Senate passes coronavirus rescue package on unanimous vote
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.
The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared sombre and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.
“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,”said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”
The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”
What you need to know today about the virus outbreak
President Trump was urging passage of an unprecedented aid package as Senate leaders grappled with last-minute snags in the emergency legislation to rush aid totalling some $2 trillion in assistance to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
New York authorities mobilized to head off a potential public health disaster, which has emerged as a kind of a warning flare for the crisis in America as the overall U.S. death toll passed 900. India’s 1.3 billion people joined the global lockdown, and Prince Charles has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Here are some of AP’s top stories Wednesday on the world’s coronavirus pandemic. Follow APNews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates through the day and APNews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak for stories explaining some of its complexities.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY:
— A makeshift morgue has been set up outside New York’s Bellevue Hospital as authorities mobilize to head off a potential public health disaster as the overall U.S. death toll passed 900. The city’s police, their ranks dwindling as more fall sick, are being told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing as the city has emerged as the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spot. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has attributed the cluster to the city’s role as a gateway to international travellers and the sheer density of its population of 8.6 million.
‘The whole city laid off’: US jobless claims climb sky high
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Barely a week ago, David McGraw was cooking daily for hundreds of fine diners at one of New Orleans’ illustrious restaurants.
Today, he’s cooking for himself, at home — laid off along with hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. in a massive economic upheaval spurred by efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
U.S. Department of Labor figures to be released Thursday are expected to shatter the old record for the greatest number of new unemployment claims filed in a single week. There are more suddenly jobless Americans than during the Great Recession — and more than in the aftermath of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods.
But McGraw, and others like him, don’t need official numbers to understand the new realities of life in one of the nation’s hot spots for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
“The whole city, laid off. Everybody,” said McGraw, using an exaggeration that didn’t seem like much of one. “Everybody who worked at a restaurant is laid off.”
New York struggles with coronavirus, US deaths top 1,000
NEW YORK (AP) — New York authorities mobilized to head off a potential public health disaster in the city Wednesday, with its emergence as the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spot a warning flare — and perhaps a cautionary tale — for the rest of the country as U.S. deaths from the pandemic topped 1,000.
A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city’s police, their ranks dwindling as more fall ill, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing.
Public health officials hunted down beds and medical equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode in a matter of weeks, overwhelming hospitals as has happened in Italy and Spain. Spanish lawmakers agreed to extending by two weeks a state of emergency that has allowed the government to maintain a national lockdown.
In Washington, President Trump implored Congress to move on critical coronavirus aid without further delay. Senate leaders were trying to overcome late objections to a $2 trillion economic rescue package to ease the financial pain of the pandemic.
Worldwide, the death toll climbed past 21,000, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the U.S. rose to 1,041 as of late Wednesday, with nearly 70,000 infections.
New Zealand mosque gunman pleads guilty to murder, terrorism
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The man who committed the worst atrocity in New Zealand’s modern history when he slaughtered 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques unexpectedly pleaded guilty to all charges Thursday.
The attacks targeting people praying at the mosques a year ago shocked the nation and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. It also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman livestreamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
The sudden turn in the case took survivors and relatives by surprise, and brought relief to people across New Zealand. Many had feared Australian white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant would try to use his trial as a platform to promote his views. He’d outlined those views in a 74-page manifesto he published online shortly before the attacks.
Tarrant, 29, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism at the Christchurch High Court. He had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and his trial had been scheduled to start in June.
Tarrant is the first person to be found guilty of terrorism in New Zealand under laws passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Trump’s Easter goal in war on virus a nod to faith, business
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s “beautiful” idea to reopen the U.S. economy by Easter Sunday and pack church pews that day was dreamed up during a conference call among business leaders desperate to get the country back up and running.
But his target date for easing coronavirus restrictions is another outstretched hand to a group he has long courted: evangelical Christians.
Cooped up at the White House and watching the stock market tumble, Trump had already been eager to ease federal guidelines aimed at halting the spread of a virus that has infected more than 55,000 Americans when about a dozen business leaders convened a conference call on Sunday.
“There was a concern — not unanimity, but consensus — that you had to have a reopening of the economy at some point soon,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and informal Trump adviser. On the call, Moore said, he argued in favour of setting a specific date as a goal by which point the economy could gradually begin to be reopened.
“One of the things we were saying was that this would instil some confidence in people, that there would be some kind of light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Family: US believes ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson has died
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government has concluded that retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished more than a decade ago, died while in the custody of Iran, his family and administration officials said Wednesday.
The circumstances and timing of Levinson’s death were unclear, but White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Wednesday evening that the U.S. believes Levinson “may have passed away some time ago.” Hours earlier, his family said information U.S. officials had received had led them to conclude he was dead. Neither the government nor the family described that information.
The death is believed to have occurred before the recent outbreak of the coronavirus that has gravely affected Iran and another countries, according to a statement from Levinson’s family.
The government’s acknowledgment of Levinson’s death came hours after a White House briefing in which President Donald Trump appeared to equivocate on the news, saying, “I won’t accept that he’s dead.”
U.S. officials communicated the news to Levinson’s family in a meeting in Washington in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private encounter. The person said the information about Levinson had come from Iran’s foreign minister.
Trump administration urged to free migrants as virus surges
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressure was mounting on the Trump administration Wednesday to release people from immigration detention facilities where at least one detainee has tested positive for COVID-19 and advocates fear tight quarters and overall conditions could cause rapid spread of the virus.
The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are vulnerable because of age and pre-existing medical conditions, and because they are often held in open rooms, beds 3-feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protections.
“It’s impossible to stay calm,” said Marco Battistotti, an Italian who is among 170 people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts. “People are panicking. People are in fear.”
The 54-year-old Battistotti was among about 100 detainees at the county jail near Cape Cod who signed a letter released by a local immigration lawyer detailing conditions inside. They asked to be released to await decisions on their immigration cases.
“I don’t want to die in an ICE jail,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Why can’t I fight my case on the outside?”
Joe Biden’s inner circle: No longer a boys club
Weeks before Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign, he released a social media video to address allegations from women who said his uninvited displays of affection had made them uncomfortable.
“Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted,” said the former vice-president, then 76. Looking straight into a cellphone camera, he added: “I hear what they are saying. I understand.”
Kate Bedingfield, an adviser the same age as Biden’s youngest daughter, was first to propose a direct-to-lens declaration. She joined forces with Anita Dunn, an alumna of President Barack Obama’s West Wing and relative newbie to Biden’s orbit. Together with two of Biden’s longest-serving confidants – Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon – they convinced the almost-candidate it was the right course.
When the boss was ready, Bedingfield held up her phone to record.
Those early days of spring 2019 portended a defining new reality for Biden: His innermost circle for decades was dominated by men, with the crucial exceptions of his wife, Jill, and sister, Valerie. But the 50-year political veteran has expanded his brain trust, and the cadre of women now included have helped shape — and even rescue — a campaign that has whipsawed Biden from early favourite to disappointing afterthought and finally to prospective Democratic nominee.
Loughlin, Giannulli: College bribery charges must be tossed
BOSTON (AP) — “Full House” Actress Lori Loughlin, her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, and other prominent parents urged a judge Wednesday to dismiss charges against them in the college admissions bribery case, accusing prosecutors of “extraordinary” misconduct.
Defence attorneys for the the famous couple and other parents still fighting the charges say the case cannot stand because investigators bullied their informant into lying and then concealed evidence that would bolster the parents’ claims of innocence.
“The extraordinary government misconduct presented in this case threatens grave harm to defendants and the integrity of this proceeding. That misconduct cannot be ignored,” the lawyers wrote.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Boston declined Wednesday to comment.
Loughlin and Giannulli are scheduled to go on trial in October on charges that they paid $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits even though neither girl was a rower. Prosecutors say they snapped photos of the girls sitting on rowing machines to help make fake athletic profiles that portrayed them as star athletes.
The Associated Press