I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, March 25, 2020. 223 days until Election Day 2020. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
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Lawmakers, White House strike deal on $2 trillion stimulus package
Senate leaders and Trump administration officials reached an agreement early this morning on a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package designed to offer emergency relief to households and businesses reeling from the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
The largest fiscal stimulus measure in American history, the package "would send $1,200 checks to many Americans, create a $367 billion loan program for small businesses, and establish a $500 billion lending fund for industries, cities and states," according to the Washington Post.
"At last, we have a deal," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican of Kentucky, announced on the Senate floor at about 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time, capping days of intense interparty talks. "In effect, this is a wartime level of investments into our nation."
McConnell's Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer of New York, praised the bill as an "outstanding agreement"; earlier this week, Schumer twice led his caucus in blocking the Republican version of the stimulus package before a bipartisan deal was inked.
Schumer boasted this morning that he was able to extract several concessions in the negotiations, including an extra month of unemployment insurance, a $55 billion increase in hospital funding, the creation of a $150 billion state, tribal, and local coronavirus relief fund, and a prohibition on businesses controlled by the president or his family members receiving Treasury Department loans or investments, among other changes.
Democrats were also successful in ensuring that a $500 billion Treasury Department fund to lend money to corporations impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional panel; the original legislation would have given Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sole control over disbursing the money.
Mnuchin, who represented the Trump administration in negotiating the package, called the agreement "a terrific bill" in comments to reporters this morning.
The full text of the legislation has yet to be released, but according to NBC News, "people making up to $75,000 a year are expected to receive checks for $1,200" under the measure, while "couples making up to $150,000 would receive $2,400, with an additional $500 per child." The direct cash payments would then "decrease for those making more than $75,000, with an income cap of $99,000 per individual or $198,000 for couples."
In addition, according to NBC, "the new agreement removed the phased-in provision [from the original legislation] that would have excluded lower-income Americans from receiving the full benefit."
The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation after convening at 12 p.m. Eastern Time today; the House is set to weigh in later this week. The measure will then go to President Trump's desk; Mnuchin pledged this morning that the president would "absolutely, absolutely, absolutely" sign it.
The massive $2 trillion stimulus package constitutes "phase three" of the federal government's coronavirus response. President Trump signed the "phase two" bill, which mandated free coronavirus testing and two weeks of paid sick and family leave for many workers, exactly a week ago. He signed the "phase one" bill, an $8.3 billion emergency appropriations package, into law on March 6.
Negotiations will now begin on a "phase four" package; according to Politico Playbook, increased funding for food stamps, the U.S. Postal Service, states and municipalities, unemployment insurance, and new direct payments could be on the table. A new package is expected to "come within the month," Politico reported, although lawmakers are growing increasingly nervous about showing up for work after three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19.
Neither chamber of Congress has instituted any remote voting option that would allow them to approve pieces of legislation from afar.
Coronavirus: Latest updates
Trump hopes to reopen economy by Easter, contradicting health experts: "President Trump on Tuesday said he hopes the nation’s dramatic response to the coronavirus pandemic will be scaled back within weeks to revive the economy and pack churches by Easter Sunday — an aspiration that was largely panned by public health experts and many elected leaders, including Republicans."
"'I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go,' Trump said during a Fox News town hall broadcast from the White House Rose Garden. The holiday falls on April 12." (Washington Post)
--- Trump said he arrived at the April 12 re-opening date because it was a "beautiful time," without citing any data on the arc of the pandemic. A leading epidemiologist advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CNN today that she estimates the peak of deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. will not come for another three weeks, after Easter. Additionally, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the country may not see a peak in the number of cases until May 1.
--- Dr. Keith Martin, the executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, told the New York Times that if the U.S. social distancing restrictions are lifted prematurely, "President Trump will have blood on his hands."
White House tells travelers from New York to quarantine: "Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said on Tuesday it was 'very critical' that individuals who have recently traveled from the New York metro area self-quarantine for 14 days to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus."
--- The New York City region was declared a global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak earlier this week; about 48% of confirmed cases in the United States are concentrated in New York state.
--- The worsening situation in New York comes as President Trump has feuded with the state's governor, Andrew Cuomo, who has emerged as the leading Democrat in the coronavirus response. Cuomo pleaded with the federal government on Tuesday to send additional ventilators to New York to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients; in his Fox News town hall, Trump blamed the governor for the shortage. (States and hospitals across the country are struggling to find ventilators. The Trump administration has so far resisted invoking the Defense Production Act, a wartime law that would allow the government to order private companies to produce them.)
Global update: "Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed the official figure from China, becoming the second-highest in the world."
"Deaths have risen by 738 in just 24 hours to a total of 3,434 - a record spike for Spain. In comparison, China has officially reported 3,285 deaths, while Italy – the worst affected country – has 6,820." (BBC)
--- "India will begin the world’s largest lockdown on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in a TV address, warning citizens to stay inside [for 21 days] or risk inviting the pandemic into their homes, and pledging $2 billion to bolster the country’s beleaguered health care system."
. . . "The move puts nearly one-fifth of the world’s population under lockdown." (Associated Press)
--- "Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II's son and the heir to the British throne, has tested positive for coronavirus and is now self-isolating in Scotland, his office announced Wednesday." (CNN)
Latest stats: As of 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday morning, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide has reached 438,749, according to Johns Hopkins University. 19,675 people have died from the outbreak across the globe. In the United States, there have been 55,243 confirmed cases and 802 deaths.
Recommended read: "What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus" (New York Times Magazine)
President Donald Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 11:30 a.m. and participate in a phone call with non-profit organizations on COVID-19 response at 2 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence will participate in a phone call with the board of directors of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers at 10:30 a.m., participate in a phone call with educators on COVID-19 response at 1 p.m., join President Trump's call with non-profits at 2 p.m., and lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 3 p.m.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force will hold a press briefing at 5 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. to resume consideration of H.R.748, the legislative vehicle for the "phase III" COVID-19 response package.
The House will meet in a pro forma session at 10 a.m. No business will be conducted.
The Supreme Court has canceled its oral arguments for March.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual roundtable with young Americans. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has no events scheduled.
*All times Eastern
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