Headlines: March 12, 2020
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President Donald Trump addressed the nation on Wednesday evening from the Oval Office on the coronavirus pandemic. Trump announced a 30-day travel ban on Europe. His exempting of the United Kingdom, whose own health minister has been diagnosed with Covid-19 was immediately criticized. Politico pointed out that the key spots on the European continent that were spared from the travel ban are where Trump owns resorts. There were also three major errors in Trump’s speech. Although he said that “We will be suspending all travel from Europe,” a Homeland Security spokesman later corrected the president saying the travel ban does not apply to, “American citizens or legal permanent residents or their families.” Additionally Trump said trade and cargo from Europe was prohibited, and then corrected himself on Twitter later saying, “The restriction stops people not goods.” Trump also said health insurance companies, “have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.” But an industry spokesperson said it only applied to co-payments for coronavirus testing – not treatments.
Meanwhile, a Brazilian official who just days ago met with Trump and was seen standing alongside the President and Vice President Mike Pence in photos, has tested positive for the disease. The man, who is the Brazilian President’s Communications Director was in the US with Jair Bolsonaro visiting Trump at his Florida resort. Those infected with Covid-19 can take up to 5 days to show symptoms and the virus can live up to 9 days on metal, plastic, and glass surfaces. It is not clear if Trump or Pence have been tested for the virus. Before the Brazilian official’s test results were available Trump told reporters when asked about his contact, “Let’s put it this way I’m not concerned.” On Thursday Trump met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. There are so far 43 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ireland.
Trump’s Oval Office address appears to not have had the calming effect he might have hoped. After his speech European nations took umbrage at the 30-day travel ban between the US and Europe with one official complaining, “There was no heads-up, no coordination as the president claimed.” And on Thursday morning stocks once more slid so fast that for the second time this week, the drop in prices triggered an automatic halt in trading. The Washington Post reports that on Monday Trump, “in an explosive tirade,” “urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to encourage Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell to do more to stimulate the economy…revealing the president’s mounting fury.” Meanwhile Democratic Presidential frontrunner Joe Biden gave a speech on Thursday about the nation’s response to the virus. His rival Senator Bernie Sanders – who was just officially declared the winner of the California primary – plans to address the issue as well.
As cases of the coronavirus continue to spread across the US and the world, actor and celebrity Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife Rita Wilson have tested positive for it while in Australia filming a project. The NBA has announced it will suspend its season after one player from a Utah team tested positive for the coronavirus. The Pentagon has announced that military service members cannot travel to virus-impacted nations for 60 days. In California, prisons have announced a suspension of visits. Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that all large gatherings of 250 or more people should be canceled or postponed. The Los Angeles Unified School district also announced major restrictions including the cancelation of all large school and staff gatherings. The state of Washington went further and actually banned gatherings of 250 or more people. In New York City, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade which is one of the city’s most high profile events, has been canceled. The threats to the economy are quite real as layoffs linked to the virus spread have already begun. The Huffington Post explained, “Drivers at the Port of Los Angeles, convention workers in Las Vegas, festival staff in Austin, Texas, and hospitality employees in Seattle are among those who have already lost their jobs.”
Meanwhile in D.C., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he is canceling the Senate’s recess scheduled for next week. He explained in a tweet, “I am glad talks are ongoing between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi. I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong.” His announcement comes a day after GOP Senate Chairman Lamar Alexander blocked the quick passage of a bil introduced by Democratic Senator Patty Murray requiring workers to receive 14 days of paid sick leave during public health emergencies. Senator Alexander claimed that taxpayers ought to subsidize such a move and that he thought, “The idea of paid sick leave is a good idea. But if Washington, D.C., thinks it’s a good idea, Washington, D.C., should pay for it.” Meanwhile in the House, Democrats this week unveiled a major legislative package to deal with the impact of the coronavirus that includes the paid sick leave as well as up to three months of paid family and medical leave. The 124-page bill is called “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”
In other news, the House voted on Wednesday to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Actor FISA just days before the provisions were set to expire. According to CNN, “The legislation includes new privacy protections… as well as changes to the FISA court system to address misconduct over the surveillance warrants for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.” But several progressive lawmakers denounced the privacy protections saying they didn’t go nearly far enough. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said, “It’s not real reform.”
The US Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the Trump administration to resume it’s “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers while lawsuits challenging it wend their way through the courts. A lower court had recently suspended the policy and then rescinded its suspension. The Supreme Court’s decision means that Central American refugees seeking entry to the US will continue to be forced to remain in dangerous encampments in Mexico while they wait for their cases to be processed.
Whistle blower Chelsea Manning has survived another suicide attempt. The former Army Intelligence officer who had her sentence commuted by President Obama and was then re-imprisoned over contempt of court for refusing to testify against Wikileaks, tried to kill herself. She is currently in the hospital recovering.
Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced former movie mogul is being extradited to Los Angeles just after being sentenced to 23 years in prison in Manhattan for sexual assault and rape. Weinstein, who was hospitalized over complaints of chest pains, now faces similar charges in Los Angeles.
And finally in international news, a rocket attack at a military base in Iraq has resulted in the deaths of two Americans and one member of the US-led coalition. The rockets are of the type that have often been attributed to Iranian forces.