What the U.S. federal government is doing to fight COVID-19

What the U.S. federal government is doing to fight COVID-19

JUDY WOODRUFF: For the latest on the federal
response, we turn now to our Lisa Desjardins, who’s been tracking the fast-moving developments
on Capitol Hill, and Yamiche Alcindor, who’s following all of the news coming out of the
White House. Hello to both of you. So, Yamiche, first, what details do we have
at this point about the administration’s proposals, this economic stimulus package they have been
rolling out? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, this morning, there
was a major announcement at the White House. President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve
Mnuchin both said that they are backing a plan to give every single American, except
for maybe wealthy Americans, checks, individual checks, to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Now, they said that millionaires might be
exempt from that. But the president says people are hurting and they need to get cash now.
Now, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that he thinks that this could happen
as early as in the next two weeks if Congress act quickly enough. He said that the checks could be up to $1,000
each — for each person. The president, though, has also been on the phone with executives
from industries like the restaurant industry, the cruise ship industry, supply chain industries,
and he wants to have billions of dollars go to those industries as well. Now, the White House is also pressing Congress,
they say, to pass the bill that was passed in the House. They want GOP senators now who
have some issues with the bill on the House side, they want them to just vote for the
bill, so they can get that out the way, so that they can start working on this trillion-dollar
stimulus package. But it was remarkable to hear the president
say that he wants everyday Americans to get a check in the mail to deal with this virus. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, separately, proposals
by the Congress to do something about all this. What are you hearing there? LISA DESJARDINS: There are competing plans. The Republicans and the White House want this
kind of payment to individuals. Democrats say, wait a minute, we have a different plan.
We think other things are the priority for the big stimulus deal coming. Let’s look at what Democratic Leader Chuck
Schumer was proposing today, $750 billion, near to what the White House is talking about
in amount,, but different in where it would go. First, $400 billion would go to hospitals
for medical supply, to beef up health workers in sort of rural hospitals all around the
country. Then, the rest of it, $350 billion, in Democrats’
plan, would go to the unemployed, to workers who’ve been laid off or who are losing time
on the job. Now, could they talk about including a payment
in this deal? Chuck Schumer did not close the door to that, Judy. But the truth is,
these negotiations are going to be tricky. And I asked him, maybe there’s yet another
bill after this. He said, yes, there could now be multiple stimulus bills coming down
the pike. Note that, in the Democrats’ bill and in the
White House proposal, there’s not specific money for industries that have been affected,
like the airlines. People might get money in their pocket, but are they going to buy
an airline ticket soon? All of this is what Congress is trying to work out. JUDY WOODRUFF: Yet to come. And, lest we forget, it seems like a long
time ago, but it was just a few days ago that the House passed a relief bill, stimulus bill. LISA DESJARDINS: Right. JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s happened to that? LISA DESJARDINS: Right. As Yamiche reported, the White House has been
pressing along with House Democrats to get that through. And, in fact, I can report now
that Leader McConnell has said it will pass through the Senate. It’s a question of when,
in the next two to three days, as soon as tonight. It’s a procedural issue. McConnell told me he has told Republicans
to gag and swallow it. They don’t love it. But I want to review — it’s very important.
This will be the first direct help for Americans affected by the virus passed by Congress.
Let’s look at what’s in it. This is the Families First Act. This will allow for two weeks of
paid sick time for people directly affected by the virus, three months of leave time for
those who have to care for a child whose school has been closed. Now,businesses with fewer than 500 workers
only must account for this. Larger businesses do not have to pay for this sick time. That’s
a problem Democrats have with this, a concession they made. All of the businesses will have to pay this
sick time up front. They will receive the tax credit later. That is also a problem that
the lawmakers are hoping to address soon. One more thing, Judy, I want to go through
the timing ahead, because I know it’s confusing, over all these bills. First, in the next three
days, pass that Families First Act for the people who are sick, basically, getting them
some help with their sick time and child care. Then, the Senate Republicans plan to work
on their own on a possible stimulus bill, come up with their idea. Then Republicans
say they will get together with the White House and Democrats to negotiate. Democrats
say, that’s ridiculous. Let’s just start the negotiating now. But Leader McConnell wants his Republicans
to have time to come up with their own plan. How long will that take? We don’t know. JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, a race against time. LISA DESJARDINS: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Yamiche, separately, at
the White House, they looked at public health proposals. Tell us what they’re saying in that regard. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the president said
he’s approaching the coronavirus outbreak like we are now a nation at war. He said that this feels like wartime and that
Americans should be looking at this as if they can do anything that they possibly can
for their nation. He says, be vigilant, do what you can, to help this virus outbreak
stop in this country. On testing, specifically something that’s
been on the mind of a lot of Americans every single day, the White House says that the
FDA, which is a large governing body that has looked at — that looks at drugs and testing,
they are now giving some states the ability to look at and develop and approve their own
testing, so that the states, like Massachusetts and other places, can come up with their tests
and use those tests. The president, though, has been getting some
pushback when it comes to public health, because he’s been referring to the virus as a Chinese
virus. And there are also some White House officials who call it the kung-flu virus today. There are a lot of critics of the president
who say that that is racist language, that that’s xenophobic. The president, though,
says that that is accurate language to use. He’s saying that he’s pushing back on China
because they’re saying that U.S. service members were the ones who brought this over from China. But what we see here, of course, is the president
pushing back pretty hard. But this is a real cultural issue here that the president’s having
to deal with, as he’s also trying to tell people, stay safe, stay vigilant. But people are saying also don’t target Asian
Americans in this country. JUDY WOODRUFF: And just, finally, at least
at a time when everybody’s being told to stay home, how is Congress actually going to keep
working through this? LISA DESJARDINS: I asked Leader McConnell
about this. There is a scenario in which the Senate, after
it passes whatever next stimulus bill, takes some time off from Washington. He’s not willing
to commit to that yet. He will say that the rules of the Senate will not change. Even though Democrats are interested in the
idea of remote voting, Leader McConnell said no. Instead, what they would do is lengthen
out a roll call vote, imagine this, so that senators would come in smaller groups to the
floor of the Senate, two, three, four, five at a time, rather than in groups of 10 or
more, an extraordinary change, but Mitch McConnell says no rule change would he allow in the
Senate, no remote voting. JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting, trying to figure
out the politics of that. LISA DESJARDINS: Yes, indeed. (LAUGHTER) JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, thank you
very much. And now, for the wider response by the Departments
of State and Defense, our Nick Schifrin is here with me now. So, Nick, it was both the secretary of state
and the secretary of defense who had news conferences today. What did they have to say? NICK SCHIFRIN: So, first Secretary of Defense
Mark Esper laid out how the Department of Defense can try and help battle this virus
in the U.S., millions of masks to be given to Health and Human Services from military
stockpiles, ventilators as well. Military testing labs are going to be opened
up for civilian testing. Governors, of course, beginning to ask the National Guard for help. And the Department of Defense has been pretty
transparent, Judy, about how this virus has impacted them, 39 positives across the department,
500 tests, how they have been protecting service members, civilians, dependents. There are
severe travel restrictions. If you’re a part of the Department of Defense
right now, you cannot move, essentially, even inside the United States beyond the base or
your home, social distancing inside the Pentagon. Even the secretary of defense and his deputy
cannot see each other in the same room. As for the Department of State, there’s a
handful of cases, but we really don’t know much beyond that. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nick, we know the State
Department has been pretty outspoken about China, China’s role in all this, including
talking about propaganda. What are they saying right now? NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes. So, Yamiche referred to
this. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. NICK SCHIFRIN: So, let’s just break that — break
this down. There’s been a concerted effort by the Chinese
government to stir anger about the United States inside China and convince the rest
of the world that none of this is China’s fault. And to that specifically, there was
a tweet late last week by one of the spokespeople of the Foreign Ministry. He wrote: “It might be the U.S. Army who brought
the epidemic to Wuhan.” He wrote that in English and Mandarin. It
was retweeted by embassies of China and ambassadors all over the world. U.S. officials and the
experts I talk to say this is an effort to deflect blame. The virus originated in Wuhan.
It has nothing to do with the U.S. Army. But officials in Wuhan covered up the virus.
And Chinese people across the country widely criticized their own government. So, the officials
I’m talking to see this as a kind of diversion to internal criticism, a kind of crackdown
that Xi Jinping is doing, but also a diversion for the worldwide impact that you’re going
to be seeing. And so, on Friday, we saw the Pentagon spokeswoman,
Alyssa Farah, write on Twitter: “This is a communist part of China, has chosen to promulgate
false and absurd conspiracy theories.” And then you saw yesterday the secretary of
state releasing a statement about strong U.S. objections to the efforts to shift blame for
COVID-19 to the United States, so the U.S. pushing back on this hard. JUDY WOODRUFF: And then, I guess in somewhat
connection, they have been evicting foreign journalists. And there was more on that today. NICK SCHIFRIN: The connection is the crackdown.
The connection is the unwillingness of the Chinese Communist Party to accept any kind
of responsibility and to really crack down on any kind of blame inside. This was the largest expulsion of foreign
journalists in China since Mao, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Voice
of America journalists all evicted from the country. China says this is in response to
U.S. moves, including capping personnel of state-run media here in the United States,
and designating that state-run media as foreign missions. But, again, it is part of Xi Jinping’s crackdown
on criticism, especially now, especially at a moment when we are dealing with the impact
of a coronavirus that did start in Wuhan. And it is less a response to U.S. moves than
a real sense that this is a silencing of criticism, especially now, at a key moment, as Secretary
of State Pompeo said today. MIKE POMPEO, U.S. Secretary of State: I regret
China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct the free — free
press operations that, frankly, would be really good for the Chinese people, really good for
the Chinese people in these incredibly challenging global times, where more information, more
transparency are what will save lives. NICK SCHIFRIN: And, Judy, the fear is that
the U.S.-China relationship is getting worse right now, at the time that the world is facing
an economic and medical crisis. JUDY WOODRUFF: As if we needed another issue. All right, Nick Schifrin, thank you very much. NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you.

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