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House passes largest economic relief package in history after voting drama

The House of Representatives returned to D.C. Friday to approve the largest economic relief package in U.S. history. Bipartisan agreement over the bill reflected lawmakers’ recognition of urgent need amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, governors continued to plead for more health care resources. John Yang reports and Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A mammoth pandemic rescue plan for the U.S., costing more than $2 trillion, is now law. President Trump signed it today, and he ordered a major automaker to start churning out ventilators.

    He also authorized calling up military and National Guard Reserves to active duty. That came as U.S. infections topped 100,000, the most anywhere in the world, with more than 1,500 deaths.

    John Yang begins our coverage.

  • John Yang:

    Lawmakers scrambled to get back to Washington to give final approval to the largest economic rescue package ever.

  • Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas:

    We face a challenge rarely seen in America's history. We must act now, or the toll on lives and livelihoods will be far greater.

  • John Yang:

    With members spread widely across the chamber, heated speeches underscored the tension of the moment.

  • Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich.:

    Our society needs you to stand together at this time. Our country loves you. To our doctors and our nurses, I am wearing these latex gloves to tell every American to not be afraid.

  • Man:

    The gentlelady's time has expired.

    The gentleman from Maryland is reco — is…

  • John Yang:

    And the bipartisan recognition of urgency.

  • Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.:

    This pathogen doesn't recognize party lines, and no partisan solution will defeat it.

  • John Yang:

    President Trump quickly signed the bill, capping a week-long effort to pass the $2.2 trillion package to help struggling Americans.

  • Gayle Stein-Raymond:

    I just got downsized on Monday. And, obviously, I'm devastated.

  • Andrea Veira:

    This is kind of a moment of — like a crossroads for humanity. And, yes, I'm scared. And my business partner is also scared.

  • John Yang:

    But there's also a need for more medical support.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.:

    The entire system is stressed and under pressure. We need 140,000 beds. We have 53,000 beds. That's why we're scrambling.

  • John Yang:

    The U.S. Navy hospital ship the Comfort will be dispatched to New York this weekend.

    Today, her sister ship, the Mercy, entered the Port of Los Angeles. It will take in non-COVID-19 patients to ease the burden on crowded hospitals. Meanwhile, the president invoked the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to begin producing critically needed ventilators.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Maybe we won't even need the full activation. We will find out. But we need the ventilators.

  • John Yang:

    The president initially suggested he wanted to relax health restrictions by Easter, but, today, Vice President Pence said that might not be the case nationwide.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    Let me be very clear. There's going to be areas of the country where we need to continue to lean into mitigation efforts.

  • John Yang:

    Around the world, communities are finding ways to cope with rising infections and overtaxed medical systems. Hospitals and retirement homes in Bergamo, Italy, the epicenter of that nation's crisis, opened their doors to Russian military medics.

    Italy's infection rate has slowed, but the number of deaths there account for more than a third of the world total. And, today, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed he is now infected.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    I have taken a test. That has come out positive. So, I am working from home. I'm self-isolating. And that's entirely the right thing to do.

  • John Yang:

    Other parts of the world are still hoping to avoid the worst. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the military patrolled the streets, ordering people home. The country reported its first coronavirus deaths today and began a three-week lockdown.

    And at the other end of the tunnel, a semblance of normalcy returned to China's Hubei province, once the global epicenter. Subway workers disinfected train stations for the reopening of public transportation, and traffic flowed into Wuhan, after authorities lifted restrictions earlier this week.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The passage of that huge U.S. economic rescue plan wasn't enough to keep Wall Street's rally alive.

    The Dow Jones industrial average lost 915 points, finishing at 21636. But it gained nearly 13 percent for the week. That is the most since 1938. The Nasdaq fell 295 points today, and the S&P 500 dropped 88.

    Now our own Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join us to talk about the historic legislation which the president has just signed.

    So the president has signed this, Yamiche. He's also invoked the Defense Production Act. What more can you tell us about what the president has done?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right, Judy.

    The president signed this historic $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package into law this afternoon. It's a historic bill, the largest stimulus package ever passed by Congress and signed into law by any president.

    The president said that he was happy that Democrats and Republicans could come together to get this bill done, but a note, the president was only surrounded by Republicans when he signed the bill at the White House today. There were no Democrats in attendance.

    The president is still not speaking to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after last year, when she oversaw impeachment proceedings that led to him being impeached.

    Moments before he signed that historic bill, he did invoke the Defense Production Act. This is an act that allows the federal government to direct American manufacturers to make equipment that the federal government says it needs.

    In this case, the president is invoking that act for one company, General Motors, and for one equipment, and one piece of equipment, ventilators.

    Now, this comes after governors all over the country have been urging President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act. They say that they need all sorts of medical equipment, including masks and gowns, but the president is not at this point invoking the act for those other medical equipment.

    It's also a big question of whether or not the president will be meeting the needs that Democrat — that Republican and Democratic governors say that they need. The president last night on FOX News said that he's unsure if the medical equipment being requested by some governors is actually needed. He said, does a governor really need 30,000 ventilators?

    And he was referring specifically to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said his state needs 30,000 ventilators. So, as the president is invoking this, we're going to have to watch very closely whether or not he actually does that for more medical equipment like masks, and also whether or not he actually meets the need the governors say they need.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Lisa.

    We know this vote today was preceded by a fair amount of drama. Take us into the House chamber, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What an extraordinary day, Judy.

    First of all, in the House chamber, there was not enough space for members to be seated and vote without — with proper social distancing. So we saw something never seen before members, filling the balconies around the House chamber, spreading out two, three seats apart, filling the entire balconies, some on stairs, some in the doorways.

    They were all here, Judy, because one member, Representative Tom Massie of Kentucky, wanted a record vote.

    And, in the end — he wanted it because he was worried about the cost of this bill. In the end, though, the House voted him down and unanimously decided not to take a recorded vote, and by voice, just out loud, said they would pass this extraordinary bill. That was a moment of incredible unity on the House floor, members on their feet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, let's continue our conversation — from our conversation from yesterday about what's in this bill.

    You were telling us a lot about how it's helping individuals, how it's helping businesses. What about how it's addressing the medical crisis?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A lot of money for that, too, first of all, $150 billion dollars for health providers, including hospitals themselves.

    There is also some $27 billion to help find countermeasures to this virus, including a vaccine, and including some help for things like the blood supply.

    Now, in addition, this changes some regulations, so that it will be easier for more people to have tele-appointments with their doctor over the computer or over the phone.

    Judy, also, funny thing, a permanent provision in this to try and help make things more affordable for people, from now on, HSAs and FSAs can be used to buy all over-the-counter medication. That includes menstrual products like tampons.

    This is something that is a permanent change, meant to make health care more affordable now and in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Lisa, Yamiche mentioned the states.

    We know some of them are already reeling from trying to get their arms around this crisis. How are they part of this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's so much to say. I tried to choose the most important parts here.

    States will get $150 billion directly. That will be allocated basically by population. Now, as part of that, cities over 500,000 people in population, they also get a direct allocation from their state's money.

    Now, there's also money in here, $31 billion, for schools. That's from kindergarten all the way through higher ed. Judy, there's so much in this, also separate money for mass transit, separate money for the tribes in this country.

    But, you know, Judy, even though this is billions of dollars, more than really we speak about usually for these groups, everyone in Congress acknowledges they don't think this ultimately will be enough. And even though the House and Senate are now both gone for who knows how long, they expect they will have to deal with this again in coming weeks and months.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That is already what we're hearing.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, we thank you both.

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