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Coronavirus cases have showed up in Congress, and with more and more lawmakers choosing to quarantine, why can’t the legislature move to remote votes?

USA TODAY

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus and is being quarantined, his office announced Sunday.

“Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for COVID-19,” reads a statement on his official Twitter feed. “He is feeling fine and is in quarantine. He is asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person.

“He expects to be back in the Senate after his quarantine period ends and will continue to work for the people of Kentucky at this difficult time. Ten days ago, our D.C. office began operating remotely, hence virtually no staff has had contact with Senator Rand Paul.”

Last week, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, announced they had tested positive for the virus and dozens of other lawmakers who fear they may have been exposed have undergone self-quarantines.

Paul was on Capitol Hill several days last week. The statement did not say when Paul tested positive, nor when he might have contracted the illness, but his infection could mean several more lawmakers were exposed. 

William Cummings 

McConnell to move forward with Senate stimulus bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to move forward on a massive stimulus package Sunday, after failing to reach an agreement with Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who plans to introduce her own version of the bill.

The Kentucky Republican said the Senate still hold a cloture vote on the bill, scheduled for 3 p.m. EDT, which will limit debate to less than 30 hours before a final vote that he plans to hold on Monday. McConnell said it “would be best for the country” if Pelosi and House Democrats pass the Senate measure. 

“I believe that’s the way it will end, and that’s the way we’re going to go forward,” he said. He added that negotiations will continue during the 30 hours before the Senate votes.

“We’re still talking about those issues where there’s still some disagreement,” McConnell said. “But make no mistake about it we’ll be voting tomorrow. I mean the wheel has to stop at some point.”  

William Cummings

Pelosi: ‘No deal’ on stimulus package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday there’s “no deal” yet on a massive stimulus package, as she and other congressional leaders tangled over the details of a $1 trillion-plus package aimed at stabilizing an economy reeling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ll be introducing our own bill,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on the Capitol Hill.

Her remarks dimmed the prospect of speedy congressional action on legislation aimed at helping individuals who have been laid off and businesses that have shuttered amid severe travel restrictions quarantines and lockdowns.

Pelosi spoke to reporters after meeting behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., and other congressional leaders.

McConnell is pushing a bill that would send $1,200 checks for most U.S. adults and hundreds of billions for businesses that have been hit by the pandemic. 

Pelosi’s spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about what the sticking points are, but she and other Democrats are reportedly concerned that McConnell’s proposal does not offer enough protections for workers and needs tougher measures to prevent bailed-out corporations from engaging in stock buybacks that enrich executives. 

Deirdre Shesgreen 

AOC tells young Americans to stay home

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, has a message for her generational cohorts amid the coronavirus outbreak: stop going out.

“If you are a young person in America today, you need to stay home,” the New York Democrat said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

“There was so much messaging about how coronavirus is only impacting older people and that younger people don’t have to worry about it for their personal health,” she said. “Well, let me tell you something. In the state of New York, about 55% of our cases are with folks 18 to 49.”

Ocasio-Cortez, 30, warned young Americans they risk not only exposing themselves, but their parents and grandparents “if you continue to go out and live life as usual.”

She also repeated Democratic lawmakers’ call for President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of medical supplies.

“There are not enough face masks, gloves, ventilators, hospital beds to get us through this. Many hospitals are already at capacity or approaching capacity,” she said.

“Companies are donating what they can. That is great. It is not enough,” she said, adding that a failure to use the Defense Production Act “is going to cost lives.”

– William Cummings 

Illinois governor says states are competing against each other for coronavirus supplies

WASHINGTON – Governors are saying their states are competing with each other to buy medical supplies needed to fight the coronavirus, driving up prices and creating a “Wild West” atmosphere – and drawing a rebuke from President Donald Trump.

“We’re all competing against each other” and “this should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker told CNN’s State of the Union.

Trump responded by tweeting that Pritzker and other governors “shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”

Illinois Gov. Pritzker says despite FEMA streamlining critical supply requests, the state is still only getting a fraction of what it needs and is competing against other states on the open market for supplies. “It’s a wild west… indeed we are overpaying” for PPE. #CNNSOTUpic.twitter.com/3MLLFir83V

— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) March 22, 2020

Pritzker is not alone.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., made the same complaint and, like Pritzker and other governors, called on Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act and “order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.”

Cuomo tweeted: “Currently, states are competing against other states for supplies.”

I’m calling on the Federal Government to nationalize the medical supply chain.

The Federal Government should immediately use the Defense Production Act to order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.

Currently, states are competing against other states for supplies.

— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 22, 2020

In his CNN interview, Pritzker said that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency has become a “central repository,” the federal government should do more to make sure that scarce resources get to places than need them.

States like Illinois are also competing against other countries for personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.

“It’s a wide – Wild West, I would say, out there,” Pritzker said. “And, indeed, we’re overpaying, I would say, for PPE because of that competition.”

– David Jackson

Mnuchin expects deal on $2 trillion stimulus package Sunday

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he believes Senate Republicans and Democrats will reach a deal later Sunday on a massive stimulus package, which could approach $2 trillion, aimed at alleviating the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I do think it will get done. We’ve been working around the clock in the Senate with Republicans and the Democrats,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” He said he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“And I think we have a fundamental understanding and we look forward to wrapping it up today.” 

Mnuchin said the package would include small business loans, direct payments to Americans amounting to “approximately $3,000” for a family of four, “enhanced unemployment insurance,” and “approximately” $110 billion for hospitals and medical professionals. Mnuchin said – working with the Federal Reserve – it would free up “$4 trillion of liquidity that we can use to support the economy” through “broad-based” lending programs.

McConnell is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. EDT before a procedural vote on the package at 3 p.m. If a deal is reached, a final vote could come as soon as Monday.

William Cummings 

North Korea: Trump offered Kim Jong Un help in fighting coronavirus 

President Donald Trump has written another letter to Kim Jong Un, this one offering to help his country fight the potential spread of coronavirus, North Korean officials said Sunday.

Trump “expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic,” said Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister and senior ruling party official, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea has said it has no cases of coronavirus, but some foreign policy analysts are skeptical of those claims.

Trump and Kim have often exchanged letters during their on-again, off-again negotiations over U.S. demands that North Korea end its nuclear weapons programs. Those talks remained deadlocked.

The latest letter came after North Korea again tested short-range ballistic missiles over the weekend, drawing protests from South Korea.

A White House statement said Trump sent the letter “consistent with his efforts to engage global leaders during the ongoing pandemic. The President looks forward to continued communications with Chairman Kim.”

– David Jackson

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First federal inmate tests positive

WASHINGTON–The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the nation’s largest detention system, reported its first known case of the coronavirus involving an inmate, confirming that the prisoner has been quarantined at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Federal officials said the inmate, who was not identified, complained of chest pains March 16, shortly after arriving at the New York facility. He was taken to an outside hospital three days later where he was tested for the virus.

Following his March 20 discharge from the hospital, authorities said he returned to the Brooklyn detention center and was “immediately placed in isolation.” Prison officials were notified of the positive test results Saturday.

“BOP staff will continue to monitor this inmate,” the agency said in a statement, adding that the prisoner remains in isolation. “All (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines are being followed, including the conduct of a contact investigation and additional sanitation of affected areas.”

Kevin Johnson 

Pence tests negative, White House says

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence have both tested negative for the coronavirus, his office announced Saturday.

“Pleased to report that the COVID-19 test results came back negative for both Vice President @Mike_Pence and Second Lady @KarenPence,” his spokeswoman, Katie Miller, tweeted.

The vice president is 60 and his wife is 63.

Both were tested Saturday, the day after the White House announced that an aide to Mike Pence had tested positive.

The vice president said that while the White House physician had no reason to believe that the Pences had been exposed, they were tested anyway “given the unique position I have.”

Pence is leading the administration’s coronavirus task force and has been a regular presence at President Donald Trump’s side in recent weeks.

Trump was tested for the virus a week ago and it came back negative.

– Maureen Groppe

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