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Trump news: President doubles down on support of controversial drug as Fauci sits out coronavirus briefing amid tensions with White House

President defies health officials as he urges to open economy as it nears end of two-week shutdown

Alex Woodward
New York
,Joe Sommerlad
Monday 23 March 2020 22:32 GMT
Donald Trump mocks Mitt Romney's coronavirus threat 'gee that's too bad'

The US now has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, as New York mayor Bill de Blasio implores Donald Trump for more federal assistance and warns that the city’s 11 public hospitals only have enough medical supplies to last for the next week.

The Senate reached yet another stalemate over a $2trn (£1.7trn) economic stimulus package on Monday after Democrats have argued that the Republican-led bill amounts to a “slush fund” for the president and his corporate allies in its present form.

Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell hit back, saying that “our nation cannot afford a game of chicken" as both sides moved to reassure the public that they are “very close” to coming to an agreement on the bailout.

The president has meanwhile continued to push to re-open the US from its effective shutdown within weeks, rather than months, as the White House approaches the end of a 15-day shuttering next week.

He said: "Our country wasn't built to be shut down."

After arguing that business as usual should continue in the coming weeks to keep the economy moving, he said that doctors in his administration haven't "endorsed" easing those restrictions but he claimed "they're OK with it".

Asked whether any health officials agree that guidelines should be eased within a week, the president said: "If it were up to the doctors, they may say, 'Let's keep it shut down. Let's shut down the entire world.'"

The president also promoted the use of a controversial drug that will begin trials this week to determine its efficacy combatting the virus. A man in Arizona died after trying to recreate the drug from an aquarium cleaner, days after Mr Trump had contradicted his own health officials in declaring it a "game changer" against the virus.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in the US and the Donald Trump administration's response to it.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 09:55

Coronavirus response bill stalls but talks set to resume

The Senate will resume negotiations over a proposed $2trn (£1.7trn) coronavirus economic stimulus package on Monday after Democrats brought talks to a standstill on Sunday night by complaining the pro-business bill was “a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family” in its present form.

“Our nation cannot afford a game of chicken,” Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell hit back, as both sides moved to reassure the public that they are “very close” to coming to an agreement on the bailout.

 Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer was one of those striking a cautiously optimistic note.

"This bill is going to affect this country and the lives of Americans, not just for the next few days, but in the next few months and years - so we have to make sure it is good," he said. '"There were some serious problems with the bill leader McConnell laid down. Huge amounts of corporate bailout funds without restrictions or without oversight - you wouldn't even know who is getting the money. Not enough money for hospitals, nurses, PPE [personal protective equipment], masks, all the health care needs. No money for state and local government, many of whom would go broke. Many other things."

But Schumer said they were making progress in dealing with those issues. "We're getting closer and closer. And I'm very hopeful, is how I'd put it, that we can get a bill in the morning."

With a population on edge and shell-shocked financial markets poised for the new work week, Washington laboured under the size and scope of the rescue package that's more ambitious than any in recent times - larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.

Democrats say the largely GOP-led effort did not go far enough to provide healthcare and worker aid, and fails to put restraints on a proposed $500bn (£431bn) "slush fund" for corporations. They voted to block its advance.

Democrats won a concession - to provide four months of expanded unemployment benefits, rather than just three as proposed, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the private talks. The jobless pay also extends to self-employed and so-called "gig" workers.

"I think you'll get there. To me it's not very complicated: We have to help the worker. We have to save the companies," President Trump said from the White House yesterday.

Phil Thomas has more details.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 10:05

State governors threaten stricter social distancing measures

With the US death toll beyond 400, governors across the States are being forced to consider more drastic action to contain the spread of the contagion.

In Texas, for example, Greg Abbott has asked Lone Star State hospitals to drop all elective surgeries to free up beds and equipment and deployed the National Guard to set up testing centres. Trump himself yesterday dispatched the Guard to the three worst hit states: New York, Washington and California.

Also in New York, Andrew Cuomo yesterday gave the Big Apple 24 hours to start adhering to social distancing guidelines after people were seen flocking to city parks over the weekend and failing to stand apart from one another, thereby potentially allowing the disease to thrive.

 “It’s insensitive, it’s arrogant, it’s self-destructive, it’s disrespectful to other people and it has to stop and it has to stop now,” he said. “This is not a joke and I am not kidding.”

Alex Woodward has more from NYC.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 10:25

Crowds pack California beaches despite warning to stay at home

The problem called out by Cuomo in New York - and by Sadiq Khan in London - was also seen in California yesterday, where residents flocked to the beach, parks and hiking trails, ignoring orders to self-isolate.

Gino Spocchia has more on this.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 10:45

President says US to make a decision on coronavirus at end of 15-day plan as Bill de Blasio accuses him of failing to 'lift a finger'

Trump said on Sunday the United States will make a decision at the end of a 15-day period on "which way we want to go", to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," he said on Twitter, giving the impression of ranting furiously by writing in all-caps.

The line appeared to come directly from ex-David Cameron adviser Steve Hilton on Fox, who said last night: “Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown. Working Americans can’t, they’ll be crushed by it. You know that famous phrase, ‘The cure is worse than the disease?’ That is exactly the territory we are hurting towards.”


Trump issued new guidelines on 16 March aimed at slowing the spread of the disease over 15 days. Since then, his administration has been pushing for aggressive steps to stem the economic hit of the epidemic, after the president spent several weeks playing down the risks.

Nearly one in three Americans was under orders on Sunday to stay home to slow the spread of the virus as Ohio - although whether they adhered to them is another matter - with Louisiana and Delaware the latest states to enact broad restrictions, along with the city of Philadelphia. They joined New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey, home to 101m Americans combined.

Earlier on Sunday, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said the lockdown affecting large segments of the American public was likely to last 10 to 12 weeks, or until early June.

Also doing the Sunday shows was NYC mayor Bill de Blasio who joined Mnuchin by warning that April and May "are going to be a lot worse" but attacked Trump, saying he won't "lift a finger" to help his hometown with additional medical equipment during the crisis. 

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 11:05

Trump told to 'get off Twitter and do your job' in spat with Illinois governor

The president was busy on social media over the weekend, distributing clips of his latest press conference with Dr Fauci and the task force team.

He also found time to pick a fight Illinois's outspoken governor JB Pritzker.

That broadside came after the governor told Jake Tapper on State of the Union that the demand for medical supplies is leaving states facing a new "Wild West" and being forced to compete with each other and overpay.


Pritzker is cleary not a man to back down from a gunfight and called out Trump in response:


The attack on the media in there was followed up late last night with this Hall of Famer, in which he raved: “All I see is hatred of me at any cost. Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?”


Here's Alex Woodward with more.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 11:25

Total coronavirus cases top 341,000 globally as US death toll breaks 400 barrier

The United States now has 34,354 cases of Covid-19, according to CNN, with 414 people dead from the respiratory disease.

Since the first American case was first diagnosed on 21 January, coronavirus has now spread to all 50 states plus DC, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Of that grim total, 114 New Yorkers have died while Washington state has seen 95 deaths so far and California 32.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 11:45

Trump says US will follow Japan's lead on Tokyo Olympics

The president has just started hammering out tweets, of which this is the most pertinent so far:

He has also personally reached out to reassure a supporter who has pledged to build a statue of him if he manages to save the country from a second Great Depression:

This hot take from Fox brat Tomi Lahren is also pretty spicy:

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 12:10

Trump wishes Rand Paul well after Kentuckian becomes first senator to test positive

The president issued this response to the news last night that Republican Rand Paul is the first member of the Senate to have contracted Covid-19.

Paul dined with Republican colleagues on Friday and reportedly used the Senate swimming pool on Sunday before being informed of his condition, raising fears that his colleagues may also have come into contact with the contagion.

On Twitter, few could resist pointing out the blackly ironic nature of the development given Paul's recent behaviour on Capitol Hill.

One of the first congressmen to catch the disease, Utah Democrat Ben McAdams, has meanwhile been hospitalised after reporting breathing difficulties.

Here's Phil Thomas's report on Senator Paul.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 12:30

'Gee, that's too bad'

While Trump offered consolation to Paul in his hour of need, he was less than gracious when he learned that Utah senator Mitt Romney - the one Republican to break ranks and vote for his impeachment - had been taken into quarantine.

Joe Sommerlad23 March 2020 12:50

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