Trump to receive new coronavirus recommendations this weekend, plans Xi call

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will receive recommendations this weekend from his advisers about the next steps in the battle to stop the coronavirus and reignite the U.S. economy, Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday.

Trump has been pressing for days to get the economy moving again despite an increasing number of U.S. coronavirus cases that the strict measures recommended by his advisers are meant to curb.

Trump and his coronavirus team on March 16 put in place recommendations for people nationwide to reduce social and professional interactions for 15 days, including by schooling children at home and not gathering in groups of more than 10 people.

Pence said that as day 15 approached, the president’s advisers planned to deliver recommendations to him based on the latest data.

“We’ll be presenting this weekend (to) the president a range of recommendations and … additional guidance for going forward,” Pence said, adding that the president had made it clear that he wants to “‘open the country up.’ But we’re going to do that responsibly.”

Trump said he had told state governors earlier in the day in a letter that his administration would be updating its guidance on social distancing related to the pandemic.

“We will vanquish this virus,” he said. “We have to get back to work. Our people want to work.” The president has said he would like the economy to open up again by Easter on April 12.

Trump said he was likely to speak with President Xi Jinping of China later on Thursday and cast doubt on the figures provided by Beijing for coronavirus cases. Meanwhile, the number of reported infections in the United States rose to at least 81,378, according to a Reuters tally, surpassing China and Italy to become the most in the world.

Trump has praised Xi’s handling of the coronavirus while also emphasizing that the disease originated in China and accusing the country of not being transparent enough about it.

Trump, who has been holed up in the White House for nearly two and a half weeks as political rallies and other trips were canceled, said he planned to visit Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday to send off the Navy’s USNS Comfort hospital ship as it sails for New York City. It is expected to arrive on Monday.

“I’m going to go out and I’ll kiss it goodbye,” Trump said.

A second Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, was dispatched to Los Angeles from San Diego earlier this week.

The president called on the House of Representatives to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package to fight the coronavirus right away after the Senate passed the bill on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the chamber to pass the bill on Friday.

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Pelosi expects bipartisan House vote for $2 trillion coronavirus bill Friday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the chamber to pass an estimated $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill when it meets on Friday, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the unprecedented economic rescue legislation Wednesday evening.

“Tomorrow we’ll bring the bill to the floor. It will pass with strong bipartisan support,” Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters.

The legislation will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks once the Democratic-controlled House passes it and Republican President Donald Trump signs it into law, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The Republican-led Senate approved the bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to zero late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the House.

The unanimous Senate vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington that followed several days of wrangling, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

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“Individuals, even with bravery and valor, are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in an effort to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying pandemic that has killed about 1,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 70,000.

Pelosi said there was no question more money would be needed to fight the coronavirus. She said House committees would be working on the next phase in the near term, even if the full chamber is not in session. She said lawmakers would need to be on call for possible votes.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy also backs the relief plan, but said he wanted it to be allowed to work before deciding whether more legislation was needed.

“This will be probably the largest bill anybody in Congress has ever voted for,” he told reporters.

Only two other countries, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The American government’s intervention follows two other packages that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the federal government spends annually.

Trump, who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning a voice vote on the rescue plan on Friday, but said leaders would be prepared for other contingencies. She had said a day earlier that if there were calls for a vote recorded by name, lawmakers might be able to vote by proxy, as not all would attend.

“If somebody has a different point of view (about the bill), they can put it in the record,” she said, referring to the Congressional Record.

McCarthy predicted the measure would pass Friday morning following a debate.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14. Many want to return for the vote, but for all to attend would be difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for the coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine, and several states have issued stay-at-home orders. There are five vacant House seats.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune, missed Wednesday’s vote because he was not feeling well. His spokesman said Thune, 59, flew back to his state, South Dakota, on a charter flight Wednesday, accompanied by a Capitol Police officer and wearing a mask.

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Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, becomes law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the intensifying coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump quickly signed it into law.

The massive bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives nearly unanimously. The rare bipartisan action underscored how seriously Republican and Democratic lawmakers are taking the global pandemic that has killed more than 1,500 Americans and shaken the nation’s medical system.

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate before the lower chamber approved the bill. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

But the bipartisan spirit seemed to end at the White House. Neither Pelosi nor Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was invited to Trump’s all-Republican signing ceremony for the bill, aides said.

Their Republican counterparts, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did attend, along with three Republican House members.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses,” Trump said. “I really think in a fairly short period of time … we’ll be stronger than ever.”

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The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

To keep Massie’s gambit from delaying the bill’s passage, hundreds of lawmakers from both parties returned to Washington despite the risk of contracting coronavirus. For many, that meant long drives or overnight flights.

One member who spent hours in a car was Republican Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has put in charge of efforts to handle the coronavirus crisis.

Pence drove the nearly 600 miles (966 km) from his home state, Indiana, to Washington on Thursday. “We can’t afford to wait another minute,” he said on Twitter.

‘THIRD RATE GRANDSTANDER’

Massie wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request for a recorded vote.

Trump attacked Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and saying he should be thrown out of the Republican party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote the president, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders had asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members.

At least five members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote late on Wednesday, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until April 20.

Democratic and Republican House leaders appeared together at a news conference at the Capitol to celebrate the bill’s passage — an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” McCarthy said.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 100,000 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, the most of any country.

Adding to the misery, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

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Wall Street ends recovery week on a sour note

(Reuters) – Wall Street fell on Friday, ending a massive three-day surge after doubts about the fate of the U.S. economy resurfaced and the number of coronavirus cases in the country climbed.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 915.39 points, or 4.06%, to 21,636.78, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 88.6 points, or 3.37%, to 2,541.47 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 295.16 points, or 3.79%, to 7,502.38.

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Trump attacks Republican lawmaker threatening delay of economic stimulus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday criticized a Republican congressman who is considering tactics to delay a House of Representatives vote on a massive coronavirus stimulus bill, calling Representative Thomas Massie a “third-rate grandstander.”

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous & costly. Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive.

“WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!” he said in a tweet.

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U.S. Senate passes $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a $2 trillion bill aimed at helping unemployed workers and industries hurt by the coronavirus epidemic, as well as providing billions of dollars to buy urgently needed medical equipment.

After bitter negotiations, the deeply divided Senate came together and passed the bill by a unanimous 96-0 vote, which sent the massive stimulus package to the House of Representatives, which could vote sometime this week.

President Donald Trump, whose top aides helped negotiate the bipartisan measure, promised to sign it into law as soon as it reaches his desk. “I will sign it immediately,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.

The massive bill – which would be the largest economic stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

The package is intended to flood the economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of an intensifying epidemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases and the World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Top aides to Trump and senior senators from both parties announced that they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

But it was delayed by criticism from both the right and left on Wednesday, pushing the final vote on passage almost another full day.

Several Republican senators had insisted the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more in unemployment benefits than they earned on the job. However, an amendment that would have changed the unemployment provision failed just before the Senate approved the measure.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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Three Republicans call for layoff language fix before Senate coronavirus bill vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three Republican U.S. senators on Wednesday said the Senate should not vote on a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill until legislative language that they say would encourage layoffs is fixed or fresh guidance issued from the Labor Department.

“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables,” Senators Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse said in a joint statement.

“We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working,” they said.

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TREASURIES-Yields flat as Fed's bond buying pledge sinks in

NEW YORK, March 25 (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury yields were roughly flat on Wednesday morning as the scope of the Federal Reserve’s effort to stabilize markets by purchasing assets registered with investors and demand for safe-haven assets cooled.

The Fed announced on Monday it would buy bonds in unlimited numbers and backstop direct loans to companies, the latest in a series of policy steps taken over the past two weeks to calm markets and support the economy.

Yields had risen on Tuesday after falling for three consecutive sessions, and were trading slightly lower on Wednesday, but roughly in the range of the previous session.

The benchmark 10-year yield was 1.8 basis points lower to 0.800%, the 30-year yield was 2.6 basis points lower to 1.343% and the two-year yield was 3.2 basis points lower to 0.344%.

“The market is finally coming around to digesting the fact that the QE program will actually be unlimited. You’re starting to see a little bit of a reversal in the selloff we saw last week given the fact that there was concern about the increase in deficits and the potential for overwhelming long-end supply,” said Subadra Rajappa, head of U.S. rates strategy at Societe Generale.

“I think those fears are going away now that the Fed is going to be buying an unlimited amount of Treasuries, potentially.”

The market was also awaiting the outcome of a vote later on Wednesday about the passage of a fiscal stimulus bill in Congress. U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly. (Reporting by Kate Duguid Editing by Alistair Bell)

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U.S. Congress wrestles with mechanics of voting in coronavirus crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Even as the U.S. Congress works on a massive relief bill to stem the toll of the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened three of its members, its leadership is wrestling with how the chambers can continue to function in an era of social distancing.

A report commissioned by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw cold water on the idea of voting remotely, saying it did not have confidence in the security of systems that could allow its members to vote from outside of the Capitol building.

Remote voting “would raise serious security, logistical, and constitutional challenges,” said a report released late Monday by the majority Democratic staff on the chamber’s rules committee.

Congress is currently struggling to agree to a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue bill in response to the coronavirus’ impact. Two members of the House and one senator have tested positive for the virus, and several other lawmakers are in self-isolation.

Pelosi, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, have publicly dismissed the idea of remote voting. But a growing number of lawmakers have urged them to think again, noting the dangers of jumping on planes to congregate in large numbers in defiance of health guidelines.

Democratic Representatives Eric Swalwell and Katie Porter urged the change in a Monday letter signed by dozens of other lawmakers. In the Senate, the number two Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Rob Portman have introduced legislation for voting remotely in a crisis.

“We’re hoping to work with the parliamentarian and officers of the Senate to come up with something that is bipartisan, makes sense, and protects the integrity of voting on the floor of the United States Senate,” Durbin said Tuesday.

The coronavirus has already diminished the ranks of the Senate’s Republican majority, reducing their leverage as they negotiate the coronavirus package. With five Republican senators either sick or in quarantine, their majority of 53-47 has shrunk to 48-47.

The House is currently not in session and its members are spread across the United States, but it will be required to vote on the coronavirus package if and when it passes the Senate. The House report said the likely best way to do this would be by voice vote or “unanimous consent”, a procedure usually reserved for non-controversial proposals.

That step was used during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Then there is the question of how Congress will operate going forward. A prolonged recess could leave much of the field to Republican President Donald Trump as the coronavirus crisis continues to play out in the coming weeks and possibly months.

The House report said one option might be proxy voting, in which an absent member gives a present member their proxy to cast a vote for them. But it said there could also be constitutional challenges to this.

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Secretary of State Pompeo to meet Taliban in Doha: State Department

DOHA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet Taliban officials in Doha on Monday on his way back from a one-day trip to Afghanistan as part of efforts to salvage a historic deal signed with the insurgent group in February.

“Secretary Pompeo is going to meet with Taliban officials in Doha including Mullah Baradar, Taliban’s chief negotiator, to press the Taliban to continue to comply with the agreement signed last month,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

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