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As impact of COVID-19 deepens, U.S. officials debate economic response

The impact of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. is deepening. On Tuesday, new cancellations, closures and quarantines were announced and President Trump and lawmakers huddled about potential measures to soften the crisis’ economic impact -- but the stock market rallied back from Monday’s major losses. Amna Nawaz reports and Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On the COVID-19 front tonight, the U.S. death toll rises to 30, with more than 800 confirmed cases. That is up from than one-third on Monday.

    Officials order new cancellations, closures and quarantines. Congress and the president huddle on softening the economic blow. The Biden and Sanders campaigns cancel rallies tonight in Ohio. And the stock market recovers half its losses from a day earlier.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After Monday's steep sell-off, signs of recovery on Wall Street, as investors reacted to new efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, in New York, some of the strongest measures yet.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster in the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Governor Andrew Cuomo sent the National Guard into New Rochelle, outside New York City, and closed schools and businesses in a one-mile radius for two weeks.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    New Rochelle has more than double the cases of New York City. I mean, it's true. It's a phenomenon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Also today, North Carolina joined Colorado in imposing a statewide emergency. In all, more than two-thirds of states in the U.S. now have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with the majority in Washington state.

    In Olympia, Governor Jay Inslee warned that more cases are coming, raising the risk for seniors.

  • Governor Jay Inslee:

    Remind them that this is not a time to exposing themselves to large groups of people in confined spaces.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And in Oakland, California, some 2,000 passengers waited in turn to leave the docked grand Princess Cruise ship and enter quarantine.

    Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., President Trump met with insurance executives and pledged to help the struggling airline and cruise industries.

    Later, he met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as they weigh any legislative next steps, still days from coming together.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    Well, there are going to be a number of different things considered in putting together this package, which, as I said before, I hope ends up being a bipartisan, bicameral-negotiated way forward that will reassure others.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    This shouldn't be a partisan issue. We want to solve the problem. We're ready to work with the administration on a coordinated, government-wide, focused plan to respond to the coronavirus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Among the options under consideration, payroll tax relief, help for hourly wage workers, and making testing and treatment more affordable.

    The president also addressed questions about his own health, after contact with lawmakers now under self-quarantine.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I feel extremely good. I feel very good, but I guess it's not a big deal to get tested. And it's something I would do.

    But, again, spoke to the White House doctor, terrific guy, talented guy. He said he sees no reason to do it. There's no symptoms, no anything.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One of those lawmakers? Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, tapped to be White House chief of staff. He was exposed to the virus at a Washington area conference last week, and announced he would self-isolate as a precaution, even though he tested negative.

    The availability of testing kits led to questions today in a hearing with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Robert Redfield:

    Any physician that feels there's a need, or public health person, can order that test. But it was a series of going through that regulatory process to get that test available.

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.:

    But I think the conclusion is that we are behind the curve in testing, when South Korea can test 10,000 people in a day.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Overseas, the streets of Rome lay quiet, as a nationwide travel ban took effect in Italy, hard-hit by the virus.

  • Silvana (through translator):

    This is the best thing the government could do, because people were not respecting the rules. A stronger decision was needed to counter the situation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At train stations, masked police officers checked documents for all passengers, who had to justify their travel. Poland announced health checks for travelers crossing its border from Germany. And Austria conducted similar checks along its border with Italy.

    In China, President Xi Jinping toured Wuhan, the epicenter of the original outbreak, and said the worst there was over.

  • President Xi Jinping (through translator):

    I extend greetings and thanks to you and to all the community workers nationwide, including those fighting on the front line.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, in South Korea, the number of new cases fell to its lowest level in almost two weeks.

    Back in the U.S., the markets endured ups and downs, but finished the day finished higher, despite the uncertainty of where the virus will move next.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the end, Wall Street recovered about half of its record losses from Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 1,167 points to close back above 25000. The Nasdaq rose nearly 400 points, and the S&P 500 added 135.

    All of this as hopes build for a major economic stimulus package from Washington.

    We get more on the federal government's response now with our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, Yamiche, to you first.

    What are the options that the president is looking at? What are you hearing at the White House?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is looking for the fastest possible economic response to the coronavirus.

    And he's looking at two tracks, first, what he can do individually through some sort of national emergency declaration in the next week or so, and he's also looking at working with Congress and negotiating some sort of larger legislative bill.

    On what he can do himself, he's looking at some sort of executive action where he would be able to do a couple things, including giving small businesses loans. He also wants to try to give some sort of financial relief to hourly workers that have already lost paychecks because they had to be — they had to self-quarantine or because they had the coronavirus.

    The other thing he's looking at is trying to defer tax payments, so that, if you owe the government money, you might have between 90 to 180 days to pay the government, which would put a little bit more money in your pocket short-term.

    Then he's looking at Congress for a payroll tax cut. That would be some — some are saying between 2 percent. That would be what President Obama did in 2010. Larry Kudlow is in the White House right now briefing as I speak. He's saying that this would be something that would last through the end of the year.

    But the president is gearing up for a fight with Democrats on the Hill, because some Democrats are already saying that this is a tax cut that looks something like possibly the 2017 tax cut that they say benefited the wealthy people and not working-class individuals.

    So the president is looking at two things to try to figure out how to stem the economic issues that are coming with this virus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, it's true that there are some different ideas in the Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Yamiche and I were a team reporting on the Hill today. And I think we can safely say that there are a lot of ideas, but not yet a clear focus. Democrats and some Republicans are skeptical of this pay tax — payroll tax cut, because that payroll tax comes and helps Social Security and Medicare.

    Seems to be warming up today. But that kind of 2 percent cut would be over $100 billion in spending. Marco Rubio told me he thinks this whole package could be $300 billion, if it's a larger payroll tax cut. We're talking about very big dollars here, Judy.

    Other ideas floating today Republicans, three of them, senators, raised the idea of including a highway infrastructure bill as part of this. That's something others think is not related at all.

    But if you're talking about economic stimulus, it enters the picture. The point here is that there are a lot of ideas. They don't yet have a real handle on what exactly will help the workers who probably will need it the most.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, no doubt, Yamiche, the White House trying to deal with concerns, rising concerns, on the part of the American people and fears.

    I mean, the death toll is going up. The number of cases is going up exponentially.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    And White House officials just now said that it's guaranteed that the numbers of deaths and the number of cases of coronavirus will be going up.

    Now, today, President Trump, when he was visiting the Hill, was playing sort of calmer in chief. Here's what he had to say:

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're prepared. And we're doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away. We want to protect our shipping industry, our cruise industry, cruise ships.

    We want to protect our airline industry, very important. But everybody has to be vigilant and has to be careful, but be calm. It's really working out.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, there again is the president trying to be calmer in chief. He's trying to tell people, calm down, take a deep breath, things are going to get better.

    But, of course, the issue is, of course, that the president has contradicted some of the health officials working for his own administration. He said at one point that there was going to be a miracle, that the cases were going to go down. He was on Capitol Hill today shaking hands, which is what health officials have said Americans should try not to do.

    They should be washing their hands very vehemently and very frequently. But the president has been saying other things. But, today, he did acknowledge that the cases will go up. But when he was asked about the cases possibly reaching to 100 million Americans infected, he didn't tamper that down.

    Instead, he said: I have seen a lot of different numbers, and I'm just telling people the risks continue to be low.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, right now, what is it, seven members of Congress have been under quarantine?

    How is the Capitol doing in terms of dealing with all this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That, again, is a very mixed picture.

    When you talk to senators, some of them are even joking about this. I spoke to Senator Pat Roberts and his aide. He said, I'd like to self quarantine at Mar-a-Lago.

    So he's trying in some sense to walk this line of not increasing panic. But, also, many staffers, Judy, say they're not taking this seriously enough at the Capitol.

    While I saw some senators using their elbow to hit an elevator button, the truth is, they're not really changing their patterns very much. There are a few, fewer handshakes, some travel, like going to NATO next week. Some senators are not going there.

    But there are more serious considerations going on as well, Judy. I can report from multiple sources that the sergeant at arms at the Senate is looking at trying to find an alternate location, should the Capitol itself be seen as not a healthy place for senators to meet.

    That is normal in this kind of situation. But that tells you how high the issue has risen at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting, in the wake of Speaker Pelosi saying, we're going to keep going, no matter what.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. That's right. They just want a backup plan.

    And also want to note, quickly, on the Biden and Sanders campaign canceling their events in Ohio, that is because Ohio announced their first cases of coronavirus today. Joe Biden, we expect to speak in Philadelphia instead tonight. So this is having that political effect that we expected.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

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