Trump: U.S. could take eq­uity stake in bailouts

Congress works on aid bill as pub­lic is warned not to travel abroad

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - Nation&world - BY JILL COLVIN AND DEB RIECHMANN

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Thurs­day the gov­ern­ment should take an eq­uity stake in com­pa­nies bailed out in the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, a step that would mark an ex­traor­di­nary fed­eral reach into the pri­vate sec­tor.

He also held out hope that treat­ments for COVID-19 might be at hand, voic­ing far more op­ti­mism about quick ther­a­pies than fed­eral sci­en­tists have ex­pressed.

Trump sought to calm the pub­lic’s fears as the num­ber of con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases in the U.S. climbed above 11,000, with at least 168 deaths. He gave an up­beat pro­mo­tion of ther­a­peu­tic drugs in early test­ing that he said could be “a game-changer and maybe not” in treat­ing those suf­fer­ing with COVID-19.

But the head of the Food and

Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion cau­tioned that the drugs were still be­ing tested for their ef­fec­tive­ness and safety, a process that takes months and may or may not yield any­thing.

Mean­while the State Depart­ment is­sued an alert warn­ing Amer­i­cans not to travel abroad un­der any cir­cum­stances and to re­turn home if they are al­ready out­side the coun­try, un­less they plan to stay there.

On Capi­tol Hill, law­mak­ers worked ur­gently to fash­ion a $1 tril­lion aid pack­age to prop up house­holds and the

U.S. econ­omy, start­ing with a White House pro­posal to send Amer­i­cans direct aid, po­ten­tially $3,000 for a fam­ily of four.

Congress also is work­ing to in­crease pro­duc­tion of med­i­cal sup­plies and build tem­po­rary field hos­pi­tals un­der new au­thor­i­ties Trump in­voked in the

De­fense Pro­duc­tion Act.

Repub­li­cans want to have small busi­nesses send pay­checks to work­ers be­ing forced to stay home — through gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance that would not have to be re­paid. They also want to shore up air­lines and other in­dus­tries, but those loans would have to be paid back. Democrats are ex­plor­ing “un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance on steroids.”

More than eight weeks af­ter the first U.S. case of the virus was de­tected, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is still strug­gling to con­duct wide-scale test­ing. Com­pound­ing the prob­lem, lab­o­ra­to­ries are re­port­ing short­ages of sup­plies needed to pro­tect health care work­ers and ven­ti­la­tors that are used to treat res­pi­ra­tory symp­toms of the virus.

For most peo­ple, COVID-19

causes only mild or mod­er­ate symp­toms, such as fever and cough. For some, es­pe­cially older adults and peo­ple with ex­ist­ing health prob­lems, it can cause more se­vere ill­ness, in­clud­ing pneu­mo­nia.

Trump called the bat­tle against coro­n­avirus a “med­i­cal war” not a “financial war.” But he said he be­lieved the U.S. gov­ern­ment should take eq­uity stakes in some com­pa­nies hard hit by the pan­demic and aided by tax­pay­ers. Some Repub­li­cans in Congress worry this could lead to the gov­ern­ment pick­ing win­ners and losers.

“We will be help­ing the air­line in­dus­try,” he said. “We will be help­ing the cruise ship in­dus­try. We prob­a­bly will be help­ing the ho­tel in­dus­try.” He said ad­min­is­tra­tion will also help small busi­nesses, the “en­gine of the coun­try.”

But he sug­gested that such fed­eral aid should not be used by com­pa­nies to buy back their stock, and he said he would sup­port re­stric­tions on ex­ec­u­tive bonuses and fu­ture buy­backs from com­pa­nies re­ceiv­ing the fed­eral sup­port.

On the med­i­cal front, Trump and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug

Ad­min­is­tra­tion com­mis­sioner, de­scribed sev­eral ap­proaches to treat­ment un­der test­ing. Among them: chloro­quine, a drug long used to treat malaria; remde­sivir, an ex­per­i­men­tal an­tivi­ral that’s be­ing tried in at least five sep­a­rate stud­ies; an­ti­bod­ies culled from the blood of COVID-19 pa­tients when they re­cover.

Chloro­quine is widely avail­able al­ready and could be used off-la­bel, but Hahn said of­fi­cials want a for­mal study to get good in­for­ma­tion on whether it helps peo­ple with COVID-19 and is safe. No new and im­mi­nent treat­ments were an­nounced at the brief­ing.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell pro­posed direct pay­ments of $1,200 per per­son and $2,400 for cou­ples as part of a sweep­ing Repub­li­can re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus out­break, ac­cord­ing to a copy of the leg­is­la­tion ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The GOP leader un­veiled his plan Thurs­day as Congress raced to craft a $1 tril­lion res­cue pack­age to shore up house­holds, health­care and the U.S. econ­omy amid the pan­demic cri­sis and na­tion­wide shutdown that’s hurtling the coun­try to­ward a likely re­ces­sion.

“We need to take bold and swift ac­tion as soon as pos­si­ble,” McCon­nell, an­nounc­ing his plan on the Se­nate floor.

Un­der the GOP leader’s plan, the aid would be phased down at in­come thresh­olds of $75,000 for in­di­vid­u­als and $150,000 per cou­ple. Ad­di­tion­ally, there would be $500 pay­ments for each child.

But Democrats have their own pro­pos­als for ush­er­ing aid to Amer­i­cans, and even McCon­nell’s GOP se­na­tors panned Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin’s idea of direct checks of $3,000 for a fam­ily of four — pre­fer­ring in­stead to use the fed­eral dol­lars to keep work­ers who are asked to stay home on the busi­ness pay­rolls.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Mnuchin and eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low, are ex­pected to re­turn to Capi­tol Hill on Fri­day to launch bi­par­ti­san ne­go­ti­a­tions with Se­nate Democrats.

The Trea­sury sec­re­tary said Thurs­day the checks would be direct-de­posited into peo­ple’s ac­counts un­der the plan the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed to Congress.

The pay­ments would be $1,000 per adult and $500 per child so that a fam­ily of two par­ents and two chil­dren would re­ceive $3,000, Mnuchin told Fox Busi­ness

Net­work. The goal is to get that money out in three weeks, he said.

States need more fed­eral fund­ing and in­creased ac­cess to test kits, ven­ti­la­tors and other sup­plies to fight the coro­n­avirus, Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan said Thurs­day.

Ho­gan spoke on be­half of the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion at a news con­fer­ence at his res­i­dence in Annapolis, Md. Ho­gan, who is chair of the NGA, held a con­fer­ence call with other gov­er­nors Wed­nes­day and com­piled a list of five im­me­di­ate needs from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“We need all lev­els of gov­ern­ment work­ing to­gether to get through this cri­sis,” said Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can.

Gov­er­nors want max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity for the use of the Na­tional Guard and more guid­ance on how the De­fense Pro­duc­tion Act will be im­ple­mented, he said. The act, in­voked by Trump on Wed­nes­day, gives the fed­eral gov­ern­ment broad au­thor­ity to direct pri­vate com­pa­nies to meet the needs of the na­tional de­fense.

Ho­gan said gov­er­nors also are re­quest­ing a de­lay or greater flex­i­bil­ity for com­plet­ing the 2020 cen­sus and the tran­si­tion to Real ID.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day touted ther­a­peu­tic drugs now in early test­ing for use in com­bat­ing the coro­n­avirus, but fed­eral health of­fi­cials warned that the process will take months.

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