WASHINGTON (AP) — Tensions flared Monday as Washington strained to respond to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, with Congress arguing over a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package and an impatient President Donald Trump musing openly about letting the 15-day shutdown expire.
As the U.S. braces for an onslaught of sick Americans, and millions are forced indoors to avert a spike that risks overwhelming hospitals, the most ambitious federal intervention in modern times is testing whether Washington can swiftly halt the pandemic on the home-front.
“It’s time to get with the program, time to pass historic relief,” said an angry Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he opened the chamber after a nonstop weekend session that failed to produce a deal. “This is a national emergency.”
The White House team led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned to Capitol Hill for a fourth straight day of talks as negotiators narrowed on a bipartisan accord.
“We’re making a lot of progress,” Mnuchin said midday as he shuttled through the halls.
But McConnell fumed, warning Democrats — pointedly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to quit stalling on “political games,” as he described Democratic efforts to steer more of the aid toward public health and workers.
From the White House, Trump sounded a note of frustration about the unprecedented modern-day effort to halt the virus’s march by essentially shutting down public activities in ways that now threaten the U.S. economy.
Even though Trump’s administration recommended Americans curtail activities starting a week ago, the president in all capital letters tweeted: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
Trump, who tweeted his declaration overnight, is caught in the middle as tensions are rising between those who argue the country needs to get back up and running to prevent a deep depression, and medical experts who warn that, unless more extreme action is taken, the human cost will be catastrophic.
Health experts have made clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
But with the economic impact now snapping into focus with millions out of work, businesses shuttered and the markets in free fall — all undermining Trump’s reelection message — the chorus of backlash is growing louder.
“We can’t shut in the economy. The economic cost to individuals is just too great,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said in an interview Monday on Fox News Channel. “The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease and we’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”
Kevin Hassett, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has also argued that, if coronavirus crisis drags on for months, “we’re going to have to either have a great depression or figure out a way to send people back to work, even though that’s risky” — by, for instance, having people work with masks and implementing widespread testing. Hassett just rejoined the White House to advise Trump on the pandemic.
Other economists warned that if Americans return to work too soon, there could be recurring outbreaks that would only worsen a recession. But if the period of isolation continues for too long, there will be a steep cost in trying to restart and sustain economic growth.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia public schools will remain closed for the rest of the current school year.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday.
Northam, who is a doctor, said the closures were necessary to slow the spread of the virus and ensure that the health care system can keep up.
A growing number of states and localities have been shutting their schools indefinitely. Last week Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly closed public and private K-12 schools for the rest of the academic year.
diagnosed with virus
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced Monday that her husband, John Bessler, has been diagnosed with coronavirus. Klobuchar said her husband, who works as a law professor in Baltimore, had quarantined himself and stopped going to work after coming down with cold symptoms. After developing a fever and coughing up blood, he sought medical care and was hospitalized in Virginia due to testing that showed “very low oxygen levels.” Bessler, 52, has developed pneumonia and is on oxygen, but does not need a ventilator at this time, according to the statement. He received confirmation that he has coronavirus on Monday morning, five days after taking the test.
More than 1.5 billion people — one-fifth of the world’s population — were urged or ordered to stay home Monday to try to blunt the spread of coronavirus. The death toll from the pandemic has surpassed 16,000 people worldwide, and the virus has sickened more than 370,000.
Partisan divisions stalled efforts to pass a colossal aid package in Congress, and stocks fell again on Wall Street even after the Federal Reserve said it will lend to small and large businesses and local governments to help them through the crisis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 580 points, or 3%.