Trump isn’t responsible for the virus coming out of China, but he is responsible for his administration’s incompetent reaction since Chinese authorities told the United Nations’ World Health Organization about the epidemic on Dec. 31.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed the potential impact of the virus with Chinese health authorities on Jan. 3 and US intelligence officials warned Trump and Congress about the global danger posed by the coronavirus in early January, the Washington Post reported March 20, but the White House waited weeks before they begin implementing public health measures that might have slowed the spread of the virus and Trump continued to minimize the threat posed by the virus in his tweets and public statements.
“Inside the White House, Trump’s advisers struggled to get him to take the virus seriously, according to multiple officials with knowledge of meetings among those advisers and with the president,” the Post reported. But Trump resisted and continued to assure Americans that the coronavirus would never run rampant as it had in other countries.
“I think it’s going to work out fine,” Trump said on Feb. 19. “I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus.”
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump tweeted five days later. “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
Trump boasts that on Feb. 3 (two months after US officials learned about the threat) he banned foreigners who had been to China in the previous 14 days from entering US, but the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the US on Jan. 21 and federal authorities were unwilling and/or unable to ramp up the nation’s testing capabilities.
The World Health Organization in mid-January adopted a test developed by German scientists, which might have allowed the US to start widespread testing in January. Instead, US authorities tried to develop their own tests, which were flawed and delayed distribution.
After a historic drop in the stock market in late February, Trump finally set up a task force to address the virus on Feb. 26, and put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the effort, but he continued to minimize the threat, which he called a Democratic “hoax.” Two days later, Trump predicted a “miracle” would make the virus disappear.
Trump finally declared a national emergency on March 13, but he said, “I don’t take any responsibility at all,” for the federal response for the outbreak. Instead, he blamed the Obama administration for the delay in conducting wide-scale testing. Trump apparently referred to the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 — during the George W. Bush administration — which enabled the Food and Drug Administration to require labs to get agency permission to perform certain tests during a public health emergency. But the reasons the Trump administration blocked the UN-approved tests remain unclear.
Three days later, on March 16 — nearly three months after first receiving warnings from his intelligence officials — Trump finally admitted that all was not well: “I’ve always known this is a real — this is a pandemic,” he said as he admitted, “[the virus is] not under control for any place in the world.” He endorsed “social distancing” for at least 15 days to keep the virus from spreading, but left it to governors and local officials to order people to stay at home. And he suggested people might need to go back to work March 30 to reopen the economy, regardless of whether the contagion is under control.
Trump could order factories converted to produce protective gear and ventilators under the Defense Production Act to prepare for an expected rush of patients, but he has refused to follow through, reportedly because he doesn’t want to look like a socialist.
Trump also refused to release protective gear and ventilators from a federal stockpile, arguing that “We’re not a shipping clerk,” and told governors to find their own face masks and ventilators.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also lectured Chinese authorities about being more transparent about the virus, which would be laughable, coming from the secretive and press-bashing Trump administration, if the matter weren’t so serious.
Congress passed two coronavirus relief packages, the first $8.3 billion bill providing funding for research and development of vaccines, the CDC, FDA and Agency for International Development and state and local public health efforts; the second bill, costing $105 billion, provides for free tests (when you can get them) and ordered two weeks of paid sick leave for some workers who are idled because of the pandemic and up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for parents who are caring for children whose schools have closed.
At press time, Democrats were balking at a third stimulus bill, estimated to cost $1.8 trillion, in which Senate Republicans proposed to give Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin broad discretion to secretly dole out $500 billion in grants and loans to bail out corporations, many of which used tax relief in 2018 to buy back their own stock rather than invest the windfall in expanding their businesses.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been a leader in the Democratic response to the virus emergency. Warren on March 17 rolled out eight conditions she argued should be placed on any company that receives government funds to help stay afloat during the pandemic, including a permanent ban on stock buybacks, a three-year ban on dividends or executive bonuses, a $15 minimum wage and setting aside board seats for employee-elected representatives. She also calls on cancelling $10,000 in student loan debt.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., staked out a similar position. And in the days since, Trump and some Republican senators have indicated they would back restrictions on bailouts going to stock buybacks.
“To earn Democratic support in the Congress, any economic stimulus proposal must include new, strong and strict provisions that prioritize and protect workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives, and laying off workers,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.
Joe Biden, who announced March 23 he would take a more active role in criticizing Trump’s response to the health crisis, embraced a proposal by Schumer, Warren and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) to increase Social Security benefits by $200 a month for all recipients over the next two years. Biden also supported the student debt cancellation proposal.
Pelosi on March 23 unveiled House Democrats’ stimulus package, which includes funding for states to carry out a mandate to ensure America can hold its November elections as scheduled in a safe manner, even if the coronavirus continues to be a threat.
The Democrats include $4 billion to help states implement voting by mail. The bill would require that states offer 15 days of in-person early voting, allow registered voters to cast ballots by mail without an excuse, and mail every registered voter a ballot in case of an emergency like the current one. Additionally, the bill mandates that online and same-day voter registration be made available in every state.
Republicans likely will be hostile to the effort to make it easier to vote, but Democrats should hold the line and demand that any further stimulus measures guarantee that citizens have the right to cast a vote in November. — JMC
Update: The coronavirus relief bill Congress passed Friday, March 27, did not go as far as Democrats hoped, but it will deliver cash payments to practically everyone in America, expand unemployment insurance for people who lose their jobs due to the pandemic and prevent people from losing their jobs in the first place, so that their employers remain their main source of income, Arthur Delaney reported at HuffPost.
The bill creates a $350 billion “paycheck protection program” that essentially pays small businesses not to lay off their workers for the duration of the outbreak. The government will lend money to firms to cover their payroll and other costs for eight weeks, and then forgive the loan if the firms avoid layoffs.
The unemployment compensation, by contrast, amounts to about $260 billion, according to an estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, while the rebate payments to households amount to $290 billion.
Employers who lose business or are ordered to shut down because of the outbreak can also get a refundable tax credit for part of their payroll costs.
From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2020
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