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Trump didn’t invite Pelosi to signing of $2 trillion coronavirus bill


  • President Donald Trump did not invite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or any Democrats, to the signing of the historic $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. 
  • The bill, which Pelosi played a key role in negotiating, is the largest economic stimulus in US history.
  • Though no Democrats were in the room when Trump signed the legislation, he thanked “Republicans and Democrats for coming together” to see it passed. 
  • Trump and Pelosi have had a tense relationship throughout his presidency, but especially since he was impeached in December. They reportedly haven’t spoken since October, despite multiple crises.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped negotiate the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but President Donald Trump did not invite her to the signing ceremony at the White House for the historic legislation. 

There were no Democrats in the room when Trump signed the bill on Friday — only Republicans were invited — even as the president touted the bipartisan efforts that led to the moment.

“I want to thank Republicans and Democrats for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first,” Trump said. 

 

The fact neither the House Speaker nor Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was also instrumental in the talks behind the bill, were invited to the signing amid a crisis of this magnitude is emblematic of the ongoing tension between Trump and the Democratic leaders. 

Trump and Pelosi have had a tense relationship throughout his presidency, but especially since he was impeached in December.

At Trump’s State of the Union address last month, the president snubbed the House Speaker when she attempted to shake his hand at the start. Following his address, Pelosi ripped up the transcript of the president’s speech. When asked by a reporter why she tore up the speech, Pelosi at the time said, “Because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.”

Pelosi and Trump have not spoken since October 16, aides told The Hill, marking a notably long absence in communication between the House Speaker and president as the US has faced multiple crises. 

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which passed in the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Friday, is the largest stimulus package in US history.

 

The legislation is aimed at giving the US economy a major boost amid the fallout linked to the pandemic, which has crippled major cities and left millions filing for unemployment.

The bill includes direct payments of $1200 to millions of Americans and significantly expands unemployment benefits, while also providing emergency loans for businesses and billions of dollars in aid for US hospitals. 

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The U.S. Has ‘A Moral Obligation’ To Help Venezuela Deal With Its Coronavirus Outbreak


The United States should temporarily suspend the punishing sanctions it has placed on the leaders and economies of Iran and Venezuela and bolster humanitarian aid in order to help both countries deal with worsening outbreaks of the coronavirus, 11 Democratic senators argued in a letter to the Trump administration Thursday afternoon.

“As these countries struggle to respond to their domestic health crises, U.S. sanctions are hindering the free flow of desperately needed medical and humanitarian supplies,” the senators wrote in the letter, which was led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

“While the shortcomings of these national governments are largely due to their endemic corruption, mismanagement, and authoritarian behavior, broad-based U.S. sanctions have exacerbated the failing medical response,” the letter said. “The Iranian and Venezuelan regimes are American adversaries, but the good people of these nations are not our enemy.”

The senators called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to temporarily suspend sanctions that may “impede” the delivery humanitarian assistance in Venezuela and Iran for 90 days and said the administration should clearly authorize the delivery of medical equipment like testing kits to the countries. The senators also said the administration should provide “unconditional aid” to Iran and Venezuela through a third-party country or organization. 

The letter added to the increasing calls on President Donald Trump to ease the sanctions he has placed on Venezuela and Iran, the latter of which now has nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,000 deaths linked to COVID-19. But the administration has refused to back down, saying this week it would not suspend or limit sanctions on Iran even in the midst of the crisis.  

Trump has taken an even more aggressive approach toward Venezuela, where he has wielded sanctions as the primary tool in his yearslong battle to oust socialist President Nicolás Maduro. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that the Justice Department would indict Maduro and other top officials on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. 

That announcement came as the South American nation is already in the midst of two major crises: an economic collapse that has devastated its currency and caused millions of Venezuelans to flee to other nations, and a political crisis during which the increasingly autocratic Maduro has faced internal and international efforts to dislodge him from power.  

Since March 13, when Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced Venezuela’s first two confirmed coronavirus cases, the number of infections has grown to more than 100. Maduro implemented a nationwide quarantine last week, but experts have warned that the pandemic could explode in Venezuela in the coming days, as the crisis-stricken economy and political system combine to exacerbate the global health crisis it now faces.

“I think what we’re going to see in Venezuela is a transmission rate that is far higher than anywhere else in the hemisphere and a mortality rate that’s significantly higher as well,” said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office for Latin America, a progressive think tank. “The things that we’re worried about in the United States are just a blip on the radar compared to how serious this crisis is going to be for public health in Venezuela.”

People line up to buy food and disinfectant, some wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the new co



People line up to buy food and disinfectant, some wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the new coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 26, 2020. 

Whether the Trump administration eases the sanctions or not, the United States has “a moral obligation” to help address the coronavirus outbreak in Venezuela, given that it has directly involved itself in the country’s affairs, said Fernando Cutz, who served as a Latin America adviser on the National Security Council under both Trump and former President Barack Obama. 

“What we need to do is create a real robust international aid package that is specific to COVID-19 and Venezuela,” Cutz said. “That’s a moral obligation because of the humanitarian crisis they’re going through, and because of our involvement in this crisis. We can’t say [it has] nothing to do with us. We are directly involved in Venezuela.”

Few places in the world are less prepared for a pandemic than Venezuela, which ranked 176th out of 195 countries and last among the 33 nations in Latin America in a 2019 measure of nations’ abilities to respond to a global health crisis. 

The economic collapse that has occurred under Maduro has left the country short on medical supplies, food and even basic needs like soap. Running water is a luxury many poor and working-class Venezuelans cannot afford, and in many of the barrios around Caracas and other cities, social isolation is borderline impossible. The economic crisis has led to widespread malnutrition and declines in health quality, especially among poorer Venezuelans. 

Venezuelan hospitals are “easily the worst” in Latin America, a region that already spends meager amounts on public health compared to most of the rest of the world, Ramsey said. The number of doctors, meanwhile, has been halved since 2015, as thousands of physicians have been among the estimated 4 million Venezuelans who’ve fled the country over the last four years. Those left behind are still professionally trained and capable, but they often lack access to even basic medicine. 

“The doctor can tell you what you have and what you need, but he doesn’t have anything to give you,” said Marianne Menjivar, the country director for Colombia and Venezuela at the International Rescue Committee. 

Maduro has continued to crack down on dissent as the outbreak has worsened: Venezuelan special forces arrested a journalist this week whose reporting had suggested the government was ill-prepared for the pandemic, and there is at least some distrust among Venezuelans in the government’s counting of cases, said Phil Gunson, a Venezuela expert at the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that works in crisis-stricken countries. 

Venezuela’s problems predate the sanctions the United States first began to implement in 2015, when Obama put restrictions on members of the Maduro government.

The Iranian and Venezuelan regimes are American adversaries, but the good people of these nations are not our enemy.
Democratic senators, led by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, in a letter to the Trump administration

Trump has ramped those sanctions up repeatedly to include dozens more officials; as part of his regime-change strategy, he has also expanded the sanctions to include a de facto embargo on Venezuelan oil and PDVSA, the state-owned oil company.

Food and medical supplies are exempt from the financial sanctions, a fact U.S. officials have reiterated over the last year to dispute arguments that the restrictions have primarily punished ordinary Venezuelans rather than members of the Maduro regime. But while Maduro’s own corruption and mismanagement may be the primary cause of Venezuela’s woeful state in the face of a pandemic, the aggressive nature of the sanctions, experts say, has also driven many organizations who want to facilitate food and medical deliveries to avoid Venezuela altogether out of fear that even exempted activities could draw scrutiny from the United States. 

“The reality is there’s widespread overcompliance with the financial sanctions that hampers the work of humanitarian organizations and restricts the ability of the government to be able to pay for badly needed medicine and medical goods,” Ramsey said.

Nicolás Maduro speaks at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 12, 2020. The first cases



Nicolás Maduro speaks at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 12, 2020. The first cases of the coronavirus in Venezuela were confirmed the next day.

Cutz, the former NSC official, has been critical of Trump’s sanctions-heavy approach in Venezuela but is skeptical that easing sanctions would have a dramatic impact on the country’s ability to stem the crisis. 

Rather, he suspects Maduro and his allies inside would siphon off money meant for relief in order to shore up the government’s meager cash reserves before sanctions were strengthened again. 

“If they had a different leader in place who would actually spend money on the people, that would be huge and that would be great,” Cutz said. “Given the patterns we’ve seen over the last decade-plus, Maduro would just spend the money on his cronies, on himself, on keeping himself in power, on saving for a rainy day when we tighten the belt again.”

But even if the U.S. doesn’t ease sanctions, Cutz said, it should issue clear guidance to humanitarian organizations that it will not target any group trying to deliver aid inside Venezuela. And the U.S. government should work to piece together an aid package itself, he argued, in order to help Venezuelans through the crisis. 

The Trump administration has likely already poisoned the well on its own ability to deliver aid to Venezuela, thanks to its politicization of a supposed humanitarian mission last year. It is unlikely Maduro would accept any aid directly from the United States.

As Murphy and the group of Democrats suggested Thursday, the U.S. could get around that problem by coordinating aid delivery through international partners and nongovernmental organizations already working in Venezuela, including the United Nations, the Red Cross or the Catholic Church, Cutz said. 

To simply reiterate the existing policy ― which is essentially that anything that helps induce the collapse of the government here is a good thing ― is extremely irresponsible. You will be responsible for instilling chaos.
Phil Gunson, International Crisis Group analyst in Caracas, Venezuela

The United States could also help ease tensions between Maduro and the opposition, which is led by National Assembly President Juan Guaidó ― whom the U.S. and more than 50 other nations regard as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

The U.S. has broadly opposed any negotiations between Guaidó and Maduro throughout the political crisis, but the two sides need to work together to implement a response ambitious enough to stem the spread of the virus. 

“We’re at this weird moment where in order to properly address the crisis, both Maduro and the National Assembly are going to have to set aside their political aspirations in the name of addressing the health needs of the Venezuelan population,” said Ramsey, of the Washington Office of Latin America. 

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “everything we’ve seen over the last week suggests that neither of the opposition nor the Maduro regime has much interest in reconciling with the other. I’m expecting the political crisis to make the health crisis far worse.”

The U.S. Senate has focused primarily on responding to the coronavirus outbreak at home, but discussions about how Congress may be able to help stem the crisis in other countries, including Iran and Venezuela, could intensify in the near future, a Senate aide told HuffPost this week. The group of Democratic senators also said in their letter that continuing the sanctions without providing aid would amount to a strategic error in the effort to reach political solutions in both Venezuela and Iran.

“By allowing our sanctions to contribute to the exceptional pain and suffering brought about by the coronavirus outbreaks in both nations, we play into the anti-Americanism that is at the heart of both regimes’ hold on power,” the senators wrote.

But the Trump administration seems wedded to its aggressive policy in Venezuela, with hard-liners seeing the coronavirus outbreak not as a threat to ordinary Venezuelans, but as an opportunity that could finally break Maduro.

That approach will be disastrous for Venezuela and for the Americas as a whole.

“To simply reiterate the existing policy ― which is essentially that anything that helps induce the collapse of the government here is a good thing ― is extremely irresponsible,” Gunson said from Caracas. “If you’re going to cause the collapse of government in the middle of a pandemic, then you will be responsible for instilling chaos.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus





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7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package


The Senate is set to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package as soon as Wednesday after clinching a deal shortly after 1 a.m. 

The bill marks an unprecedented attempt by the federal government to revive the economy and prevent a deep recession, as the quick spread of the coronavirus has upended day-to-day life in the United States. The 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), by comparison, was $700 billion. 

The legislation, part of which was still being negotiated on Wednesday afternoon, will have a far-reaching impact as it tries to pump money toward workers, small businesses and industries that have been impacted by the recent economic downturn. 

It’s expected to pass the Senate as soon as Wednesday, though its timeline through the House appears less certain as members on both sides of the aisle have suggested they would not support clearing it by unanimous consent.

Here are seven things to know: 

Cash assistance

The Senate bill will provide a one-time $1,200 check for an individual making up to $75,000 per year, or $2,400 for couples earning less than $150,000. After that, it would be scaled down until it reached a $99,000 income threshold for an individual, or $198,000 for a couple, and then phased out altogether. It also provides an additional $500 per child. 

The idea quickly gained steam with both the administration and senators as they tried to figure out a way to provide direct financial assistance to Americans. Supporters say the funding could help cover short-term costs like rent, groceries or utilities, while opponents argue it does little to stimulate the broader economy. 

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump team fiercely debates how long coronavirus restrictions should stay in place Rand Paul’s coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate Romney to self-quarantine after Paul tests positive MORE (R-S.C.) were vocal critics of the idea, instead pushing for expanded unemployment. Others, like Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyFive sticking points to a T coronavirus deal The Hill’s Morning Report — ,000,000,000,000: GOP unveils historic US rescue effort GOP senators raise concerns over smaller checks for lower earners MORE (R-Mo.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump on Romney’s negative coronavirus test: ‘I am so happy I can barely speak’ 15 things to know for today about coronavirus Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine MORE (R-Utah), took issue with a provision in the initial GOP draft that would have given those with little or no tax liability small checks — a minimum of $600. That restriction was ultimately dropped.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe pandemic is bad, we need the capability to measure just how bad Florida governor wants federal disaster area declaration Amash calls stimulus package ‘a raw deal’ for ‘those who need the most help’ MORE

Democrats got a provision tucked into the massive legislation that prevents businesses controlled by President Trump from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs included in the bill. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNew York cuts subway, bus, commuter rail service amid ridership drop, worker shortage Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi suggests coronavirus stimulus deal is near, but timing unsure MORE (D-N.Y.) told CNN that it applies to more than just Trump, but also to Vice President Pence, heads of executive departments and members of Congress, where four lawmakers have recently faced accusations of insider trading.  

“We wrote a provision, not just the president, but any major figure in government, Cabinet, Senate, congressmen — if they have majority, they have majority control, they can’t get grants or loans, and that makes sense. Those of us who write the law shouldn’t benefit from the law,” Schumer told CNN during an interview on Wednesday. 

The provision would also apply to children, spouses and in-laws of the individuals affected. 

Unemployment

The bill provides four months of bolstered unemployment benefits as Congress braces for a spike in jobless claims with the spread of the coronavirus curtailing businesses or closing them altogether. 

As part of the bipartisan package, the maximum unemployment benefit would be increased by $600. A GOP Finance Committee aide said the across-the-board increase was more practical because “each state has a different UI program.” 

But the unemployment insurance (UI) provision is sparking an 11th hour fight with four GOP senators pushing for an amendment vote that would cap unemployment insurance at 100 percent of wages. 

They argue that, as currently written, the bill could incentivize individuals not to work. The aide rebutted that, saying, “nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact it’s just the opposite.” 

Sens. Graham, Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate passes House’s coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump Teetering economy sparks talk of second stimulus package Bill Maher defends Chris Matthews, mocks harassment claim MORE (R-S.C.) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTwitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus spread Grants for airlines on the table, despite criticism of bailouts Tensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  MORE (R-Neb.) warned in a statement that they would oppose fast-tracking the bill over the provision unless they could get an amendment vote. 

Corporate fund

The bill includes a $500 billion corporate liquidity fund to help companies impacted by the coronavirus access credit. 

That includes $46 billion in direct financial assistance, with $25 billion for U.S. airlines, $4 billion for air cargo carriers and $17 billion for other distressed companies related to critical national security. 

The debate over what form of aid to give to airlines was one of the stickiest negotiations in the days-long fight over the stimulus package. Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump’s ‘due process’ remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.), who was at the center of the negotiations, said that he favored giving airlines low-interest loans but companies warned that the application process was not quick enough to prevent bankruptcy. 

“My preference would have been that like the other industries across America that will access credit through the 13(3) program — I would have preferred the direct funding from the Treasury to the airlines to be in the form of a loan, to be in the form of an extension of credit,” Toomey said. 

Schumer, in a letter to his colleagues, outlined a list of restrictions on the aid, including appointing an inspector general to provide oversight, similar to TARP, and “real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions under the Act.” 

It would also, according to Schumer, ban stock buybacks for the length of government assistance plus one year for companies receiving loans, and specifically prohibits airlines from stock buybacks or executive bonuses.

Healthcare 

In addition to economic assistance the bill includes $100 billion for hospitals, who have warned they could soon be overwhelmed by the steady increase in coronavirus cases. 

The bill requires boosting medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile amid reports that the country is facing a shortfall of key items like ventilators, masks and swabs used for coronavirus testing. 

It would also require health insurance companies to pay for coronavirus testing and increase funding for community health centers.

Border wall 

The Senate bill prevents the Pentagon from shifting $10.5 billion in coronavirus funding to a counter-drug account it has been using to fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

The bill would allow the Pentagon to transfer the coronavirus funds to other accounts “except for ‘Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities, Defense,’” according to a summary from the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

A Democratic summary of the bill described the language as intended to “prevent funds in this title from being diverted to build a wall on the southern border.”

Student loans

The bill would defer payments for federally-owned student loans for six months, through Sept. 30.

Democrats had wanted to go a step further by having the Department make federal student loan payments for the duration of the coronavirus health crisis. The department, under the Democratic plan, would then make an additional payment at the end to make sure every borrower had received $10,000 toward their student loan debt over the duration of the health emergency. 

— Alexander Bolton and Rebecca Kheel contributed 





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Biden Fumbles Interview: Why Doesn’t Trump Act Like A President? “That’s A Stupid Way To Say It, Sorry” | Video



Joe Biden said President Trump’s response to the coronavirus is akin to watching a yo-yo in an odd interview with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. Biden also said telling Trump to act like a president is a “stupid way to say it” and apologized for the comparison while adding it is best he doesn’t clarify what he meant.





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Trump’s tweets in defense of Asian-Americans from the racist attacks


  • President Donald Trump on Monday assured Americans that the Asian-Americans ought to be “totally” protected” in light of xenophobic attacks during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Trump made a marked departure from his previous comments in which he referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”
  • Trump’s message for unity was met with some criticism.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump on Monday said the Asian-American community ought to be “totally” protected” in light of xenophobic attacks during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.”

“They are working closely with us to get rid of it,” Trump added. “WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”

By referring to the coronavirus as a “Virus,” Trump made a marked departure from his previous comments in which he referred to it as the “Chinese virus.”

Trump’s prior characterization of the virus was widely criticized. While allies pointed to the coronavirus’s origins and defended the label, critics have claimed it was fueling racist behavior against Asians and that previous pandemics were never referred to their suspected country of origin.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose notoriety has recently grown, said he would never refer to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”

Trump’s comments on Twitter were later repeated verbatim during a press conference hours later. The president added that Asian-Americans were “incredible” and that they may have been subjected to “nasty language” in recent days.

“I don’t like that at all,” Trump said.

The remarks comes as numerous hate crimes have been reported by people of Asian descent around the world.

In a case reported by the New York Post earlier in March, an unidentified Asian man alleged a 44-year-old man named Raoul Ramos screamed at him for not wearing a mask while he was walking with his 10-year-old son in New York. Ramos, who is accused of hitting the Asian man in the head before fleeing, was arrested.

The Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the San Francisco State University have since created a website for people to report discriminatory behavior.

Trump’s message for unity was met with some criticism. Observers noted that Trump referred to Asian-Americans as “they” and other Americans as “us,” a tribalistic mentality appropriated by nationalist groups, according to social scientists.

Others thanked Trump for refraining from characterizing the coronavirus, which has been reported in roughly 168 countries, as Chinese.

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American Expert Axed From CDC Post In China Months Before Coronavirus Outbreak


WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) – Several months before the coronavirus pandemic began, the Trump administration eliminated a key American public health position in Beijing intended to help detect disease outbreaks in China, Reuters has learned.

The American disease expert, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue. The first cases of the new coronavirus may have emerged as early as November, and as cases exploded, the Trump administration in February chastised China for censoring information about the outbreak and keeping U.S. experts from entering the country to help.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Bao-Ping Zhu, a Chinese American who served in that role, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011. “If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster.”

Zhu and the other sources said the American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases. As an American CDC employee, they said, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier.

No other foreign disease experts were embedded to lead the program after Quick left in July, according to the sources. Zhu said an embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.

Zhu and the other sources said Quick could have provided real-time information to U.S. and other officials around the world during the first weeks of the outbreak, when they said the Chinese government tamped down on the release of information and provided erroneous assessments.

Quick left amid a bitter U.S. trade dispute with China when she learned her federally funded post, officially known as resident adviser to the U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in China, would be discontinued as of September, the sources said. The U.S. CDC said it first learned of a “cluster of 27 cases of pneumonia” of unexplained origin in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31.

Since then, the outbreak of the disease known as COVID-19 has spread rapidly worldwide, killing more than 13,600 people, infecting more than 317,000. The epidemic has overwhelmed healthcare systems some countries, including Italy, and threatens to do so in the United States and elsewhere.

In a statement to Reuters, the U.S. CDC said the elimination of the adviser position did not hinder Washington’s ability to get information and “had absolutely nothing to do with CDC not learning of cases in China earlier.”

A worker wearing a protective suit stands outside a hotel converted into a quarantine location for travelers from overseas in



A worker wearing a protective suit stands outside a hotel converted into a quarantine location for travelers from overseas in Beijing, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 

The agency said its decision not to have a resident adviser “started well before last summer and was due to China’s excellent technical capability and maturity of the program.”

The CDC said it has assigned two of its Chinese employees as “mentors” to help with the training program. The agency did not respond to questions about the mentors’ specific role or expertise.

“CDC has had a 30-year partnership with China CDC and close collaboration,” the statement said. “We had the right staff to engage China and ability to provide technical assistance were it requested.”

The CDC would not make Quick, who still works for the agency, available for comment.

Asked for comment on Chinese transparency and responsiveness to the outbreak, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred Reuters to remarks by spokesman Geng Shuang on Friday. Geng said the country “has adopted the strictest, most comprehensive, and most thorough prevention and control measures in an open, transparent, and responsible manner, and informed the (World Health Organization) and relevant countries and regions of the latest situation in a timely manner.”

One disease expert told Reuters he was skeptical that the U.S. resident adviser would have been able to get earlier or better information to the Trump administration, given the Chinese government’s suppression of information.

“In the end, based on circumstances in China, it probably wouldn’t have had made a big difference,” Scott McNabb, who was a CDC epidemiologist for 20 years and is now a research professor at Emory University. “The problem was how the Chinese handled it. What should have changed was the Chinese should have acknowledged it earlier and didn’t.”

Workers in protective suits lead travelers to their transport outside the new China International Exhibition Center converted



Workers in protective suits lead travelers to their transport outside the new China International Exhibition Center converted into a transit center for screening overseas arrivals in Beijing, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 

Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS)said Friday that his agency learned of the coronavirus in early January, based on Redfield’s conversations with “Chinese colleagues.”

Redfield learned that “this looks to be a novel coronavirus” from Dr. Gao Fu, the head of the China CDC, according to an HHS administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Dr. Redfield always talked to Dr. Gao,” the official said.

HHS and CDC did not make Azar or Redfield available for comment.

Zhu and other sources said U.S. leaders should not have been relying on the China CDC director for alerts and updates. In general, they said, officials in China downplayed the severity of the outbreak in the early weeks and did not acknowledge evidence of person-to-person transmission until Jan. 20.

After the epidemic exploded and China had imposed strict quarantines, Trump administration officials complained that the Chinese had censored information about the outbreak and that the United States had been unable to get American disease experts into the country to help contain the spread.

Azar told CNN on Feb. 14 that he and CDC director Redfield officially offered to send a CDC team into China on Jan. 6 but still had not received permission for them to enter the country. HHS oversees the CDC.

“Dr. Redfield and I made the offer on January 6th – 36 days ago, 60,000 cases and 1,300 deaths ago,” Azar said. “We made the offer to send the CDC experts in to assist their Chinese colleagues to get to the bottom of key scientific questions like, how transmissible is this disease? What is the severity? What is the incubation period and can there be asymptomatic transmission?”

Days later, the World Health Organization secured permission to send a team that included two U.S. experts. The team visited between Feb. 16th and 24th. By then, China had reported more than 75,000 cases.

On Feb. 25, the first day the CDC told the American public to prepare for an outbreak at home, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of mishandling the epidemic through its “censorship” of medical professionals and media.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since then, as Trump has labeled the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” – a description the Chinese have condemned as stigmatizing. Last week, the Chinese government announced that Americans from three U.S. news organizations, The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, would be expelled from China.

The decision to eliminate Quick’s job came as the CDC has scaled back the number of U.S. staffers in China over the last two years, the sources told Reuters.

“We had already withdrawn many technical public health experts,” the same expert said.

The CDC, however, disputed that staffing was a problem or that its information had been limited by the move. “It was not the staffing shortage that limited our ability” it said.

The U.S. CDC team in Beijing now includes three American citizens in permanent roles, an additional American who is temporary and around 10 Chinese nationals, the agency said. Of the Americans, one is an influenza expert with expertise in respiratory disease. Coronavirus is not influenza, though it is a respiratory disease.

The CDC team, aside from Quick, was housed at U.S. Embassy facilities. No American CDC staffer besides Quick was embedded with China’s disease control agency, the sources said.

China in recent weeks has reported a dramatic slowdown in new cases, the result of drastic containment measures including the lockdown of Hubei province, home to 60 million people.

Nevertheless, the infectious disease experts who spoke with Reuters said, the United States could use people like Quick with contacts on the ground, especially if fears of a second wave of infections materializes.

Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the CDC, said that if the U.S. resident adviser had still been in China, “it is possible that we would know more today about how this coronavirus is spreading and what works best to stop it.”

Dr. George Conway, a medical epidemiologist who knows Quick and had served as resident advisor between 2012 and 2015, said funding for the position had been tenuous for years because of a perennial debate among U.S health officials over whether China should be paying for funding its own training program.

Yet since the training program was launched in 2001, the sources familiar with it say, it has not only strengthened the ranks of Chinese epidemiologists in the field, but also fostered collegial relationships between public health officials in the two countries.

“We go there as credentialed diplomats and return home as close colleagues and often as friends,” Conway said.

In 2007, Dr. Robert Fontaine, a CDC epidemiologist and one of the longest serving U.S. officials in the adviser’s position, received China’s highest honor for outstanding contributions to public health due to his contribution as a foreigner in helping to detect and investigate clusters of pneumonia of unknown cause.

But since last year, Frieden and others said, growing tensions between the Trump administration and China’s leadership have apparently damaged the collaboration.

“The message from the administration was, ‘Don’t work with China, they’re our rival,’” Frieden said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taylor reported from Washinton; Tony Munroe contributing from Beijing





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GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats


Senate Republicans say they are drafting the text of a mammoth stimulus package to stem the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, even as they have not yet locked in an agreement on the legislation with Democrats. 

GOP senators and White House aides said they are drafting the legislation to reflect areas of agreement with Democrats, as well as writing the final sticking points to reflect what they think could win over Democratic support. 

 

“What the leader has instructed his committees to, with our support, is to finish drafting legislation that reflects agreements reached so far and that the chairman and the majority believe Democrats could be in a position to support by the time we vote,” said Eric Ueland, the director of legislative affairs for the White House. 

 

Ueland added that ongoing work was “refining the understandings that we already have” as well as where the GOP chairmen “believe” there could be deals with Democrats by the time the forthcoming stimulus package will get a vote on the Senate floor. 

 

One option, described by Ueland, would be to put the text of areas that are not agreed to in brackets, to reflect that they are still in flux. 

 

 

“Negotiation isn’t over but we’re going to have a massive bill that has both Republican and Democrat ideas in it,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been leading the tax discussions, told reporters after a closed-door GOP meeting early Saturday evening. 

 

 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been leading the small business talks, said he felt good about the small business provisions of the bill, which he said he would be in the $350 billion range, but stopped short of saying if Democrats had agreed to the details. 

 

“I think we have a work product that is agreed to in terms of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. 

 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has been a part of the tax and unemployment discussions, said that the text would reflect a “Democrat and Republican approach.” 

 

“You’re not going to have a product that’s signed off by everybody tonight because there’s still a couple of outstanding issues, but it will include a lot of Democratic ideas,” he said.

 

Republicans want to see text of the bill before a first procedural vote scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m.

 

 

“I think there’s still a lot of drafting work to be done but the base text is coming out from the different working groups,” Thune said. “There are still final negotiations that are going on but I think generally speaking the building blocks of this thing are pretty much in place.” 

 





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CNN’s John King: What Trump Did To NBC’s Peter Alexander Is “Reprehensible,” Trademark “Bullshit Attack” | Video



CNN’s John King called President Trump’s admonishment of NBC News reporter Peter Alexander at Friday’s White House coronavirus taskforce briefing “bullshit.” Alexander asked the president what he would say to Americans “watching you right now who are scared.”

King said the Trump trademark behavior was “reprehensible,” especially since it was a legitimate question with “no shade” attached to it.

“This is a Trump trademark,” King said to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. “It was striking that this came, this, forgive me, bullshit attack on fake news came just moments after the Secretary of State said the American people needed to be careful about where they get their information, and go to sources they can trust.”

“That was a 100% legitimate question with no hype, no shade, no bias, he just wanted to attack,” King said.

JOHN KING: Peter Alexander said talk to the people out there who are at home who are frightened. Give them some advice. Instead of offering that advice, that comfort, the president did this:

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS: What do you say to the Americans were scared, though? I guess nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. Go ahead.

ALEXANDER: Mr. President–

TRUMP: — I think that’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope and you’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast. I call it Concast. Let me just–just–for whom you work. Let me just tell you something. That’s really bad reporting and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it but who knows? I’ve been right a lot. Let’s see what happens. John.

KING: I sat in that room for just shy of 10 years. It was a perfectly valid question. What the president did to Peter Alexander is reprehensible. The American people are looking for answers. They do want hope. They do want support, Mr. President. That was a very fair question. Our Kaitlan Collins is in the briefing room. She was there for this contentious briefing.

Kaitlin, this is a Trump trademark, this is a Trump trademark. It was striking that this came, this, forgive me, bullshit attack on fake news came just moments after the Secretary of State said the American people needed to be careful about where they get their information, and go to sources they can trust.

I get there at times disagreements, there are times contention between politicians and reporters. That was a 100% legitimate question with no hype, no shade, no bias, he just wanted to attack.





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Photos show Trump’s crowded coronavirus press conferences


  • President Donald Trump has been sending mixed messages about the severity of the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began.
  • While he has urged Americans to maintain “social distancing,” the president and his coronavirus task force have been seen shaking hands, touching their faces, and gathering in crowds.
  • But as US cases surge over 13,000, the president seems to be taking his own advice.
  • At Thursday’s press conference, there were far fewer people on stage.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the CDC has been issuing guidelines on the importance of avoiding close contact with others and frequently washing hands. On Monday, President Donald Trump advised Americans to maintain “social distancing” by avoiding gatherings of 10 people or more.

But during his COVID-19 press conferences, he and other officials haven’t always followed their own advice.

The president and his coronavirus task force team have gathered in large groups, shaken hands, and been spotted touching their faces. Over time, the White House has limited the number of reporters allowed in the briefing room and is taking temperatures of people present, but there are still a large number of people in the room.

When asked whether they would limit the number of people at the press conferences going forward, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Business Insider, “We have limited them.”

These photos show what White House press conferences have looked like from February to present, as the novel coronavirus has infected more than 13,000 people and killed 176 in the US, and the CDC guidelines have gotten stricter and stricter.



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Trump Compared To Coronavirus In GOP Group’s Brutal New Attack Ad



A new attack ad from the Lincoln Project brutally compares President Donald Trump to the coronavirus.

The ad, titled “Virus in the World,” shows scenes of empty streets, labs, and hospital rooms as an ominous voice intones:

There’s a virus in the world. For some people the virus is easy to see, others don’t see it at all.

Some say the virus isn’t that bad; others say its malicious … and dangerous.

Since there are those who still can’t see it, wouldn’t it be smart, to tell the truth about the virus, since there is a virus?

The ad seems to reference conditions created by the novel coronavirus, which has now spread to over 150 countries, resulting in more than 200,000 confirmed cases and more than 8,000 deaths as of Wednesday evening. The virus’ spread has prompted schools and businesses to close, and health organizations to urge social distancing.

The ad concludes, however, by showing a photo of Trump, not the coronavirus.

The ad is the brainchild of the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans dedicated to defeating the president in the 2020 election. Members include George Conway, husband of White House strategist Kellyanne Conway, and GOP strategist Rick Wilson.

Lincoln Project co-founder Jennifer Horn told The Hill that the coronavirus crisis has “once again” revealed the president is ”dangerously unfit for office.”

She added: “A public health crisis of this magnitude requires informed and honest leadership, at a minimum.

The new ad comes less than a week after the Lincoln Project released “Grifters,” an ad where a fake Ivanka Trump excitedly lists all the financial benefits the family has enjoyed since “Daddy” was elected.

The Lincoln Project also just released “Unfit,” an ad that uses the president’s repeated downplaying of the virus’ impact against him.





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