Steven Mnuchin: $2 trillion rescue bill should get USA through 8-12 weeks of coronavirus outbreak

Steven Mnuchin: $2 trillion rescue bill should get USA through 8-12 weeks of coronavirus outbreak
Steven Mnuchin: $2 trillion rescue bill should get USA through 8-12 weeks of coronavirus outbreak  

Pelosi: Next bill won't happen until after congressional recess

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday said she doesn't expect lawmakers to reach an agreement on the next round of legislation needed to address the coronavirus pandemic until after Congress returns April 20.

"I would not suspect that we would have any bipartisan legislation before we return after Easter and Passover," the California Democrat told reporters. "But we're getting ready, and in some cases we are ready….in light of the increasing challenge we face."

Even before the House passed an historically-large rescue package last week, Pelosi had said more legislation would be needed.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have said lawmakers need to wait to get a sense of how the three assistance packages already approved are working.

The items Pelosi has said need to be part of a fourth round include: more direct payments to individuals; expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act; stronger safety protections for health care workers; free treatments for coronavirus patients; increased food stamp benefits; pension protections; more funding for state and local governments and more funding for hospitals and health centers.

Pelosi added Monday that she would like the next round to include infrastructure funding. Congress has been trying for years to tackle the nation's underfunded infrastructure but lawmakers have not agreed on a way to pay for it.

"The coronavirus pandemic has really kind of bared a lot of inadequacies with the nation's infrastructure," said Rep. Frank Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He cited as an example the need for more community health centers in rural areas.

Pelosi said improving infrastructure is not just a public health need but would also boost the economy by creating jobs.

"In every way, it's a giant plus," she said.

- Maureen Groppe

N.Y. congresswoman diagnosed with presumed coronavirus infection after speaking on House floor

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., announced Monday she was diagnosed with a presumed coronavirus infection, becoming the sixth member of Congress to become ill that appears likely due to the global pandemic.

The New York Democrat, who chairs the House Small Business Committee, said she started to notice symptoms early Sunday morning that included muscle aches, a fever, nasal congestion and an upset stomach. Soon, she also couldn't smell her perfume or taste food.

"After speaking with The Attending Physician by phone, I was diagnosed with presumed coronavirus infection," she said in a statement. "My symptoms are mild at the present time and I am taking Tylenol for fever, and isolating myself at my home."

She said she is not taking a COVID-19 test at the recommendation of the attending physician, Brian Monahan.

Velázquez traveled from New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., and spoke on the House floor on Friday when the chamber took up its historic $2 trillion coronavirus package. She also attended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's ceremonial bill signing after the measure passed in the House and was photographed speaking with Pelosi during the event.

After learning Velazquez's diagnosis, Pelosi consulted with the attending physician "who found her contact to be of low risk and recommended the Speaker take no particular action," according to Drew Hammill, the Speaker's deputy chief of staff.

- Christal Hayes

State Department: 25,000 stranded Americans have been brought home

The State Department has helped bring approximately 25,000 stranded Americans back to the USA from abroad, a top agency official said Monday, amid a global freeze on international travel, border closures and quarantines sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ian Brownlee, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the State Department has an additional 100 flights in the works to retrieve an additional 9,000 U.S. citizens stranded in Peru and other countries.

"We do not know how long commercial flights will remain available, nor do we know how long the U.S. government will be able to facilitate additional flights where commercial options no longer exist," Brownlee said in a briefing Monday. "It is imperative that U.S. citizens make plans now to avail themselves of these options."

Brownlee said the State Department received a slew of new requests for help from Americans stranded in Asia, including U.S. citizens seeking to leave India, where that country's president imposed a severe lockdown.

Brownlee said a significant number of Americans are deciding "to stay abroad and ride out this crisis where they are." Those who choose to do that, he said, "will need to hunker down where they are."

Brownlee confirmed reports that some American travelers have been placed under quarantine in a hostel in Peru, and he said the State Department is in talks "at the highest level" with Peruvian government officials to try to get them moved - or at least to ensure they get the food and medical care they need.

In the meantime, he said, those Americans must adhere to the quarantine restrictions.

The State Department's workforce has seen a relatively small number of COVID-19 infections: 75 cases among consular affairs employees working abroad and 30 State Department employees stationed in the USA, according to William Walters, managing director for operational medicine in the State Department's Bureau of Medical Services.

An additional 85 have been tested, and the results are pending, Walters said. Of the 75 cases overseas, he said, 21 people have recovered.

Asked about deaths, Walters said two locally employed State Department workers abroad died of the disease in their home countries.

- Deirdre Shesgreen

US Capitol extends closure until May

The U.S. Capitol will remain closed to public tours until at least May 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms announced Monday.

The Capitol will remain closed to tours, and its office buildings will be open only to lawmakers, staff, official visitors and credentialed media.

"We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public," Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, said in a statement. "We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary, but prudent, decision."

This month, the Capitol temporarily halted tours until the start of April. Since then, at least five members of Congress have contracted COVID-19, and dozens more have gone in and out of quarantine because of possible exposure to the illness.

- Christal Hayes

Federal officers caution against prison releases

Federal law enforcement officers cautioned Monday that an expanded release of prisoners to home confinement to guard against larger outbreaks of the coronavirus would shift an additional burden to short-staffed probation officers who would be required to track them.

"Allowing for the release of inmates at this time and before providing the additional resources and compensation needed to supervise them could easily cause more harm than good to the community," said Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

The group represents 26,000 officers across 65 agencies.

Last week, Attorney General William Barr directed federal prison authorities to identify more elderly and medically compromised inmates for home confinement to avoid the virus' spread inside the Bureau of Prisons' 122 institutions.

Lawmakers and civil rights advocates urge the Justice Department to reduce the number of vulnerable prisoners who would be most at risk of infection inside the nation's largest detention system.

Saturday, the federal prison system reported its first inmate death caused by the virus at a low-security facility in Louisiana, where at least four other inmates and three staffers have tested positive.

In all, 19 inmates and 19 staffers have tested positive for the virus, the BOP reported Monday.

"Once an inmate exits prison, whether they are released during their pretrial stage or post-conviction stage, it is the job of the brave men and women of the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Agency to supervise those formerly incarcerated individuals and ensure they no longer pose a threat to the American people," Cosme said. "Unfortunately, across the nation, probation and pretrial services offices have long been understaffed, causing an already apparent strain on the existing workforce."

- Kevin Johnson

Trump suggests that more voting would lead to defeats for Republicans

Protesting Democratic additions to the $2 trillion stimulus bill, President Donald Trump suggested Monday that laws making it easier to vote would hurt Republican candidates.

"The things they had in there were crazy," Trump said, describing negotiations for the stimulus bill he signed into law last week.

"They had things - levels of voting - that if you ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," he said.

The $2 trillion stimulus bill includes $400 million in assistance to states that seek to protect elections from possible disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats sought more money, saying elections are under threat because of the spread of the virus.

- David Jackson

Kremlin: Trump and Vladimir Putin agree to talks about the oil market

As the spread of coronavirus roils global energy markets, President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to schedule ministerial talks about the oil market, the Kremlin said Monday.

Putin and Trump "exchanged views on the current state of the world oil market," said a translated statement from the Kremlin. "We have agreed to hold Russian-American consultations on this issue through the energy ministers."

The statement said the two presidents "expressed serious concern about the scale of the spread of coronavirus in the world and informed each other about the measures taken in Russia and the United States to counter this threat."

The statement said, "The possibilities of closer cooperation between the two countries in this area were discussed," but it did not provide specifics.

Earlier in the day, Trump complained about the energy war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, oil-producing giants that have driven prices lower in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

"I never thought I'd be saying that maybe we have to have an oil (price) increase, because we do," Trump said in a morning interview with Fox News. "The price is so low now, they're fighting like crazy over distribution and over how many barrels to let go."

The White House said Trump and Putin "agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets." It said the two leaders agreed "to drive the international campaign to defeat the virus and reinvigorate the global economy."

Trump and Putin also discussed unrest in Venezuela, the White House statement said.

- David Jackson

Mnuchin: $2 trillion stimulus should get USA through next 8-12 weeks

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday that the massive economic rescue package signed into law last week is expected to help America endure the hardships caused by the coronavirus outbreak for the next two to three months.

"We have a lot of money as you know, over $2 trillion, to put to work. Plus, we can lever another $4 trillion with the Federal Reserve," Mnuchin told Fox Business host Stuart Varney. "We think this existing package gets us through the next 8-12 weeks."

Mnuchin said he expected the $350 billion in small-business loans included in the package to be ready for distribution starting Friday. He said he hoped the instructions and forms needed to apply for the loans would be available Monday.

The loans "should cover about 50% of the private workforce" and should help employers cover eight weeks of payroll, as well as 25% of their overhead, Mnuchin said.

"As long as they use that money to bring back their employees, or pay their employees, it will be forgiven," he said. "So this is a great way to get Americans back to work."

If the program is successful and uses up the available funds, Mnuchin said, it would be likely to get more approved.

"This is a very popular program with Republicans and Democrats, and the president likes it a lot," he said, noting that every worker who gets a paycheck through the loans is a worker who won't have to file for unemployment benefits.

When asked about Trump's suggestion during a "Fox & Friends" interview that first responders should get hazard pay during the outbreak, Mnuchin said it was a good idea.

"That's definitely something we will put in the next bill," he said.

Mnuchin said he had not started working on another stimulus bill to deal with the crisis, which would be the fourth such piece of legislation since it began, and he was focused on distributing the funds that were just approved.

"We're ready to work with Congress if we need more enhancements or additional funds," he said.

- William Cummings

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Steve Mnuchin says $2 trillion package to last 8-12 weeks


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