I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Friday, March 13, 2020. 2 days until the next Democratic debate. 236 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
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White House, Congress near coronavirus stimulus deal
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to reach an agreement today on a sweeping aid package to assist Americans affected by the coronavirus.
"We have, or are near, to an agreement, subject to the exchange of paper," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. "We hope to have an announcement tomorrow."
According to the New York Times, the legislation "will include enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing, aid for food assistance programs and federal funds for Medicaid," in addition to "14 days of paid sick leave, as well as tax credits to help small- and medium-size businesses fulfill that mandate." Provisions relating to "family and medical leave" were still being drafted as congressional staffers worked through the night to finalize the bill.
Pelosi and Mnuchin held eight phone conversations Thursday as they negotiated the package. The House will then take it up today before sending it to the Senate, which has canceled a recess planned for next week. Pelosi told colleagues in a letter Thursday night that lawmakers will then begin work on a "third emergency response package that will take further effective action that protects the health, economic security and well-being of the American people."
Coronavirus continued to shape American life on Thursday, as the U.S. stock market suffered its worst day since 1987, every major sports league canceled the remainder of their seasons, and Broadway and Disneyland shut their doors. According to the World Health Organization, 132,500 people have now tested positive for the virus globally — including actor Tom Hanks and Canadian First Lady Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
Two foreign officials who recently came into contact with Trump Administration personnel have also tested positive: Fabio Wajngarten, the press secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who met with President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, and Peter Dutton, the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, who met with Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr last week. According to the White House, neither President Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence have been tested for coronavirus since coming into contact with Wajngarten.
"Both the President and Vice President had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Thursday.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both delivered addresses on the coronavirus on Thursday. The two candidates offered detailed roadmaps to address the crisis, while also excoriating President Trump's response. "Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration," said Biden, who named a new campaign manager hours before the speech. "Public fears are being compounded by pervasive lack of trust in this president fueled by adversarial relationship with the truth that he continues to have."
"The crisis we face from the coronavirus is on a scale of a major war," Sanders declared. "And we must act accordingly."
Biden and Sanders were attempting to strike contrasts to President Trump, whose primetime address on Wednesday was criticized for its inaccuracies and tone. "Trump’s 10-minute Oval Office address Wednesday night reflected not only his handling of the coronavirus crisis but, in some ways, much of his presidency," the Washington Post wrote. "It was riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads."
Lawmakers pressed administration health officials at an open hearing and closed-door briefing Thursday, "expressing outrage and confusion as to why the United States is not testing individuals for the COVID-19 coronavirus at as fast a pace as other countries," according to CNN. About 13,600 people have now been tested for coronavirus in the U.S., a number that lags behind other countries as sick Americans continue to be denied testing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, admitted shortcomings in his testimony on Thursday. "The system does not, is not really geared to what we need right now," he said. "That is a failing."
President Donald Trump will meet with industry executives on the coronavirus response.
Vice President Mike Pence will join the meeting with executives and lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting.
The Senate is not scheduled to meet today. The House is expected to vote on coronavirus legislation.
The Supreme Court will not hold a conference or oral arguments.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual town hall in place of a scheduled event in Chicago, Illinois. Vermont Sen. Sanders does not have any events scheduled.
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