Trump backs more aid for Americans amid coronavirus: Scripps

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he supported the idea of giving Americans a second round of financial aid amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Asked if he backed another payment for Americans, Trump told Scripps Networks in an interview that he backed sending out a second check. “We will be doing another stimulus package” with Congress, he added, saying the bipartisan measure would come “over the next couple of weeks probably.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey)

George Floyd’s brother decries ‘a modern-day lynching’ in testimony to Congress

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – George Floyd’s younger brother took his grief to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday with an impassioned plea that lawmakers not let his brother’s death be in vain, lamenting that he “didn’t deserve to die over $20” in what he called a lynching.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing to examine racial injustice and police brutality following George Floyd’s May 25 death after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death prompted a wave of protests in U.S. cities and abroad.

“They lynched my brother. That was a modern-day lynching in broad daylight,” Philonise Floyd, 42, of Missouri City, Texas, near Houston, told the committee, his voice breaking with emotion.

“His life mattered. All our lives matter. Black lives matter,” he added, wiping away tears.

The Democratic-led House is moving forward with sweeping reform legislation that could come to a vote by July 4, while Senate Republicans are crafting a rival plan.

George Floyd, a 46-year-old Houston native who had worked security at nightclubs, was unarmed when taken into custody outside a market where an employee had reported that a man matching his description tried to pay for cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.

“George wasn’t hurting anyone that day. He didn’t deserve to die over $20. I’m asking you, is that what a black man’s worth? $20? This is 2020. Enough is enough,” his brother said. “It is on you to make sure his death is not in vain.”

He buried his brother on Tuesday and described how they had not been able to say goodbye.

“I’m here to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain,” Philonise Floyd testified. “George called for help and he was ignored. Please listen to the call I’m making to you now, to the calls of our family and the calls ringing on the streets of all the world.”

It is unclear whether Democrats and Republicans will be able to overcome partisan differences to pass legislation that President Donald Trump would be willing to sign.

Several Republicans pledged cooperation and voiced support for a pivotal provision that would scale back so-called qualified immunity protections that shield police from lawsuits by people suing for damages.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, who said the Republican president may take policy action on race and policing through an executive order, called reduced qualified immunity a “non-starter.” McEnany said Trump’s administration has nearly finalized plans to address police brutality that could be made public within days.

Police officer Derek Chauvin was fired after the incident and charged with second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter. George Floyd and Chauvin worked as security personnel at the same nightclub.

Philonise Floyd said Chauvin knew his brother and killed him with premeditation “just because he didn’t like him,” adding that “it has to have something to do with racism.”

The emotionally-charged hearing had lawmakers and witnesses including several civil rights advocates expressing sorrow over Floyd’s death, the latest in a series of killings of African-Americans by police that have sparked anger on America’s streets and fresh calls for reforms

POLITICAL DIVIDE

The hearing highlighted divisions in Congress and the country between those who want broad changes to policing practices and those who defend the work of law enforcement and blame any problems on, as Republican Representative Mike Johnson put it, a “few bad apples.”

“The vast, vast majority of law enforcement officers are responsible, hard-working, heroic first responders,” added Representative Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican.

“While we hold up human rights in the world, we obviously have to hold them up in our country,” said Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which crafted the legislation.

Angela Underwood Jacobs, a Republican witness whose police officer brother was slain during violent protests this month, urged lawmakers to promote a just society by investing in education, housing and job creation.

The Democratic legislation would ban police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, restrict the use of legal force, require police body cameras, make lynching a federal hate crime and take other steps to rein in misconduct.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

U.S. House to pass nearly $500 billion more in coronavirus aid on Thursday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will pass Congress’ latest coronavirus aid bill on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, paving the way for nearly $500 billion more in economic relief amid the pandemic.

Pelosi, in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, said House lawmakers were ready to then move on to a fifth effort to continue tackling issues swelling from the outbreak that has crushed the nation’s economy and battered its healthcare system.

“We’ll pass it tomorrow in the House,” the California Democrat said.

The bipartisan $484-billion package, which passed the Republican-led U.S. Senate on Tuesday, includes an additional $321 billion for a previously set up small business lending program that quickly saw its funds exhausted.

It also includes $60 billion for a separate emergency disaster loan program – also for small businesses – and $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for national coronavirus testing.

Pelosi said she hopes the newly provided funds will be able to flow to strapped employers and others as soon as possible after U.S. President Trump, who has backed the bill, signs it into law.

“This is absolutely urgent,” she told MSNBC.

She also said a subsequent fifth aid package should also include money to protect U.S. elections and the U.S. Postal Service.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Zieminski)

Congress feuds as deal still elusive on small business coronavirus aid

By Doina Chiacu and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democrats and Republicans feuded on Monday over who was responsible for delay even as they worked on details of a possible $450 billion-plus deal to provide more aid to small businesses and hospitals hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We could have been done yesterday, but the Democrats continue to hold up, even though we had agreed to all the numbers,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, House of Representatives minority leader, told Fox News.

President Donald Trump said on Sunday that Republicans were “close” to an agreement with Democrats, who have the majority in the House, and suggested there could be a resolution on Monday.

But there was no immediate deal on Monday morning, and the two parties took shots at one another over the holdup.

“How many more millions of (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi’s layoffs will we have to endure before she will put people before politics?” McCarthy wrote on Twitter Monday.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill shot back that Democrats, who have the majority in the House, have given notice that there could be floor action on a bill as soon as Wednesday.

The legislation “could pass by unanimous consent in the House tomorrow, but you cannot control your members who want a recorded vote,” Hammill said in comments aimed at McCarthy. “The delay will be on your end @GOPLeader.”

Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican, sought a recorded vote the last time the House passed a $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief package, and has warned he may seek to block future bills from passing without a roll call vote.

Pelosi on Twitter lamented the “staggering” coronavirus death toll numbers, which have crossed 40,000 in the United States.

Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican member of the House, said on Fox News that a bipartisan deal was looking good that would include $310 billion for a small business aid program established last month as part of the $2.3 trillion coronavirus economic relief plan.

That fund, aimed at helping small businesses keep workers on their payrolls during the economic slowdown brought on by the pandemic, has already been exhausted.

Zeldin said there would be at least $50 billion more for a separate small business loan program under the deal still under negotiation. A Democratic source familiar with the talks has said this figure was more likely to be $60 billion.

“I believe that there is a deal coming,” Zeldin said.

The Democratic source, speaking on condition that he not be named, said some $60 billion of the $310 billion was likely to be set aside for minority and rural businesses.

The Democrats also sought more funds for state and local governments and hospitals, as well as food aid for the poor. Republicans have strongly resisted these proposals, although Trump said Sunday he favored more aid for state and local governments and said that could be done at a later date.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy said aid for states and municipalities will not be included in the package now being negotiated. Cassidy, whose home state of Louisiana has been among those hit hardest by the pandemic, told reporters on a conference call that he thought it made sense because it will too early to assess the extent of the damage in various states.

“It’s not in this package,” he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Lambert, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Census will ramp up count June 1, results delayed four months due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Census Bureau, which stopped some of its work last month because of the new coronavirus, said on Monday that it planned to ramp up again beginning on June 1 but would need more time to complete the count.

The Census Bureau, which is under the Commerce Department and counts all Americans every 10 years, suspended field collection in March but is planning to re-start on June 1, according to a statement from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

The bureau also said that it would ask Congress for permission to delay its work by 120 days. This would mean that it would complete data collection by Oct. 31 and release state populations by April 30, 2021. Redistricting data would be given to states by July 31, 2021. The survey determines how the state legislatures draw voting districts during the next round of redistricting and guides the federal government in allocating $1.5 trillion a year in aid.

“In-person activities, including all interaction with the public, enumeration, office work and processing activities, will incorporate the most current guidance to promote the health and safety of staff and the public,” the statement said.

The bureau also said that 70 million households have responded, or about 48%.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

House on edge ahead of $2.2 trillion coronavirus vote

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Armed with hand sanitizer and discouraged from using elevators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives aimed to quickly pass a sweeping $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Friday, though it was unclear if they would be forced to delay a day.

Leadership of the Democratic-controlled chamber and top Republicans aimed to pass the largest relief measure that Congress has ever taken up in a voice vote, one of the fastest methods the chamber has, and pass it on to Republican President Donald Trump for his signature.

There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposed the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than in a formal call recording how each House member voted, which could delay the vote until Saturday.

The Capitol has laid out special procedures because of the coronavirus to minimize the threat of infection. Members are barred from sitting next to one another and would be called from their offices alphabetically for the vote. They will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and encouraged to take the stairs, rather than use elevators, to better maintain social distancing.

While most of the House’s 430 current members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, several are expected to travel to Washington for a vote around 11 a.m. EDT(1500 GMT).

On a call with fellow Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members not to do anything to delay the unprecedented economic aid package the Republican-led Senate backed by a unanimous 96-0 vote on Wednesday night.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who helped craft the package, also urged lawmakers to pass it quickly.

“This is the time that we want to see the government and that states all come together and execute on the largest financial package in the history of time,” he said on Fox Business Network.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

VOICE VOTE SOUGHT

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday. She had said that if there were calls for a roll-call vote, lawmakers might be able to vote remotely as not all would be able to be in Washington.

It was unclear whether Massie would block the measure.

“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.

Democratic Representative Dean Phillips asked Massie on Twitter to let his colleagues know if he intended to delay the bill’s passage “RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend about $200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt.”

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.

The Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; writing by Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Coronavirus stay-at-home directives multiply in major U.S. states

By Steve Gorman and Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – New Jersey’s governor was expected on Saturday to follow four other states – California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut – demanding that millions of Americans close up shop and stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus infections.

The sweeping state-by-state public health restrictions, unprecedented in breadth and scope, added to the distance being experienced among ordinary Americans.

“I know people want to hear it’s only going to be a matter of weeks and then everything’s going to be fine,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Saturday. “I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I believe it is going to be a matter of months.”

Meanwhile, the global pandemic seemed to close in on the highest levels of power in the nation’s capital.

An aide to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, leading the White House task force formed to combat the outbreak, tested positive for the virus, but neither President Donald Trump nor Pence have had close contact with the individual, Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, said in a statement late on Friday.

Pence’s office was notified of the positive test on Friday evening, and officials were seeking to determine who the staffer might have exposed, Miller said.

The aide was not publicly identified, and the vice president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for further details of the diagnosis or whether Pence would be tested.

“He’s recovering and has very, very mild symptoms,” Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told CNN on Saturday.

The White House said last week that Pence did not require testing after dining with a Brazilian delegation, at least one member of which later tested positive for the respiratory illness. Trump has tested negative for the virus, his doctor said last week.

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives tested positive on Wednesday, becoming the first members of Congress known to have contracted the disease, which has killed 266 people in the United States.

The total number of known U.S. coronavirus cases has risen exponentially in recent days, climbing past 19,000 in a surge that health officials attributed in large part to an increase in diagnostic testing. More than 270 Americans have died.

Click  for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

Cuomo said New York state was sending 1 million N95 respirator masks to New York City on Saturday. He said the state has identified 6,000 ventilators for purchase, which he described as a major step, but added that it needs 30,000.

“We are literally scouring the globe for medical supplies,” the governor said. New York state has recorded 10,356 cases, he said, 6,211 of them in New York City.

SOCIAL-DISTANCING GOES STATEWIDE

Expanding on social-distancing measures increasingly adopted at the local level, California Governor Gavin Newsom instituted the first statewide directive requiring residents to remain indoors except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

Newsom’s order, announced late on Thursday, made allowances for the state’s 40 million people to venture outside for exercise so long as they kept their distance from others.

On Friday, his counterparts in New York state, Illinois and Connecticut followed suit, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to issue similar directives on Saturday.

The five states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and press residents to stay inside are home to 84 million people combined, about a quarter of the entire U.S. population and account for nearly a third of the nation’s economy.

The state directives were for the most part issued without strict enforcement mechanisms to back them up.

“What we want is for people to be in compliance and we’re going to do everything that we can to educate them,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a briefing on Saturday. Police officers would “admonish” those found to be on non-essential outings to go home, she said.

“That’s what we hope is the end of any kind of contact that anyone might have with the police department,” Lightfoot said.

Cuomo said there will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance.

Even before the flurry of statewide stay-at-home orders, the pandemic had virtually paralyzed parts of the U.S. economy and upended lifestyles over the past week, as school districts and colleges canceled classes and many companies were shuttered, either voluntarily or by local government mandates.

Washington state, which documented the first known U.S. coronavirus case in January and now accounts for the greatest number of deaths – 83 as of Friday – has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants, recreation venues and entertainment facilities, while banning all gatherings of more than 50 people.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Caroline Spezio in New York; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Daniel Wallis)

Mnuchin urges Congress to pass massive economic relief bill by next week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday urged Congress to move quickly to pass a $1 trillion economic relief measure by early next week, saying he expects bipartisan support for the bill to get cash payments to Americans during the coronavirus crisis.

Mnuchin, in an interview on Fox Business Network, said the federal government was focused on being able to provide liquidity to companies and had no problem issuing more debt, but that it expected loans to businesses to be paid back.

Congress is taking up its third legislative package to address the coronavirus pandemic as the response to the crisis shutters U.S. businesses and puts pressure on the nation’s healthcare system.

Lawmakers already have passed a $105 billion-plus plan to limit the damage from the coronavirus pandemic through free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending as well as an $8.3 billion measure to combat the spread of the pathogen and develop vaccines. U.S. President Donald Trump has signed both into law.

The Trump administration now wants another $1.3 trillion in aid to help businesses and individual Americans harmed economically by the virus, with Mnuchin on Thursday saying the plan was not a bailout for companies.

“We’re going to get through this,” Mnuchin said. “This is not the financial crisis that will go on for years.”

Mnuchin also rejected any suggestion that U.S. tariffs were keeping Chinese-made medicines out of the United States.

“We’re doing everything to make sure the supply chains stay open,” he said, noting that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had waived tariffs on any critical items.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Washington considers actions to bolster U.S. economy as COVID-19 cases mount to over 1025

Reuters
By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. coronavirus cases rose steadily, the White House and Congress negotiated measures on Tuesday to bolster the U.S. economy and Americans’ paychecks against the outbreak’s impact, although there was no immediate sign of a deal.

The rise in the number of U.S. cases of COVID-19, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness, has concerned health officials and spurred calls within Congress for action to expand testing and avert an economic meltdown.

“We had a good reception on Capitol Hill. We’re going to be working with Republican and Democratic leadership to move a legislative package,” Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s coronavirus task force, told a White House briefing.

Almost three-quarters of U.S. states have confirmed cases of COVID-19. A running national tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University center tracking the outbreak puts the number of cases at 1,025, with 28 deaths. Washington state’s governor warned of tens of thousands more cases without “real action,” and New York’s governor deployed National Guard troops as a containment measure in a hard-hit New York City suburb.

U.S. stocks rebounded in their largest daily gain since late 2018 on hopes that a government stimulus package was in the making. In Asia, though, on Wednesday, Asian shares and Wall Street futures fell as growing scepticism about Washington’s stimulus knocked the steam out of the rally.

A central feature of the administration’s legislative proposal is payroll tax relief, although the extent and duration of the proposal were unclear.

White House officials have also said the administration could undertake executive action to help small businesses and workers, including those who do not receive paid sick leave.

Trump is scheduled to meet with bank executives at the White House on Wednesday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is leading negotiations on behalf of Republican President Donald Trump, met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss a possible deal.

“We’re going to work together on a bipartisan basis to figure out how we can get things done quickly that are going to help the Americans that are most impacted by this and small and medium-sized businesses that are impacted,” he said.

Pelosi said the meeting was aimed at seeing “where our common ground was” on a set of legislative proposals.

In remarks to reporters, she warned that any package should not contain “trickle-down solutions that only help a few.”

Democrats are challenging the Trump administration to tightly target new measures at people directly affected by the coronavirus. Any measure would need to pass the Democratic-controlled House as well as the Republican-controlled Senate before reaching Trump’s desk.

“I hope we don’t play politics with this. Mixing politics with a pandemic is not good. It’s terribly counterproductive,” said Republican Senator Pat Roberts.

‘MIXED REVIEWS’

All three major U.S. benchmark stock indexes on Tuesday rose nearly 5%, one day after suffering their largest losses since the 2008 financial crisis.

Prospects for a second day of gains on Wednesday dimmed as U.S. equity index futures slid 1% after the overnight trading session got under way.

Trump met with Republican lawmakers and again downplayed the risks from the coronavirus. “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” he said.

A senior Senate Republican aide said Trump’s payroll tax proposal got “mixed reviews” among Republican senators who attended.

Some Senate Republicans said a potential deal could include $300 billion in payroll tax relief that could help people make rent and mortgage payments, or pay medical bills if family members’ work hours are reduced during the outbreak.

Democrats accused Trump of being more focused on soothing Wall Street’s nerves than on protecting the public from the health and economic fallout of the fast-spreading epidemic. The White House has been accused of inadequate preparation for the outbreak and a slow rollout of coronavirus testing.

“President Trump and his administration should be putting people before corporations, and they should be focused on taking appropriate steps to keep the American people and their economic security safe,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Democrats are pushing for paid sick leave, expanded and free testing for the coronavirus and other measures.

OUTBREAK EXPANDS

More than 116,000 people have contracted the coronavirus worldwide since it surfaced in China late last year, according to the World Health Organization. More than 4,000 people have died.

Italy, which has the highest death toll outside of China, has put its entire population of 60 million on virtual lockdown.

At least 35 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have reported infections of COVID-19. New Jersey on Tuesday reported its first death.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said schools would be closed and public gatherings suspended in a coronavirus “hot zone” in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb, and deployed National Guard troops there.

The United Nations said it would be closing its headquarters in New York to the public until further notice.

As the outbreak spreads, daily life in the United States has been increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences canceled and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online.

Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both canceled rallies in Ohio on Tuesday night, citing warnings from public health officials, as six states voted in the party’s nominating contests.

The Democratic National Committee said its presidential debate in Arizona on Sunday would be conducted without a live audience because of health concerns.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Andrea Shalal, David Lawder and Lisa Lambert in Washington, Deborah Bloom in Olympia, Washington and Nathan Layne and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Eric Beech and Makini Brice, Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Writing by Paul Simao and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

Venezuela opposition marches to Congress in showdown with Maduro

By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition on Tuesday will march to downtown Caracas with the aim of regaining control of the national legislature, which was snatched by pro-government lawmakers in January, setting up a showdown with President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

National Assembly President Juan Guaido for weeks has urged Venezuelans to join the rally as a way of reviving street protests against Maduro that surged in 2019, but have waned as the ruling Socialist Party has clung to power.

The rally will be another test of Guaido’s capacity to mobilize supporters, who have become increasingly weary with the country’s economic crisis and the opposition’s inability to oust Maduro despite a broad U.S. sanctions program.

“On March 10, Venezuelans will exercise our rights in the streets,” Guaido told reporters at a Monday news conference about the march. “The only option available for Venezuelans is to escape this disaster.”

The protest is likely to meet stiff resistance from security forces, which were deployed around the country on Monday as part of military exercises ordered by Maduro.

Troops may not allow the marchers, who will include members of Parliament, to reach the legislative palace. Lawmakers will seek a different venue to hold session if they are not allowed to reach congress, according to one opposition source.

The government has called its own separate rallies in downtown Caracas for Tuesday. Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello said the opposition’s march was an attempt to rally its flagging energy.

“Every time the right-wing is cornered, they look for events that can raise the excitement of people who stopped being excited a long time ago. They try to create leadership where there is none,” Cabello said during Monday a news conference.

In January, a group of legislators backed by the Socialist Party installed themselves as the leaders of congress after troops blocked Guaido from entering the legislature.

Opposition lawmakers later re-elected Guaido for a second term in an extra-mural session, but they have been largely unable to meet at the legislative palace since then.

More than 50 countries last year recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president following Maduro’s disputed 2018 re-election, which was widely dismissed as fraudulent.

Venezuela this year is slated to hold parliamentary elections, but the opposition has not yet determined if it will participate due to concerns that the government will not provide adequate conditions.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Leslie Adler)