home front. By evening, there were no further votes set for Monday, as talks pushed into the night.
“It’s time to get with the program, time to pass historic relief,” said an angry Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier in the day as he opened the chamber after a nonstop weekend session that failed to produce a deal. “This is a national emergency.”
Fuming, McConnell warned Democrats — pointedly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to quit stalling on “political games,” as he described Democratic efforts to steer more of the aid toward public health and workers.
Trump, who has largely been hands off from the negotiations, weighed in late Monday from the White House briefing room, declaring that Congress should vote “for the Senate bill as written,” dismissing any Democratic proposal.
“It must go quickly,” Trump said. “This is not the time for political agendas.”
The president also sounded a note of frustration about the unprecedented modern-day effort to halt the virus’s march by essentially shutting down public activities in ways that now threaten the U.S. economy.
Even though Trump’s administration recommended Americans curtail activities starting a week ago, the president said: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
“Let’s go to work,” he said. “This country was not built to be shut down. This is not a county that was built for this.”
Trump said that he may soon allow parts of the nation’s economy, in regions less badly hit by the virus, to begin reopening, contradicting the advice of medical and public health experts across the country, if not the globe, to hunker down even more firmly.
Pelosi assailed Trump’s idea and fluctuating response to the crisis.
“He’s a notion-monger, just tossing out things that have no relationship to a well-coordinated, science-based, government-wide response to this,” Pelosi said on a health-care conference call. “Thank God for the governors who are taking the lead in their state. Thank God for some of the people in the administration who speak truth to power.”
The White House team led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin worked on Capitol Hill for a fourth straight day of talks as negotiators narrowed on a bipartisan accord.
In the nearly empty building, the virus continued to strike close. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who announced he tested positive for coronavirus, is now among five senators under self-quarantine. Several other lawmakers have cycled in and out of isolation. And the husband of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is in a hospital with pneumonia after testing positive, she said Monday.
First lady Melania Trump, meanwhile, has tested negative for the coronavirus, Trump said.
With a wary population watching and waiting, Washington labored under the size and scope of a rescue package — larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.
Democrats are holding out as they argue the package is tilted toward corporations and should do more to help suddenly jobless workers and health care providers with dire needs.
In particular, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wants constraints on the largely Republican-led effort to provide $500 billion for corporations. Democrats call that a “slush fund.”
Yet, he said, “We’re very close to reaching a deal.” Even so, another attempt to move the package forward snagged, blocked as Democrats refused to quit negotiating.
Democrats won one concession — to provide four months of expanded unemployment benefits, rather than just three as proposed, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the private talks. The jobless pay also would extend to self-employed and so-called gig workers.
Coronavirus Outbreak Coverage
But Republicans complained Democrats were holding out for more labor protections for workers, wanting assurances that corporations taking federal aid will commit to retaining their employees.
Pelosi came out with the House Democrats’ own sweeping $2.5 trillion bill, which would provide $1,500 directly to the public and $200 billion to the states, as governors are pleading for aid. She urged Senate negotiators “to move closer to the values” in it.
Trump has balked at using his authority under the recently invoked Defense Protection Act to compel the private sector to manufacture needed medical supplies like masks and ventilators, even as he encourages them to spur production. “We are a country not based on nationalizing our business,” said Trump, who has repeatedly railed against socialism overseas and among Democrats.
From his home, Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden criticized Trump for stopping short of using the full force of emergency federal authority.
“Trump keeps saying he’s a wartime president,” Biden said in an online address. “Well, start acting like one.”
On the economic front, the Federal Reserve announced Monday it will lend to small and large businesses and local governments as well as extend its bond-buying programs as part of a series of sweeping steps to support the flow of credit through an economy ravaged by the viral outbreak.
Central to the emerging rescue package is as much as $350 billion for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. The package also proposes a one-time rebate of about $1,200 per person, or $3,000 for a family of four, as well as extended unemployment benefits.
Hospitals would get about $110 billion for the expected influx of sick patients, said Mnuchin. But Democrats are pushing for more health-care dollars for the front-line hospitals and workers.
The urgency to act is mounting, as jobless claims skyrocket and financial markets are eager for signs that Washington can soften the blow of the health-care crisis and what experts say is a looming recession.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Bev Banks contributed. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Hope Yen, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says he can’t jump in front of the microphone to stop President Donald Trump from speaking at daily White House briefings on the coronavirus outbreak.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert told Science magazine in an interview that Trump listens “even though we disagree on some things.”
“He goes his own way. He has his own style,” Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in the telephone interview with the magazine Sunday. “But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
Trump complained at a recent briefing that China should have told the world about the virus much earlier. The new coronavirus originated in China. Fauci said he told the “appropriate people” after Trump made the comment that “it doesn’t comport, because two or three months earlier would have been September.” The coronavirus emerged in central China in December.
Fauci said Trump’s aides may caution him against repeating the statement but if the president chooses to say it again, “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”
Trump and Fauci sparred politely but publicly last week over whether a malaria drug would work to treat people with the coronavirus disease.
Asked about being present when things are said that he disagrees with, Fauci said: “I don’t disagree in the substance. It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject.”
“I like Dr. Fauci a lot,” Trump said when the questioning turned to Fauci’s absence from Monday’s briefing.
On Friday, the doctor put a hand over his face when Trump injected a conspiracy theory into the proceeding by referring to the State Department as the “Deep State Department.”
Fauci’s brief hand movement and facial expression became an internet meme.
Asked if he’d been criticized for it, Fauci said, “No comment.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Washington’s unprecedented threat to cut $1 billion in Afghanistan funding — a response to the refusal of rivals in Kabul to work together to advance peace — comes at a time when the impoverished nation risks being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
There was no immediate response Tuesday from President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called them out in a harsh statement.
Pompeo on Monday, in unannounced but urgent visit to Kabul, held inconclusive meetings with Ghani and Abdullah, then flew to the Gulf to meet with a leader of the Taliban, the Afghan insurgents who last month signed a peace deal with the U.S. as a first step toward withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan by mid-2021.
Pompeo said the Trump administration would slash $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan and reduce all cooperation unless Ghani and Abdullah agree on forming a new government. Speaking to reporters aboard his plane on the return flight home, Pompeo said he was hopeful the two rivals “will get their act together and we won’t have to” cut the assistance. “But we’re prepared to do that,” he said.
As part of the peace deal, rival factions in Afghanistan were to come together in all-Afghan talks about shaping the country’s future. However, Washington made clear from the start that pace of a U.S. troop withdrawal is linked to the Taliban clamping down on terror groups and aiding in the fight against the militant Islamic State group — not on the success of intra-Afghan talks.
A senior Afghan official familiar with Pompeo’s discussions in Kabul said Monday there were no results but that efforts would continue. The official did not indicate a compromise was imminent. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters about the talks.
Ghani and Abdullah, his main rival in last September’s disputed presidential polls, have been waging a bitter power struggle that has seen both men declare themselves president in competing inauguration ceremonies earlier this month.
The offices of Ghani and Abdullah did not respond to questions Tuesday about their meetings with Pompeo and the threatened $1 billion aid cut.
After meeting the chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Qatar, Pompeo told reporters he was satisfied the Taliban were keeping their side of the deal, had reduced violence and were ready to start negotiations with the leadership in Kabul.
In an English-language statement Tuesday, the Taliban said Baradar’s meeting with Pompeo stressed that only a strict implementation of the peace deal would “pave the way for intra-Afghan negotiations along with enduring peace and cease-fire, including a future Islamic government in accordance with the agreement.”
The statement also said Pompeo assured the Taliban that the U.S. forces’ withdrawal “will continue in accordance with the declared timetable.”
The squabbling in Kabul among the two Afghan rivals — both linked to powerful warlords, all with heavily armed militias — put a pall over the deal since the signing of the peace deal.
Ghani has also refused to release 5,000 Taliban prisonersthe deal promised would be freed as a good-will gesture ahead of intra-Afghan talks. The Taliban for their part were to free 1,000 Afghan officials and military personnel they hold captive.
While the rest of the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, Afghans have vented their frustrations on social networks and local media over the government’s lack of action. Afghanistan has registered only 42 cases of the virus though there are fears the true figure could be far greater after more than 137,000 Afghans returned since the start of the year from Iran, the scene of Mideast’s largest outbreak. Many visited the southern Herat province and later dispersed throughout Afghanistan with no follow-up or documentation, according to officials. Iran has had more than 1,800 deaths and over 23,000 infected with the virus.
Pompeo said that despite the threatened aid cuts, Washington remained committed to the Afghan people. As a demonstration of that, he said, the U.S. would provide $15 million in assistance to help Afghanistan fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Gannon reported from Islamabad.
President Donald Trump has never been known for his patience or long attention span.
Now, as the coronavirus crisis threatens his presidency, and upends his campaign for reelection, Trump is rapidly losing patience with the medical professionals who have made the case day after day that the only way to prevent a catastrophic loss of life is to essentially shut down the country — to minimize transmission and “flatten the curve” so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with critical patients.
The president also has been furious that his efforts to halt the harrowing drop in the stock market have so far proven ineffective. He has been calling friends and economists at all hours and berated aides and reporters who try to persuade him to recognize the severity of the outbreak.
Beyond the crisis, he has been agitated that he can’t run the campaign he wants against Democrat Joe Biden, and he has used daily, hour-long briefings as near proxies for his campaign rallies, guaranteed to attract attention and to maintain the backing of his fervent political case.
This account is based on interviews with a dozen White House aides, former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.
In a sign of his growing restiveness, Trump tweeted just before midnight:
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
He followed up early Monday with a series of retweets that seemed to endorse re-opening American society upon the conclusion of the initial 15-day restrictions, meant to slow the spread of the virus, on March 30.
It reflected the view from a growing number senior of administration officials who believe the closing of the economy was too harsh but that re-opening it would directly contradict the advice of health experts, a bipartisan group of governors and mayors and potentially set up a confrontation with his own medical advisers, including top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Trump tried to minimize the threat of the virus from the outset and in recent days has vacillated between acknowledging the crisis and suggesting that it would all soon be over.
With his Mar-a-Lago club shuttered and his frequent trips to the golf course now off limits, Trump has been largely stuck in the White House. Even in good times, other presidents have likened life in the White House to being like prison.
For Trump, that feeling is magnified by walling himself off during the crisis. Unable to travel and unsure of what to do, he’s been crashing West Wing meetings, often forcing staffers to hurriedly adjust agendas as the president frequently gets in the way of health professionals trying to chart a course of action.
While some around him have suggested that he should only appear when there is big news to announce, Trump has been missing the spotlight and has told people that he knows the nation is watching the briefings and doesn’t want to give up the stage.
On Sunday, he asked the briefing, originally slated for 4:30 p.m. to be pushed back later into the evening, when more people would be watching — including those tuning in for “60 Minutes,” the president’s favorite broadcast news magazine.
Trump has rebuked reporters whose questions he does not like, and behind closed doors, it has been much the same. The president has snapped at aides delivering news that contradicts his relentless belief the crisis will be resolved soon.
Upon his return from a trip to India last month, Trump lit into aides about Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who had provided a dire warning about the virus’ potential impact. He chided Vice President Mike Pence in a West Wing meeting for defending Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a one-time Democratic presidential contender, for his handling of the crisis. And he angrily upbraided medical providers who called on his administration to do more, saying they should be upset instead with their local leadership.
And he has railed against journalists for investigating his sluggish response, driven, in part, by a desire to discredit the media at a time when he knows the headlines are only going to get worse.
“I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost,” he tweeted over the weekend. “Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?”
That line has been picked up by others in the administration who also made clear that they don’t see value in reporters digging into how the administration prepared for the looming crisis.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate right now for the press to be going backwards,” echoed White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “There’s no reason to go backwards and figure out tick-tocks of what happened when. We’ve got a crisis on our hands, we’ve got a coronavirus in this country, and the press should — they’ve got a real opportunity…to also spread great information to this public and give information that our task force is trying to get out there.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Mere weeks ago, Trump and his reelection campaign had planned to use his massive financial advantage to try to define his opponent to the public in the race’s early months, much like former President Barack Obama did to Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.
Trump had planned to frame the race as a contest between a decisive president who had ushered in an economic golden age, versus either an avowed socialist like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or a creature of the Washington establishment, Biden, who was struggling to raise money and enthusiasm.
But instead of facing a wounded Democrat at the end of a drawn-out nomination fight, an emboldened Biden has emerged as his party’s clear front-runner, having coalesced much of the party around him while addressing his cash shortage. And now Trump is staring at a recession, a potentially lethal political blow for any incumbent, but particularly one who has so tethered his fortunes to the stock market and a once buoyant economy.
Unable to hold his rallies, Trump has lost his favorite outlet and deprived his campaign of compiling valuable voter data. And while his campaign’s war chest remains robust, any sort of TV ad campaign has been sidelined, though anti-Biden digital spots are still being produced and aides have expressed surprise and relief that the former vice president has largely ceded Trump the spotlight the last two weeks.
With no chance of any trips anytime soon aboard Air Force One, where Trump often spends his time talking out campaign strategy and socializing with old friends and allies, he’s unleashed his anger on Twitter — including at Democratic governors who dare criticize him — and has been on the phone constantly, peppering people with calls.
In recent days, the president tried to reach one economist late at night but the person slept through multiple calls.
So Trump just kept calling. Eventually, the economist woke up.
__ Lemire reported from New York
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Monday for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. chief said: “It is time to put armed conflict on lock-down and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
Guterres said the world faces “a common enemy — COVID-19” which doesn’t care “about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith.”
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
He said women, children, the disabled, marginalized and displaced and people caught in armed conflicts, which are raging around the world, are the most vulnerable and “are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.”
It’s time to silence guns, stop artillery, end airstrikes and create corridors for life-saving aid and open windows for diplomacy, he said.
“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” the secretary-general said.
Guterres spoke as the Syrian conflict has entered its 10th year, the conflict in Yemen is in its fifth year and Libya’s rival governments have been fighting for nearly a year. Africa also faces unrest from Somalia and South Sudan to Congo. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is nearly six years old and Colombia has still not made peace with the smaller of the armed groups it had been fighting.
Extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida and their affiliates are also actively engaging in attacks in southeast Asia, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and many other countries around the world.
Guterres urged warring parties to “put aside mistrust and animosity” and take inspiration from efforts to get rivals to tackle the coronavirus together, but he stressed that much more was needed.
“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world,” the secretary-general said. “It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.”
The secretary-general said over the weekend that the parties in Libya had responded positively to calls for a humanitarian pause to tackle COVID-19, but he told reporters Mondat that a recently agreed truce “is not holding very well, and this is one of the reasons why I believe we need a global ceasefire.”
He said U.N. envoys in conflict areas will be talking to warring parties “to try to make sure that this global appeal is not only listened to but leads to concrete action, leads to a pause in fighting, creating the conditions for the response to COVID-19 to be much more effective.”
Guterres stressed that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed, “health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted,” and refugees and the displaced are “doubly vulnerable.”
“If the fighting goes on, we might have an absolutely devastating spreading of the epidemic,” he said.
The United Nations plans to launch a $2 billion humanitarian appeal on Wednesday to deal with the pandemic, including refugees and the displaced, he said.
Guterres said he also sent a letter Monday to leaders of the Group of 20 major economic powers, who are expected to hold a virtual meeting this week that he will attend, saying much strong coordination is needed to suppress COVID-19.
He said this coordination must not only make sure that richer developed countries can respond effectively to the pandemic but that there is “massive support” to prevent the coronavirus from spreading “like wildfire in the developing world.”
Then, Guterres said, there must be “a huge package” to respond to the economic and social consequences in developing countries, to keep households, businesses and societies afloat.
The secretary-general said that given the need to keep countries afloat during this crisis, major industrial countries and organizations like the World Bank and IMF will need to provide support in the developing word that would be equal to more than 10% of GDP for those countries.
Also Monday, the head of the IMF said that the IMF was ready to do its part, suggesting that if needed it would deploy all of its $1 trillion in lending resources to countries in need.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement following a conference call with finance officials of the Group of 20 nations that the IMF has received requests for emergency help from nearly 80 countries. She pledged that the IMF planned a strong coordinated response working with the World Bank and other groups.
Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is facing a potential class action lawsuit for allegedly promising jobs through November to more than a thousand campaign staffers and then laying them off last week.
A former field organizer, Donna Wood, filed the suit on Monday in U.S. District Court, in the southern district of New York, on behalf of herself and others seeking to get it certified by the court as a class action.
NBC News first reported in January that Bloomberg was planning to fund a major campaign effort through November and was committing to pay staff through then, even if he lost the nomination. But Bloomberg reversed course last week and laid off his entire staff.
For the full story, go to NBC News.
Speaking to over 70 Georgia donors on a fundraising call, Biden said he and Obama recently agreed that his vice presidential nominee must have the political experience to step in as president if he were unable to serve.
“The most important thing — and I’ve actually talked to Barack about this — the most important thing is that there has to be someone who, the day after they’re picked, is prepared to be president of the United States of America if something happened,” Biden said.
Biden has said repeatedly that he would prefer to pick a woman as his vice president, but he disclosed only recently that he is taking his age — he is 77 — into consideration as he makes his choice. He added that he’d like his administration to “look like the country, like Obama and our administration looked like.”
Read the full story on NBCNews.com
President Donald Trump is falsely asserting how quickly automakers including GM, Ford and Tesla can manufacture ventilators to help fill an acute U.S. shortage of the medical equipment for coronavirus patients.
Ford and GM have yet to start production, and it would take them months, if not longer, to begin production, if it’s even possible.
A look at the claim:
TRUMP: “Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST! @fema Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are?” — tweet Sunday.
TRUMP, on addressing a shortage of ventilators: “General Motors, Ford, so many companies — I had three calls yesterday directly, without having to institute like: ‘You will do this’ — these companies are making them right now.” — briefing Saturday.
THE FACTS: No automaker is anywhere close to making medical gear such as ventilators and remain months away — if not longer. Nor do the car companies need the president’s permission to move forward.
Neither GM or Ford is building ventilators at present, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Friday that his company was “working on ventilators” but he didn’t specify how long it might take. His tweets also questioned the need and said it couldn’t be done immediately.
Unless automakers can move with unprecedented speed, redirecting plants to make completely different products will take a long time — possibly too long to help with medical gear shortages.
“When you are repurposing a factory, it really depends on how similar the new product is to the existing products in your product line,” said Kaitlin Wowak, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who focuses on industrial supply chains. “It’s going to be a substantial pivot to start producing an entirely different item.”
GM announced on Friday that it is working with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems to ramp up production. The automaker said it would help with logistics, purchasing and manufacturing, but stopped short of saying it would make ventilators in its own factories, which have been idled for two weeks after workers who’d been fearful of the contagion put pressure on the company.
Any manufacturing at GM would come much later. GM does have a lot of 3D printers and could make parts and other things to help, but it does not need permission from Trump. In fact, GM manufacturing engineers were at Ventec late last week working on this, well before Trump’s tweet.
Ford, which also suspended factory production along with other automakers with operations in North America, confirmed that it too was in discussions with the Trump administration about helping, but had not started.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
“We’re looking at feasibility,” Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said. “It may be possible, but it’s not you go from Rangers (small pickups) one day to ventilators the next. We’re figuring out what is possible now.”
Trump said last week that he invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows the government to marshal the private sector to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. But he did not give examples as to how he was using it.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, indicated that Trump had not used the act to trigger production of medical equipment.
“What the president was saying is that these companies are coming forth on their own,” Fauci told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, agreed. “I think it’s an insurance policy. Right? It’s a lever. If we have to throw that lever we will,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Yen reported from Washington.
A Trump administration official said Sunday that illegal border crossings have dropped by half as the strictest U.S.-Mexico border policies yet went into place amid the coronavirus pandemic, but there was confusion about how it was all working.
Anyone caught crossing the border illegally is to be immediately returned back to Mexico or Canada, according to the new restrictions based on an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Friday. According to Mark Morgan, the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the decision applies to all migrants.
“We’re not going to take you into our custody,” he said Saturday evening on Fox News. “We don’t know anything about you. You have no documents, we’re not going to take you into our facilities and expose you to CBP personnel and the American people as well as immigrants,” he said.
But Mexican officials have said they would only take people from Mexico and Central America and only those who are encountered straight away — not people already in custody. Officials later said the elderly and minors won’t be taken back and that they expected to take in about 100 per day.
“If people who are not Mexican or Central American are returned to us, Mexico would not accept them,” Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Friday in Spanish. “The United States will take care of that.”
The majority of people crossing the border are from Central America, but not all. For example, there were some 6,000 Brazilians and nearly 1,200 Chinese who arrived between January and February this year, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
But it’s not entirely clear what happens to those people. Morgan said the migrants should be “expeditiously” returned to the country they came from.
The CDC on Friday issued an order in effect for 30 days that bars anyone coming illegally in part because migrants are held in close quarters and there isn’t enough proper staffing or space to keep them at a safe distance and to screen for the illness. Plus, migrants who are suspected of having COVID-19 are sent to local hospitals, possibly further infecting others, the CDC warned.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
The borders remain open, according to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, but only to facilitate trade; the U.S. has about $3 billion per day with Canada and Mexico. Tourists and shoppers were asked to stay home.
Wolf said Sunday on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that the number of migrants crossing illegally had plummeted, but it was important to “keep supply chains open,” but to do it in a careful and considerate way that would “limit the introduction and spread of the virus.”
Meanwhile, there was growing concern on the Mexican side of the border that the number of migrants stranded there would only increase, with shelters already at capacity.
“We have 300 people in the shelter and we can no longer take it. We have been a week without the United States asking for people and if they don’t ask, we are going to be overcrowded,” said Héctor Joaquín Silva, director of the Senda de Reynosa shelter, which borders McAllen, Texas.
Silva said he hasn’t accepted more migrants and has kept the shelter in quarantine to avoid infections but that migrants continue to arrive in Reynosa.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., immigrant advocates filed a lawsuit in Washington D.C. requesting the immediate release of migrant families from detention facilities over concerns of inadequate care and an environment ripe for an outbreak. They say the country’s three detention centers where families are held — Berks in Pennsylvania, and Karnes and Dilley in Texas — have failed to take adequate measures to protect families from COVID-19.
Immigration enforcement has wide latitude on when to release migrants. Earlier this year, Homeland Security officials said they would detain families as long as possible in an effort to discourage migrants from crossing the border. Most families are held 20 days.
“The families who are detained in these detention centers facilities have no criminal history and do not pose any threat whatsoever to public safety and are not a flight risk — they all came to the United States to seek asylum and are actively pursuing the right to remain in the United States,” the advocacy groups wrote.
ICE has said it is working to contain any spread of the virus in its detention facilities. The agency did not comment on the lawsuit. Immigration courts are still operating, but with scattered closures and delays in some hearings.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. More than 300,000 have been infected worldwide.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Curbing immigration has been a signature policy of Trump’s, and he’s tried to block asylum seekers before but failed after courts ruled against him. On Sunday, a text from his re-election campaign read: “Pres. Trump is making your safety his #1 priority. That’s why we’re closing BORDERS to illegals.”
Verza contributed to this report from Mexico City.
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