Trump signals he may lift federal coronavirus guidelines, Congress at odds on rescue package – updates

WASHINGTON – Pressure was building on Congress to break its logjam on a coronavirus rescue package.

Stocks slid again Monday despite the Federal Reserve’s decision to launch an expansion of lending programs to help the economy. 

A week after the U.S. markets posted their worst week since the financial crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down as much as 500 points in the opening minutes of trading.

The Fed said it plans to purchase an unlimited amount of Treasurys and mortgage securities in a bid to support financial markets. It also said that it would purchase commercial mortgage-backed securities as part of an expansion in its asset purchases, known in the market as quantitative easing.

A trader holds his hand to his head after trading was halted at the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in New York.

“We’ve got a lot of promise from the Fed, but they’re still going to need help from Congress,” says Scott Colyer, chief executive at Advisors Asset Management. “Does the Fed’s latest move solve our virus problem? No. Does it solve our unemployment problem? No. But it does allow markets to function. At the end of last week, we were sorely in need of that.”

– Jessica Menton and Ledyard King

Klobuchar’s husband hospitalized with COVID-19

The husband of Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia, the Minnesota Democrat and former presidential candidate announced Monday.

Klobuchar said she is not getting tested for the virus, on the advice of her doctor, because she and her husband have not been together for the past two weeks and she is outside the 14-day period for getting sick.

“As everyone is aware, there are test shortages for people who need them everywhere and I don’t qualify to get one under any standard,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

She said her husband, John Bessler,  professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, immediately quarantined himself when he started to feel sick even though he thought it was just a cold. 

But his high temperature and bad cough persisted. When he started coughing up blood, he got tested and was checked into a Virginia hospital because his blood showed low oxygen levels, among other concerns. Bessler is now receiving oxygen but it not on a ventilator, according to Klobuchar’s statement.

“I love my husband so very much and not being able to be there at the hospital by his side is one of the hardest things about this disease,” Klobuchar said. She and their daughter, Abigail, have been “constantly calling and texting and emailing.”

Bessler is the first congressional spouse who is known to have COVID-19.

Three members of Congress – Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah – have announced they’ve tested positive.

– Maureen Groppe

Pentagon: COVID-19 cases nearly double over weekend

The Pentagon reported Monday that cases of coronavirus had nearly doubled to 243 troops, their family members and civilian employees.

That’s an increase of 119 patients since Friday when the number of cases totaled 124.

On Sunday, the Navy announced that three special warfare sailors training in Washington state had tested positive for the disease. They join a Navy commando who was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month.

Of the 243 CoOVID-19 cases, 133 are troops, seven of whom are hospitalized. Over the weekend, the Pentagon also reported its first death, that of a contract employee. So far, four troops and one civilian employee have recovered.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Trump signals he may lift federal coronavirus guidelines

President Donald Trump signaled in a tweet overnight that he is considering lifting social distancing guidelines that may be slowing the spread of the coronavirus but are hurting the economy.


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Public health officials, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have recommended Americans work from home when they can and not congregate at restaurants or other businesses. The administration rolled out a 15-day plan on March 16 to “bend the curve” of new coronavirus cases.

Many of those officials, including Surgeon General Jerome Adams, have said that two weeks is “likely not enough time” to halt the spread of the virus in the country.

“If everyone makes this change or these critical changes and sacrifices now, we will rally together as one nation and we will defeat the virus,” Trump said at the time. “And we’re going to have a big celebration all together.”

President Trump warns coronavirus response could last until August

Trump retweeted two users Monday morning who used similar language to urge that, at the end of 15 days, only “high risk groups” be isolated and that the rest of Americans go “back to work.”

Yet the restrictions are having a major impact on the economy. The Labor Department reported a 30% increase in unemployment claims last week. James Bullard, president of the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, predicted the unemployment rate could hit 30% in the U.S.

Several states, including New York, California and Illinois, have imposed stricter social distancing requirements. Even if Trump eased the federal guidelines next week it would not affect orders signed by governors in those and other states. 

– John Fritze and David Jackson

Fauci addresses Trump’s coronavirus claims

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become the face of the White House’s scientific and medical response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, frequently appearing alongside President Donald Trump during task force news conferences. 

But he and the president have not always agreed on the facts surrounding the outbreak. 

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For example, after Trump played up a drug used to treat malaria as a potential “game-changer” in the fight against coronavirus, Fauci said the only evidence that the drug could be helpful was “anecdotal.” Fauci has also contradicted Trump on the timetable for a vaccine and the severity of the outbreak. 

In an interview with Science magazine, Fauci said that he and Trump don’t disagree on substantive issues.

“Even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style,” Fauci said. “But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks to the USA TODAY Editorial Board on Feb. 17, 2020.

But he said during news conferences, the president says things “in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject.” 

When asked about Trump’s claim that China could have told the world about the coronavirus three or four months earlier, Fauci grew defensive. 

“What do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?” he asked Science staff writer Jon Cohen.

– William Cummings

Why can’t Congress agree?

As Congress negotiates over the stimulus package, here are the main sticking points:

  • Both sides want to give businesses a lifeline amid shutdowns that threaten to plunge the economy into a deep recession. Democrats want tough provisions to prevent corporations that receive federal bailouts from later engaging in stock buybacks that enrich their executives. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his bill already includes Democrats’ demands for conditions on loans and other aide to major businesses.
  • Democrats have called for provisions that would temporarily block evictions and foreclosures as families struggle with lost income. They also want additional funding for food stamps and an expansion of unemployment benefits.
  • Democrats and Republicans are also wrangling over how much money should go to hospitals and health providers to help them deal with the crisis.

– Deirdre Shesgreen

Senate to convene at noon EDT

The Senate will try again Monday to break its logjam over an emergency stimulus package intended to stem the damage from the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats, who are pushing for more restrictions on corporate bailouts, negotiated late into the night with the Trump administration on the details of the legislation.

Senators are planning to reconvene at noon.

The impasse in Congress weighed heavily on the battered stock market, which had its worst week since the financial crisis last week. 

On Sunday evening, futures for the Dow Jones industrial average tumbled more than 900 points while Standard & Poor’s 500 futures fell 5%, triggering an automatic shock absorber.

The Senate is expected to convene at noon EDT.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Democrats Sunday for opposing the GOP-crafted coronavirus rescue package and said he hoped they would have a “change of heart” after the U.S. financial markets opened Monday morning. McConnell noted there were already signs of another bad day on Wall Street as Congress remained gridlocked over how to help laid-off workers and shuttered businesses.

– Caren Bohan, Ledyard King, Jessica Menton 

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