Political News

drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump fired the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, Friday, saying he no longer had confidence in him. His termination quickly drew the ire of top Democrats.

Atkinson was the intelligence community inspector general whose communications to Congress about a whistleblower complaint helped initiate the Ukraine impeachment inquiry against the president.

"As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and doesn't of the Senate, it is vital that I have the fuller confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General," Trump said in a letter Friday announcing Atkinson's termination. "That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, senior Democrats and other Inspectors General defended Atkinson while others in Washington questioned the timing of Trump's decision.

"In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another an intelligence official simply for doing his job," Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who is also Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement Friday.

At least 7,159 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. and more 278,000 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

Michael Horowitz, Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Inspector General at the Department of Justice, issued a statement early Saturday morning, complimenting Atkinson's career.

"Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight," Horowitz said in a statement. "That includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint."

Without mentioning Trump, Horowitz said the inspector general community would continue to "conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee."

"This retribution against a distinguished public servant for doing his job and informing Congress of an urgent and credible whistleblower complaint is a direct affront to the entire inspector general system," House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement Friday night.

Pelosi called Atkinsons' dismissal "shameful," saying his firing will have a chilling effect against whistleblowers.

“The shameful late-night firing of Inspector General Atkinson is a brazen act against a patriotic public servant who has honorably performed his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath," Pelosi said in a statement.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Valeriya/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House announced Friday that it plans to designate $100 billion in emergency spending approved by Congress to reimburse hospitals and other health care providers for treating the estimated 28 million people who are uninsured in the United States.

The decision comes amid the fast-moving novel coronavirus pandemic that has left many Americans furloughed or fired and without health insurance. The situation has become so urgent that Trump administration officials who once vilified the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are now turning to the law as a workable option.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Friday Americans who lose their employee-sponsored insurance qualify for special enrollment and aren't impacted by the December 2019 deadline to get insurance this year. He also pointed that several states have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Obama-era law.

Azar was a long-time critic of the program, previously declaring it unworkable and said that it was "circling the drain."

"I would also like to remind people that if you have lost employer insurance coverage, you have insurance options that you should look into," he told reporters Friday. "You would be eligible for a special enrollment period on the health care exchanges and depending on your state, you may be eligible for Medicaid."

To help Americans who remain uninsured, the administration plans to directly reimburse hospitals and other health care providers as long as they promise not to stick uninsured patients with the bill.

Azar said $1 billion is already approved by Congress to reimburse health care providers for testing and diagnosing uninsured patients. Another $100 billion has been approved by Congress for health care providers. That larger chunk of money would be paid out to health care providers under negotiated rates.

"Under the president's direction, we will use a portion of that funding to cover providers' costs of delivering COVID-19 care for the uninsured," said Azar.

"As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care," he said. "Providers will be reimbursed at Medicare rates."

Trump had alluded to the move a day earlier when he said he was looking at a "cash payment" that would go to a "certain group of people" to protect Americans who were uninsured from facing large medical bills.

"So we're going to work it out, so we're going to try and get for that certain group of people a cash payment," Trump said late Thursday.

Added Pence: "The president has made it very clear, we don't want any American to worry about the cost of getting a test where the cost of getting treatment."

Trump had said earlier this week that he would not re-open enrollment for the federally run health care exchanges, which allow Americans to purchase subsidized plans independent of their employer. Enrollment for 2020 coverage ended last December.

Americans are eligible for special enrollment, however, if they quit or get fired from their jobs.

They also could turn to state-run exchanges if they live in any of the dozen states that have re-opened enrollment because of coronavirus.

Jose Vera, a graphic designer in Wilton Manor, Florida, said paying his mortgage and finding health insurance were his top concerns after getting laid off as a result of the ongoing health crisis. He said his company had too many clients cancel orders and so they downsized.

Now, for the first time, he is trying to navigate the health insurance marketplaces, set up through the Affordable Care Act, that allows individuals to buy their own health insurance plans.

"I'm applying and just trying to get as much help as I can," he told ABC News. "It's a lot of uncertainty, and it's very scary. This is the first time I've been going through something like this. I've always been very fortunate to have a job."

The question though, is whether Americans like Vera will find a health insurance plan they can afford while paying other bills as part of the newly unemployed.

Also unclear is how people who opted not to buy health insurance, but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, will fare in an era of pandemic flu.

These can often be families or young people looking to save a few dollars each month by not enrolling in Obamacare because they are healthy at the time.

The Obama-era law had required Americans to enroll in a health insurance plan in a bid to force cost sharing across a bigger pool of people. But a federal appeals court struck down that requirement after an aggressive challenge by Republican-led states, backed by the Trump administration.

The matter will be taken up by the Supreme Court later this year.

Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said there are probably as many as 9 million Americans who are uninsured and don’t qualify for Medicaid. These Americans will have to see if they live in any of the 12 states that have re-opened enrollment on their health care exchanges, he said.

"These are people who have either chosen not to get insured or weren’t aware of their options. They might make a very different judgment today with the potential risk of serious illness from the coronavirus," Levitt said.

In the end, Trump might have to lean on "Obamacare" as a solution to see the country through a pandemic flu, despite campaigning against the law and expected to argue to dismantle it in court.

"This will be the first economic downturn when the (Affordable Care Act) is in place as a safety net," Levitt said. "As people are losing their jobs and losing their health care it could be an inopportune time to overturn the safety net."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


hailshadow/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Across the U.S. banking industry, officials scrambled overnight to stand up a massive new government-backed lending program to help small businesses ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic and many were unable to make it happen by the Friday deadline given that the Treasury Department released its guidelines for the loans late Thursday night.

The $350 billion federal program -- called the Paycheck Protection Program -- was a key part of the recently-passed $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package. The Paycheck Protection Program is a relief plan designed to extend loans, backed by the federal government, that become grants if the money is used for payroll and other overhead operating expenses.

Despite the major problems in implementation, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted Thursday night that the program was up and running with a link to the application guidelines.

But across the U.S., at banks big and small, the program is simply not yet operational. And experts said it would be a week before the program was fully up and running.

Wells Fargo stated on its website Friday, “Financial institutions like ours continue to receive program implementation guidance from the SBA and the U.S. Treasury. Unfortunately, as a result, Wells Fargo will not be able to start accepting applications on Friday, April 3rd. When we are able to take applications, you’ll find a link to that application on this page so check back often.”

“The applications were just released a little more than 12 hours ago, literally in the middle of the night,” said one banking industry official. “Some loans will go out today and we hope the system will be running on all cylinders early next week. It is important to remember banks were handed the operator’s manual for a $350 billion program at 6:30 p.m. the day before it was supposed to launch. Expectations were unrealistically set but rest assured banks are doing everything humanly possible to get this system up and running to help small businesses.”

Two separate banking industry sources indicated to ABC News on Friday that applications were not received for both prospective borrowers and lenders until 10:30 pm Thursday night.

Additionally, some new lenders are having trouble accessing the SBA application site called "E-Tran," according to two industry sources.

One source said there have also been security concerns with the portal that are currently being addressed.

Despite Bank of America Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan touting his institution’s success in standing up its program in record time -- telling CNBC that the bank has taken in 10,000 applications as of Friday morning -- much ire was directed at the bank online and by one powerful Senate committee chairman.

“BankofAmerica got bailed out with $45 billion of your tax money. But now just heard from #smallbusiness with a BOA account & a 400k line of credit they paid off. BOA denied #PPP loan because they don’t have a credit account. A ridiculous requirement that isn’t anywhere in law,” tweeted Small Business Administration Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla, who was integral in creating the new PPP program.

Moynihan told CNBC that his bank is prioritizing those who have an established lending relationship with Bank of America.

“We are prioritizing. We have a million borrowing customers we're trying to get through the system first. Then our second priority will be the customers who have the core operating account with us but don't borrow anywhere,” Moynihan said. “For those that borrow from the other 4,000 banks in the country, we're trying to get them to go back to their bank.”

Still, small business owners who maintain accounts with Bank of America but don't have open lines of credit were surprised to discover their loan applications were denied Friday morning.

Patrick Slaughter, the owner of a small law firm in Knoxville, Tennessee, says he has a business credit card and business checking with Bank of America, but has never needed to apply for a business loan. With his loan application denied for now, Slaughter says he could be forced to lay off his employees within a few weeks.

"It’s an emotional thing for me. Truth is, I could probably retire and walk away from this. But I've got too many people that didn't do anything wrong that were hopeful we were getting this help from the government," Slaughter said.

Slaughter said Bank of America contacted him a few hours after he was initially told he did not qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan at this time with an offer for a conventional loan or a credit card.

"They are purposefully denying us this Paycheck Protection Program opportunity so they can profit by selling us their loans," Slaughter said.

"We know for these businesses speed is of the essence. We can move fastest with our nearly 1 million small business borrowing clients. That is our near term priority. As the administration has made clear going to your current lending bank is the fastest route to completion," said Bank of America spokesperson Ball Haldin.

Late Friday, Bank of America said loans will become available to those without a lending relationship “soon.” A source close to the matter says that could happen within days.

One Bank of America official expressed frustration that the bank was seemingly being targeted for denying customers who don't have open lines of credit, considering the bank is one of the few actively processing applications. As of Friday afternoon, the bank said it had already assisted more than 58,000 customers with SBA loans.

Lindsey Johnson, the CEO of Weezie, an e-commerce retailer of linens based in Georgia, said she spent the week poring over the CARES Act, preparing all of her financial information, and stayed up late into the night to wait for the application to go live.

"No one has ever mentioned the stipulation about having a lending relationship," she said. Johnson has 28 employees she has been able to keep on payroll, but she said the situation is "very much wait and see."

"It feels like this was like an oversight. My hope is that Bank of America changes their requirement. I feel hopeful that they will. It's in their best interest to keep their clients. If you can't turn to your bank in a time like this, it's like, where else are we supposed to go?"

Consumer Bankers Association’s President and CEO, Richard Hunt, counseled patience Friday, saying in a statement, “Having just received guidance outlining how to implement a $349 billion program literally hours before it starts, we would ask for everyone to be patient as banks move heaven and earth to get a system in place and running to help America’s small businesses and the millions of men and women who work at them.”

But that message was incongruous with statements from administration officials.

Just before Noon on Friday, Secretary Mnuchin tweeted, “UPDATE #PPPloan now over $875,000,000 processed almost all from community banks! Big banks taking applications and will submitting them shortly. @SBAgov @USTreasury.”

And some were insisting any problems with the Paycheck Protection Program were minor.

“I think this program is ready,” National Economic Council Chairman Larry Kudlow told Fox News. “They always have glitches when they start out. It's a massive undertaking, but at the end of the day, these are guaranteed loans and they will be forgiven if you cover your payroll and other expenses. You have eight weeks to do that. I think it's a tremendous opportunity, a 1% interest rate. Again the U.S. Government is guaranteeing these loans let me also say for people who are looking to apply they should be moving rapidly.”

The Treasury Department has not responded to a request for comment.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3dfoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Wisconsin's primary elections are moving forward as scheduled on Tuesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

And despite conflicting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about limited larges gatherings, both campaigns for former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump say they won’t call on the state to postpone their respective contests.

U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled on Thursday that in-person voting would not be canceled or postponed, but voters in Wisconsin now have an additional day to request an absentee ballot, until Saturday at 5 p.m.

Voters will now have an additional six days to get their absentee ballots to election officials.

However, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-led state legislature have not made major changes to the state's election date, unlike other states who have postponed their elections. But on Friday, in a last-minute effort to protect Wisconsin voters from COVID-19, Evers issued an executive order to call the Republican-controlled state legislature into special session.

Evers is urging state lawmakers to move to an all-mail election, do away with in-person voting on April 7, send every voter an absentee ballot, and extend the deadline to return absentee ballots to late May, essentially delaying the primary.

Biden, the Democratic front-runner, sparked controversy after saying he believed the primary could be held next Tuesday amid the pandemic, while adding it’s ultimately up to local officials.

“Well, the answer is I'd listen to the scientists. Having a convention, having tens of thousands of people in one arena is very different than having people walk into a polling booth with accurate spacing, 6 to 10 feet apart, one at a time going in and having machines scrubbed down," Biden said during a virtual press conference on Thursday.

"I think you can hold the election as well dealing with mail-in ballots and same day registration. I mean there's a lot of things that can be done. That's for the Wisconsin courts and folks to decide, but I think it's possible to do both...And I think it could be done based on what I've been hearing from the news and what I understand the governor and others are saying. But that's for them to decide,” Biden added.

ABC News has reached out to the Biden campaign to clarify if the former vice president has changed his position after Evers' announcement Friday.

Some progressive voices have criticized Biden's stance on the Wisconsin primary, including supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has called on Wisconsin to postpone the primary election amid the coronavirus. Ryan Grim of The Intercept called it "despicable" and "irresponsible" for the former vice president not to call on the state to delay the contest amid the pandemic, a tweet that Sanders' national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray retweeted.

President’s re-election campaign also offered a severe response, claiming the former vice president wanted voters to “risk their lives because he’s so desperate to be the nominee.”

"@JoeBiden , the man who claims he has all the answers to the virus crisis, wants the people of Wisconsin to risk their lives because he’s so desperate to be the nominee. SAD!” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale wrote in a tweet on Thursday.

However, the Trump campaign itself has not called on Wisconsin to postpone or alter their Republican primary amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite criticizing Biden.

“It’s a state call whether to delay the primary or not,” a Trump campaign senior official told ABC News. “We hope they make the best decision for the safety of voters. They know better what’s happening on the ground."

On Friday, President Trump also endorsed a candidate on Twitter who’s on the ballot Tuesday in Wisconsin running for a Supreme Court seat.

“Highly respected Justice Daniel Kelly is running for the Supreme Court in the Great State of Wisconsin. Justice Kelly has been doing a terrific job upholding the Rule of Law and defending your #2A. Tough on Crime, Loves our Military and our Vets. He has my Complete Endorsement!”

The Republican National Committee argued that by extending the absentee voting period, Democrats will have more of an advantage and that the changes were made to “fit their far-left agenda,” according to press secretary Mandi Merritt.

“It is unprecedented to allow votes to be cast after Election Day has already occurred, and we are appealing the judge’s decision in order to uphold the integrity of our elections,” Merritt said in a statement.

The RNC and the Wisconsin Republican Party have argued that asking a judge to change election laws days before voters are set to head to the polls is “dangerous.”

“Asking a federal judge to change completely how we do election laws in Wisconsin in a matter of two or three days was dangerous. Honestly, think about how long it has taken us to develop our election laws or regulations or rules and to get it, even changing the game between now and November, makes me a little uneasy,” Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt told ABC News.

Hitt said that with Judge Conley’s order to extend the absentee voting period, the date of the election is effectively changed to April 13, despite the fact that voters still have the option of voting in-person on Tuesday.

“It doesn't seem like now is the time to reinvent a new process or a new election strategy, and the result of his decision is you're going to start to see results trickle in, but people are still voting,” Hitt said.

As Democrats and Republicans in the state spar over the best path forward for voters, one Milwaukee election official told ABC News that the hyper-partisanship in the state is dictating "decision-making."

"This is a politically polarized state," said Neil Albrecht is the executive director for the City of Milwaukee Election Commission. "And I think it is a state government that has put party politics at the forefront of any practical decision-making. And because of that, I'm not optimistic that the type, the type of action that is so critical to the public health and safety of this state's residents is actually going to happen."

U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled on Friday afternoon that results must be posted after the deadline for ballots to be returned on April 13.

“Ultimately, he said he wasn't going to change the date and ultimately what he did is change the date, and we don't think he has the authority to do that,” Hitt said.

Hitt told ABC News that asking voters to go to the poll on Tuesday isn’t demanding too much -- but people should use their best judgement.

“We’ve found a way to do many essential things throughout the country. We can grocery shop, you can go get alcohol,” Hitt said. “People need to be careful, you know they’ve had a lot of time here to pull an absentee ballot. There’s a common sense element to this.”

The RNC and the Wisconsin Republican Party have said in their appeals against the judge’s decision that imposing a vote-by-mail system ahead of November will result in “significant problems” in administering the election.

“Imposing a new system onto states unnecessarily will result in significant problems in the November election, and it is critical we work to preserve the integrity of the democratic process,” Merritt told ABC News.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


YinYang/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn't letting COVID-19 disrupt her world famous workouts.

The 87-year-old justice is still doing her planks and leg lifts inside the US Supreme Court at a "limited private space" set up for exercise at her request, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg confirmed to ABC News.

The Court's regular fitness facility for the justices and staff has been closed to conform with social-distancing guidelines imposed by public health officials.

"Her doctors share her view that the training sessions are essential to her well-being," Arberg said in a statement explaining the arrangement. "The space is being used exclusively by the Justice."

Late last year, Ginsburg, the high court's oldest member and celebrated feminist icon, was briefly hospitalized for a "stomach bug," just weeks after undergoing treatment for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.

In a January interview with CNN, Ginsburg said, "I'm cancer-free. That's good."

Throughout her health battles, Ginsburg has credited a regular fitness regimen with maintaining her strength and resilience.

Ginsburg's longtime personal trainer Bryant Johnson told legal blog Law360 this week that he was still working with the justice under additional safety conditions -- wiping down the equipment, washing their hands and staying at least 6-feet apart. He also told the blog that he had discontinued training sessions with other clients.

"Everybody's been shut down. The only reason why I didn't shut the justice down is because, hey, she ain't having it," Johnson told Law360. "She has that grandfather status to me and if she wants to train, that’s the least that I can do."

It's unclear whether Johnson is continuing to train with Ginsburg in-person after DC Mayor Muriel Bowser implemented a stay-at-home order on April 1st, shutting down all non-essential business in the city.

The Supreme Court closed its doors to the public last month and took the extraordinary step of postponing oral arguments for more than a dozen cases -- the most significant disruption to the court's business in more than 100 years.

Arberg said all of the justices remain healthy and working remotely on court business. The justices on Friday convened their regular weekly conference by phone and plan to release more opinions in pending cases on Monday.

Six Supreme Court justices are 65 or older and many have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19.

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uschools/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- As the coronavirus task force weighs additional measures to take amid the pandemic, President Donald Trump continues to resist a nationwide stay-at-home directive, despite his top health official stressing more strongly than ever that strict social distancing is key to saving American lives.

While Capitol Hill lawmakers are officially on recess, Democrats are pushing another round of relief amid a volatile stock market and nearly 10 million jobless claims in the past two weeks, but the Senate's Republican leader is raising concerns over the cost.

Here are the latest developments in the government response:

Trump: CDC now advising Americans wear non-medical masks

President Trump began the daily White House briefing on the crisis by announcing new government guidance that Americans should wear masks.

"The CDC is announcing the use of non-medical cloth face coverings as an additional voluntary public health measure," President Trump said, of the reversal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is voluntary. You do not have to do it," he said.

The president added that he did not think he would wear a mask.

Trump also announced that hospitals and healthcare providers treating uninsured patients with coronavirus will be reimbursed by the federal government through the $2 trillion relief measure passed by Congress last week.

“Today I can so proudly announce that hospitals and health care providers treating uninsured coronavirus patients will be reimbursed by the federal government using funds from the economic relief package Congress passed last month,” he said.

“Stay at home. This is ending. This will end. You will see some bad things, and then you will see some really good things. And it's not going to be too long,” Trump said, in an apparent effort to reassure the public. “We're getting better. We're getting better very quickly,” Trump said.

“This was artificially induced,” the president added before tossing to the vice president, without offering an explanation of what exactly he meant.

Asked why he wouldn’t be following the CDC’s recommendation for voluntary non-medical mask use, he replied he’s “feeling good” and suggested he doesn’t think of it as presidential.

“I just don't want to be doing -- somehow sitting in the Oval Office, behind that beautiful, Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask -- as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don't know, it somehow, I don't see it for myself,” Trump said.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the CDC had reversed its guidance because of new evidence of transmission by asymptotic patients.

"In light of the new evidence, CDC recommends and the Task Force recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," Adams said. "These include places like grocery stores and pharmacies."

"Please, please leave the N95, the medical supplies, for the medical professionals, health care workers, and frontline workers," Adams said. "Know that this is not a substitute for social distancing. And please remember this is all about me protecting you, and you protecting me."

New White House procedure: Anyone who comes close to Trump must get rapid COVID-19 test

The White House has confirmed a new procedure is now in place requiring anyone who comes into close proximity with the president, such as in meetings, to get a rapid COVID-19 test.

"As the Physician to the President and White House Operations continue to protect the health and safety of the President and Vice President, starting today anyone who is expected to be in close proximity to either of them will be administered a COVID-19 test to evaluate for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers status to limit inadvertent transmission," Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.

The White House is declining to elaborate on why this policy is being implemented now, other than to say that decisions are being made in consultation with the White House physician.

This development comes just a day after the president said he received his second negative test results.

The tests will not apply to members of the press at this time.

-- ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Jordyn Phelps, Katherine Faulders and Jon Santucci

Kudlow says he won't 'sugarcoat' it, U.S. economy is 'going to get worse'

Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic adviser, warned of the dire economic situation the country faces amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's going to get worse in the weeks ahead, there's no question about it," he told reporters Friday. "We have not seen the worst of it, I don’t want to sugarcoat it."

Kudlow declined to offer a numerical figure for how bad he forecasts unemployment numbers to get, but when asked on FOX News whether the country is looking at double-digit unemployment figures, he didn’t mince words.

"The numbers are going to come in very badly, they’re going to look terrible in the weeks ahead. How much longer, I don't really want to forecast. That's up to the health people. But there’s no question that it will be bad," Kudlow said.

His comments came after a Friday report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed U.S. employers cut 701,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4% from 3.5%.

It marks a sharp reversal from the administration's tone just a few weeks ago, when Kudlow himself said there was no need for "massive, federal throw money at people plans" and the administration was looking at "micro" economic stimulus actions.

Kudlow said the administration's focus remains on implementing the current stimulus and not in writing a future plan, but he added, "if we need to do more, we will do more."

-- ABC News' Jordyn Phelps

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California Governor Gavin Newsom joins "The View," April 3, 2020. - (ABC)(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- When it comes to handling the coronavirus crisis, California Gov. Gavin Newsom anticipates his state will need to "rely disproportionately" on themselves instead of the federal government.

California, which is the most populous state in the U.S., was one of the first to declare a state of emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic. As of April, there are at least 9,191 diagnosed COVID-19 cases and 203 related deaths in California.

When "The View" co-hosts questioned Newsom on Friday about whether he thinks governors will eventually have to bypass the administration and work together to exchange supplies to fight the coronavirus outbreak as needed, he said, "governors are already doing that and in a very collaborative way."

"We are working collaboratively with procurement agents in different states to see if we can go together to avoid not just the inability or ability to get more protective gear, but deal with price gouging and leverage our resources in a resourceful mindset," Newsom said.

"Here's the stubborn fact," Newsom continued. "I have handed out ... specifically 35.9 million N-95 masks. We've received from the national stockpile so far 1,089,000."

"So when you ask, 'are we going to rely on the federal government or are gonna rely on ourselves,' we're going to rely disproportionately on ourselves," he said.

Despite being involved in more than 68 lawsuits with the Trump administration, Newsom says the relationship between California and the administration "has been strong" because they were able to build a relationship early on in the fight against the novel virus.

A U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship, was originally expected to go to the Seattle region, but California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that the Mercy be docked in Los Angeles instead.

At a White House press conference last week, the president confirmed the Mercy would be located off the coast of Los Angeles. In a Pentagon briefing on Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it was the Federal Emergency Management Agency that determined the Mercy's destination, despite his initial "hunch" that the ship would go to Seattle.

"From my perspective, the relationship has been strong and I'm not doing it to kiss the ring," Newsom said on "The View" Friday. "I'm just being forthright with the president.

"[Trump] returns calls, he reaches out, he's been proactive. We got that Mercy ship down here in Los Angeles, that was directly because he sent it down here," he continued. "I'll let you know in a few weeks if that relationship continues."

Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker told CNN in March that states were "competing" against each other" for dwindling medical supplies, comparing it to the "wild west." Newsom, who said he's worked with Pritzker and other governors, agreed with his comparison.

"At the end of the day, we're all trying to source from similar places from all around the globe to get more ventilators," Newsom said. "We can finger point, we can lament, or we can start to address this moment head on and take some account.

Newsom went on to say that he's "trying to work with other governors in a more collaborative spirit" so they're "not competing against each other" for medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

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Ivan Cholakov/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Defense Department has been tasked with providing 85 refrigerated trucks and 100,000 body bags to assist state health agencies with mortuary affairs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The requests, made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), come as the White House revealed this week that as many as 240,000 Americans could die from the virus.

The 85 refrigerated trucks have been ordered to New York City where they will hold the deceased as morgue space in the city is almost full, according to a FEMA memo reviewed by ABC News. The trucks are due in the city in mid-April.

FEMA's request for body bags, formally called Human Remains Pouches, was confirmed by the Pentagon on Thursday.

"The Department of Defense and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) have a longstanding arrangement with FEMA to procure key commodities from DLA's industrial partners during crisis response operations," said Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, Pentagon spokesperson, in a statement. "DLA is currently responding to FEMA's prudent planning efforts for 100,000 pouches to address mortuary contingencies on behalf of state health agencies."

But it's not just equipment that DOD is providing to assist with mortuary affairs, it's personnel, too.

Earlier this week, FEMA requested that a DOD mortuary affairs support team deploy to New York state, according to Vice Director of Operations for the Joint Staff Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro. That team arrived in New York on Wednesday, and a second mortuary affairs support team is expected to be deploy elsewhere in the United States, a U.S. official told ABC News.

As of Friday, more than 6,000 Americans had passed away from the coronavirus.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters during a briefing this week that academic modeling shows 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the virus even with social distancing measures in place. Birx emphasized that without mitigation efforts between 1.5 million and 2.2 million people in the U.S. would die.

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CasPhotography/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Fewer than half of Americans believe their regular daily routine will return to normal by June 1 amid sharply rising concerns over contracting the novel coronavirus, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday.

In the new poll, just over nine in 10 Americans now say that the outbreak has disrupted their daily routine, showing the reach of the pandemic's impact. Among those saying this, 44% said they think they will be able to resume their regular routine by June 1, including 13% who said by May 1, while a combined 84% believe that will happen by the end of the summer.

Still, concern over the pandemic continues on an upward trajectory, with 89% of Americans now saying they are concerned that they or someone they know will be infected with the virus, compared to 79% in a poll conducted from March 18-19 and 66% in a poll in the field from March 11-12. The steady increase in anxiety includes nearly twice as many Americans who are now very concerned (now at 50%) in the new poll, compared to the earliest poll in March when it was only 26%.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News, using Ipsos’ Knowledge Panel, asked Americans about President Donald Trump's handling of the global pandemic, their concerns over contracting the virus, how their lives have been upended by the crisis, and when they believe a sense of normalcy will return.

Across the three surveys, one thread remains: Democrats are more concerned about getting the coronavirus than Republicans, 97% to 80%, while Independents fall in between, with 92%. The concern levels in the newest poll represent a high for all three ideological groups. Only 3% of Democrats and 8% of Independents are not concerned, compared with 20% of Republicans. Differences by party are even starker when looking at those expressing a high level of concern. Among Democrats it’s, 61% say they are very concerned, followed by independents at 53% and Republicans at 33%.

Trump's approval for his handling of the public health crisis is now falling closer to where it was three weeks ago, after a series of polls showed some Americans rallying behind the commander-in-chief -- resulting in a slight bump in approval for his response.

But as the month of April begins, Trump's approval for his management of the coronavirus is now under-water, 47-52%. Approval is down from 55% in the poll released on March 20, closer to where it was in the March 13 poll, when it was 43%.

The latest poll was conducted April 1-2, during which Trump and health officials with the coronavirus task force, which is charged with overseeing the federal government's response, warned the country to brace for a "very painful" few weeks ahead, after outlining dire projections on Tuesday that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die of the novel coronavirus, even if social distancing measures are strictly followed.

Just last week, the president offered a far more positive outlook, when he said he envisioned "packed churches" on Easter. But this week, in a sharp turn in tone, Trump said that the estimate of between 100,000 and 240,000 is a "very low number" in comparison to a 2.2 million projection if no action had been taken.

ABC News/Ipsos has polled three of the last four weeks, but during the one off-week last week, an ABC News/Washington Post poll was released.

Trump's approval on coronavirus in this poll is close to his overall approval rating in last week's ABC News/Washington Post poll, when it was 48%.

Consistent with this, in the new ABC News/Ipsos poll, perceptions of Trump among ideologues also appear back closer to where it's long been, with most reverting back to their partisan tribes. Only 9% of Democrats approve of the president's handling of coronavirus, which is less than a third of the 30% of Democrats who said the same in the poll two weeks ago. Meanwhile, 91% of Republicans approve now, which is on par with the March 20 poll.

And, in terms of disapproval, the numbers show an exact mirror image, with 91% of Democrats disapproving, up from 69% two weeks ago, and 9% of Republicans saying the same, similar to the 8% in the last ABC News/Ipsos poll.

As most of society remains shuttered in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, when respondents were asked in an open-ended question format what they miss doing the most since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the top response was freedom (20%), with friends (19%) and family (11%) coming in second and third. This was followed by dining out (10%), shopping (9%), working (7%) and church (6%). Fewer said entertainment (2%) and sports (1%).

Among the specific responses, one respondent missed, "Going into Burger King having a whopper, drinking a pop, and using the WiFi," while another respondent, who invoked the tangible fear many Americans are now grappling with amid this new normal, said, "Working ... I’m more than likely going to lose my business over everyone being scared."

This ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs‘ KnowledgePanel® April 1-2, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 559 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 4.8 points, including the design effect. See the poll’s topline results and details on the methodology here.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


teekid/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- As the nation confronts a fast-moving novel coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are fighting another crisis at home: joblessness and a loss of health insurance.

It's a toxic mix that threatens to widen the scope of the crisis, particularly as many Americans don't even know what their options are.

Here are three things to know:

If you lost health insurance through your job, you have 60 days to enroll in 'Obamacare'

Open enrollment to buy health insurance through the federally run health care exchanges -- created through the Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare," -- has already passed for 2020. And this week, President Donald Trump rebuffed Democratic calls to reopen enrollment because of the ongoing health crisis.

But open enrollment of the federal exchanges might not matter. If you've lost health insurance because you quit or got fired from a job, you have 60 days to enroll in the federal exchanges by going to

Other situations that qualify for special enrollment include getting married, having a baby or if a death in the family causes you to lose your insurance.

Another option for insurance after losing a job is referred to as COBRA, which stands for Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act.

COBRA allows a person to keep their employer-sponsored health care plan for up to 18 months. Because you have to pay the entire cost, rather than cost-share with your employer, it's typically considered a short-term option for people between jobs who don't want an interruption in coverage.

If you never had health insurance and you lost your job, you might qualify for Medicaid

While people who lost their health insurance through their jobs will qualify for special enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges, one big concern is the estimated 28 million people who never had insurance in the first place.

It's estimated that some 6.7 million of those people qualify for Medicaid and just never signed up. They can still enroll.

However, this can get tricky because there are 14 states that opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It's estimated that 2.3 million people live below the poverty line but remain uninsured because they live in one of the states that did not expand Medicaid.

If you never had health insurance and don't qualify for Medicaid, check with your state

Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, estimates that the people hardest hit by Trump's decision not to reopen the federal health care exchanges will be the estimated 9 million uninsured Americans who qualify for subsidies on the exchanges but make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

These can often be families or young people looking to save a few dollars each month by not enrolling in Obamacare because they are healthy. The Obama-era law had required enrollment in a health insurance plan in a bid to force cost sharing across a bigger pool of people. But a federal appeals court struck down that requirement after an aggressive challenge by Republican-led states, backed by the Trump administration.

"A lot of people made insurance decisions before coronavirus," said Levitt.

Levitt suggests the first thing to do if you want insurance and don't have it is to check the website to see if you might qualify.

The other option is to check with your state government. A dozen states and the nation's capital, which run their own health care exchanges, have opted to reopen enrollment, independent of the federal exchanges. In addition to the District of Columbia, that list includes Colorado, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Trump announced late Thursday that he's looking at possible cash payments to cover medical bills, although he didn't provide any details. Vice President Mike Pence described the possibility of direct payments to hospitals to cover treatment costs for uninsured Americans and that "the president will make a final decision tomorrow."

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MicroStockHub/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic National Committee postponed the party's national convention to the week of Aug. 17 over the coronavirus crisis, as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the 2020 election.

The organizers behind the convention pushed back the quadrennial event, which was originally slated for mid-July, to provide "convention planners more time to determine the most appropriate structure for this historic event," according to a release from the committee.

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after former Vice President Joe Biden, the current delegate leader in the Democratic primary, told Jimmy Fallon on his late night show Wednesday, "I doubt whether the Democratic Convention is going to be able to be held in mid-July, early July. I think it's going to have to move into August. And then, even then, the Republican and Democratic Convention, we're going to have to -- we just have to be prepared for the alternative, and the alternative we don't know when it's going to be, unless we have a better sense of whether this curve is kind of move down or up."

The convention is still set to take place in Milwaukee, but is now planned for one week before the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, where President Trump is expected to be re-nominated.

The move represents another toll of the outbreak, which has shuttered most major events, entire sporting seasons, and upended nearly ever facet of American society.

"In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention," said Joe Solmonese, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee. "During this critical time, when the scope and scale of the pandemic and its impact remain unknown, we will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of health care professionals and emergency responders."

"I’m confident our convention planning team and our partners will find a way to deliver a convention in Milwaukee this summer that places our Democratic nominee on the path to victory in November," he added.

The convention is the culminating event of the primary season - when Democrats are expected to formally nominate their next party leader but since the onset of the crisis, questions emerged about whether the convention could move forward as planned, since it historically draws tens of thousands of party leaders and loyalists.

But the decision to move the convention marks a significant indication of just how severe the crisis is and how acutely it's disrupted the nation's electoral process. Coronavirus has even shuffled the presidential primary calendar, with 15 states and one territory choosing to push back their nominating contests amid the unprecedented public health scare.

"Leadership means being able to adapt, and that's exactly what our party is doing. The city of Milwaukee has been an incredible partner, especially over the past few weeks as we've confronted this global crisis, and we couldn't be more committed to highlighting Wisconsin as a key battleground state, as it is at the center of so many of Trump's broken promises," said Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. "Ultimately, the health and safety of our convention attendees and the people of Milwaukee is our top priority. And we will continue to be in contact with local, state, and federal health officials as we monitor this fluid situation."

A campaign spokesperson for former Vice President Joe Biden applauded the DNC's decision, saying the campaign will "continue to work closely with State Parties and the DNC," on any changes to the delegate process and convention format as the party continues to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.

"We welcome the DNC's decision today to prioritize the health and safety of delegates and the greater Milwaukee community by postponing the Democratic National Convention until August. Our campaign will continue to work closely with State Parties and the DNC on any changes to the delegate selection process and the format of the convention to ensure that health and safety remain the top priority as we confront this COVID-19 crisis as a nation," said Bill Russo, a Biden campaign spokesperson.

But now a tough road lies ahead for the organizers, who will up against a number of logistical hurdles to keep the event on track.

A release from the committee notes that as part of their contingency planning efforts, officials confirmed that the arena, Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum, as well as hotel accommodations in the surrounding area, are available for the new dates.

"The convention planning team will now use the coming weeks to further explore all options to ensure nominating the next president of the United States is done without unnecessary risk to public health," the release said. "These options include everything from adjusting the convention’s format to crowd size and schedule."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's campaign is calling on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop "misleadingly" tying himself to the president amid his bid to recapture his Alabama senate seat, calling the effort "delusional.”

In a letter sent to the Sessions campaign obtained by ABC News, Trump campaign chief operating officer Michael Glassner called out the former attorney general over a campaign mailer that mentioned "President Trump by name 22 times," demanding his campaign stop "misleadingly [promoting] your connections to and ‘support’ of President Trump."

“The Trump campaign has learned that your U.S. Senate campaign is circulating mailers like the one I have enclosed, in which you misleadingly promote your connections to and ‘support’ of President Trump,” the Trump campaign said in the letter.

"We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the president supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary runoff election. Nothing could be further from the truth," Glassner writes.

The Trump campaign points out in the letter that President Trump endorsed Tommy Tuberville over Sessions in the Alabama runoff to be the Republican nominee.

The letter was first reported by The New York Times.

However, the Sessions campaign claims the mailer the Trump campaign is taking issue with went out March 6th, days before the president endorsed Tuberville non March 10th.

In response to the letter, Sessions campaign senior adviser Gail Gitcho told ABC News in a statement: "Alabamans don’t like to be told what to do….they have shown that repeatedly. Washington told them to vote for Luther Strange over Roy Moore, they disobeyed. Washington told them to vote for Roy Moore over Doug Jones, they disobeyed. They are a hard headed and independent lot."

The Session campaign went on to argue that the former AG is "indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda” and “no one can change that.”

The letter marks another major moment in the storied history between Trump and Sessions, who was the first sitting senator to endorse the president's 2016 campaign. Trump would go on to appoint Sessions as attorney general in November 2016. Two years later the president fired his once-close alley in 2018.

In March Trump dropped the hammer on Sessions, who'd been lavishing praise over the president during his Alabama senate bid, tweeting "This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt. Recuses himself on FIRST DAY in office, and the Mueller Scam begins!"

He later endorsed Tuberville on Twitter.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The coronavirus outbreak in the United States has wreaked havoc on the presidential primary calendar, upending elections at least fifteen states, plans for summer nominating conventions and how millions of Americans will cast ballots.

While concerns from some Democrats that President Trump could try to postpone the general election are largely unfounded, given the difficulty of changing the law setting out the date of the election, some experts worry that expanding voting by mail could increase the likelihood of potential voter fraud.

Some states, especially those that have struggled to manage past elections, could drown under an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, potentially delaying election results well past Nov. 3. Potential health edicts could add another layer of confusion to election administration in some regions.

“What if people are not allowed to go outside during some portion of this? What if that order came down in a state like North Carolina or Pennsylvania? If people in Detroit have to stay home, that could sway the state of Michigan one way or another,” said Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor and election law expert.

It all could set the stage for a messy process – even if it all takes place on schedule.

Coronavirus disrupts primary calendar, convention plans

Several states are preparing to expand mail-in voting for upcoming elections as well as the general election: Maryland, which pushed back its presidential primary from April to June 2, made the special election to fill the House seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings a mail-in only election.

In Wisconsin, which is still proceeding with plans for an April 7 primary, election officials have seen an unprecedented volume of absentee ballot requests: over one million ballots have been sent for next Tuesday's contest, compared to the 845,031 that were sent for the general election in November 2016.

But not everyone is comfortable with moving forward: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Wednesday called on Wisconsin to push back its Democratic presidential primary.

“People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote,” he said in a statement.

The outbreak has even raised questions about the wisdom of Democrats and Republicans holding large nominating conventions in Milwaukee and Charlotte.

While the Republican National Committee has signaled plans to move forward with its late August convention, former vice president Joe Biden, appearing on MSNBC Tuesday night, suggested that “it’s hard to envision” the DNC taking place in mid-July.

The Democratic National Convention on Thursday pushed back its convention to August 17, the week before the GOP convention is currently scheduled to take place.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in statehouses around the country are debating how to best protect voters in both rescheduled primaries, and the general election, given concerns about large gatherings at polling places in the middle of the pandemic.

Biden on Tuesday said Americans “ought to be able” to vote despite the pandemic, but acknowledged that “it may have to be different” with expanded absentee voting.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, have pushed for expanded mail-in voting as a direct response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“In the midst of this crisis, we must also remember to protect the foundation of our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can safely cast a ballot in the upcoming elections,” they wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “The coronavirus should not stop our citizens from casting their ballots.”
Congressional efforts to stave off the impact on elections fall short of need, experts say

Congress included $400 million to address the impact of coronavirus on elections. The funding, which Democrats say can be used to help states expand mail-in voting and online registration, is far less than the $4 billion House Democrats wanted to help prepare states and encourage them to expand absentee voting opportunities.

Senate Republicans pushed back, arguing that Democrats wanted to “permanently override state control of elections” with a federal mandate for early and mail-in voting, according to a Senate GOP summary of the package.

“The things they had in there were crazy,” President Trump said Monday in a ‘Fox and Friends’ interview about Democrats’ efforts to expand absentee voting, adding that “if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Just five states use only mail-in ballots: Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, Washington and Oregon. Roughly two dozen additional states and territories have some form of early voting, and another sixteen states allow in-person absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“If we’re still in the midst of this pandemic, vote by mail is going to expand everywhere,” Hasen, the author of “Election Meltdown,” a study of the potential threats to the 2020 election and voting systems, told ABC News.

Election analysts, along with experts from both parties, worry that increased absentee and mail-in balloting could create more opportunities for fraud, on the heels of the alleged absentee ballot fraud in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional district, that led state election officials to throw out the results of the election and hold a special election in September of 2019.

“Even people who are relatively less concerned about voter fraud and more concerned about accessibility will agree that there’s a greater risk with mail-in ballots,” David Mason, a Republican former Federal Election Commission who served from 1998 to 2008, told ABC News.

Given that election results can take weeks to tabulate in states and regions with experience managing mail-in voting, such as California, experts worry that an expansion across the country in dozens of states could lead to problems in states like Florida and Pennsylvania with poor records of election management.

“If it comes down to a few states, then we could go weeks with doubt about the outcome of the presidential contest,” Mason told ABC News. “If the key state or states are close, then we could have a recipe for some real lack of trust in the outcome.”
Looking ahead to election day

The rapid spread of the coronavirus, and its impact on the Democratic presidential primary, led some progressives and Democrats to worry that Trump could use the chaos to his advantage, and put off the election.

"There’s a lot of rumors and speculation as to, ‘Is the other guy going to try to postpone the election in November’ and all that. There’s no need to do that,” Biden said at a virtual fundraiser on March 22nd.

But Trump, who hasn’t made any suggestion that he would attempt to push back voting, is powerless to reschedule the general election set for Nov. 3.

That’s because the date of the general election – the first Tuesday of November - has been a matter of federal law since 1845: Congress would have to pass new legislation to change the voting schedule, something experts say is extremely unlikely.

“Even getting a law passed to make the election date November 15, say, instead of November 3 would be difficult to accomplish,” Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told ABC News. “The proposal would have to be thoroughly bipartisan given split party control of Congress. Fat chance.”

Even if Congress were to take extraordinary action, they wouldn’t have much time to operate.

Under the Constitution’s 20th Amendment, the new president and vice president’s term ends on Jan. 20th, and their successors are sworn in. The new Congress must begin its session on Jan. 3rd.

“There is no chance that Congress is going to move election day,” Marc Elias, a leading Democratic elections lawyer, told ABC News. “But there would still be a constitutional backstop.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour(WASHINGTON) -- Despite a growing number of governors issuing stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump is still resisting a nationwide stay-at-home directive, even as his medical experts say strict social distancing is key to keeping the death toll closer to 100,000 American lives.

As the president and his coronavirus task force on Thursday weigh additional measures, including possible domestic flight restrictions an whether to recommend facial coverings in public, the U.S. health system moved closer to a widespread crisis. Hospitals across the country face shortages of protective gear and medical supplies needed to diagnose and treat the infected as the national stockpile nears depletion, Trump himself has confirmed.

In addition to slowing the spread, the federal government is seeking to shore up the economy. Democrats are pushing another round of relief amid a volatile stock market and nearly 10 million jobless claims in the past two weeks, but the Senate's Republican leader is raising concerns over the cost.

Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.

Here are Thursday's most significant developments in Washington:

Mnuchin: Relief payments now to be direct deposited in 2 weeks, not 3

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced at Thursday's White House briefing that relief payments -- as much as $1,200 per person -- would now start to be sent out in two weeks -- faster than originally planned.

"I'm pleased to report that within two weeks the first payments will be direct deposit into taxpayers' accounts," Mnuchin said, after previously saying the payments would take three weeks. "If we don't have your direct deposit information, we'll be putting up a web portal so that you can put that up."

"I told you this would be three weeks. I'm now committing to two weeks. We're delivering on our commitments," Mnuchin added. "Let me just say when Obama sent out these checks it took months and months."

President Trump also announced to take stronger action to compel private companies to provide needed medical equipment.

“Moments ago, I directed [HHS] Secretary Azar and Acting [DHS] Secretary Wolf to use any and all available authority under the Defense Production Act to ensure that domestic manufacturers have the supplies they need to produce ventilators for patients with severe cases of C-O-V-I-D 19,” Trump said, emphasizing each letter. “You know what that is, right? It's become a very famous term. C-O-V-I-D.”

President Trump also said he again tested negative for COVID-19 this morning, saying this time he used a 15-minute rapid test and that the second go-around was “a lot easier” and “much more pleasant.”

“This is from the White House physician. You may have it,” the president said, holding up a White House memo with his negative test results. “I think I took it really out of curiosity to see how quickly it worked and fast it worked.

FDA eases restrictions on gay and bisexual men to donate blood

The Food and Drug Administration revised its blood donor guidelines on Thursday, significantly easing the restrictions on men who have sex with men, amid a blood shortage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The new guidance reduces the donation deferral period for sexually active gay and bisexual men from 12 months of required abstinence to three months.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn confirmed the news in a tweet.

The FDA says the change will be only during the COVID-19 emergency, and they will consider making the change permanent when the pandemic response is over.

FEMA asks the Department of Defense for 100,000 body bags

FEMA has requested that the Department of Defense make available 100,000 body bags to assist state health agencies with mortuary affairs. The request comes as the White House revealed this week that 100,000 deaths is "best-case scenario" for Americans facing the pandemic.

The bags are formally called Human Remains Pouches.

"The Department of Defense and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) have a longstanding arrangement with FEMA to procure key commodities from DLA's industrial partners during crisis response operations," said Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, Pentagon spokesperson, in a statement. "DLA is currently responding to FEMA's prudent planning efforts for 100,000 pouches to address mortuary contingencies on behalf of state health agencies."

Bloomberg, which was first to report on the request, said DOD will initially draw from its stockpile of 50,000 bags before having to purchase more.

Pelosi creates watchdog panel to oversee COVID-19 spending

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday the creation of a special House select committee to oversee the $2 trillion federal response to the coronavirus crisis.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip, will lead the bipartisan panel, which will be authorized to “examine all aspects of the federal response to the Coronavirus and ensure the taxpayer dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent.”

"The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse; it will protect against price-gauging, profiteering and political favoritism," Pelosi told reporters on a press call. "We need transparency and accountability."

“We face a deadly virus and a battered economy with millions of Americans suddenly out of work,” Pelosi said. “Congress has taken an important step in leading this crisis by passing three bills with over $2 trillion in emergency relief. We need to ensure those dollars are spent carefully and effectively.”

Trump to Schumer: "Stop complaining," calls some governors "complainers"

President Trump told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a pair of tweets Thursday morning that "New York has gotten far more than any other State, including hospitals & a hospital ship, but no matter what, always complaining."

Trump made the comments after Schumer told CNN Wednesday night that Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro was not the right person to oversee the administration of the Defense Production Act -- a position that Trump appointed him to last week.

"He's a very nice man, but he has had no experience doing things like this, and they have no one that I can best tell in charge of the distribution," Schumer said.

After Schumer called for a military official to carry out the role instead, Trump this morning said "somebody [should] please explain to Cryin' Chuck Schumer that we do have a military man in charge of distributing goods, a very talented Admiral, in fact."

He was presumably speaking about Rear. Adm. John Polowczyk, who leads FEMA's supply chain task force.

An hour after his tweet to Schumer, the president took to Twitters again and called some governors "complainers," saying it was their fault they weren't prepared ahead of the pandemic.

"Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered directly to states and hospitals by the Federal Government. Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them. The complainers should...have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit."

The tweet comes as a bipartisan chorus of governors across the country calls for President Trump and the federal government to take better control of the medical equipment procurement and distribution process to states.

One way the president could take a more active approach in procuring equipment is with the Defense Production Act, which several governors have urged him to utilize more, but Trump says he prefers to use it as "leverage" in negotiations with companies.

McConnell to Pelosi: "Stand down" on next coronavirus rescue bill

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to "stand down," making it clear he plans to ignore her efforts to jumpstart talks on the next round of coronavirus relief in Congress after Congress passed $2 trillion emergency legislation last week.

"She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis," McConnell told the Washington Post Wednesday night.

Despite Trump’s openness to it, leader also threw cold water on the idea of tackling infrastructure.

"We do have to be mindful of how to pay for it. There has been a lot of fantasizing on both sides about massive packages," McConnell said. "We’d all love to do it, but there is the reality of how you pay for it. We just passed a $2 trillion bill, and it would take a lot of convincing to convince me that we should do transportation in a way that’s not credibly paid for after what we just passed last week."

Minority Leader Schumer urged McConnell on Thursday morning to quickly drop his resistance and pass more legislation aimed at blunting the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

"I think we have to do it, and I hope Leader McConnell will see the light," Schumer said in an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "The economy is going to take a long time to recover," Schumer said, adding that he would like hazard pay for medical workers in the next bill.

Pelosi said on Wednesday that House Democrats are already drafting language for the next large package which she says will focus on rebuilding water systems and struggling highways and roads amid the crippling crisis.

"We must take bold action to renew America’s infrastructure," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "We need to invest in infrastructure to address some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities in America that have been made by the coronavirus."

More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week

A record-shattering 6,648,000 people filed for unemployment last week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a Department of Labor report released Thursday.

The past two weeks have seen 10.4 million Americans file for unemployed claims -- more than during the first six months of the Great Recession.

The service industry, led by accommodation and food services, was among the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Thursday's report. Other industries that have been heavily impacted include health care/social assistance, manufacturing, and retail and construction.

Fauci gets personal security detail after receiving threats

The government has ramped up security for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the coronavirus task force, as he faces threats to his personal safety amid a pandemic.

The Washington Post first reported the threats to Fauci and the increased security.

When asked during Wednesday's White House press briefing whether he or Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, had received any threats or if they had been given a security detail, Fauci said he was not able to answer and referred the question to Health and Human Services.

Trump quickly chimed in, saying, "He doesn't need security, everybody loves him."

Fauci was asked on NBC's TODAY show Thursday morning about threats against him, and while he didn't confirm any, he said he felt safe.

"I've chosen this life. I mean, I know what it is. There are things about it that sometimes are disturbing, but you just focus on the job you have to do," Facui said. "We have a really, really, very, very difficult situation ahead of us. All of that other stuff is secondary."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3dfoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- As Democratic groups bombard President Donald Trump over his administration’s coronavirus response, blanketing the airways with millions of dollars worth ads, the sanctioned super PAC backing the president’s reelection announced on Wednesday a $10 million ad buy over six weeks in key battleground states targeting Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden.

America First said in an announcement the spots will run in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan starting in “mid-April.” However, the pro-Trump group did not provide details of what the ads will say beyond being “focused” on the former vice president.

The announcement follows Trump campaign aides and other allies growing increasingly incensed over the super PAC remaining on the sidelines while a slew of pro-Democrat and pro-Joe Biden groups paint the president as a “failed” leader in a time of crisis, complaints that first surfaced last week in a report by POLITICO.

“They’re not spending any money. And they’re not defending the president when he needs allies more than ever right now. Where are our friends?” one source close to the campaign told ABC News prior to Wednesday's announcement. “Where the hell is America First?”

In its latest fundraising report America First had $18 million cash on hand, compared to the $21 million that pro-Democrat group Priorities USA reported.

Now, the super PAC will launch its first spending spree this election cycle, a campaign that will include digital, cable, broadcast and mail that is set to start in mid-April and continue until the end of May.

And just moments after America First announced its first spending this cycle, Priorities USA is expanding a pre-existing $6.6 million dollar buy, criticizing Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis and contrasting the administration’s response with Biden’s.

"Donald Trump's problem is not an incompetent super PAC failing to defend his record. It's that his incompetence makes his record impossible to defend," senior strategist and communications director for Priorities USA Josh Schwerin told ABC News.

Earlier this week, two Democratic groups announced a massive joint effort to take down the president.

A super PAC backing Joe Biden, Unite the Country, and a major Democratic super PAC, American Bridge, revealed plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars together supporting the Democratic frontrunner and to defeat the president in November.

“To beat Donald Trump, it is going to take everyone working together to spend every dollar smartly and strategically. We are proud to partner with American Bridge and other groups to promote the candidacy of Joe Biden, who we know will unite our country and restore decency and moral clarity,” Steve Schale, CEO of Unite the Country, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, another pro-Democratic group, Protect Our Care, lunched a new five-figure ad buy in crucial swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, blasting Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The ad is a stinging rebuke of the president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis so far. “President Trump’s failure to prepare America for the coronavirus crisis has made Michigan less safe,” a ad running in Michigan says.

“We don’t have nearly enough tests. Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses don’t have the masks, ventilators and supplies they need. And now more and more Michiganders are out of work,” the narrator adds.

Priorities USA, which started making placements earlier this year but didn't go up on the air until the last week of February, has spent about $29 million on television ads so far. This includes nearly $23 million worth of upcoming broadcast and cable buys reserved through the second week of July. Top markets include $10.2 million in Florida, $6.8 million in Pennsylvania, $6.1 million in Michigan and $5.5 million in Wisconsin.

Politico first reported last week that Trump allies felt deserted by the group’s inaction.

But a week later, and as Democratic groups continue to pour millions into tarring the president as inept amid a catastrophic crisis in an election year, some Trump aides had grown even more infuriated over America First’s inaction, especially given the president’s shift in recent days that the country could be facing a long slog amid the coronavirus pandemic, increasingly the possibility of the outbreak having a major impact on the 2020 election, multiple sources close to the campaign tell ABC News.

The Trump campaign declined to comment for this story. The super PAC and the campaign are legally prohibited from communicating directly with each other.

Amid the barrage of attacks from Biden and pro-Democratic groups, the re-election team has yet to target the former vice president or defend the president’s coronavirus response on the airwaves amid the pandemic. Instead, the Trump campaign has used its large social media footprint to echo talking points and boost messaging emerging from the White House, especially moments during the president’s daily press briefings.

In recent days the campaign has ramped up efforts to promote the president as being in a strong position despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale publicity boasted of internal polling showing majority of Americans approving of the president's handling of the crisis and other numbers that showed a high percentage of respondents claiming to watch either all or some of the president's daily press briefings.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 48% approved of Trump overall. However, just 51% approved of the president's handling of the virus, significant less than the internal numbers the Trump campaign promoted. It’s common for presidents’ approval ratings to rise up during war and other times of crisis.

Trump himself has touted the briefing's high ratings amid the pandemic that's devastated the county. On Wednesday, the campaign urged supporters to "demand the fake news" continue to air the briefings live.

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