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White House and congressional leaders say they’re close to a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus

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President Donald Trump looked to reassure the public Monday that the coronavirus outbreak will be short-lived. Trump said he doesn’t want businesses to be shut down for months and that American will “soon be open for business.” (March 23)

AP Domestic

WASHINGTON – The number of troops, their families and civilian military employees infected with the coronavirus jumped to 321 on Tuesday, the Pentagon reported. That’s up from 243 on Monday.

Of the 321 COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, 18 of them, including nine troops, are in hospitals. So far, 17 troops have recovered.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the illness could affect the military’s readiness to fight as commanders have canceled several combat training exercises.

The Pentagon is also deploying two field hospitals to aid local officials in New York and Washington, and two Navy hospital ships are scheduled to sail to New York and California to relieve pressure on civilian facilities.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Pelosi: stimulus deal possible in ‘next few hours’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday morning a deal on an economic stimulus package to combat the impacts of coronavirus may be reached in the “next few hours.” 

“I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” she said on CNBC.

Pelosi said Senate Democrats “have done a great job” making changes to the Senate bill that would benefit workers, to make the bill a “much more worker-oriented initiative,” and adding oversight provisions for Treasury’s lending to businesses. 

She also said compromises had been made with Republicans on adding immunity for mask producers, too.

“It’s legislating, you don’t get everything you want,” she said. “People should put this in perspective.”

The Speaker said it was her goal to bring the bill to the House floor “under unanimous consent,” meaning the bill could be passed without taking a vote, as long as no member of Congress objected to it. 

If a compromise wasn’t reached and a bill had “poison pills in it,” Pelosi said she would call members of the House back to vote to either amend the Senate bill, or pass their own and then reconcile the differences. 

Asked whether it was possible to get both sides of the aisle to agree on a deal, Pelosi said “we’re all receptive to getting something done. We all know that everybody doesn’t write their own bill, it is a series of compromise. We think it has moved sufficiently to the side of the workers.”

– Nicholas Wu

Mnuchin, Schumer say a deal is close

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer led talks late into the night Monday in search of a compromise on a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package to address the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, and said they hoped to have a deal in place Tuesday.

“We look forward to having a deal tomorrow,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office.

“That’s the expectation — that we finish it tomorrow and hopefully vote on it tomorrow evening,” added Schumer.

A version of the bill put forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to get the 60 votes needed to end debate on Sunday and again on Monday, in largely party-line votes.

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That measure called for direct, one-time payments to Americans – $1,200 to individuals and $3,000 for a family of four, loans to small businesses battered by mandatory closures, money to help hospitals and medical professionals, expanded unemployment benefits, and money to help larger corporations in troubled industries, such as the airlines. 

Democrats argued the Senate bill favored businesses over workers and pushed for more protections for Americans unable to work amid the crisis, as well as more restrictions on corporations receiving federal assistance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled her own $2.5 trillion version of the bill, which included larger direct payments to workers, money for states and a provision forcing President Donald Trump to order companies to manufacture needed medical supplies. 

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McConnell slammed Pelosi and congressional Democrats for their opposition to the Senate bill, saying, “The country doesn’t have time for these political games.” 

Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation. The Democrats want the Virus to win? They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies. They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn’t agree!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2020

Mnuchin and Schumer said both sides were close to a deal and the Treasury secretary said talks were expected to resume Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Schumer said he thought a deal could be reached on a package that could be voted on Tuesday night. 

Trump also railed against Pelosi, accusing her of including provisions that were not related to the coronavirus. 

“Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town,” Trump said in a Monday tweet. “The Democrats want the Virus to win?”

– William Cummings

Trump says White House considering easing coronavirus restrictions

Even as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths rise in the U.S., President Donald Trump suggested the country should move away from the social distancing protocols – put in place to combat the spread – sooner rather than later because of the economic costs of those measures.

“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” Trump said at a White House news conference on Monday. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Trump said that after the current 15-day period of recommended closures ends on March 30, “we’ll make a decision as to which way we want to go.”

“This was a medical problem, we are not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem,” the president said.

Health experts have insisted that social distancing is critical to reducing the spread of the virus and “flattening the curve,” meaning a stop to the exponential increase in confirmed cases. That case number now stands at more than 46,000 in the U.S., putting the U.S. behind only China and Italy in the number of people known to be infected.

– William Cummings

John Hopkins expert: early end to social distancing could ‘kill millions’

A leading expert in disease epidemics warned that the effects could be catastrophic if the U.S. does not continue with the social distancing guidelines that have been in place across the country.

In a series of tweets on Monday night, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security, told those calling for an early end to social distancing that doing so would mean the rapid spread of the disease that “could potentially kill millions.”

He pointed to the success that Asian countries have had in reducing the spread of the illness through rigorous social distancing. He noted that in Wuhan, China, where the disease originated, it took three weeks for the distancing measures to reverse the rising trend. In the U.S., such measures have in place for about a week.

On Monday, Trump said his administration is examining ways to “cautiously resume” parts of the economy, saying in a tweet, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”

“In last 24 hrs there’ve been prominent US voices calling for a stop to social distancing, citing rationale that they’re worse than impact of COVID itself,” Inglesby wrote. “It’s worth looking very closely at that claim, where we are in US COVID epidemic and what happens if we stop.”

– William Cummings

Contributing: The Associated Press 

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