The federal government has been rolling out its response to the coronavirus crisis, trying to slow the spread and stimulate the economy, which has taken a severe hit, by agreeing to a massive stimulus package after midnight on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump is considering loosening social distancing guidelines amid the growing economic fallout, saying he envisions “packed churches” on Easter, but public health officials warn that approach could quickly overload hospital systems and cost more lives.
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Here are Wednesday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump: ‘Large sections’ of US could get back to ‘normal’
President Trump again spoke extensively at the daily White House briefing on the government’s response in the coronavirus crisis.
He said he remained committed to restarting “normal” life around the country, though notably he said it would only be “sections,” possibly those less affected or at lower risk of an outbreak, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force, mentioned at Tuesday’s briefing.
“The more lives we can save and the sooner we can eventually get people back to work, back to school, and back to normal, and there are large sections of the country, probably, can go much sooner than other sections. And we are obviously looking at that, also. People are asking: ‘Is that an alternative?’ Absolutely, it is an alternative,” Trump said.
Trump resorted to calling a reporter “fake news” when asked about his goal of “reopening” the country by Easter, which health experts and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized as too early.
“The media would like to see me do poorly in the election,” Trump said, repeating unsubstantiated claims he has made on Twitter in the face of backlash to his mid-April goal.
“Just so you understand, I think there are certain people who would like it to not open so quickly, I think there are certain people who would like it to do financially poorly because they think that would be very good as far as defeating me at the polls,” Trump said, despite offering no supporting evidence.
“I don’t know if that is so, but there are people in your profession that would like that to happen, I think it’s very clear. That there are people in your profession who write fake news, you do, she does, there are people in your profession that write fake news,” Trump said, pointing at another reporter.
Notably, neither Trump nor his potential Democratic opponents, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have campaigned over the past few weeks because of health risks from coronavirus.
With regard to the economic stimulus package close to passing Congress — and the direct payments it includes for individuals — Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said those who have signed up for direct deposit with your IRS tax return will get their payments from the government within the next three weeks.
“We also have economic impact payments, these will be within the next three weeks, direct payments into most people’s deposit accounts and for those that don’t have it, we will be having the checks in the mail,” Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin did not say how long those who are not signed up for direct deposit will have to wait for their checks in the mail.
Fauci predicted that the new coronavirus “very well might” become a seasonal risk, a question that has come up in recent weeks, especially as cases develop in the southern hemisphere, which will enter its winter flu season as the U.S. enters summer. That makes the need for a vaccine and drug treatment all the more important, Fauci said.
“Would this possibly become a seasonal cycle thing? I have always indicated to you that I think it very well might,” Fauci said. If countries in southern Africa and the southern hemisphere “go into their winter season” and “have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we will get a cycle around,” he said.
“What does that mean for us and what we are doing? It emphasizes the need to do what we are doing in developing a vaccine, testing it quickly, and trying to get it ready so we will have a vaccine available for that next cycle,” Fauci said, also emphasizing the ongoing clinical drug trials.
Pentagon halts overseas movement for US troops for up to 60 days
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has halted all overseas movement for U.S. troops for up to 60 days in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, according to a U.S. official.
Reuters was first to learn about the stop movement order after an interview with the secretary today.
Esper said that the order applied to all service members, civilian personnel and families. However, there will be some exceptions, including the drawdown of forces already underway in Afghanistan.
Negotiators reach deal in principle on stimulus package
After five days of closed-door negotiations between Senate leaders and White House officials, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they have reached a deal on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. While not setting an exact time for the vote later today, both indicated it will pass.
The final deal is being drafted today.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. We have a deal,” White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland said in early hours on Capitol Hill. “Much of the work on the bill text has been completed and I’m hopeful over the next few hours [it will be finished] … We will circulate it early in the morning.”
Asked if the president would sign the bill, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “absolutely.”
“Spoken to the president many times today. He’s very pleased with this legislation and the impact that this is going to have.”
The deal includes a one-time check of $1,200 to Americans who made up to $75,000 in 2018 and extends unemployment benefits.
Trump mocks Romney after he announces negative COVID-19 results
As the U.S. toll soared to over 800 Wednesday morning, President Trump fired off a series of tweets, one mocking Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a political rival of the president’s.
Responding to news that Romney announced he had tested negative for COVID-19, the president tweeted he’s “so happy” that he “can barely speak.”
“This is really great news! I am so happy I can barely speak,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO [Republican In Name Only], and I like him a lot!”
Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump during his impeachment trial.
Attorneys general call on Trump to use Defense Production Act powers
A coalition of 16 attorneys general are calling on President Trump to use the powers of the Defense Production Act to prioritize the private production of masks, respirators and other essential items for health care workers across the country amid the coronavirus crisis.
The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C. and Wisconsin sent a joint letter to Trump on Wednesday morning.
“We are on the brink of catastrophic consequences resulting from the continued shortage of critical supplies,” the letter said. “The federal government must act decisively now and use its sweeping authority to get as many needed supplies produced as soon as possible for distribution as quickly as possible.”
Trump signed an executive order last week invoking the Defense Production Act, a 1950 wartime law that requires private companies to prioritize product orders from the federal government, but it doesn’t appear that he’s used its powers.
What to know about coronavirus:
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson, Jordyn Phelps, Trish Turner and Elizabeth McLauhglin contributed to this report.
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