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Trump taps emergency powers, signs relief plan proceeds

Trump taps emergency powers, signs relief plan proceeds

WASHINGTON (AP) — Describing himself as a “wartime president”
fighting an invisible enemy, President Donald Trump on Wednesday invoked
rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies
against the coronavirus pandemic. Trump also signed an aid package —
which the Senate approved earlier Wednesday — that will guarantee sick
leave to workers who fall ill.

Trump tapped his authority under
the 70-year-old Defense Production Act to give the government more power
to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages
in masks, ventilators and other supplies.

Yet he seemed to
minimize the urgency of the decision, later tweeting that he “only
signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we
need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.”

“Hopefully there will be no need,” he added, “but we are all in this TOGETHER!”

mixed messaging came as Trump took a series of other extraordinary
steps to steady the nation, its day-to-day life suddenly and
fundamentally altered.

The Canada-U.S. border, the world’s
longest, was effectively closed, save for commerce and essential travel,
while the administration pushed its plan to send relief checks to
millions of Americans.

Trump said he will expand the nation’s
diagnostic testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York
City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic, and
another such ship to the West Coast. And the Housing and Urban
Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through
April to help the growing number of Americans who face losing jobs and
missing rent and mortgage payments.

But as Trump laid out efforts
to help the economy, markets plummeted. Gone were the last of the gains
that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had made since Trump took office.

administration announcements came on a fast-moving day of developments
across the capital, its empty streets standing in contrast to the
whirlwind of activity inside the grand spaces of the White House and the

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a second coronavirus
response bill, which Trump signed Wednesday night. The vote was a
lopsided 90-8 despite worries by many Republicans about a temporary new
employer mandate to provide sick leave to workers who get COVID-19. The
measure is also aimed at making tests for the virus free.

the administration pushed forward its broad economic rescue plan, which
proposes $500 billion in checks to millions of Americans, with the
first checks to come April 6 if Congress approves.

The White House
urged hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries to reduce the risk of
being overwhelmed by cases. The president was pressed on why a number of
celebrities, like professional basketball players, seemed to have
easier access to diagnostic tests than ordinary citizens.

“Perhaps that’s the story of life,” Trump said. “I’ve heard that happens on occasion.”

dismissed a suggestion from his own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin,
that the nation could face 20% unemployment at least in the short term.

That’s an “absolute total worst case scenario,” Trump said. “We’re no way near it.”

government has told Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people
and the elderly to stay home while a pointed reminder was given to
millennials to follow the guidelines and avoid social gatherings. Trump
likened the effort to the measures taken during World War II and said it
would require national “sacrifice.”

“It’s a war,” he said. “I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president. It’s a very tough situation.”

longer able to run for reelection on a healthy economy, he was taking
on the mantle of a wartime leader after played down the severity of the
crisis for weeks.

The president also employed more nativist,
us-vs-them rhetoric at the briefing, continuing his recent habit of
referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” which has been
sharply criticized as racist. “It’s not racist at all,” Trump said. “It
comes from China, that’s all.”

He was asked about a report that a
White House aide had referred to the virus as the “Kung flu” when
talking to an Asian-American reporter and Trump did not signal
disapproval of the offensive term.

Trump later met nursing leaders
and expressed “gratitude for those on the front lines in our war
against the global pandemic” as he held out hope that the pandemic would
be over soon.

“It’s been something, but we’re winning and we will
win,” he said. “It’s a question of when and I think it’s going to go
quickly. We hope it’s going to go quickly.”

A limited number of people gathered around a large table, their chairs spread apart in a display of social distancing.

Defense Production Act gives the president broad authority to shape the
domestic industrial base so that it is capable of providing essential
materials and goods needed in a national security crisis. The law allows
the president to require businesses and corporations to give priority
to and accept contracts for required materials and services.

executive order issued by Trump gives Health and Human Services
Secretary Alex Azar the authority to determine “the proper nationwide
priorities and allocation of all health and medical resources, including
controlling the distribution of such materials … in the civilian
market, for responding to the spread of COVID-19 within the United
States.” It also applies to certain health services.

Trump also
said he would soon invoke a rarely used federal statute that would
enable the U.S. to tighten controls along the southwest border because
of the new coronavirus, based on a recommendation of the U.S. surgeon

The president said the law, intended to halt the spread
of communicable diseases, would give authorities “great latitude” to
help control the outbreak. Earlier, U.S. officials told The Associated
Press that the administration would invoke the law to immediately turn
back all people who cross the border illegally from Mexico and to refuse
people the right to claim asylum there.

More than eight weeks
after the first U.S. case of the virus was detected, the federal
government is still struggling to conduct widescale testing for the
virus. Compounding the problem, laboratories are reporting shortages of
supplies needed to run the tests, which officials urged to be given to
those most likely to have COVID-19.

Deborah Birx, who is
coordinating the White House response, cautioned that there has been a
backlog of swabs waiting in labs to be tested, and as that backlog
clears “we will see the number of people diagnosed dramatically
increased” in the next few days.

Asked about the administration’s
mixed messages when it comes to the threat posed by the virus, Birx said
new studies about how long the virus can be transmissible on hard
surfaces helped prompt the administration’s tightening of
recommendations on social distancing. “None of us really understood”
that, she said. “We’re still working out how much is by human
transmission and how much is it by surface.” She added, “Don’t exposure
yourself to surfaces outside the home.”

For most people, the new
coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and
cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health
problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the
World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two
weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks
to recover.

As it tries to get its message to the public, the
White House said a series of ads, digital and on television, will
feature the president and first lady Melania Trump urging Americans to
follow the guidelines. Birx also renewed her call for younger people to
follow federal guidelines and stop meeting in groups.

She said
there have been “concerning reports” from France and Italy about young
people becoming seriously ill. The task force last week urged young
generations to avoid going out to bars and restaurants and to avoid
groups of more than 10 people.

“We cannot have these large
gatherings that continue throughout the country for people who are off
work,” Birx said. She added that the federal pandemic task force so far
has not seen any “significant mortality” in children.

The White
House has had several coronavirus-related health scares, with the
president himself exposed to at least three people who later tested
positive. Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said
Wednesday that she had tested negative for the virus. McDaniel, who met
last week with the president and Senate Republicans, had previously been
exposed to someone who tested positive.