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Much of the world stands still, but Congress pushes forward on aid deal

There are now over 60,000 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the United States, with more than 600 deaths. Much of the country is under orders to stay home. Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are hailing a legislative victory with the largest economic stimulus package in American history. Amna Nawaz reports, and Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States now has more than 60,000 people infected with the coronavirus. The pandemic has now taken more than 600 lives in this country alone.

    Some 300 of those are in New York City, where urgent efforts are under way to cope with a burgeoning public health crisis. But there's also an explosion of cases in Louisiana. And we will talk to Governor John Bel Edwards in a few moments.

    All of this as a mammoth economic rescue package awaits approval in the U.S. Senate.

    We begin with a report from Amna Nawaz.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    On Capitol Hill overnight, progress on the legislative front, a massive $2 trillion stimulus package for businesses and workers.

    The largest economic rescue measure in U.S. history was hailed as a win by Democrats and Republicans.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    I say to the American people, help is on the way, big help, quick help.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But in the national fight to contain and slow the virus spread, little progress so far. The number of U.S. infections and deaths continues to soar, with much of the country under orders to stay at home.

    In New York, home to more than half of all U.S. cases, Governor Andrew Cuomo said there are some signs of hope.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    To the extent people say, boy, these are burdensome requirements, social distancing, no restaurants, no nonessential workers, yes, they are burdensome.

    By the way, they are effective, and they're necessary, and the evidence suggests at this point that they have slowed the hospitalizations. And this is everything.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Still, Cuomo plans to close New York City streets to traffic and ban contact sports in city parks.

    And in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus victims in the next few weeks, the city is now building a makeshift morgue comprised of rows of white tents outside of Bellevue Hospital, all while fighting to fill a severe shortage of medical equipment.

    Amid national shortages yesterday, attorneys general from 16 states, including New York, urged President Trump in a letter to use the Defense Production Act to — quote — "prioritize production of masks, respirators, and other critical items to fight the pandemic."

    Testing, in the meantime, continues to expand across the country. President Trump turned to South Korea, where aggressive testing and quarantines helped contain the virus, with a request for help to get more tests, and personal protective equipment for health workers.

    World Health Organization officials issued a warning to leaders not to squander this opportunity to suppress the virus, after missing the first chance months ago.

  • Michael Ryan:

    We trust that all governments will take the appropriate actions that — to manage the public health risks, which are real, but we also understand the terrible dilemmas that countries face in protecting economies and social systems. But we must focus first on trying to stop this disease and saving lives.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    U.S. military installations overseas, meanwhile, have been put on high alert, as the number of military infections grows and the virus ravages communities across the globe.

    In Spain, an overflow of patient beds spills into hospital hallways. The country's death toll has topped 3,400, second in the world only to Italy.

  • Man (through translator):

    We keep asking for help. The professionals that are here, geriatric specialists, cleaners, the technical staff, are giving all that we can. We are suffering a lot with this situation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In Italy, where police now use drones to oversee stay-at-home orders, a reported 300 deaths over the last 24 hours in the country's hardest-hit region of Lombardy. That number is down from the previous day.

    India's 1.3 billion residents began their 21-day nationwide lockdown to try and contain the virus, enforced by checkpoints and patrolling police. And in the United Kingdom, the heir to the British throne, 71-year-old Prince Charles, is the latest high-profile positive test for coronavirus. He has mild symptoms and is self-isolating at his Scotland estate.

    Back in the original outbreak epicenter of China's Hubei province, two months of travel restrictions were eased, allowing some rail stations and airports to get back to business and families to reunite.

  • Chen Ting (through translator):

    I feel so happy that this virus didn't affect my family so much. I am so desperate to go back home now to see all of them there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    China's worst-hit area of Wuhan, however, remains under lockdown, with no plans to ease restrictions for another two weeks.

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

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wall Street rallied for most of the day, but lost gains — most of those gains, when that $2 trillion emergency relief plan hit a late snag in the Senate.

    By the end, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 495 points to close at 21200. The Nasdaq fell 33 points, and the S&P 500 added 28.

    Now, to unpack the biggest stimulus package in modern U.S. history, our Lisa Desjardins joins me from Capitol Hill.

    So, Lisa, it's not publicly released, but you and your team, you have seen a copy of a draft. Tell us who gets what in there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, this is some 900 pages, Judy, so I think we're going to be analyzing this bill for months and maybe years to come, depending on what happens here.

    But I want to go first to the idea of who will get what kind of help in this Senate proposal. Let's start right away by looking at the rescue plan and small businesses. Now, small businesses with under 500 workers can get up to $10 million from the federal government.

    And it's a loan that they will not have to repay back if they use that for their payroll. Then, also, let's talk about larger companies. In this deal, they would get up to 50 percent of their payroll covered. That is as long as they guarantee that that money will go to keeping workers, and also for those of us, for most every individual American, a direct payment of $1,200 each, $2,400 per couple, plus $500 for each child, all of that meant to help Americans and businesses get through right now this partial economic shutdown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, we understand one of the big holdups has been over the biggest companies, over the airlines.

    What do we understand is in there right now in that regard?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There are — you read through this, there are a lot of limits on those companies, as we're talking about that $500 billion fund that will go to larger corporations, which need it.

    Here are some of the things those companies would have to meet, some requirements in this bill, to get those loans. One, they would have to keep 90 percent of their work force through September. Then they could not have any pay raises. And, in fact, for the very top executives making millions, they might have to take a pay cut if they take these loans.

    And then also these companies in this deal wouldn't be able to break any union agreements. Also, a quick word on airlines. They receive around $30 billion, and, in this, that money is not a loan. That is money that they could, perhaps, give some equity back, some stocks back to the American taxpayer.

    But that was one of the last things worked out that airlines would get some money straight away from the Treasury Department to stay afloat.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Lisa, with all of this, we know there are still hangups. What do we been what is holding this up still?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I thought we had gotten through all the tough stuff in the last few days, but late today, a group of Republican senators and also the Republican leader on the House side, Kevin McCarthy, say they are concerned about the unemployment benefits, Judy, because, as we have been reporting, this proposal would add $600 per week to every benefit in each state.

    Now, these Republican senators have looked at that and realized that, for some Americans, that addition would actually mean the unemployment benefit is larger than their normal paycheck. We're talking mostly about lower-income, middle-income Americans.

    Now, they say this bill shouldn't go forward with that in it. However, those who worked out the deal, Republicans and Democrats and White House officials, are all telling us there's a reason for this, that state formulas are too complicated, that they can't just limit this straight to income, that this was an attempt to get this money out in a crisis as quickly as possible.

    And, Judy, tonight, it looks like they're not going to change the text of this deal. So it raises the question of whether these senators and a few Republicans on the House side will actually try to block or delay this deal going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Lisa, bottom line, a lot of people are suffering. When is this going to get done?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's the question we're all waiting for.

    Speaking to Senate Republican leaders here tonight, they are still hoping for a vote tonight in the Senate. But it is touch and go at this moment. And, of course, we're waiting to see what the House thinks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I know you will be talking to her in a few seconds, told me she's optimistic, but they're still reviewing this bill as well.

    We want to see what they think.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins reporting, as she is every day, from the Capitol. Thank you, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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