A $484 billion coronavirus aid package is headed to Trump’s desk.
The House on Thursday gave resounding approval to a $484 billion coronavirus relief package to restart a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, and moved to increase oversight of the sprawling federal response to the pandemic.
President Trump said he was “grateful” for the action to refill the loan program and indicated he would sign the measure as early as Thursday evening. It was the latest installment in a government aid program that is approaching $3 trillion, which passed with broad bipartisan support even as some Democrats condemned it for being too stingy. But the fight over what should be included foreshadowed a pitched partisan battle to come over the next round of federal relief, which is likely to center on aid to states and cities facing dire financial straits.
Even as they dispensed with another nearly half-trillion taxpayer dollars, Democrats were moving to scrutinize the administration’s handling of the funds. Just before the aid package passed, they pushed through a measure creating a special committee to investigate the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and the array of federal spending measures enacted to address it, defying objections from Mr. Trump and Republicans.
The committee, which will have the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, is charged with examining how the coronavirus relief packages were rolled out, and scrutinizing “preparedness for and response to the coronavirus crisis.”
The package passed on Thursday was an interim step after enactment of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law. It emerged after a flurry of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration after funding lapsed for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan program created by the stimulus plan that had been overwhelmed by demand as soon as it began.
The measure replenished that program, providing $320 billion for it, but at the insistence of Democrats who demanded additional funds and policy changes, it also included $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing — plus a mandate that the Trump administration come up with a strategy for helping states deploy and access tests across the country.
The vote took place in a House chamber transformed by the pandemic. It was an impassioned debate as lawmakers, most of whom covered their faces with blue surgical masks or homemade swaths of fabric in an array of colors, patterns and glitter, reflected on the effect of the pandemic on their individual districts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi donned purple latex gloves to cast a vote.
Multiple lawmakers who had previously had to isolate outside of Washington after testing positive or being exposed to Covid-19 returned to vote. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, her voice cracking with emotion, said that she dedicated the bill to her sister, who was dying of the disease in a St. Louis hospital.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has said the measure was far too small and should include aid to struggling states and cities, was the sole Democrat who opposed the bill. Four Republicans voted “no,” while Representative Justin Amash, the chamber’s lone independent, voted present.
But Congress did not provide money for state governments in the $484 billion aid package passed by the House on Thursday, after Democrats failed to persuade Republicans to do so, setting up the next political battle over pandemic relief. (States, territories and tribal areas were allocated $150 billion in previous pandemic legislation.)
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, alarmed and angered state officials on Wednesday when he said he wanted to approach the next round of pandemic legislation more deliberately. He said he was opposed to shipping money to state governments if they were going to apply it to fiscal problems unrelated to the pandemic, such as shoring up underfunded pension plans for public workers.
Rather than looking for handouts, Mr. McConnell said, states should consider filing for bankruptcy. His aides threw fuel on the fire in a news release that said the Senate leader was opposed to “blue state bailouts,” suggesting it was Democratic-leaning states that were seeking the money to take care of problems caused by fiscal mismanagement.
Mr. Trump gave ambivalent signals about further aid to state governments at his White House briefing on Thursday, suggesting that he might be open to offering it but also echoing Mr. McConnell’s language, which had outraged Democratic governors like Andrew M. Cuomo of New York. “It is interesting that the states that are in trouble do happen to be blue,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Cuomo accused Mr. McConnell of hyperpartisanship, calling the “blue state bailout” label “vicious.”
“How ugly a thought,” he said. “Think of what he is saying. People died — 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats, so why should we help them?”
The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group of governors, wrote federal officials this week pleading for $500 billion to help them make up for lost tax revenues during what they called “the most dramatic contraction of the U.S. economy since World War II.”
The group’s chairman, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, told Politico on Thursday that he thought Mr. McConnell would come to regret his remarks. “The last thing we need in the middle of an economic crisis,” he said, “is to have the states all filing bankruptcy all across America and not able to provide services to people who desperately need them.”
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, was blunter: In an appearance Thursday on ABC’s “The View” he called Mr. McConnell’s comments “nuts.”
In January, a mystery illness swept through a call center in a skyscraper in Chicago. Close to 30 people in one department alone had symptoms — dry, deep coughs and fevers they could not shake. When they gradually returned to work after taking sick days, they sat in their cubicles looking wan and tired.
“I’ve started to think it was the coronavirus,” said Julie Parks, a 63-year-old employee who was among the sick. “I may have had it, but I can’t be sure.”
The revelation this week that a death in the United States in early February was the result of the coronavirus has significantly altered the understanding of how early the virus may have been circulating in this country. Researchers now believe that hidden outbreaks were creeping through cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle and Boston in January and February, weeks earlier than previously known.
The new timeline has lent credence to a question on the minds of many Americans: Did I already have the coronavirus?
The retroactive search is happening on many levels. People who had suffered dreadful bouts with flulike illnesses are now wondering if it was the coronavirus. Doctors are thinking back to unexplained cases. Medical examiners are poring over their records looking for possible misdiagnosed deaths. And local politicians are demanding investigations.
“I think it was here long before we knew it,” said Brian Gustafson, a coroner in Rock Island County, Ill. “That’s the only logical thing I can think of.”
Included in Mr. Gustafson’s suspicions of an undercount: himself.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said Thursday that the state had experienced its “deadliest day” since the start of the pandemic, with 115 Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday.
That brings the total number of those lost — each one representing an individual and a family “torn asunder,” as Mr. Newsom has repeated in his daily news briefings — to 1,469.
Nonetheless, the White House remains resolutely upbeat. Vice President Mike Pence predicted on Thursday that the epidemic would be largely behind us” by Memorial Day, on May 25: “Honestly, if you look at the trends today, I think by Memorial Day weekend we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us,” Vice President predicte he said on Geraldo Rivera’s Cleveland radio show.
“We’re getting there, America,” Mr. Pence said at the nightly White House news conference.
The California governor was more somber than that. While Mr. Newsom noted that hospitalizations and patients in intensive care had decreased slightly from the day before, he said the number of deaths should serve as a warning that even as the weather warms and Californians may be tempted to flock to beaches or gather outdoors, the virus was still an insidious force.
“Let’s not dream of regretting,” he said. “Stay home to the extent possible.”
He also urged patience for local leaders and other Californians who had asked when the state would ease orders to stay at home. “It’s not a date, it’s an indicator,” Mr. Newsom said, referring to the list of six broad measures his office laid out last week that would determine when it would be safe to loosen some restrictions.
One major issue is that the state will need to significantly ramp up testing capacity, which Mr. Newsom’s office and a state task force have been working on. Legions of contact tracers are also being trained to help track and halt any outbreaks.
Still, Mr. Newsom on Wednesday announced a first modest step in that direction: Hospitals would again be scheduling what are called elective procedures, a term that can include medically necessary procedures like tumor removals.
Nearly a month after Washington rushed through an emergency package to aid jobless Americans, millions of laid-off workers have still not been able to apply for those benefits — let alone receive them — because of overwhelmed state unemployment systems.
Across the country, states have frantically scrambled to handle a flood of applications and apply a new set of federal rules even as more and more people line up for help. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that another 4.4 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week, bringing the five-week total to more than 26 million.
Nearly one in six American workers has lost a job in recent weeks.
“At all levels, it’s eye-watering numbers,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. Laid-off workers need money quickly so that they can continue to pay rent and credit card bills and buy groceries, he noted.
Yet according to the Labor Department, only 10 states have started making payments under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extends coverage to freelancers, self-employed workers and part-timers. Most states have not even completed the system needed to start the process.
States manage their own unemployment insurance programs and set the level of benefits and eligibility rules. Now they are responsible for administering federal emergency benefits that provide payments for an additional 13 weeks, cover previously ineligible workers and add $600 to the regular weekly check.
In Florida, hundreds of thousands of unemployed people have been waiting for weeks for a check. It has taken some as long as that to file.
As Florida’s unemployment website became unusable under the weight of the traffic, the state agreed this month to accept paper applications, a tacit acknowledgment that the system was all but broken. Florida’s breakdown became a national symbol of distress, when footage of a snaking line for those applications outside the public library in Hialeah, a blue-collar city outside Miami, drew wide attention online.
The debacle has become an embarrassment for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. He called the system “cumbersome” last week and acknowledged that only 4 percent of 850,000 pending claims had been paid. He appointed an unemployment czar and signed executive orders waiving some requirements to ease the traffic on the website. The number of paid claims has slowly inched up.
“Florida is a terrible state to be an unemployed person,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project in Washington. “It’s hard to get in. Once you do it’s easy to get disqualified. The benefit level is way below average. And that was before the crisis.”
Georgia’s Republican governor on Thursday appeared undeterred by a torrent of resistance, led by President Trump, to his plan to allow many businesses to reopen this week.
Less than 24 hours after Mr. Trump said he opposed Gov. Brian Kemp’s strategy, saying that he thought he was acting “too soon,” Mr. Kemp used his Twitter account to publicize a list of frequently asked questions about how Georgia intended to relax its rules.
He gave no indication that he intended to reverse his decision, announced on Monday, for what he described as a measured process meant to bolster the economy. The governor’s plan gives permission to gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Then, on Monday, restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in service, and movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen.
Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Kemp even more strongly on Thursday evening.
“I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp,” he said at the White House briefing, adding that while he had told Mr. Kemp to do what he thought was necessary, he believed that the governor’s plan to reopen Georgia’s businesses did not follow the federal guidelines that his administration detailed last week.
“I don’t want this thing to flare up because you are deciding to do something that is not in the guidelines,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump’s head-spinning criticism of Mr. Kemp’s plan has sown confusion among Georgia Republicans, who saw Mr. Kemp, a full-throated Trump fan, win the governorship in 2018 on the strength of a presidential endorsement. It has also sent a confusing message to other governors who are confronting politically fraught decisions over whether they should loosen their own restrictions in the coming days.
On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, which borders Georgia, said he would extend his state’s stay-at-home order until May 8, saying on Twitter, “we need to slow the virus before we can ease restrictions.”
United Airlines joins Frontier in ordering flight attendants to wear face masks.
Flight attendants on United Airlines flights will be required to cover their faces while on duty starting Friday, the airline said.
“We have added masks on all flights to ensure flight attendants have one mask each per duty day,” United said in a letter to flight attendants on Thursday. “We will replenish as needed and as supplies permit, and, while we worked hard to make sure we have enough supply to provide each of you, you also may wear your own cloth mask.”
Major carriers including United, Delta, American and Southwest Airlines have aggressively advertised the precautions they are taking to lure back passengers, from restricting food service to blocking out middle seats.
While United said masks would be required for flight attendants, they were merely recommended for other employees, like pilots and airport crews.
United said it was the first major carrier in the United States to require masks for all flight attendants. Frontier Airlines has had a policy requiring masks for all crew members in place for more than a week, and major carriers including Delta, American and Southwest Airlines said they have made masks available to their flight attendants.
The Association of Flight Attendants, a union that represents flight attendants at more than a dozen airlines in the United States, applauded the move by United, and said in a letter to federal officials on Thursday that everyone on commercial flights and in airports — including passengers — should be required to wear masks.
The results come from a state program that randomly tested 3,000 supermarket customers across New York State this week. Nearly 14 percent of those tests came back positive, he said.
If those numbers translate to the true incidence of the virus, they would mean that more than 1.7 million people in New York City, and more than 2.4 million people statewide, have already been infected. These numbers are far greater than the 250,000 confirmed cases of the virus itself that the state has recorded.
Mr. Cuomo declined to speculate further on what the preliminary data might mean. He said its main use would to provide a baseline for tracking changes in the infection rate. (Supermarket customers do not constitute a random sample of the population.)
By the time New York City confirmed its first case on March 1, thousands of infections were already silently spreading through the city, according to a model of the disease by researchers at Northeastern University.
The Navy said Thursday that it had completed virus testing on all 4,938 crew members of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, with 840 people, or 17 percent, testing positive.
The Navy announcement comes as top Pentagon leaders are preparing to unveil a report on the handling of the virus on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which led to the removal of the ship’s captain, Brett E. Crozier, and the eventual resignation of the acting Navy secretary. The crisis aboard the Roosevelt gripped the Navy in recent weeks.
Of the total cases, 88 sailors have recovered and 4,234 have moved ashore, the Navy said. Four sailors are in the hospital with the virus. The ship is docked in Guam.
A lawmaker says she wants to hold hearings on the ouster of a key health official.
Representative Anna G. Eshoo, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said on Thursday that she planned to hold hearings into the forced departure of Dr. Rick Bright as the director of a key agency involved in developing a vaccine to combat the virus.
“I know that life is difficult for members to travel, but we can’t let that get in the way, and I’m sure that other members would want to be a part of a hearing as well,” Ms. Eshoo, Democrat of California, told Maggie Haberman of The Times. She helped create the agency that Dr. Bright oversaw, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Dr. Bright was abruptly pushed from his post this week, leading him to issue a remarkable public statement accusing the Trump administration of putting cronyism over science, especially in the promotion of two malaria drugs that the president has touted as “game changers” in the treatment of the virus.
Ms. Eshoo said she would like to hear from were the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, and an assistant secretary, Dr. Robert P. Kadlec, who supervised Dr. Bright, among other witnesses.
“I think the American people deserve to know what happened here, because all of our collective fate rested on” the development of a vaccine, she said.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, formally requested that the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general also look into Dr. Bright’s removal and abrupt transfer to the National Institutes of Health.
“Removing Dr. Bright in the midst of a pandemic would raise serious concerns under any circumstances, but his allegations that political considerations influenced this decision heighten those concerns and demand full accountability,” Mr. Pallone wrote.
In his statement, Dr. Bright said, “Contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”
Officials at H.H.S. have disputed Dr. Bright’s account and insisted there were problems with his management style. But they have so far refused to say so on the record.
Ms. Eshoo said that she had worked with Dr. Bright and that he is “a thoroughbred professional.”
“This is a terrible, swift sword that has come at science, and Dr. Bright,” she said.
Here are tips on tending to your budget.
You may be wondering how to cut some expenses right now. One way is to figure out who owes you money from the many services you pay for but aren’t in business right now. Think day camps, gyms and airlines. But when is it fair to ask for your money back? Here are some guidelines to help.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Peter Baker, Karen Barrow, Pam Belluck, Alan Blinder, Julie Bosman, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Patricia Cohen, Helene Cooper, Michael Cooper, Jill Cowan, Sheri Fink, Jacey Fortin, Thomas Fuller, Maggie Haberman, Amy Harmon, Jan Hoffman, Shawn Hubler, Carl Hulse, Lara Jakes, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Gina Kolata, Patricia Mazzei, Andy Newman, Roni Caryn Rabin, Katie Rogers, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Dionne Searcey, Eileen Sullivan, Sabrina Tavernise and Neil Vigdor.