WASHINGTON – A member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff has tested positive for coronavirus, the White House said Friday, marking the first such infection within the top rungs of the administration.
Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Pence, did not identify the staffer, nor did she say specifically where the individual worked. Pence is leading the administration’s coronavirus task force and has been a regular presence at the president’s side in recent weeks.
“This evening we were notified that a member of the Office of the Vice President tested positive for the Coronavirus,” Miller said in statement. “Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence had close contact with the individual.”
Miller said contact tracing was being conducted in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pence said Monday that he had not been tested for the virus. Trump was tested and said his test was negative.
The vice president’s office did not immediately respond to questions about where the staff member worked or whether Pence had been tested sometime this week.
“I have not been tested yet,” Pence said Monday. “I’m in regular consultation with the White House physician, and he said I’ve not been exposed to anyone for any period of time that had the coronavirus, and that my wife and I have no symptoms.”
– John Fritze
Trump: GM moving toward making ventilators, but questions remain
President Donald Trump said Friday that General Motors was moving toward refitting plants to make breathing ventilators, though it remained unclear if it was feasible for the automaker to do so.
Earlier in the week, GM confirmed it had talked to Trump administration officials about possibly using its production capacity to produce medical equipment in short supply.
But on Friday, Trump appeared to take the prospect of that happening even further, telling a reporter who asked if automakers were refitting plants to make ventilators, “I can’t say they are but they will be.”
Jim Cain, a spokesman for GM, did not confirm or deny Trump’s statement.
“Discussions and studies are taking place on how GM could support production of medical equipment like ventilators. We will provide additional information as it becomes available,” he said.
– Todd Spangler and Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press
Bloomberg campaign laid off staffers who may have been at risk of COVID-19 exposure
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg notified workers Thursday night from his New York headquarters that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus, and asked them to work from home, according to POLITICO.
Then, the campaign laid-off hundreds of workers, including some of those from New York, meaning that they will lose health insurance at the end of March, in the middle of the pandemic.
Bloomberg, who ended his campaign at the beginning of March, had originally told staffers they would be paid until November, even if he wasn’t the candidate. However, after he ended the campaign, he signaled to staffers they would only be paid until March 31, but could work on a super PAC he set out to build to boost the Democratic nominee in critical swing states in November.
On Friday, Bloomberg announced he was abandoning those plans, and would rather pair with the DNC.
– Savannah Behrmann
McConnell sets clock on coronavirus bill that could offer cash to Americans
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on a third coronavirus package, setting up the possibility of a vote Monday on the bill that aims to offer cash to Americans and help to both small businesses and airlines.
The move comes as senators continue to negotiate the details of the measure, with lawmakers huddling in groups to hammer out key details that will need to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House.
The bill has not been finalized and is still being altered and drafted by staff as senators continue negotiations. McConnell has set a goal of reaching a deal by the end of Friday and passing the bill by Monday.
The procedural move means the Senate could vote on Sunday to start debate on the bill before voting on the legislation on Monday.
If approved, the legislation would be sent to the House then to President Trump for his signature.
– Christal Hayes
Trump: Department of Education won’t enforce standardized testing
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will issues opinions Monday – but without taking the bench.
The justices met for their regular private conference Friday – but several of them joined by phone.
And in the most poignant sign of the times: They did not shake hands, a venerable tradition.
Those were among the updates issued Friday by court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg following the justices’ regularly scheduled conference, held during highly irregular times.
“All of the justices are healthy,” Arberg said in a statement issued by the court. “Like all of us, the justices are following public health guidance. The justices are temporarily foregoing their traditional handshake.”
While their work continues in private, the justices won’t sit in session Monday to issue opinions, and hard copies won’t be distributed. That will mark a first since the court effectively decided the 2000 presidential election with its ruling in Bush v. Gore.
– Richard Wolf
Trump on complaints about tests: ‘I’m not hearing it’
President Donald Trump said he’s not hearing concerns about Americans not being able to get coronavirus tests.
“I’m not hearing it,” Trump told reporters when pressed on complaints from Americans who can’t get a test.
But one of Trump’s top health aides – Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – said he has heard stories of testing problems. But he argued that things are getting better.
“I get the same calls that many of you get,” Fauci told reporters. “That someone goes into a place who has a system and wants a test and for one reason or other … they can’t get it.”
He added: “That is a reality that’s happening now. Is it the same as a few weeks ago? Absolutely not.”
Trump also said “we don’t want everybody to go out and get a test, because there’s no reason for it” if you aren’t sick.
Fauci basically agreed with him, saying “universal testing” should not be the issue.
Tests only determine who has coronavirus, and people shouldn’t take them unless they are exhibiting symptoms. Fauci said the emphasis should be on stopping the spread of coronavrius and treating those who contract it.
“Let’s not conflate testing with the action we have to take,” Fauci said.
– David Jackson and John Fritze
Trump on experimental drugs: ‘What the hell do you have to lose?’
Blowing off criticism he is hyping the potential benefits of experimental drugs on coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Friday repeated a question he used to ask voters during his 2016 presidential campaign.
“What the hell do you have to lose?” Trump said during an argument with a reporter over the president’s habit of overstating actions to fight the virus.
On Monday, Trump touted two drugs he said show “really good promise” to fight coronavirus and are soon available for “delivery” – the Food and Drug Administration later had to clarify that the drugs have not been approved, though testing of them is being expedited.
Trump said “good things” are happening on the drug front.
“Let’s see what happens; we have nothing to lose,” Trump said. “You know the expression – what the hell do you have to lose?’
– David Jackson
Trump asked to address fearful Americans
President Donald Trump lashed out at an NBC reporter who asked him what he would say to people who are afraid with the outbreak of coronavirus
“I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” said Trump, who accused the reporter Peter Alexander of sensationalism. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Trump used the opportunity to make a dig at the media in general, saying he sees false news stories. However, he didn’t mention a specific report.
Pressed by another reporter on his message to people who are frightened, Trump stressed there are “very low incidences of death” from the virus.
“My message to the American people is … you’ve done an incredible job. There is tremendous hope. I think we’re going to come out stronger, bigger and better.”
– Michael Collins
Trump: national lockdown not ‘necessary’
President Donald Trump said he doesn’t see the need for a national lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“I don’t think we’ll ever find that necessary,” he said.
State and local governments are putting in place more strict measures – like shelter-in-place orders – to restrict the the virus’ spread.
– David Jackson
Pence: Congress may act early next week on stimulus
Vice President Mike Pence said Congress may act early next week on a package to reinvigorate the economy amid the stock market downfall resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a plan Thursday that includes cash assistance for individual Americans and businesses. McConnell said Friday he hopes Democratic and Republican senators can come to a deal by midnight so he can set up a vote on Monday.
– Michael Collins
CDC suspending entry of people entering US illegally from Mexico and Canada
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is suspending the entry of certain people into the United States, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced.
The suspension applies to people coming from Mexico and Canada who are seeking to enter the U.S. illegally and would normally be held in a border station.
“We’re talking about significant numbers of illegal immigrants,” Azar said.
– Michael Collins
US-Mexico border closed to non-essential travel
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that “the U.S. and Mexico have agreed to restrict non-essential travel across our state border” to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“As we did with Canada, we’re also working with Mexico to implement new rules at our ports of entry to suspend nonessential travel,” President Donald Trump said. “These new rules and procedures will not impede lawful trade and commerce.” Trump also said that Mexico is also suspending air travel from Europe.
The expected announcement follows the closure of the border between the U.S. and Canada to nonessential travel, which was announced Wednesday. Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters the closure would happen at midnight Friday.
Pompeo also warned Americans who travel abroad that their travel plans may be interrupted.
Pompeo said the government is prepared to “use all of the tools we can” to help U.S. citizens stranded in other countries get back to the U.S. Those efforts involve commercial and private flights, he said, and when space is available on military planes, “we will bring them back on those flights.”
“It’s a full government effort,” he said.
– John Fritze, Michael Collins and David Oliver
Trump says he put Defense Production Act ‘into gear,’ but sends mixed signals
President Donald Trump said Friday that he put the Defense Production Act “into gear” but did not specify how and repeatedly sent mixed signals about what steps his administration has taken.
Trump signed an executive order this week invoking the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, allowing the federal government broad authority to instruct private businesses to help meet the needs of national defense. But the president has so far chosen not to use the powers to demand additional equipment.
That reticence has come as governors and local officials say they need a significant influx of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus, especially ventilators and protective masks for first responders.
But Trump was unclear Friday about whether he had directed companies to make more masks and protective gear. At first he indicated that he had, and then said he hasn’t had to because they have come forward on their own to voluntarily produce the equipment.
“So far we have not had to,” he said. “It is an amazing thing that has happened. We are being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that want to do the work. They want to help our country with that.”
Asked again a few minutes later whether he had ordered companies to produce supplies under the act, Trump said, “I have.” Asked how many and which supplies, specifically, Trump said: “A lot.”
He said he didn’t want to name the companies but then said he asked General Motors to produce equipment for the government. The automaker was reportedly exploring converting its manufacturing plants to produce ventilators.
– John Fritze and Michael Collins
Trump: Standard testing won’t be enforced for students
President Donald Trump said that the Department of Education would no longer enforce standardized testing requirements for students in elementary through high school for the current school year.
“We’re not going to be enforcing that,” Trump said. “I think a lot of the students are probably going to be very happy,” but acknowledged that some of them would not.
Trump also said he spoke with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., saying “Democrats are very much wanting something to happen” on an economic stimulus. He said he also spoke at length with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Here’s what else was said at the news briefing:
Trump addressed the decision to move back Tax Day to July: “We’re moving it out to July 15 so that people will have time. Hopefully by that time people will be getting back to their lives.”
Trump praised the governors of California and New York for imposing more strict lockdowns in their states in the past day. “I applaud them,” he said. “They’re taking very strong, bold steps.”
Trump said the U.S. has learned a lot about relying on other countries during the coronavirus pandemic: “Some good things came out of it,” he said. Some were not so good, he added.
– John Fritze and Michael Collins
Trump tells Schumer he will use Defense Production Act to boost ventilator supply
President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talked this morning about coronavirus and the struggling supply of ventilators, the life-saving devices crucial to treating the respiratory effects of COVID-19.
When the New York Democrat urged the president to invoke the Defense Production Act to help get ventilators, the president yelled to someone in his office to “do it now,” according to a readout of the call from Schumer’s office.
Earlier this week, Trump did invoke the Defense Production Act but only vowed to use it if necessary. The measure allows the federal government broad authority to instruct private businesses to help meet the needs of national defense. In the case of coronavirus, that means the production of ventilators and protective masks for first responders.
– Christal Hayes
Indiana moves back primary election
Indiana’s primary election will move from May 5 to June 2, according to state and party officials.
All dates corresponding with the primary election will be moved by 28 days to reflect the new date of the primary. For example, military and overseas ballots are required to mailed 45 days prior to the primary election, so they’ll move 45 days prior to June 2.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made the announcement Friday along with state Secretary of State Connie Lawson, state Republican Party Chair Kyle Hupfer and state Democratic Party Chair John Zody.
– The Indianapolis Star
Ivanka Trump tests negative for coronavirus
Ivanka Trump has tested negative for coronavirus and is back at work at the White House, officials said Friday.
The president’s daughter and advisor began staying home after a senior Australian government official announced he was infected with the virus, just a week after posing for pictures with her and other government officials during a visit to Washington, D.C.
In the past week, Ivanka Trump “has followed social distancing best practices at her home,” a White House statement said. “At the advisement of her doctors, due to lack of symptoms and consistently healthy physician checks, Advisor Trump will be working from the White House today.”
– David Jackson
McConnell aiming for stimulus deal by midnight
More than two dozen senators from both parties gathered Friday morning to nailing down a deal on a massive emergency stimulus package to help workers and businesses impacted by the coronavirus.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he aimed for leaders in both parties to come to a deal in principle by midnight, allowing him to start the procedural mechanisms that could tee up a vote on the roughly $1 trillion package on Monday.
He said the meeting allowed the large pool of senators to break up into four groups to discuss various aspects of the legislation McConnell introduced Thursday. The bill includes direct payments of $1,200 to individuals and assistance to businesses to deal with the health and economic harm from the pandemic.
“I task these bipartisan teams to reach agreement by the end of the day today,” McConnell told reporters outside the meeting. “The Secretary of the Treasury has indicated it’s important for us to be on the Senate floor and to pass the measure on Monday.”
– Christal Hayes
Democrats have objections to McConnell’s plan
The meeting does not include members of the Democratic-led House, who will also have to approve the measure before it can go to President Donald Trump for approval.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday McConnell’s proposal doesn’t do enough for workers.
Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters outside the meeting that he and other senators “need to work together to get something big and bold that helps the American people.” But, he added, there are issues with the proposal offered by McConnell.
Schumer noted the need for additional paid sick and family leave and bolstered unemployment insurance for workers being laid off. He also highlighted additional help for hospitals and Democrats’ issues with offering money to airlines and other big industries impacted.
“We are not going to go for any bailouts unless they are worker-friendly. The money goes to workers, employees, and no stock buybacks—none of that is in [Sen. McConnell’s] bill,” Schumer said. “We’re going to fight hard to get them in the bill, and get it done.”
– Christal Hayes
Pentagon: coronavirus cases in the military surge to 124
Cases of coronavirus in the military surged to 124 on Friday, the Pentagon reported. The total from Thursday was 81.
At 5 a.m., there were 67 troops with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, an increase of 16 from Thursday. There were also 26 family members and 31 civilian employees and dependents with the virus.
Three service members and one contractor have recovered.
Meanwhile, the staff for the military’s two, 1,000-bed hospital ships began reporting for duty today. The ships, however, will not be ready to sail for some time. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox & Friends that the USS Comfort would not be ready to deploy to New York until April. The USS Mercy, on the West Coast, will be ready sooner.
– Tom Vanden Brook
McConnell’s $1,200 cash assistance plan leaves out workers, Dems say
Negotiations in Congress continue over a massive stimulus package to blunt the economic effects of the coronavirus as Democrats expressed opposition to a plan rolled out by Republicans Thursday that would provide direct cash payments to Americans.
McConnell’s plan includes direct payments of $1,200 to individuals. Married couples would be eligible for up to $2,400 in assistance with an additional $500 for every child. The Kentucky Republican’s pitch would also lend to distressed industries like airlines.
In a statement released Thursday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they were reviewing the proposal but “on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers.”
Democrats have expressed opposition to the lending to airlines and other industries, saying such an action benefits business’ bottom lines rather than helping employees.
“One of the reasons industries are so short on cash right now is that they have spent billions buying back their own stocks instead of investing in their workers and saving for a rainy day,” Schumer wrote on Twitter Thursday evening. “That needs to be addressed NOW.”
They also object to being shut out of the original drafting process. McConnell divided up Republican senators into three task forces that devised different parts of the proposed legislation.
In an interview with CNN Thursday night, McConnell said it was a decision made in favor of speed.
“This is the quickest way to get it done. Trust me, this is the quickest way to get it done, exactly the way we’re doing it,” he said.
Calls for resignations for senators who sold stock after coronavirus briefings
Figures on both sides of the aisle called for senators who sold stock before coronavirus sent the market into a plunge to resign. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., an outspoken progressive voice, called the sales “stomach-churning” and called for Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. to resign.
It is stomach-churning that the first thoughts these Senators had to a dire & classified #COVID briefing was how to profit off this crisis.
They didn’t mobilize to help families, or prep response. They dumped stock.
Sen. Loeffler needs to resign, too. https://t.co/3lx1Bjt4be
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 20, 2020
And Fox News host Tucker Carlson slammed Burr on his program, calling on him to explain his actions “immediately” or else he should resign and wait for prosecution for insider trading.
“There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis, and that appears to be what happened,” Carlson said.
Both Loeffler and Burr have denied the accusations. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., also sold stocks ahead of the market volatility.
Tucker Carlson calls for Senator Burr to resign and await prosecution for insider trading if he cannot provide a reasonable explanation for his actions. He goes on to say it appears that Senator Burr betrayed his country in a time of crisis pic.twitter.com/q7yJa5wjuA
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) March 20, 2020
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Member of Pence’s staff tests positive for coronavirus