Trump invokes wartime authority of Defense Production Act to address coronavirus crisis – live updates

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump confirmed that he plans to invoke a provision that would allow him to prohibit certain people from entering the country, including asylum seekers and those entering the country illegally at the southern border. 

“The answer’s yes,” Trump told reporters when asked about the code, adding that he plans to invoke it “very soon. Probably today.”

The administration will invoke 42 U.S. Code 265, a section of the federal legal code that states the U.S. surgeon general “shall have the power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate in order to avert such danger, and for such period of time as he may deem necessary for such purpose.”

When asked again whether he was closing the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump said: “No we’re not going to close it.”

“But we’re invoking a certain provision that will allow us great latitude,” he added. 

– Courtney Subramanian and John Fritze

Trump: no plans to pull China tariffs

President Donald Trump said he has no plans to suspend tariffs on China or other nations as part of the U.S.’s effort to battle the coronavirus.

“There is no reason to do that,” Trump said. “This (virus) was caused by something totally unrelated to tariffs.”

– Michael Collins

No ‘tipping point’ in decision to close US-Canada border

President Donald Trump said there was “no tipping point” in his joint decision with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to close the border between the two countries. Trump said he spoke to Trudeau and the pair decided they “want to isolate” people who may be sick from coming into contact with others. 

“That’s the way we’re going to win this war,” he said, adding that the move won’t affect trade between the U.S. and Canada. 

Trump said restrictions on the Canadian border blocking leisure travel would last for at least 30 days. “I would say 30 days,” Trump said. “Hopefully at the end of 30 days we’ll be in great shape.”

As it relates to the Southern Border: “No we’re not going to close it,” Trump said of the Southern border, “but we’re invoking a certain provision that will allow us great latitude.”

– Courtney Subramanian and David Jackson

Trump invokes Defense Production Act to speed resources

President Donald Trump said he is invoking the Defense Production Act, which allows the administration to expedite and expand the supply of resources. Trump did not say specifically what powers he would execute, but the act could allow him to step up production of respirators and other medical equipment.

Trump declined to say how, precisely, the Defense Production Act would be used and he suggested that the administration is still deciding. He said the administration had “targets” for equipment it wanted but did not say what those targets were.

“We need millions of masks,” Trump said. “We need respirators.”

The announcement comes as the White House and Congress negotiate a trillion-dollar economic stimulus plan to combat the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s what else was said at the briefing: 

  • Trump also said health officials are working on a “self swab” coronavirus test that would allow front line health care workers to test themselves for the virus. “It would free up a lot,” Trump said.  
  • Trump also announced he plans to hold an additional news conference either later Wednesday or early Thursday to discuss coronavirus progress at the Food and Drug Administration. Trump said he “asked the FDA to cut through the red tape and reduce regulatory barriers.” 

  • Vice President Mike Pence said the Canada border closing should not affect business relationships between the two countries: “This does not include essential travel or the transfer of goods.”

  • The federal government is recommending Americans and doctors postpone elective surgeries, including dental surgery, to increase capacity at medical facilities, said Seema Verma, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “We fully appreciate that this is going to have a major impact on the health care system,” Verma said.

  • Asked about the size of the checks Americans may receive as part of a relief effort, Trump would not say the amount of the checks. He said that is “to be determined .. we’re working with the Senate now.” He added: “It will shortly be determined.”

  • Trump was asked why he repeatedly refers to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” He said the term is “not racist at all … It comes from China. That’s why.” 

  • Trump says he is a war-time president, saying the virus is an “enemy” that is wrecking the economy: “It’s a very tough situation … but we’re doing it and we’re doing it well.”

  • Trump said the government is ordering “thousands and thousands” of ventilators in case they’re needed. The government already has a stockpile of more than 10,000 ventilators, Pence said.

  • Trump was asked why it seems well-connected people, such as professional athletes, are able to get tested : “You’d have to ask them that question …(it’s the) story of life .. That does happen.”

– John Fritze, Courtney Subramanian, David Jackson and Michael Collins

Wilkie: 44 veterans have tested positive, 1 has died

Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said 44 veterans have tested positive for the coronavirus and one, in Portland, has died.  He said the agency had tested “several hundred.”

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said his department is cutting back on non-essential medical activity in order to help respond to the coronavirus threat. He praised veterans for sacrificing some non-essential care to help with the effort.

– John Fritze

Trump said he doesn’t agree with Mnuchin’s 20% unemployment scenario

President Donald Trump took issue with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s warning to lawmakers on Tuesday that unemployment could hit 20% unless steps are taken to stimulate the economy.

“I don’t agree with that,” Trump said. “That is an absolute, worst-case scenario.”

– Michael Collins

Pentagon to make 5 million masks available

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon would make 5 million masks available from its own reserves to the Department of Health and Human Services. He said the first million would be made available immediately.

Esper also said the Defense Department would make up to 2,000 operational ventilators available to HHS as needed.  Two medical ships, Comfort and Mercy, will be deployed to assist with hospital beds. He said the Army Corps of Engineers in New York is meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He said the Defense Department remains “ready and capable” to defend the U.S. and interests abroad. 

– Courtney Subramanian and David Jackson

Official: millennials shoud take special precautions against coronavirus

Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that health officials are concerned about reports coming out of France and Italy that young people are getting ill.

Birx said the reports are worrisome because those who have been most at-risk have been the elderly or people with other health issues.

She urged “the millennial generation” to take special precautions. “You have the potential to spread it,” she said.

– Michael Collins

Pentagon has 89 coronavirus cases

The Pentagon has confirmed 89 COVID-19 cases among active-duty troops, their family members, civilian and contract employees, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

Of the 89 infected by the virus, 14 have been hospitalized.

The virus has forced the cancellation of military exercises across the globe, prompted enhanced screening of troops in close proximity to one another, including pilots, and kept senior leaders apart for fear of contracting the disease.

Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters Wednesday that he worked from home on Tuesday to mitigate the risk.

Travel has been restricted, and only personnel essential to critical missions are authorized to move, especially to or within countries hardest hit by the disease such as Italy.

Crews traveling to the air base at Aviano, Italy, stay in their aircraft as long as possible, and are kept as isolated as possible when moving to their quarters on base, Goldfein said.

The Air Force is “keeping them in a bubble,” he said.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Trump: HUD will ‘suspend foreclosures and evictions’

President Donald Trump said the Department of Housing the Urban Development would “suspend foreclosures and evictions” through the end of April. It was not immediately clear whether that would apply to all housing or just housing financed through federally backed loans or subsidized with federal funding. 

– John Fritze

McConnell: ‘burden’ on small businesses must be addressed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote Wednesday on a House bill to protect workers from the coronavirus crisis but said the “burden” it places on small businesses will have to be addressed in the next stimulus package the Senate will take up in the coming days.

The House bill, which includes a controversial provision to guarantee paid sick leave for workers affected by the pandemic, is expected to pass and be sent to President Donald Trump for his expected signature.

Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is expected to propose an amendment to the House bill that changes the sick leave to unemployment insurance.

McConnell said House bill would impose “a new untested mandate on small business without guaranteeing they will have sufficient funds in advance to finance this new employee benefit.”

“Everyone agrees that workers need relief … but small businesses need relief as well,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “This is literally the worst time in living memory to pile even more burdens and costs onto  small business which are themselves fighting to stay alive unless we back it up with major assistance.”

– Ledyard King

Schumer says stimulus won’t pass under McConnell procedure

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the latest coronavirus stimulus plan, the details of which are still being negotiated, would not pass the Senate by the end of the week under the current procedure led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

“Secretary Mnuchin says he wants legislation passed by the end of the week. The McConnell process will not get us there,” he said. 

On Tuesday, McConnell told reporters he had divided Republican senators into three working groups that would work with the Trump administration to come up with a plan Republicans would support. Schumer, instead, wanted negotiations between the House, Senate and Trump administration on a bipartisan basis. 

“That’s the way that’s worked the best, the quickest, the fairest in the past,” he said, calling the procedure McConnell had outlined as likely to lead to “delay and gridlock.” 

-Nicholas Wu 

Pentagon deploying ships to support coronavirus response

The Pentagon is preparing to deploy the Navy’s hospital ships to support the domestic response to the coronavirus, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

The military has had 89 cases of the infection, including 49 troops, 19 of their dependents, 14 civilian workers and seven contractors. Of those cases, 14 were hospitalized.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Trump: We’re going to close Canada border to ‘non-essential’ traffic

President Donald Trump and his aides said Wednesday the United States and Canada are working on a deal to temporarily close the border to discretionary travel in order to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Trade should not be affected, Trump said.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic,” Trump tweeted. “Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!”

Canada, which announced border closures this week, has been negotiating with U.S. officials this week on rules for essential traffic.

– David Jackson

Trump to meet with airline execs, hold call with doctors

The Coronavirus Task Force will hold a 11:30 a.m. EDT news conference Wednesday to discuss the latest developments on the pandemic.

President Donald Trump also tweeted about holding a news conference with the Food and Drug Administration to “discuss very important news from the FDA” about the coronavirus. 

His schedule is packed with meetings to discuss responses to the coronavirus. He has a phone call with airline executives, a business roundtable teleconference, a physician teleconference and a nurse briefing listed on his public schedule. 

– Nicholas Wu 

Senate plans to vote on sick leave, coronavirus testing bill

The Senate is planning to vote Wednesday on a legislative package that will offer billions to bolster unemployment insurance, offer free coronavirus testing and paid sick and family leave for Americans following days of intense negotiations and pleas for lawmakers to quickly approve the legislation. 

The bill is expected to pass the Senate and then be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. The vote comes after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefed Senate Republicans and appeased some concerns about the ramifications sick and family leave could have on small businesses that are already feeling the economic effects of the virus. 

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is planning to offer an amendment to the legislation before the Senate votes on the measure. The amendment would offer a way to offset the costs of the bill by using funds that would “include ending our decades-long involvement in Afghanistan,” his office said in a statement.

Paul offered a similar proposal earlier this month to offset costs when the Senate took up a bill offering roughly $8 billion for states and local entities to prevent the spread of the virus and help bolster efforts to create a vaccine. The effort was shot down by his Senate colleagues.

– Christal Hayes

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Trump administration personnel chief abruptly resigns

The director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has resigned, leaving a key vacancy at a time when federal employees – like other work forces around the country – are wresting with how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

OPM said in a statement that the agency received the resignation of Dale Cabaniss, a longtime Republican official who President Donald Trump named to the post last year.

Cabaniss battled with John McEntee, who Trump named this year to lead the White House personnel office, according to several reports citing unnamed officials. McEntee’s appointment came at a time when Trump acknowledged he was seeking to elevate White House employees who have proven their loyalty to him.

Federal offices in Washington expected to remain open Wednesday but provided “maximum telework flexibilities” to eligible workers because of coronavirus. Trump and public health officials have advised Americans to work from home whenever possible.  

– John Fritze

More:‘A big, bold package’: Trump calls for pumping $1 trillion into economy to counter coronavirus hit

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