What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Senate Republicans draft 3rd relief bill as coronavirus cases surge across U.S.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the U.S. has surged past 11,000, and officials expect it to rise quickly in the coming days. Meanwhile, the Senate is working on a huge economic aid package, and President Trump is waiving some FDA restrictions to try expedite treatment development. William Brangham reports and Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The pace of the pandemic is accelerating across the United States on this first day of spring. Health officials report more than 11,000 cases, up nearly 3,500 in a single day, and at least 168 deaths.

    As the recorded numbers surge, the State Department is warning Americans not to go abroad for any reason.

    Meanwhile, Congress works on a huge economic aid package, and the White House talks of making more medicines available.

    William Brangham reports.

  • William Brangham:

    President Trump today announced that the federal government will speed access to two drugs that might help people infected with coronavirus.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We slashed red tape to develop vaccines and therapies as fast as it can possible be done.

  • William Brangham:

    Under the new rules, the Food and Drug Administration will bypass its normal process and rapidly accelerate those and other medications for use.

    But these new treatments are not immediately available for COVID-19 patients. And they are not considered cures or a vaccine. It's hoped they will ease symptoms and slow the spread of the virus in people who've already been infected.

    On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Congress is working on its third coronavirus relief package.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    The point is to help small business endure, help workers keep their jobs, and help both businesses and workers emerge from this ready to thrive.

  • William Brangham:

    The bill will include $300 billion for small business loans, a direct cash payment to adult Americans, targeted lending to key industries, and resources for hospitals and health workers who are caring for sick people.

    But Democrats are again pushing for the bill to prioritize workers over corporations.

  • Minority Leader Chuck Schumer:

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    We believe that whatever proposal emerges — and it will be bipartisan — that it must be a workers-first proposal.

  • William Brangham:

    The Senate is expected to work on the bill throughout the weekend.

    The urgency comes as unemployment claims are rapidly rising across the country, as industries from restaurants to car manufacturing are closing their doors, putting millions of Americans instantly out of work.

    In fact, jobless claims spiked to 281,000 last week. That's up from 211,000 the previous week. That's the largest week-to-week rise since the 2008 financial crisis.

    Back at the Capitol, this pandemic is not just affecting Congress' legislative calendar. Last night, two representatives, Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida, and Ben McAdams, a Democrat from Utah, said they tested positive for the virus.

    Both said they began to feel ill on Saturday night, just hours after they, along with 400 other members of the House of Representatives, voted to approve another coronavirus relief bill. Now more than 20 members of Congress are self-isolating.

    And there's some troubling news about who else is falling ill. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that young Americans are being sickened in large numbers. The CDC says there have been 508 hospitalizations caused by COVID-19; 38 percent of them were between 20 and 54 years old.

    And then nearly half of the 121 patients who were then moved to intensive care, those were under 65. But, still, the virus is more fatal for the elderly. and it's important to note the vast majority of infected people have been recovering.

    In the meantime, COVID-19 continues to take an enormous toll on Italy; 3,405 people have died there, surpassing China as the nation that's lost the most citizens to this virus.

    And in China today, a major milestone: Officials said that, for the first time, there were no new local infections in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic.

    President Trump said today he hopes these Chinese numbers are true, but added, who knows?

  • Jennifer Nuzzo:

    When you put distance between people, through a variety of different ways, you can reduce transmission of the virus.

  • William Brangham:

    Jennifer Nuzzo is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She believes China's numbers are real, and they're a result of that country's highly aggressive measures to isolate people.

  • Jennifer Nuzzo:

    Now, there are questions about those measures that we have to address, but I think what it shows is that it is possible to, at least for a short period, reduce transmission.

  • William Brangham:

    Nuzzo cautions, though, that this is by no means the end of China's outbreak.

  • Jennifer Nuzzo:

    The impact of these measures are likely to be temporary, just given the fact that the virus is still circulating in the world. So it's not as though they can just stop once they have reached a certain point.

  • William Brangham:

    Five thousand miles from China, the continent of Africa is just starting to realize the scope of its outbreak.

    Several nations closed their borders today, and the WHO's regional head warned that the continent is seeing — quote — "extremely rapid evolution."

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wall Street had a calmer day by recent standards, at least, as investors reacted to the stimulus measures being taken by central banks.

    The Dow Jones industrial average gained 188 points to close at 20187. The Nasdaq rose 160 points, and the S&P 500 added 11.

    Now, with more on how the U.S. government is responding to the pandemic, Yamiche Alcindor is at the White House, Lisa Desjardins is on Capitol Hill.

    Hello to both of you.

    And, Yamiche, to you first. The president did announce today the Food and Drug Administration is going to be fast-tracking some medicines that they hope can make a difference. What do we know about that? And, also, what do we know about testing being available to Americans?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, it's clear that President Trump is eager to see Americans get the medicine that would be needed to treat coronavirus.

    That being said, that medicine is far away at this point. The president is saying today that there was medicine, including anti-malarial medicine, that could be given immediately to Americans. But the FDA then just a couple of hours ago had to clarify that and say, no, the president is wrong. There is no actual FDA-approved medicine to treat this.

    But what might happen is that doctors might now be using experimental drugs on patients to try to see if the coronavirus reacts to the drugs. There are some senior officials in the FDA who are worried about that. They say that patients might get harmed.

    But President Trump is saying, we have to cut red tape to get people help.

    On testing, today, the president was asked over and over again, when can every American who needs a test get a test for the coronavirus? But the president did not have a clear answer on that. The other thing, the White House is not clear on whether or not the administration and the country as a whole has enough ventilators to help people.

    So the health care systems and health care workers are saying that the system might not be able to care for as many people, and that we might be in a situation where there isn't enough equipment. Right now, the White House is saying they're trying their best to do that to get the equipment needed, but that they don't know at what point that equipment will actually be have — the equipment, rather, will be taken and be able to — give out to the states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Lisa.

    We know, just within the last hour the Senate has released its proposal for the next bill on the coronavirus response. What do we know about what's in it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, this is the big bill. This is that third bill that we have been waiting for.

    And looking over the 247 pages of it quickly, I want to put some highlights out there. First of all, one thing this would do, it would, the Senate Republican plan, give almost every American a $1,200 check. They will be calling it a recovery rebate. That would be $2,400 for families.

    There's an income cap on that. But, for most Americans, they would get that. Also, $208 billion for various industries. That includes $50 billion for the airline industry.

    Judy, also in this, something Yamiche has been talking about, free testing for the virus for any American. Insurers would be required would be required to cover that. Also, Judy, I read in here what looks to be like a three-month suspension, potentially, of student loan payments for federal student loans.

    There is a lot in here. What's important is next what happens is, these Republicans will take this plan and negotiate with Democrats. Democrats want more for unemployment insurance. Over the next couple of days, we will see what happens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating how fast it's moving.

    So, Yamiche, what's the reaction there to all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president has been saying over and over again that he wants Americans to get cash fast.

    Now, the White House has been pushing Republicans on Capitol Hill and Republican senators to get behind the idea of giving more than one check to Americans.

    So I want to walk through a little bit about what the White House wants to see happen here. And some of this is in the bill. Some of it's not. So they want to see to $1,200 checks to Americans, one in April, one in May. Right now, this bill only has $1,200 check, as well as some other things, including $500 for every child for eligible Americans.

    The other thing, they do want $300 billion for small businesses. It looks like that that made into the bill. So that's something that they agreed on.

    The other thing, the president said today he wanted to forbid executive bonuses and stock buybacks. Now, that's something that the president has said he wants to do. He says that if we have to help a company, we don't want to then see CEOs get billions or millions of dollars in bonuses.

    That's something that the president agrees on with Democrats. There are progressives like Elizabeth Warren who say, we don't want to see stock buybacks.

    The other thing that's interesting today is that the president visited the headquarters of FEMA. That's going to be an agency that's going to be administering a lot of the help to states.

    We saw governor after governor today in states like Michigan, Illinois, South Dakota plead with the president for help. They were specifically asking for medical equipment. They were also asking whether or not the National Guard would be able to help them out.

    So what we saw was a number of government — a number of governors on the phone praising President Trump, saying he was doing a good job, but also saying, we need a lot more from the federal government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, coming back to you, I mean, these ideas in the bill you're describing, these are big ideas coming at breakneck speed. How much is known about whether they will actually work?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Quickly, I will summarize where — what people think here. I think we will be talking about this more on the show in coming days.

    That idea of a check for Americans, that is usually something that has a multiplier effect across the economy. People buy things with it. But the concern here, Judy, is that the economy is now shutting down. What can people buy?

    That check, in this case, Judy, is really more targeted to help people by necessities. So that's something they think it can do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very quickly, Lisa, we heard in William's report two members of Congress have already been — tested positive for the coronavirus. Others are self-quarantining.

    What do we know about measures being taken to protect the members of Congress and all the staff?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, I will show you in the last day, since the announcement of those two positive tests.

    The House side of the Capitol, we have seen these signs go up on doors, "Cleaning not required," so that staff could place this if they didn't want a special clean or if that was a room, I believe, where there wasn't a special concern that any of the members who have tested positive have gone to.

    They have done a lot of cleaning around this side of the Capitol in areas where they know those members had strong interactions. They have contacted all the members of Congress or staff that had interactions that they think make them vulnerable to the virus.

    And the House is shut down. So that's a positive thing. These members haven't been here since last week, but they were here then.

    As for the Senate, there is rising concern. Reporters, we are keeping our distance, as much as we can, from senators when we talk to them. There are fewer reporters here now.

    But the biggest question, Judy, is, how will the Senate and House continue to operate? Will they continue to have votes even into next week? And there is a big push on both sides for remote voting. Senator McConnell, as I have reported, has said no.

    But I will tell you, there's increasing interest in that on both sides. Members of that House especially tell me they don't want to return to the Congress. They want to keep working, but they don't want to come to this building, if they can avoid it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very interesting.

    We know, in some countries, they have adjourned their parliament. So we will watch that.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thanks to you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


Listen to this Segment