Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, Trump signs into law

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the intensifying coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump quickly signed it into law.

The massive bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives nearly unanimously. The rare bipartisan action underscored how seriously Republican and Democratic lawmakers are taking the global pandemic that has killed more than 1,500 Americans and shaken the nation’s medical system.

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate before the lower chamber approved the bill. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

But the bipartisan spirit seemed to end at the White House. Neither Pelosi nor Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was invited to Trump’s all-Republican signing ceremony for the bill, aides said.

Their Republican counterparts, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did attend, along with three Republican House members.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses,” Trump said. “I really think in a fairly short period of time … we’ll be stronger than ever.”

In an statement about signing the bill, Trump rejected aspects of a provision in the law setting up an inspector general to audit some loans and investments.

Asked about the statement, Pelosi told MSNBC: “Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel … appointed by the House, in real time to make sure we know where those funds are being expended.”

She called Trump a “dangerous president” who had chosen to ignore the threat of the coronavirus.

“Our next thrust will be about recovery and how we can create good-paying jobs so that we can take the country into the future in a very strong way,” Pelosi said.

The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

To keep Massie’s gambit from delaying the bill’s passage, hundreds of lawmakers from both parties returned to Washington despite the risk of contracting coronavirus. For many, that meant long drives or overnight flights.

One member who spent hours in a car was Republican Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has put in charge of efforts to handle the coronavirus crisis.

Pence drove the nearly 600 miles (966 km) from his home state, Indiana, to Washington on Thursday. “We can’t afford to wait another minute,” he said on Twitter.

‘THIRD-RATE GRANDSTANDER’

Massie wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request for a recorded vote.

Trump attacked Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and saying he should be thrown out of the Republican party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote the president, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders had asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members.

At least five members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote late on Wednesday, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until April 20.

Democratic and Republican House leaders appeared together at a news conference at the Capitol to celebrate the bill’s passage – an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” McCarthy said.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress.

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.

It 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.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 100,000 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, the most of any country.

Adding to the misery, 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, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallis and Stephen Coates)

Senate sends House $2 trillion coronavirus bill; vote expected Friday

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s unanimous passage of an estimated $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill sent the unprecedented economic rescue legislation to the House of Representatives, whose leaders hope to pass it on Friday.

The plan will speed direct payments on their way to Americans within three weeks, once the Democratic-controlled House passes it and President Donald Trump has signed it into law, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The Republican-led Senate approved the bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to zero late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the Democratic-majority House.

The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington that followed several days of wrangling, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

“Individuals, even with bravery and valor, are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated the price tag at $2.2 trillion.

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying pandemic that has killed about 1,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 70,000.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The American government’s intervention follows two other packages that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

Trump, a Republican who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

House leaders said they would have a voice vote on Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she backed the bill, and was open to passing more legislation if needed to address the crisis in the future.

The House Republican leadership is recommending a “yes” vote. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy predicted the measure would pass. He said the voice vote would take place Friday morning following a debate, but noted the entire House might not be present.

“Remember where we are today. We have a number of members who have the virus on both sides of the aisle, we have a number of members who are quarantined, we have challenges for flying here because some flights are being canceled. So you might not have the full body, but you want to make sure you have the debate,” McCarthy said on Fox News.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece 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.

The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14. Many want to return for the vote, but for all to attend would be difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for the coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine, and several states have issued stay-at-home orders.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune, missed Wednesday’s vote because he was not feeling well. His spokesman said Thune flew back to his state, South Dakota, on a charter flight Wednesday, accompanied by a Capitol Police officer and wearing a mask.

There are five vacant House seats.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Tempers rise in U.S. Senate as vote nears on $2 trillion coronavirus bill

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators were set to vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, although critics from the right and left threatened to hold up the bill.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

Several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more than they earned on the job.

“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told a news conference.

In response, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was prepared to block the bill if Republicans do not drop their objections.

That came after leaders of both parties predicted a Wednesday vote.

“Today the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the chamber convened at noon (1600 GMT).

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party was willing to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

“Help is on the way. Big help. Quick help,” he said on the Senate floor.

Trump is ready to sign the measure into law, the White House said, but it was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to his desk. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

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

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover the tax revenue it stands to lose from reduced economic activity. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. coronavirus cases.

“That is a drop in the bucket,” he said at a news conference.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed 812 people in the United States and infected more than 59,200.

The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 <.SPX> rallied for a second straight day, closing up 1.15%. [nL1N2BI1YH]

Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval, which could lead to further delays.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told lawmakers that they would be notified 24 hours before any action.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring their return, through a “voice vote” that would require only a few lawmakers to be present.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he would prefer that approach and called for its passage on Friday.

 

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert, Susan Cornwell and Andy Sullivan in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

McConnell, Pelosi, Mnuchin see deal soon on $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus aid

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to reaching a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that the U.S. Congress could soon act to try to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic.

“At last, I believe, we’re on the five-yard line,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, using a football analogy meaning close to scoring, as the chamber opened its session on Tuesday morning.

“We are very close,” added McConnell, the top Republican in Congress.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said the two sides had agreed to more oversight provisions of a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit businesses, resolving a key sticking point.

“I think there is a real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” Pelosi told CNBC.

Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, told reporters that lawmakers hope to have a draft ready within the next two to three hours. He confirmed the changes to the industry fund. “There’s better oversight,” Mnuchin said.

Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.

Those concerns appear to have been addressed.

“I’m very optimistic that there will be a deal announced this morning,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said on MSNBC.

Wall Street jumped at the open on Tuesday as signs that Washington was nearing a deal on the rescue package gave a shot of optimism to markets reeling under the biggest selloff since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.

Trump’s administration has launched a major push for action to try to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic and steep stock market decline, after he spent weeks dismissing the risks.

As talks concluded late on Monday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the two sides were nearing an agreement and he expected that the legislation would be voted upon on Tuesday.

‘ALL OF THE NONSENSE’

Republicans, Democrats and top Trump aides had negotiated for days over the package, which would be the third and largest passed to address the crisis if it is backed by both the Republican-majority Senate and Democratic-majority House and signed by the Republican president.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people – nearly a third of the nation’s population – to stay at home.

Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion counterproposal that also includes $4 billion that would allow states to conduct the November presidential and congressional elections by mail.

That legislation would likely be irrelevant if a bipartisan deal is forged in the Senate.

While details of the emerging bipartisan bill were not available, it is expected to provide financial aid for Americans out of work because of the virus and help for struggling industries such as airlines.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they need Democratic support to garner the 60 votes required to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus has affected their ranks, giving Democrats even more leverage. Republican Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for coronavirus and four other Republicans are also unable to vote because they were exposed to Paul or others with the virus.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Will Dunham)

‘Dilly-dallying around’: Testy U.S. Senate nears coronavirus relief vote

By David Morgan and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tempers boiled over in the U.S. Senate on Monday as lawmakers moved toward another vote on a far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package even though Republicans and Democrats said they were still at odds over details that had stalled the package over the weekend.

Both sides said they were close to an agreement on the massive bill, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said carried a $2 trillion price tag. But they remained at odds over provisions to help businesses, as well as the amount of money to provide to hospitals and state and local governments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Republicans angrily accused Democrats of trying to take advantage of the crisis to advance their political agenda with unrelated provisions. McConnell said the Senate, controlled by President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, would hold another procedural vote on the package after it fell short on Sunday.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after a meeting to wrap up work on coronavirus economic aid legislation, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

“This is not a juicy political opportunity. This is a national emergency,” McConnell said as the Senate opened its session.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer suggested the vote would again fall short unless the measure included more guardrails to avoid misuse of the $500 billion earmarked to help struggling industries.

“Our goal is to reach a deal today and we’re hopeful, even confident that we will meet that goal,” Schumer said. He said the upcoming vote would be “irrelevant” if negotiations were not complete.

Republican Senator John Thune angrily accused the Democrats of “dilly-dallying around.”

“The country is burning and your side wants to play political games,” Thune said.

Mnuchin said the two sides made progress on Monday morning.

“We knocked off a bunch of things on the list already and we’re closing in on issues,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office. He did not give specifics.

U.S. stocks fell on Monday as the coronavirus forced more U.S. states into lockdown, eclipsing optimism from an unprecedented round of policy easing by the Federal Reserve.

The bill represents a third effort by Congress to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic that has killed at least 428 people in the United States and sickened more than 34,000, leading state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home and putting much business activity on hold.

The measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said Republicans were also trying to add provisions that would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program that is due to expire in May.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, released her own version, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes they need to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus threat has affected their ranks. Republican Senator Rand Paul said he tested positive for the virus on Sunday, and several others have self-quarantined as a precautionary measure. Republicans only mustered 47 votes in a procedural vote on Sunday.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

Coronavirus forces U.S. lawmakers to overcome steep partisan divide

By Andy Sullivan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With coronavirus cases reported in all 50 U.S. states, lawmakers in Washington are working to limit the economic damage from the widening epidemic. To do so, they must overcome another problem – partisan gridlock.

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected on Wednesday to vote on a roughly $105 billion aid package that bolsters safety-net programs and provides free testing for the highly contagious coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the package by an overwhelming bipartisan margin on Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging his colleagues to approve it quickly.

“Gag and vote for it,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

That may be difficult for some Senate Republicans who worry that the proposed legislation’s sick-leave provisions could heap costs on small businesses. Others have objected it does not cover those who work at corporations that employ more than 500 people.

“I’m pretty concerned with the House bill making a bad situation worse in our economy,” Republican Senator James Lankford said on Tuesday.

Senator Rand Paul, a conservative Republican, will offer an amendment to pay for the new spending in the legislation, said Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul. “This would include ending our decades-long involvement in Afghanistan,” he said.

Still, the Senate is expected to approve the bill this week and immediately turn to a third effort, after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin privately warned that unemployment could hit 20% if Congress does not act.

The third package could include popular items, like giving $1,000 checks to Americans, and less popular items, such as an expensive bailout for airlines that risk falling into bankruptcy due to the sharp decline in travel due the outbreak.

It was unclear when that would be passed or how soon Americans would get the money, but President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday morning to push the effort.

“For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you,” Trump said in his tweet.

McConnell said lawmakers were working as rapidly as possible on the third package. “But first, we need to pass the House bill, which hopefully we’ll do later today,” he said on the Senate floor.

‘VOTE AND LEAVE’

Mindful of the backlash to the bank rescue package put together during the 2008 financial crisis, Republicans working on the third effort say it does not amount to a bailout of the industry.

“Chairman Shelby opposes bailouts,” said Blair Taylor, a spokeswoman for Republican Senator Richard Shelby, who is working on the effort.

Separately, the Trump administration on Tuesday night also asked Congress for another $45.8 billion to shore up U.S. agencies responding to the outbreak.

It would also give extra funds to help beef up sanitation efforts at airports, provide extra protective gear to federal agents, bolster cybersecurity protections, improve teleworking capabilities and shore up the Amtrak passenger rail service, which has seen a steep drop in ridership.

Health officials have advised Americans to avoid non-essential travel and large gatherings in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 6,500 people across the country and killed at least 115.

McConnell on Wednesday warned his fellow senators to abide by the containment guidelines, admonishing them against congregating as they normally do during votes, especially at the “well” of the chamber where staffers work.

“Come in and vote and leave,” said McConnell, who also announced that the Senate’s typical 15-minute roll-call votes would be extended to 30 minutes so that members did not all rush into the chamber at once.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

Disputes over taxes and spending have repeatedly brought Washington to a standstill over the past decade, but lawmakers so far have overcome their partisan divisions to confront the crisis.

Congress quickly approved an initial $8.3 billion package to boost the medical response to the pandemic, and the House-passed bill enjoyed broad support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Sick-leave and family-leave provisions alone in the House-passed legislation would cost $105 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Mnuchin said the third package could cost $1.3 trillion – surpassing the $838 billion in stimulus provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which passed Congress with only a handful of Republican votes.

Conservatives like Republican Senator Tom Cotton are calling for it to include expanded safety-net benefits.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has proposed spending $750 billion on further safety-net enhancements, such as emergency child care for health workers, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday that the third package should include benefits for self-employed workers.

Lawmakers from both parties also have lined up against Trump’s proposed payroll tax cut on the grounds that it would take too long to make a difference and would not help those who lose their jobs.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Angus MacSwan and Paul Simao)

Senate weighs emergency coronavirus pandemic funds; Trump seeks $850 billion more

By David Shepardson and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday prepared to weigh a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill passed by the House of Representatives offering economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic as the Trump administration pressed for $850 billion more.

The House of Representatives over the weekend passed a measure that would require sick leave for some workers and expand unemployment compensation among other steps, including nearly $1 billion in additional money to help feed children, homebound senior citizens and others.

Even before Congress passed its second measure in days, President Donald Trump’s administration wants massive additional spending to help blunt the impact of the fast-spreading disease, which has sunk global financial markets and caused sweeping disruptions to the U.S. economy.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to discuss the $850 billion stimulus package the administration wants when meeting on Tuesday with Senate Republicans at the Capitol, said a U.S. government official said who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.

The funding would include some aid for airlines along with a payroll tax cut among other provisions. U.S. airlines have sought at least $50 billion in grants and loans.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, in a syndicated radio interview, said lawmakers could pass the House measure as-is and then take on another bill to include more economic stimulus actions desired by the administration.

The pandemic has already killed at least 83 people in the United States and prompted widespread closings of schools, restaurants and social gatherings of all kinds.

Early Saturday, Congress passed and Trump signed an $8.3 billion package to battle the coronavirus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate is “anxious” to pass the latest House-passed bill, an action that could happen later on Tuesday.

Republicans said the Senate would work to pass the third measure this week containing the much-larger stimulus because of uncertainty about the Senate schedule caused by the coronavirus outbreak. That would require the House to take up the legislation when it returns from recess next week.

But neither administration officials nor Senate leaders are sure that such a large bill could move that quickly through the Senate.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Susan Heavey, additional reporting by David Morgan and Jeff Mason; editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)

New York state coronavirus cases double to 22, Senate passes $8.3 billion spending bill

By Nathan Layne and David Morgan

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of people who have the novel coronavirus in New York state doubled to 22 on Thursday following an increase in testing, as Tennessee became the 14th U.S. state to report a case of the fast-spreading illness.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference that the expansion in testing came after the federal government approved its use of additional laboratories, boosting capacity to process tests. He said more testing would inevitably identify more cases.

“Those numbers are going to keep going up,” Cuomo said.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an $8.3 billion bill to combat the outbreak, a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump for his signature.

More than $3 billion of the approved funds would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the fast-spreading illness that began in China and has infected more than 95,000 people in over 80 countries and territories.

Of the new cases in New York, eight are connected in some way to a Manhattan lawyer who lives in Westchester County and was previously diagnosed with the virus, two are in New York City and one in nearby Nassau County. The lawyer, who had an underlying respiratory illness, is recovering, Cuomo said.

Tennessee health officials said their first case was in an adult male in Williamson County. Williamson County schools will be closed for a deep cleaning on Friday and Monday, according to its official Twitter page.

The U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus stands at 11, all but one them in Washington state, which has a cluster of at least 39 infections in the Seattle area. The other death, announced on Wednesday, was in California.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday reported 149 confirmed and presumed U.S. cases, which includes those reported by states but not yet confirmed by the agency. They do not necessarily include new cases reported on Thursday.

U.S. health officials say they expect to be able to get enough privately manufactured coronavirus tests – around 1 million – to public laboratories this week with the capacity to test about 400,000 people.

CDC official Anne Schuchat said her agency would also supply testing kits by the end of the week that could test around 75,000 people.

“Right now, it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters following a briefing with lawmakers in Washington.

According to the Association of Public Health Laboratories, labs in 44 states and the District of Columbia can currently test for coronavirus. States with labs not yet testing are Alabama, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming. Labs in U.S. territories Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are also not testing yet, according to the APHL.

MARKETS TUMBLE

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the U.S. response, visited mask-manufacturer 3M Co. He urged Americans not to purchase masks if they are healthy to free up supply for healthcare workers and people who are sick.

“Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask,” Pence said at the Minnesota company, which has ramped up production to help respond to the coronavirus.

“The risk to the average healthy American from contracting coronavirus remains low,” Pence said, adding that “there will be more cases,” especially among more vulnerable populations such as seniors and those with chronic health conditions.

Pence was scheduled to visit Washington Governor Jay Inslee later on Thursday.

Global equity markets continue to tumble as the number of coronavirus cases outside China mounted, fuelling warnings that world growth is likely to reach its weakest level since the global financial crisis.

By mid-afternoon, the main U.S. stock indexes were down more than 3%.

Corporations have begun issuing profit warnings and curbing activities.

Alphabet Inc’s  Google on Thursday joined Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp  in recommending employees in the Seattle area work from home, after some were infected with the coronavirus.

The companies’ work-from-home recommendation will affect more than 100,000 people in the area, as both Microsoft and Amazon employ over 50,000 each. Facebook employs more than 5,000 in the area and Google about 4,500, according to media reports.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency in response to the outbreak after state health authorities confirmed 53 cases, the most of any U.S. state.

 

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Michael Erman and Hilary Russ in New York, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington, Jeff Mason in Maplewoord, Minnesota; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

Freed from impeachment drama, Trump to press ahead with re-election campaign

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump emerged confident and ready to press on with his re-election effort on Wednesday after the Democratic-led impeachment drive that he denounced as illegitimate crashed to a halt in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump plans to speak about the issue at the White House on Thursday. A source close to the president described his address as a “vindication speech” that would combine some magnanimity with an “I told you so” tone.

Next, advisers said, Trump would proceed at full steam on his political and policy goals, throwing himself fully into his re-election campaign and efforts to fulfill promises he has made to his supporters and the electorate.

“The president is pleased to put this latest chapter of shameful behavior by the Democrats in the past, and looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of the American people in 2020 and beyond,” the White House said in a statement after the verdict.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that accused him of abusing his power by pressing Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face him in the Nov. 3 election, and obstructing Congress’ attempts to investigate the matter.

But he did not come out of the process unscathed.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear, the impeachment will be part of his legacy, and Republican Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict him on the abuse-of-power charge deprived the president of the ability to dismiss the process as entirely partisan.

But Republican officials noted record fundraising during the impeachment process, leading Trump’s re-election effort to bring in $155 million in the last three months of 2019 alone, boosted by a support base that is both pumped up and ticked off.

‘TOTAL VINDICATION’

Although the bruising impeachment battle is certain to be a factor for voters considering whether to re-elect Trump in November, his campaign is claiming victory.

“Acquittal means total vindication,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director. “The Democrats’ decision to move forward with impeachment will go down as the worst political miscalculation in American history.”

In a sign of confidence, minutes after senators found him not guilty, the president tweeted a video of himself with campaign signs projected well into the future, suggesting he wanted to be president for decades to come.

U.S. presidents are constitutionally limited to two elected terms in office. Trump faced accusations of being autocratic and king-like during the Senate impeachment trial.

Trump released another video several hours later that referred to Romney as a “Democrat secret asset” and said the senator tried to “infiltrate” the president’s administration when Trump considered him for the position of secretary of state.

As the impeachment drama dragged on over the weeks, Trump gyrated between feeling upbeat and aggrieved. Advisers said he complained that his trade deal with Mexico and Canada did not get the media coverage it deserved because of the focus on impeachment.

With the threat of removal from office behind him, Trump is expected to bask in the glow of a strong economy and hammer Democrats for their efforts to take him down, even as supporters anticipate that Democrats will keep investigating him.

“I think President Trump and all of his allies are keenly aware of the fact that Democrats are going to keep this barrage up all the way through the November election,” said Jason Miller, a campaign adviser in 2016.

Trump plans to headline a rally in New Hampshire next week and more frequent rallies are expected in the coming months.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Senate acquits Trump in historic vote as re-election battle looms

By David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his U.S. Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided America to give him a second White House term.

The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history – just like the two other impeached presidents – in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarize the country.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on Dec. 18, with the votes falling far short of the two-thirds majority required in the 100-seat Senate to remove him under the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit him of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. Republican Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict. No Democrat voted to acquit.

The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. A conviction on either count would have elevated Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican, into the presidency. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.

On each of the two charges, the senators voted one by one on the Senate floor with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called the trial a sham and a cover-up. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election victory.

Throughout the impeachment drama, Trump and his Republican allies kept up their attacks on Biden’s integrity. It remains to be seen how much political damage that inflicted. In the first of the state-by-state contests to determine the Democratic challenger to Trump, Biden placed a disappointing fourth in Iowa, according to incomplete results from Monday’s voting. Biden has accused Trump of “lies, smears, distortions and name-calling.”

 

‘APPALLING ABUSE’

Trump faces no serious challengers for his party’s presidential nomination. He is poised to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in August and previewed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday campaign themes such as American renewal, economic vitality and hardline immigration policies.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke with his party to vote to convict Trump on the abuse-of-power charge. Romney called the president’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden “grievously wrong” and said Trump was “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”

“What he did was not ‘perfect,'” Romney said on the Senate floor, as Trump has described his call with Ukraine’s president that was at the heart of the scandal. “No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep one’s self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Romney, a moderate and elder statesman in his party, paused during his speech as he became choked with emotion after mentioning the importance of his religious faith.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lashed out at Democrats, saying: “What you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell.”

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Trump’s acquittal in an unfair trial was worth nothing.

“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition.”

In his speech, McConnell said: “The architects of this impeachment claimed they were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both.”

 

BIGGEST VICTORY YET

Democrats expressed concern that an acquittal would further embolden a president who already challenges political norms. They have painted him as threat to U.S. democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They also have voiced concern over Russia interfering in another American election.

Trump’s legal team offered a vision of nearly unlimited presidential powers, a view Democrats said placed any president above the law.

The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations – they are fighting in court for access to his financial records – and voiced hope that the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.

Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stick with him.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That is nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.

The trial formally began on Jan. 16. The Senate voted 51-49 last Friday to defeat the Democrats’ bid to call witnesses such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, with only two Republicans joining them.

In the previous presidential impeachment trials, Andrew Johnson was acquitted in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and Bill Clinton was acquitted in 1999 of charges stemming from a sex scandal.

In the hours before the vote, numerous senators gave speeches on the Senate floor explaining their vote.

 

SHADOW OF INVESTIGATION

Trump, now seeking a second four-year term, has been under the shadow of some sort of investigation for most of his presidency. The acquittal marked the second time in 10 months that he withstood an existential threat to his presidency.

In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence that Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia in its interference on his behalf in the 2016 election. Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice in seeking to impede the investigation but stopped short of concluding the president acted unlawfully. Trump declared full vindication.

Last July 25, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a phone call to “do us a favor” and open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine colluded with Democrats to meddle in the 2016 election to harm Trump.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president. Trump accused the Bidens of corruption without offering substantiation. The Bidens denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump further abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists and by dangling a coveted White House meeting as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.

Under the Constitution, impeachment is the mechanism for removing a president or certain other federal officials for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)