Mask-less Trump evangelizes about business reopenings, virus tests as West Wing wards off possible contagion.

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

President Trump on Monday tried to contain the fallout of coronavirus infections within the walls of the White House, simultaneously projecting confidence about America’s readiness to reopen while implementing new protocols meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 among senior officials and staff members (The Hill).

The juxtaposition was on full display at a Rose Garden event in which nearly everyone but the president wore a mask and maintained social distance as a spring breeze ruffled a phalanx of flags.

Two white banners hung near the Oval Office door declaring “America leads the world in testing.” Trump told reporters that virus testing resources have expanded, opening the door to a goal of 12.9 million tests by the end of May. “We have prevailed,” he said. “We have the best testing.

The administration’s coronavirus testing coordinator, Adm. Brett Giroir, said that “everybody who needs a test can get a test,” including those who have symptoms and those who have come in contact with individuals who have tested positive.

Inside the White House, those in direct contact with the president are tested for the virus daily, which is how Trump learned that two West Wing aides — one his military valet and another Vice President Pence’s press secretary —  tested positive for the coronavirus just since last week. A White House memo now directs anyone entering the West Wing to wear a mask.

Trump and Pence, who originally said they didn’t need to wear face coverings because they repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19, are now exposed to a different challenge: the risk that the coronavirus is moving through the West Wing and upending a narrative of reassurance to Americans and businesses to get back to work with faith in social distancing, thermometers, hand sanitizer and the availability of COVID-19 tests if symptoms emerge.

“I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” the president told a reporter. “We have a lot of people who work here, and one got it,” he said, as if U.S. workplaces of all types are not similarly crowded with “a lot of people coming in and out,” as he described his office.

Concerns among workers about health risks at a Philadelphia factory that manufactures personal protective equipment used by hospitals scuttled Trump’s plans to visit there last Friday (The Washington Post). He now plans to visit a different Pennsylvania distribution business on Thursday.

This morning, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will warn the country via teleconference during a Senate hearing that Americans risk “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up too quickly (The New York Times). Fauci’s message, delivered to Congress in his first testimony since the coronavirus emergency began, will stand in stark contrast to Trump’s repeated encouragement to Americans to resume commercial and social activities they recall from before the pandemic began. “People learned a lot over the last two months,” the president said on Monday. “We are leaving it up to the governors.

The Associated Press: Fact Check: Trump is not credible on virus death tolls.

Personal precautions against infection have not prevented members of the House and Senate from contracting COVID-19 or coming in contact with others who have tested positive, forcing periods of self-quarantine and teleconference workarounds originating from lawmakers’ homes.

On Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Democratic lawmakers on a conference call that they could return Friday or next Tuesday to vote on the massive CARES 2 legislation that is expected to rival the original $2.2 trillion bill enacted in late March.

According to one House Democrat, the call was “really light on specifics” about the pending legislation, although committee chairmen are expecting to walk through portions of a proposed measure today at length.

As legislation comes together, House Democrats are making individual plays to have their proposals included in the mammoth proposal. As Cristina Marcos reports, a group of moderates are calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to include provisions that would automatically extend safety net programs, including enhanced unemployment insurance, Medicaid and food assistance through the end of next year.

“In uncertain times, Congress can provide predictability to get our economy back on track by tying continued relief to economic triggers,” wrote Democratic Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Colin Allred (Texas), Ed Case (Hawaii), Dean Phillips (Minn.), Sharice Davids (Kan.) and Kendra Horn (Okla.).

However, Republican lawmakers remain on their own timeline and do not seem fazed by the House push to vote on their bill in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that he’s in “constant communication” with the White House about the federal government’s COVID-19 response but indicated that there is not yet a need for Congress to pass additional legislation (The Hill).

“We’re basically assessing what we’ve done already. I’m in constant communication with the White House, and if we decide to go forward, we’ll go forward together,” McConnell told reporters. “I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately. That time could develop, but I don’t think it has yet.”

Pelosi criticized McConnell’s approach in an interview Tuesday night, telling MSNBC that hunger, rent and hardship do not “take a pause” (The Hill).

 

The Associated Press: Pelosi wants to go big on aid, but McConnell sees no urgency.

 

The Hill: GOP senator calls House coronavirus bill a “fairy tale.”

 

The New York Times: GOP split over state aid that could mostly go to Democratic strongholds.

 

The president said he wants the next coronavirus-related bill to include a payroll tax cut or perhaps additional direct payouts to Americans beyond the one-time payment that was included in the first, $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief measure enacted in March.

 

“We’re talking about that with a lot of different people,” Trump said. “I want to see a payroll tax cut. I want to see various things that we want. I want the workers to be taken care of, but we are talking about that. We’re negotiating with the Democrats. We’ll see what happens.”

 

The Hill: The eight key provisions expected in Democrats’ next COVID-19 bill.

 

The Hill: A guide to current progress with potential COVID-19 vaccines.

 

The New Republic: With pandemic prevention and vaccine development, the United States used to be cutting edge. That was before privatization and Big Pharma.

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