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New York request to treat coronavirus patients on Navy hospital ship approved by Trump

Cuomo had told reporters earlier Monday that he was “going to call the President this afternoon and ask him to shift the (USNS) Comfort from non-Covid to Covid.”

Trump, speaking at a White House news briefing Monday afternoon, said he “was informed that Gov. Cuomo has already told you and announced he called me up a little while ago and asked whether or not it would be possible to use the ship with respect to fighting the virus.”

“We hadn’t had that in mind at all, but we’re going to let him do it,” Trump remarked.

“It’s set for Covid,” Trump said of the Comfort. The President also confirmed that the ship has been approved to treat New Jersey patients.

The US Navy hospital ship had originally been designated as a space for non-coronavirus patients to alleviate the pressure from New York hospitals, though Trump signaled this weekend that the ship could be used for coronavirus patients if needed.

“That was not supposed to be for the virus at all and under circumstances, it looks like more and more we’ll be using it for that,” he told reporters at the White House Sunday. “The ship is ready and if we need it for the virus, we’ll use it for that.”

The move comes as New York City’s hospitals have been overwhelmed with coronavirus cases and are struggling to respond to patients streaming in. A shortage of personal protective equipment has also placed medical workers at risk of contracting the virus.

As a result — even before Trump’s announcement Monday — Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the top medical doctor for the military, said the USNS Comfort had already treated coronavirus patients, stating, “Our commitment has been that if a patient comes to us, we would take care of them.”

“Have we had patients who ultimately were determined to have coronavirus on the hospital ships? Yes,” Friedrichs said. “And we’re taking care of them, just like we’re taking care of all the other patients going forward.”

A defense official tells CNN that the Comfort has treated fewer than five coronavirus patients and the Pentagon has said that Comfort has treated a total of 41 patients.

“Having the Comfort here is a very, very important thing for New York City in terms of the number of patients served, but also an extraordinary morale boost when we needed it,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN Friday. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind, the Comfort will be filled up soon.”

CNN’s Nicky Robertson contributed to this report.

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US election: Can Donald Trump wait out the coronavirus?

Which is what makes the current situation in Florida in regard to the state’s response to the coronavirus very, very important.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has come under heavy criticism for his unwillingness to issue a stay-at-home order earlier — spring breakers packed the Florida beaches last month — and for delegating decisions about public safety to local officials rather than issuing more robust statewide directives. (DeSantis finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1.)
And the state is seen as a potential hotbed for the virus due to its elderly population, according to an analysis done by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Which brings us back to DeSantis — and Trump. The President endorsed the then-House member in a contested GOP primary for governor in 2018 and campaigned for him vigorously in the general election. DeSantis ran ads painting himself as a mini-Trump. The connection between the two men — in most voters’ minds — is very, very close.

Keep watch on the situation in Florida. If it worsens significantly, the blame will likely fall on DeSantis. And that could spell trouble in the state this fall for Trump too.

4. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s political future: Last week, the New York governor, who has emerged as the face of the government’s fight against the coronavirus for millions inside and outside the Empire State, said he would never, ever run for president in the future.

That won’t stop the question from being asked — especially once the pandemic lessens in both New York state and nationally.

Cuomo, at 62, would be far younger than Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are right now if he ran in 2024. And he’d be only 70 — almost a decade younger than Biden and Sanders! — if he ran for president in 2028.

(Sidebar: For people suggesting Cuomo could be the nominee in 2020, that’s not going to happen.)

Cuomo is able to put off any questions about his political future — which almost certainly includes a run for a fourth term in 2022 — at the moment due to the fact that he is dealing with a massive crisis with an uncertain end date.

But he and his political team will, at some point in the future, figure out whether his answer will (or should) change on whether he ever wants to run for president.

Episodes like this — a battle against a global pandemic — have ways of changing long-held views and re-orienting life goals. For all of us, and for politicians, too.

3. Wither conventions?: In the space of the last week, Democrats have delayed their national convention to August and then watched as their near-certain presidential nominee has suggested an in-person convention might not happen at all.
“We may have to do a virtual convention,” Biden said Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think we should be thinking about that right now. The idea of holding the convention is going to be necessary. We may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place.”

He’s right. Even if the spread of the coronavirus is largely limited by mid-summer, does anyone think it’s a good idea to gather tens of thousands of people in close quarters anytime soon?

It’s hard to imagine the Democratic National Committee will have much choice in the matter if the de facto nominee is on the record suggesting that an in-person convention is problematic.

Of course, Trump continues to insist that the Republican National Convention — set to begin August 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina — is full speed ahead.

“We have no contingency plan,” Trump said on Saturday. “We’re having the convention at the end of August, and we think by the end of August, we’ll be in good shape. We have no contingen- — you know, it’s going to be in North Carolina, as you know, in Charlotte. And I think we’re going to have a great convention.”


Keep an eye on both parties as they try to navigate the balance between holding a massive, quadrennial party and lingering public health concerns.

2. The Biden VP search: Biden’s presidential campaign has been effectively ground to a halt by the coronavirus as the former vice president has been forced to stay home and do virtual fundraisers and rallies.

But there’s one key element of the coming general election campaign that coronavirus doesn’t have much impact on: The search for a vice presidential nominee.

“I am in the process and I’ve actually had this discussion with Bernie because he’s a friend — we’re competitors, he’s a friend,” Biden told participants in a virtual fundraiser on Friday of the VP vetting process, adding: “You have to start now deciding who you’re going to have background checks done on as vice presidential candidates and it takes time.”

Biden said he plans to form a formal VP search committee sometime in the next month and has talked with former President Barack Obama about the best way to go about it. (Biden surely likes Obama’s process since it would up picking him as the nominee.)

While the VP selection is always a critical choice — less in terms of its impact on the Electoral College than what it says about how a potential president sees his strengths and weaknesses — that’s especially true in the case of Biden’s pick due to the fact that he is 77 years old. (Biden would be the oldest person ever elected to a first term as president if he wins this fall; he turns 78 on November 20.)

“[O]ne of the ways to deal with age is to build a bench — to build a bench of younger, really qualified people who haven’t had the exposure that others have had but are fully capable of being the leaders of the next four, eight, 12, 16 years to run the country,” Biden said Friday.

Biden has already narrowed the field of potential picks by pledging — in a debate last month — to pick a female VP, which was, politically speaking a very smart thing to do.

I’ve gone through the 10 women most likely to be Biden’s nominee — SPOILER ALERT: Kamala Harris is currently No. 1 — and will be out with a new Top 10 later this week. Stay tuned!

1. The impatience of Trump: The President is not a patient man. Like many Americans, he wants what he wants when he wants it. Which is, almost always, right now.

Enter coronavirus — and the recommendations from virtually every medical expert that the only way to stop its deadly spread is to stay at home — a move that effectively grinds the economy to a halt.

Trump has bristled at that order before, spending the days leading up to his announcement of a 30-day stay-at-home order for April insisting the cure can’t be worse than the disease itself.

Well, he’s doing it again. Here’s Trump in the daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday:

“We have to open our country. You know, I had an expression, ‘The cure can’t be worse than the problem itself,’ right? I started by saying that, and I continue to say it. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. We got to get our country open.”

There’s a reason for Trump’s impatience. Jobless claims reached almost 10 million nationwide in the first two weeks of the stay-at-home orders. The stock market tumbled. Economists warned of a major recession.

If by the end of this month, the virus remains a major public health threat and the economy continues to slide, ask yourself this: How long will Trump be willing to heed the advice of the medical community? How patient can he be — and what will the consequences be if he isn’t?

“I can’t tell you — I can’t tell you a date, but I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later,” Trump predicted Saturday.

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What Matters: The US hits a grim new record as Trump continues to preach optimism

Yet it is impossible to reconcile the messages being blasted to the country on competing platforms by President Donald Trump, on the one hand, and by the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, on the other.

Optimism — Trump continues to spin optimism from the White House briefing room. He promised 100,000 ventilators in 100 days, and claimed he had badgered GM into starting production by threatening to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to force the carmaker to repurpose its factories. He said (incorrectly) that the US has tested more than anyone.
He praised Americans for being neighborly and said he was exempting himself and his handlers from orders to stay home and avoid unnecessary social contact in order to see off the Navy ship Comfort bound to sail for New York from Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday. (Like military ships being deployed elsewhere in the US, this one will be used to treat non-coronavirus patients.)
Objectivity — Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, continues to preach realism and restraint, and he’s finding new places to do it. On CNN. In an Instagram story with NBA star Steph Curry. (Flashback: Trump disinvited Curry from the White House a couple of years ago after Curry criticized the President’s attacks on black athletes who were kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of police violence.)
Anyway. Fauci said the curbs on social interaction are not an overreaction and there’s no specific date when Americans can gather in large crowds — at NBA games, say. Watch here.
Trump says: At least some of the country should get back to normal by Easter. Aides are drawing up options for him regarding the social-distancing guidelines he put in place almost two weeks ago, which expire early next week. CNN’s Kevin Liptak has more on that.

Fauci says: Fauci told Curry the country can start to get back to normal when the number of infections begins to fall. And there’s no specific date for that.

Former President Barack Obama, by the way, commented on Fauci’s talk with Curry and told Americans to “follow the science.”

But Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in an interview Thursday night that parts of the country could soon be back up and running. “It’s a very bad situation, we haven’t seen anything like it, but the end result is we got to get back to work, and I think we can start by opening up certain parts of the country, you know, the farm belt, certain parts of the Midwest, other places,” he said.

What he says vs. what he does — In a global town hall on CNN, Fauci said Trump is trying to give people hope with his Easter aspirations, but the doctor promised that the President would ultimately listen to his scientists.

“He’s listening to us when we say we really got to reevaluate it, in real time, and any decision we make has to be based on the data,” Fauci said.

Hospitals plan for emergency — In Michigan, a hospital wrote in an internal letter explaining its emergency response plan that doctors might have to make difficult decisions about who to treat — and there might not be enough ventilators if there’s a huge spike in cases there. Read more.

Trump doesn’t believe them — The President disputed during his interview with Hannity that states and hospitals actually need what they say.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’ ”

Frustrated by Michigan’s governor, a “young” “woman” — He also dismissed the pleas of Michigan;s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who he referred to as “the young, a woman governor, you know who I’m talking about, from Michigan.”

“All she does is sit there and blame the federal government,” he complained.

Whitmer, who has asked Trump for a disaster declaration for her state, shot back at him on Twitter: “You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”

Other governors who have emerged as leading voices on this:

House passes stimulus, Trump signs it

Not everyone will get a stimulus check — Millions of undocumented immigrants won’t get anything, even though they may pay taxes.
Trump signed the bill without any Democrats present — And that’s fine! But it’s interesting that in a time when the lawmakers can come together on something so large, they can’t even be in the same room. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was there and so was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Nobody was anything close to 6 feet apart. Look. But these are nitpicks. The point is that the government, Republicans and Democrats, came together to pass a $2 trillion stimulus.
Watch: Debate over the bill got chaotic — A Michigan lawmaker, Rep. Haley Stevens, showed up wearing surgical gloves on the House floor and was ruled out of order when she refused to yield.

Lawmakers had rushed back to town overnight after a single member objected to passing the measure by unanimous consent.

The obstructionist — It was Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, who made everyone come back in. His colleagues were not happy.

His advice to lawmakers: ‘Hitch a ride’ — “If congressmen are complaining that it’s hard to travel, well, what about the truckers that I saw on the road when I drove to DC? Hitch a ride with the trucker. … If you’re a congressman making $87 an hour and find it hard to get to DC, well, hitch a ride with the trucker,” Massie said on 55KRC talk radio.

Speaking of Kentucky — You never know who is a vector.

Read this from earlier this week: A group of young adults held a coronavirus party in Kentucky to defy orders to socially distance. Now one of them has coronavirus. Or there’s this Kentucky woman who tested positive and is now refusing to stay inside. Authorities got a court order forcing her to quarantine, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Again: This thing is everywhere. Here’s a US map. And it is deadly. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Friday that a member of her staff, George Valentine, had died of it.

Across the pond

First Prince Charles. Now Boris Johnson. The British Prime Minister has mild symptoms, but he’s working from home. Home just happens to be 10 Downing Street. So he always sort of works from home. Anyway.

Wait a minute. He’s self-isolating in the seat of the UK government!

CNN’s Luke McGee writes: Isolating the Prime Minister is not that difficult, in itself. The Downing Street premises are actually considerably bigger than they look from the outside. Behind that famous black door at Number 10 lies a warren of rooms and offices that extend sideways into 11 and 12 Downing Street — the three addresses are all that survive from a longer terrace constructed at the end of the 17th century — and back into a much larger 18th-century building at the rear.

Johnson lives in a rather modest apartment above Number 11, which is easily shut off from Number 10. (A Downing Street spokesman said earlier on Friday that the connecting door between the two buildings would be shut.) Anything that the Prime Minister needs, whether official papers or deliveries of food and drink, will be left outside a door for him to collect. However, in an effort to contain the virus, Downing Street will try to keep even this level of contact at a minimum.

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Trump and Cuomo’s hot and cold relationship

The high-profile political leaders know each other well and have for years. Trump has even given thousands of dollars in the past to advance both Cuomo’s political career and that of his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Their shared complex history — and their ability to shift between scorn and praise in mere hours — has been on full display over the past month, with back-and-forth briefings that are alternately frosty and supportive.

That dynamic was on full display Thursday night, when the President told Sean Hannity on Fox News that he was “getting along” with Cuomo but slammed the governor for wanting tens of thousands of ventilators, which the President doubts are necessary.

“And they say, like Governor Cuomo and others, that say we want 30,000 of them. 30,000. Think of this,” Trump told Hannity. “You go to hospitals who have, don’t even have one, in a hospital and all of a sudden everybody is asking for vast numbers.”

He added later, “But generally speaking, I’m getting along very well with Governor Cuomo.”

The relationship between Cuomo and Trump has frayed at times. Trump tweeted earlier this month that Cuomo has to “do more.” And Cuomo recently excoriated the federal government this week for not acting swiftly enough to use the Defense Production Act to build more ventilators.

But behind those flashes of bitterness is a budding working relationship — with Trump particularly focused on Cuomo. The two men are interacting multiple times each day, according to sources familiar with their interactions, with the duo speaking upwards of three or four times on some days.

“The governor is doing a very good job,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I spoke to the governor — Governor Cuomo — last night and this morning.”

Trump added: “I’m working very hard in New York. It’s by far the biggest problem. But there’s a lot of good capable people working on it with us, and our teams are working very hard with the state representatives.”

New York Gov. Cuomo says social distancing efforts are working to slow coronavirus

A White House official told CNN that Cuomo’s pressers have become mandatory viewing in the West Wing, with the New York governor’s command and directness driving Trump’s own desire to use the briefing room every day to drive coverage of the coronavirus.

Cuomo’s press conferences are regularly in the late morning. And while the White House briefings have moved to the evening — often after 5 p.m. ET — there were multiple occasions early in the coronavirus response where Trump’s briefings have been pushed back as they wait for Cuomo to finish, the White House official added.

Their approaches have been markedly different, though. Where Cuomo has been unswerving, Trump has, at times, been ambiguous, disregarding the advice of medical professionals to suggest reopening the United States economy earlier than possibly warranted.

Trump has also watched and commented on Cuomo’s briefings, with some aides believe the President has attempted to adopt some of the governor’s tactics and tone.

Their relationship over the years has vacillated between hostility and respect.

Cuomo received donations from both Trump and his family members throughout his career. The donations became an issue in Cuomo’s 2018 reelection bid, when his Democratic opponent Cynthia Nixon raised the donations.

“I’m going to be deeply critical of him and keep the contributions,” Cuomo said in 2018, refusing to return the donations.

The New York Times even reported in 2018 that Trump taped a video for Cuomo’s 1990 bachelor party.

“Whatever you do, Andrew,” Trump reportedly said to Cuomo in the video, “don’t ever, ever fool around.”

But Trump entertained running against Cuomo in 2014, ultimately deciding against it when the Republican Party would not unify behind him.

“While I won’t be running for Governor of New York State, a race I would have won, I have much bigger plans in mind,” Trump tweeted in 2014.

Times have further changed since that possible run.

Trump, a one-time frequent donor to Democrats, is now the nation’s top Republican, while Cuomo made his opposition to Trump a key issue in his most recent reelection.

“Mr. Trump, I’ve known you for 30 years,” Cuomo said during the run. “You may be a slick salesman who fooled many people in this country. But you didn’t fool me.”

Over the last month, the two men have alternated between criticizing and praising each other, with the past three days providing the clearest examples.

Trump, during a Fox News town hall on Tuesday, hit Cuomo for the shortage of ventilators.

“He should have ordered the ventilators,” Trump said, citing a debunked conservative headline. “And he had a choice. He had a chance.”

The comment came hours after Cuomo hit Trump on the issue.

“There is no other way for us to get these ventilators,” Cuomo said at his daily press conference. “We’ve tried everything else. The only way we can obtain these ventilators is from the federal government. Period.”

But less than 24 hours later, Cuomo’s attacks made way to praise.

“I want to thank the President for his cooperation and his team for their cooperation,” Cuomo said on Wednesday, and even walked back some of his criticism around the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act.

“The President and his team,” Cuomo said, “are using the DPA well because it’s a leverage tool when you’re dealing with private companies.”

Trump reciprocated by saying Cuomo was doing a “very good job.”

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

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Trump signs historic $2 trillion stimulus after Congress passes it Friday

The far-reaching legislation stands as the largest emergency aid package in US history. It represents a massive financial injection into a struggling economy with provisions aimed at helping American workers, small businesses and industries grappling with the economic disruption.

The House of Representatives earlier in the day approved the bill that passed the Senate earlier this week, overcoming last-minute drama by using an unusual procedural move to thwart a demand by a conservative Republican to force members to vote in person.

The Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, infuriated members in both parties by bringing them back to Washington amid uncertainty over whether he would request a full roll call vote. That uncertainty forced many to travel during the public health emergency simply to deny his demand in order to ensure swift passage of the measure on Friday.

Ultimately, however House leadership was able to deny Massie a sufficient second in support of a roll call vote when he made a request for it, shutting down the demand and allowing the House to approve the package by voice vote instead. But members still had to return to Washington in order to establish a quorum and deny the attempt.

Key elements of the package include sending checks directly to individuals and families, a major expansion of unemployment benefits, money for hard-hit hospitals and health care providers, financial assistance for small businesses and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

Massie’s threat

House leaders faced pressure to pass the legislation as quickly as possible and minimize the risks to their members in the process — and the bill had been expected to be taken up by voice vote, a move that would allow for quick passage and was designed to permit House members not to return to Washington for a full roll call vote.

But Massie announced Friday that he would request a full roll-call vote.

“I came here to make sure our Republic doesn’t deny by unanimous consent in an empty chamber and I request a recorded vote,” Massie said on the House floor in an attempt to force the full vote.

A quorum of the House — 216 members — was needed to block Massie’s attempt.

Massie made a point of order that a quorum was not present, but it was determined that a quorum was in fact present and the motion was adopted.

Members who made it to DC for the debate attempted to maintain social distancing, with some staying on the House floor while others sat in the upstairs gallery above the chamber, where the public usually sits.

Trump sharply criticized the congressman on Friday, saying in a pair of tweets that he “just wants the publicity” and should be thrown out of the Republican party.

“Looks like a third rate Grandstander named @RepThomasMassie, a Congressman from, unfortunately, a truly GREAT State, Kentucky, wants to vote against the new Save Our Workers Bill in Congress. He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous & costly,” Trump tweeted.

“Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is “HELL” dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the “big picture” done. 90% GREAT! WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!,” the President said.

The congressman told a local radio station Thursday that he’s “having a really hard time” with the bill, and didn’t seem too concerned about lawmakers’ difficulties in getting back to Washington.

“If congressmen are complaining that it’s hard to travel, well, what about the truckers that I saw on the road when I drove to DC? Hitch a ride with the trucker. … If you’re a congressman making $87 an hour and find it hard to get to DC, well, hitch a ride with the trucker,” Massie said on 55KRC talk radio.

Lawmakers return to DC

Many members were scrambling to book flights and return to Washington on Thursday night amid concerns that they could be asked to vote in person on the stimulus, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Two House members have already tested positive for Covid-19, while more than three dozen others have self-quarantined after experiencing flu-like symptoms, interactions with infected individuals or potential exposure.
Rep. Pete King, a New York Republican, tweeted on Friday morning: “Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation. Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House. Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.”
Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican, tweeted a picture on a plane with Reps. Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican, and Minnesota Democratic Reps. Angie Craig and Betty McCollum. “A bipartisan (and socially distanced) flight to DC this morning to vote on Coronavirus economic relief,” Johnson wrote.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN on Wednesday that she might force a recorded vote, but the congresswoman ultimately did not, despite her criticism of the bill.

“But I think this bill has a lot of problems with it. And I’m extraordinary concerned about what Mitch McConnell has done,” she said ahead of the vote. “I’ve had more constituents call concerned about this bill than in support of it. It’s a very hard day. It’s a very, very hard day for this body.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy both made clear on Thursday that they want the $2 trillion stimulus bill to be approved by their chamber Friday by voice vote.

On a conference call with Democratic members on Thursday, Pelosi said that if they are unable to pass the bill by voice vote, they will have a roll call vote Friday, according to three sources on the call.

Pelosi on Thursday predicted that the House will approve the stimulus package with a “strong bipartisan vote,” adding that “if somebody has a different point of view, they can put it in the record.”

McCarthy said at a news conference on Thursday that the House would operate differently than it usually does in order to promote social distancing.

He said the members won’t sit next each other, they’ll alter where the members stand, and staff will be cleaning as members come and go. He also said that members will have to enter one designated door and leave out the other.

“We have members on both sides of the aisle who have the virus. We have members who are quarantined. We have members who have challenges with airlines, getting their flights canceled. We will have enough to get this through, but the floor will look different,” McCarthy said, explaining the modifications that will be made.

House officials detailed steps to limit member interactions in a notice to all House offices Thursday.

In the notice, obtained by CNN, the House Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol physician’s office outlined new procedures ahead of the vote, explaining that access around the House chamber and on the floor will be limited. To that end, the House is closing the Speaker’s Lobby, an area right off the House floor where reporters stake out and interview lawmakers and members frequently congregate.

Hard-fought negotiations led to a massive aid package

The stimulus package came together after intense and drawn-out negotiations between congressional Republicans and Democrats and the Trump administration that spanned multiple days and involved ongoing talks that stretched late into the night.

Democrats initially took issue with the package, which was crafted by Senate Republicans at the outset, arguing that it put corporations ahead of workers. Partisan tension over the legislation came to a head when Senate Democrats blocked two procedural votes to move ahead with the package, on Sunday and again on Monday, a setback to the bipartisan efforts to find a consensus deal.

A deal was ultimately announced mid-week, however, paving the way for the Senate to take up and pass the measure.

Key provisions in the stimulus

A centerpiece of the stimulus package is that it will provide direct financial assistance to Americans in the form of checks with the amount received based on income.
What's in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill

Individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 — and an additional $500 per each child.

The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples without children.

In addition, the bill would provide billions of dollars in aid to hard-hit hospitals struggling to deal with the outbreak as well for state and local governments that are cash-strapped due to their response to coronavirus.

One point of contention in negotiations centered around a fund for distressed industries, with Democrats worrying that there would not be adequate oversight. In a compromise move, the final deal provides for accountability through an independent Inspector General and congressional oversight panel.

This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.

CNN’s Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

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Trump administration to federal prisons: Increase home confinement for inmates to stamp coronavirus spread

In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons, Barr said that officials should prioritize the use of statutory authorities to release eligible prisoners early to home confinement while acknowledging that some vulnerable inmates may be more protected from the deadly virus outside of the tight prison quarters.

The directive came as the Bureau of Prisons reported that 10 inmates and eight Bureau of Prisons employees have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday, even as prison officials have continued to implement strict measures to stave off the spread of the virus, including a ban on most visitors and a two-week quarantine for all new inmates entering a facility. Advocates and prison officials have warned that the close confines of a correctional facility could quickly become a hotbed for the deadly illness.

“We have some of the best-run prisons in the world and I am confident in our ability to keep inmates in our prisons as safe as possible from the pandemic currently sweeping across the globe,” Barr wrote in the memo.

“At the same time, there are some at-risk inmates who are non-violent and pose a minimal likelihood of recidivism and who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement rather than in BOP facilities,” Barr wrote.

According to the memo, prison officials should first consider factors like the age and vulnerability of the inmate to coronavirus, the inmate’s conduct in prison, the inmate’s crime of conviction and the potential danger posed to the public, and whether the inmate has a plan in place to re-enter society and avoid recidivism before granting them early release.

Inmates who are approved for the home confinement must also first be quarantined in prison for 14 days before being discharged to avoid spreading an undetected case of the virus, Barr said.

There has been intense lobbying by lawmakers and activists

Nearly 5,000 inmates in federal custody are over the age of 65, according to the Bureau of Prisons, putting them in an age bracket that is at higher risk for severe illness after contracting the virus, the CDC says.

Since the virus began spreading, the Bureau of Prisons has shifted to a moderated lockdown posture, temporarily blocking social visitors as well as lawyers in most circumstances from visiting inmates, and restricting inmate movements.

The Trump administration had weighed a variety of plans for an early release amid an intense lobbying campaign by lawmakers and activists that highlighted concerns about an unprepared prison system.

In recent days, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, as well as advocacy groups, tapped into Justice Department and White House channels that were active in past criminal justice reform fights, including the office of senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to advocates and officials involved in the process.

Activists, including Revs. Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton, said last week that they had spoken with President Donald Trump about the issue. Kim Kardashian, who has used her celebrity to successfully lobby the White House on criminal justice reform in the past, on Wednesday night wrote on Twitter about the need for “empathy” in the prison system during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate Democratic whip, urged the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons to consider releasing vulnerable inmates under provisions of the First Step Act in a letter.

Trump on Sunday told reporters that he thought the dangers for vulnerable prisoners were “a bit of a problem” and said that his administration was looking into different ways to release inmates early, including through executive order. The White House legislative affairs team has been conducting outreach to congressional offices in recent days pushing for a bill that would allow for certain elderly, non-violent prisoners to leave facilities amid the outbreak, according to a senior White House official.

But by Monday, Trump had retweeted a conservative commentator who scoffed at the idea, dashing the hopes of some advocates.

After Barr announced the memo and new policy at a news conference Thursday, activists involved in the effort applauded.

“I think this could have a huge impact on both the prison system as a whole but also really on the people who are working there too,” said Jessica Jackson, a co-founder and senior counsel at #cut50, a criminal justice reform group that had pushed for the expansion of the early release program with administration officials in recent weeks.

“Inside the prisons, this would not only allow them to start engaging in better social distancing practices because they’ll be a little less crowded but it will also take a lot of pressure off the prison hospitals and the prison medical workers who are otherwise going to be scrambling to care for this population if the coronavirus gets in there,” she said.

Majority of inmates are housed in local prisons

Hundreds of prisoners have already begun being released from locally run prisons after state and municipal authorities made early moves. The majority of American inmates are housed in local prisons, and dozens of coronavirus cases have already been reported in such facilities across the country.

Over the weekend, the chief justice for New Jersey ordered the release of hundreds of inmates in county jails on Tuesday. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it estimates that could be up to 1,000 people.

In New York City, where 75 inmates in local jails had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday — an infection rate 87 times higher than the United States at large, according to an analysis by The Legal Aid Society— hundreds of inmates have so far been released early, and on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was working to release hundreds more.

The process isn’t moving fast enough for attorneys at The Legal Aid Society, the city’s largest law firm for low-income clients, however, and the group has sued the city and state’s corrections authorities asking for the release of certain high-risk inmates.

Gabriella Agranat-Getz, a staff attorney at the group, called New York City’s response “dangerously slow.”

“We see the number of confirmed positive tests at Rikers double within a day and as we heard about the conditions — it can spread like wildfire in there — so to take days to release folks It’s just dangerous,” she said, referring to Rikers Island, the infamous city jail.

Jimmy, a 55-year-old Legal Aid client, was released early from Rikers Island on Tuesday — one week before the end of his sentence on a non-violent misdemeanor conviction.

In an interview with CNN, he described meal times packed elbow-to-elbow with inmates and limited access to cleaning supplies. He said he used soap and shampoo that he’d bought himself and watered down to make last longer to wipe down surfaces and prayed to stay healthy.

“I stay pretty much washing my hands, getting up and cleaning the surfaces, the bars, the doorknobs, the handles, all these different common areas. I just go on with the hopes that I’m gonna be fine,” Jimmy said.

Since his early release, he said he’s been staying indoors and feeling healthy.

“I’m fine. I’m taking it a minute at a time, talking to the kids, watching TV,” he said. “I feel good, I don’t feel any symptoms of anything so I’m grateful for that.”

CNN’s Sarah Westwood contributed to this story.

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A restless Trump wants to end the country’s isolation — and his own

With no meals to prepare, menus to taste, floral arrangements to procure, décor to design or invitations to calligraphy, the back-of-house life of the White House has essentially ground to a halt as well. The private residence, where the President and first lady live with their teenage son, is operating with a scaled-down staff.

“I gave it two weeks,” he said Tuesday during a virtual town hall aired on Fox News. “I guess, by Monday or Tuesday, it’s about two weeks. And we will assess at that time.”

Work from home — from the White House

Like everyone working from home, Trump has shown evidence of cabin fever: crashing meetings of his coronavirus task force, inserting himself into planned press conferences and tearing apart daily schedules so his appearances better align with television viewership patterns.

During daily policy sessions, aides said they sometimes don’t know whether Trump will walk through the door, leading to a general level of uncertainty on what to place on the agenda.

He has established one set routine: the daily coronavirus briefing, where he has sparred with reporters and declared himself a “wartime president” in a somewhat sputtering bid to accompany the nation through the crisis.

The functions of the White House outside of its governing capacity have completely shut down. Public tours ended on March 12; the Easter Egg Roll, slated for April 13, was canceled last week. On March 18, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the Trump administration’s third State Dinner, set for the King and Queen of Spain on April 21, was being postponed.

“Day-to-day operations staff have scaled back,” said a White House official with knowledge of the changes.

Just as many Americans are “checking in” more often with family and friends, Trump has been dialing friends and outside advisers more frequently now that he’s deprived of visitors or trips to his Mar-a-Lago, his now-shuttered Florida resort where he can consult people in person.

And just as cooped-up families or roommates are discovering strain in their relationships, the pandemic has highlighted and deepened internal divides in the administration as the coronavirus response becomes an all-encompassing focus for aides navigating a once-in-a-generation health crisis.

Guideline decisions

White House officials looking for way to 'open' economy without health catastrophe

Lately, internal discussions have focused intently on how long the self-isolation measures Trump unveiled last week will last. In late night phone calls and television viewing sessions, Trump has heard from conservatives who question whether the benefits to public health are worth the damage to the economy.

The issue has emerged as a key point of contention between members of Trump’s coronavirus task force, where health professionals — such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist — have advocated for a longer period of containment to prevent further contagion.

Fauci was scheduled to be interviewed on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Monday night alongside Vice President Mike Pence, but abruptly pulled out at the last minute without explanation. Instead, the vice president did the interview by phone from his residence, a rare move from Pence who usually does his interviews in person.

The episode puzzled some White House aides, who were suspicious that it signaled Fauci had fallen out of favor with the President, if only temporarily.

“We get along very well,” Trump insisted during his town hall on Tuesday. “I think it’s been very good. You would have heard about it if it wasn’t.”

Fauci also downplayed the disconnect between his statements and the President’s in a radio interview Tuesday.

“I don’t consider the balancing act,” Fauci said. “I just give public health advice, completely clean unconnected with everything else.”

Still, the tensions that have emerged during the outbreak extend beyond the President and Fauci. Some of Trump’s senior aides have grown frustrated with the vice president’s team, believing they have taken too much control over the situation and largely cut them out. Some of Pence’s aides have started occupying unused space in the West Wing, which also has irked officials there.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who Pence selected as his top adviser during the coronavirus outbreak, moved into an office in the West Wing last week.

In the daily coronavirus briefings, Pence has taken the route of relying on the medical professionals such as Dr. Birx and her deputy, while Trump has maintained his focus on the economy and instead consulted with economic aides, including trade adviser Peter Navarro.

Trump’s focus on the economic fallout of the crisis is driven in part by his own belief that it will dictate his political future. Facing a potential recession, Trump has fretted that the coronavirus pandemic could cost him his job in November, though polls have shown his approval rating largely holding steady through the crisis.

As the crisis worsened, Trump held off canceling his political rallies, hopeful he would be able to remain on the campaign trail even amid the outbreak. But eventually it became clear his preferred outlet for speaking to supporters and touring the country would temporarily end — and that, like most Americans, Trump would be constrained to his home — the White House.

An example of a changing country

Trump says spread of coronavirus not the fault of the Asian American community

Whether he wants to or not, Trump is becoming an example of how the country is adapting — sometimes haltingly, not always willingly — to staying at home, dialing into the office and developing new routines amid the worst public health crisis in decades.

Of course, things are somewhat easier when your office is only an elevator ride and colonnade walk from your home, as it is for Trump. Work is made simpler still when your doctor’s office is two floors down, your groceries are taken care of and the toilet paper never runs low.

Still, Trump has found that, like for most Americans, life is not proceeding normally.

Instead of receiving foreign leaders in the Oval Office, Trump has patched through on videoconference lines to discuss the health crisis with members of the Group of 7, along with the heads of other nations.

He seemed tetchy during a video conference with governors held at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters last week, flatly calling out “next governor” as he waited in silence for each line to be connected. After South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem raised concerns about accessing test kits in her state, she seemed to be abruptly disconnected as she asked whether she could “just touch on two other things.”

“I think we got cut off,” Trump said before moving on.

Outside the West Wing, White House life has changed, too. Typically, there are more than 90 full-time White House residence staff members who care for the 132-room people’s house. The jobs range from chefs in the kitchen to groundskeepers, maintenance workers, ushers, plumbers, housekeepers, painters, florists and butlers.

But with the onset of coronavirus, and a diminished White House events calendar, many of the longtime residence employees are now not needed, and most are working, on-call, from home.

“As with so many Americans right now, the first lady is adhering to CDC guidelines about proper care and social distancing,” Grisham told CNN. “Additionally, the White House staff is maintaining proper social distance and adhering to CDC best practices. And non-essential staff are working from home.”

The residence spans several floors of the White House, but the first family mainly occupy the private second and third floors, which house multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a gym, a solarium, a private dressing room and salon area, recreation rooms, and storage areas. The first family also has a private eat-in kitchen on the second floor, which is stocked at the request of the first lady or the chief usher of the White House.

Less is known about how the intensely private first lady is occupying her stretch in self-isolation, though she did record a video with some ideas for staying healthy and has been tweeting links to government advice on, among other things, managing the stress of staying home.

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Biden: Trump should ‘stop talking and start listening to the medical experts’

Trump set the Easter goal earlier Tuesday on Fox News. It’s a date that few health experts believe will be sufficient in containing the spread of coronavirus.

“Look, we all want the economy to open as rapidly as possible. The way to do that is let’s take care of the medical side of this immediately,” Biden said in an interview with CNN.

The former vice president said he could envision some parts of the country and some sectors being ready to return to work on Trump’s timeline.

“But the idea that we’re in a position where we’re saying, by Easter, he wants to have everybody going back to work? What’s he talking about?” Biden said.

Biden said Trump is “not responsible for the coronavirus” but that the President is “responsible for the delay in taking the actions that need to be taken.”

He said Trump should have invoked the Defense Production Act earlier and used its powers to require companies to rapidly ramp up production of medical equipment like masks and ventilators.

“He says he’s a war-time president — well God, act like one. Move. Fast,” Biden said.

Biden has been off the campaign trail for two weeks as the pandemic has forced candidates to cancel rallies and fundraisers and order staff to work from home. His campaign converted a room in his Wilmington, Delaware, home into a broadcast studio, and Biden began a media blitz Tuesday.

In the interview, Biden said he has not been tested for coronavirus because he has not exhibited any symptoms, and that he is following medical experts’ advice — including keeping distance from his grandchildren when they visit and ensuring everyone who enters his house, including the Secret Service, wears gloves and masks.

At one point in the interview, Biden coughed into his hand. Tapper told Biden that doing so was “kind of old school” and that he should cough into his elbow.

“Actually that is true,” Biden said. “But fortunately I’m alone in my home. But that’s OK. I agree. You’re right.”

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As President Trump seeks to open the economy back up in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the Pentagon’s senior leadership are broadcasting a different message, warning the crisis could last well into the summer.The severity of the challenge was underlined with the news that 3 US sailors tested positive for the virus while at sea.

The severity of the challenge was underlined with the news that three US sailors tested positive for the virus while at sea.

“You’re looking at somewhere around 90 days based on some of the other countries. That may or may not apply to the United States,” said Gen. Mark Milley the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked how long the crisis could last during an online town hall. Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper took questions from service members during the town hall.

“If it does apply, you’re looking at probably late May, June, something in that range. Maybe could be as late as July.”

Milley was clear that “no one actually knows” when the crisis would be over, but that they were looking at “a variety of models.”

On the same day that the President said at a Fox News town hall that he wants the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Esper made it clear the Pentagon was preparing for a longer period of social distancing.

“I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long at least, and we’re taking all precautionary measures to do that,” he said.

Esper said that Pentagon employees would be teleworking for “weeks, for sure,” and “maybe months,” after announcing on Monday that the Pentagon was increasing the number of staff that would be teleworking, and limiting the number of access points into the building.

He further warned that the Defense Department, despite stockpiling medical supplies, would likely face shortages of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, as the civilian health care system is currently dealing with, “until the private sector industry can pick up the slack.”

Sailors flown for treatment

Later on Tuesday the Pentagon announced that three sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus and have been flown to a military medical facility for treatment.

“Three cases of Covid-19 have been identified among personnel currently deployed and underway on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, these are our first three cases of Covid-19 on a ship that is deployed,” said acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

“We’ve identified all those folks that they’ve had contact with and we are quantifying they as well,” he added.

They are the first reported cases of the virus aboard a US Navy ship while it was at sea.

The carrier was last in port 15 days ago as part of a visit to Vietnam. However, Navy officials would not say if the sailors were exposed to the coronavirus while there, noting that multiple aircraft had flown to the carrier in the intervening period.

There are approximately 5,000 personnel on board the carrier.

Esper had previously announced on Monday that the Pentagon is looking at sending military field hospitals to New York and Washington state, in addition to the Army Corps of Engineers’ undertaking to retrofit buildings in New York like hotels, dormitories and convention centers into temporary hospitals, in order to add an additional 10,000 hospital beds to the state’s capacity.
However, he warned that although multiple states have requested assistance from the Defense Department, they “can’t meet everyone’s needs.”

“Right now I anticipate sending a hospital to Seattle and a hospital to New York City and beyond that once that’s confirmed we will look at sending to other places, and as necessary we will continue to alert units to prepare to deploy and deploy them as appropriate,” Esper said on Monday.

Trump says he wants the country 'opened up and just raring to go by Easter,' despite health experts' warnings

The Pentagon has already ordered the deployment of the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy to Los Angeles to help alleviate the some of the burden on civilian hospitals, while the USNS Comfort is expected to deploy to New York in the coming weeks, after it is finished undergoing maintenance.

And as countries all over the world grapple with the pandemic, Milley warned today that the crisis could lead to “social breakdowns” or “political chaos in certain countries” as health care systems are overwhelmed. However, he assessed that the virus would likely have a “moderate to low” impact on US military readiness.

“It’s very, very important, again, that we do what the professionals are telling us to do, which is flatten that curve, take all the appropriate measures for US in the military,” said Milley, “but also in the nation to do our part, so to speak, in order to reduce the probability and to mitigate the impact of this coronavirus globally.”

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Melania Trump ramps up coronavirus public messaging

On Thursday morning, Trump rolled out the first of two pre-recorded PSAs about the virus, focused on reassurance.

“This is not how we will live forever,” says Trump, standing in the Cross Hall of the White House State Floor. “I urge you to stay connected … via safe technologies.”

The second PSA appeared Friday as the first one did, on the first lady’s official Twitter account, early in the morning. Her message this time was directed specifically to those who have children.

“Hello, parents of America,” says Trump. “I want to speak with you about a few practical ways your family can stay healthy during this time of disruption because of the coronavirus.”

She outlines steps like proper hand-washing, limiting touching, maintaining social distance, staying home when sick and letting their children know normal life will resume.

“Keep a positive attitude, and try to create some time for fun with your loved ones,” the first lady says.

Trump closes both PSAs with information on where to access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and information.

“Remember, while many of us are apart, we are all in this together,” she says.

As the deadly virus spread in China and took foothold in parts of Europe and the United States, particularly in Washington state, the first lady did not address Covid-19 publicly. Instead, she posted about other events at which she had participated — the construction of the White House tennis pavilion, a talk about drug prevention at the Justice Department and a speech about the dangers of cyberbullying to the National PTA Legislative Conference, which she gave on March 10, as word of pending school closures circulated throughout the country.

However, the following day, and henceforth, the first lady’s Twitter and Instagram feeds have been devoted to coronavirus news, and the occasional related tweet to thank first responders or those in the medical field and, on Friday, guidance for military families.

“Mrs. Trump understands and recognizes the people of this country feel uncertain right now, and she wants to do all she can to not only educate families and children about the importance of social distancing and hygiene,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNN. “But let the American people know this is only temporary.”

The one exception to Trump’s newfound public persona as coronavirus messenger came Friday morning, in a tweet featuring silver balloons in the number “14” and the caption: “Happy Birthday BWT,” to mark the 14th birthday of her son, Barron Trump.

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