Coronavirus government response updates: Trump signs $2T relief bill after House passage
The federal government has been rolling out its response to the coronavirus crisis, trying to slow the spread and prop up the economy, which has taken a severe hit.
House lawmakers scrambled back to Washington Friday morning amid fears one GOP member of Congress would force a delay in the vote on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed unanimously by the Senate.
But early Friday afternoon the House passed the historic measure and sent it to President Donald Trump’s desk.
Within minutes of signing the bill, Trump touted the aid on Twitter.
An aide to House Speaker Pelosi confirms that she was not invited to the White House to participate in the signing ceremony.
The last time the two spoke was Oct. 16, 2019, roughly five months ago.
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Here are Friday’s most significant developments in Washington:
The House passed a $2 trillion relief measure and President Trump signed it
House members scrambled back to Washington in expectation of a call for quorum, roll call vote
President Trump uses the powers of the Defense Production Act for the first time
Friday is the 12th day of the president’s 15-day guidelines to slow the spread
President Trump, at the daily White House briefing, said he would decide whether to extend or modify the guidelines next week
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump says he’s using powers of Defense Production Act
For the first time, Trump has issued an order to use the authorities granted to presidents by the Defense Production Act.
He signed a memo today to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar telling him to use authority granted by the act to requite General Motors to produce ventilators — after he threatened to do so earlier on Twitter.
“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said in a written statement. “GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”
Trump said in the memo that Azar “shall use any and all authority available under the Act to require General Motors Company to accept, perform, and prioritize contracts or orders for the number of ventilators that the Secretary determines to be appropriate.”
While Trump has repeatedly threatened to use the DPA — and claimed he had “invoked” it several times — as far as it’s known he had not set in motion a process by which it would actually be used until now.
He opened the daily White House briefing on he government’s response Friday evening by elaborating on his use of the DPA, which several governors pressured him to do in the last week, with some criticizing the president for not utilizing it sooner.
“This invocation of the DPA should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis. We thought that we had a deal with, as an example, General Motors,” Trump said. “And I guess they thought otherwise. They didn’t agree. And now they do. They do agree.”
The president then announced that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro will serve as policy coordinator for the Defense Production Act, calling it a “very important position” before asking Navarro to speak.
“Over the last several days we ran into roadblocks with GM,” Navarro said, calling Trump a “wartime president” who takes action. “President Trump invoked the defense production act as a way of enhancing and accelerating this mobilization. I salute him for doing so.”
Overall, Trump said 100,000 ventilators made by several companies will ship out to states in need over the next three months or so.
“In the next 100 days — well, first of all, we’ve already delivered thousands of them, but within the next 100 days we will either make or get in some form over 100,000 additional units,” Trump said, adding that 100,000 was three times the number of ventilators normally made in the U.S. in a year.
“No effort will be spared in winning this war. We’re going to win the war. Hopefully we’ll win soon and with as few lives as possible lost,” the president said, as the reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. topped 100,000.
“If this should happen again — hopefully it won’t — but if a thing like this should happen again, we’ll be able to handle it very much more easily,” he said.
After calling Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, a “failed presidential candidate” who “leveled out at zero in the polls” and claiming Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “has no idea what’s going on,” President Trump was asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl what exactly he wanted from the nation’s governors in this time of crisis.
“All I want them to do — very simple — I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job,” Trump said.
When pressed further on a lack of communication between the White House and certain governors, the president said, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call them.”
When Karl later asked the president if everybody who needs a ventilator will be able to get a ventilator, Trump refused to answer the question definitively.
“I think we’re in really good shape. This is a pandemic, the likes of which nobody’s seen before,” he said. “We’ve distributed vast numbers of ventilators, and we’re prepared to do vast numbers.”
When pressed for an answer, Trump told Karl, “don’t be a cutie pie.”
“Everyone who needs one — nobody’s ever done what we’ve done. Nobody’s done what we’ve been able to do.” the president said.
Trump said the coronavirus task force hasn’t made a decision on what to do on Monday, which will mark the end of the 15 days of government guidelines to social distance, work from home and self-isolate if showing symptoms, but said he will be sitting down Monday or Tuesday with doctors and medical professionals to decide what the government will suggest Americans do next.
Asked if the guidelines might stay in place for months, Trump said he hoped not, but again said medical professionals would weigh in on the decision.
“I certainly want to get it open as soon as possible. I don’t want it to be long, but we also want it to open safe. Otherwise, what did we do?” Trump said.
House passes historic relief bill after brief drama
The House of Representatives passed the historic coronavirus relief bill by voice vote Friday, a move that allowed for swift passage without having to call the entire House membership back to Washington.
The $2 trillion package, which the Senate passed on Wednesday, is the largest emergency aid package in U.S. history. The measure now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., announced he was objecting to the voice vote and called instead for a recorded vote.
“I came here to make sure our Republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote,” Massie said, objecting to the vote.
The chair proceeded to override Massie’s objection, and the House broke out in applause when the bill passed.
Color from the House chamber
Inside the House chamber, lawmakers kept their distance from each other throughout Friday’s debate.
Most members wiped down the microphones with a disinfecting wipe before speaking, following the new and unprecedented protocol the House Attending Physician and Office of the House Sergeant at Arms announced on Thursday.
“Members will be required to cleanse their hands with waterless hand sanitizer before entering and departing the House Chamber and are requested to follow all health safety procedures while on the Floor. Seating in the House Chamber will be limited,” their memo stated yesterday.
One member — freshman Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich. — put on pink latex gloves before speaking. In a dramatic moment, Stevens continued her remarks past her allotted time and began raising her voice despite objections from the chair.
“I wear these latex gloves to tell every American to not be afraid!” she exclaimed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also spoke out against the bill, noting she represents “one of the hardest hit” congressional districts across the country.
“We have to go into this vote eyes wide open. What did the Senate majority fight for? One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history. Shameful! The greed of that fight is wrong,” she said. “There should be shame about what was fought for in this bill and the choices that we have to make.”
House Democrats fear lone GOP member may object to quick voice vote
The possibility of the House passing the Senate-passed coronavirus relief bill in the fastest available way — by unanimous consent or a simple voice vote — slipped away from Democrats Friday morning as expectations grew that Rep. Tom Massie, R-Ky., would force a delay the vote.
Late Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office urged members to return to Washington by 10 a.m. Friday to make a quorum, amid growing concern of COVID-19 spreading across the Capitol and country.
For today, a quorum constitutes 216 members, and if Massie notes the absence of a quorum, he could stop the proceedings until quorum is reached.
Once at least 216 members are present, the House could have a recorded roll call vote if one-fifth of the body — or 44 members — support it. If not, they could try to hold a voice vote again, and Massie’s objection of the absence of a quorum wouldn’t prevail.
Three hours of debate on the bill are expected in the morning before an effort to pass it by voice vote.
The eleventh hour concern over Massie prompted several House members to board near-empty planes headed to the nation’s capital Friday morning.
Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota shared a photo of himself with three Minnesota lawmakers appearing to be the only passengers on a flight to Washington.
Just after midnight, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., posted a photo of a deserted LAX, noting he was traveling back to the chamber since other members can’t for health reasons.
After calling Massie a “grandstander” at Thursday’s task force briefing, President Trump doubled down on his disapproval of the Kentucky congressman on Twitter Friday morning, even calling for Massie to be thrown out of the Republican party.
In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, Massie indicated he would request the formal roll call vote.
Trump changes tone, tells GM, ‘START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!’
President Trump abruptly changed his tone on whether more ventilators were urgently needed as governors have been demanding.
In a series of tweets, he once again threatened to use the Defense Production Act, which he says he has activated but not actually employed, to force General Motors to make them — as the federal government had been negotiating with the company to do so. He took aim at Ford as well.
Trump said General Motors had agreed to produce 40,000 ventilators “very quickly,” but now, he said, they are saying it could deliver 6,000 ventilators in late April, “and they want top dollar.”
He said “General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!”
It was unclear if Trump’s tweeting “invoke ‘P'” — which he said in another tweet means invoke the Defense Production Act — is legal invocation of the measure, but appeared to be another threat.
After Trump tweeted, Ventec and GM said in a statement they were poised to deliver their first ventilators by next month and would ramp up to a manufacturing capacity to more than 10,000 per month – although they did not say when they would reach that goal.
The tweets come after the New York Times reported his administration had delayed going forward with a government contract because of cost concerns over the $1 billion or more price tag.
On Thursday night, in a 40-minute phone interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump suggested the number of ventilators being requested by governors to combat COVID-19 isn’t necessary.
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'”
The president said that companies are stepping up and producing the “very, very expensive” ventilators and other pieces of equipment, but he also repeated that this was primarily a state responsibility.
“Remember, we are a second line of attack,” Trump said. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals in the local government and the states. The states themselves.”
Despite saying positive things about New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, Trump struck a sharply partisan tone at other moments. He called Washington Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, calling him a “failed presidential candidate” who “should be doing more.”
He also referred to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, another Democrat, as “the young woman governor” and said she wasn’t “stepping up.”