Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Saying the country was nearing the “the end of our historic battle” with “the invisible enemy” of coronavirus, President Trump on Tuesday evening emphasized his desire for the U.S. to reopen for business by Easter — as his top economic adviser said Congress is “getting closer and closer” to passing an unprecedented fiscal stimulus package.
Speaking at Tuesday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing, Director of the U.S. National Economic Council Larry Kudlow specifically said the new coronavirus bill working its way through congressional gridlock would total $6 trillion: $4 trillion in liquidity from the Federal Reserve and $2 trillion in new money. Typical annual appropriations from Congress in a given fiscal year are around $1.2-4 trillion, with total expenditures roughly $4.3 trillion.
“I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter,” Trump said in the White House briefing room, referring to his comments at a Fox News virtual town hall that officials could soon ease social-distancing restrictions. “I think that would be a great thing for our country, and we’re all working very hard to make that a reality. … Easter is a very special day for many reasons.”
Trump also sounded an unexpectedly magnanimous note: “I also want to thank Congress, because whether or not we’re happy that they haven’t quite gotten there yet, they have been working long hours. I’m talking Republicans and Democrats, all of them, the House, the Senate. I want to thank Congress because they are really trying to get there, and I think they will.”
“This package will be the single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States,” Kudlow said, adding that negotiations would continue into the evening but that a vote is imminent.
However, although the temperature on Capitol Hill was much lower on Tuesday, some fireworks began on the Senate floor late Tuesday night, after the briefing. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., remarked that “there are too many people on the field” and that Democrats still wanted too much more money for non-emergency, unrelated policy projects.
“Every special interest group in town is trying to get a little bit more,” Graham said. “Nickel-and-diming at a time when people are dying — literally dying.” He urged Trump to recall Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to the White House to end negotiations.
“We may be on the 1-yard-line,” Graham added around 8:30 p.m. ET, referring to some lawmakers’ claims that the conclusion of negotiations was within reach. “But, apparently there are 20 people on defense.”
Democrats’ proposed bill includes measures to restrict airlines’ carbon emissions, pay off billions in student loan debt, encourage federal agencies to employ “minority banks,” bail out the U.S. Postal Service and even fund the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Republicans, including the president, have called the measures “nonsense” nonstarters.
Also at the coronavirus briefing, both Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, remarked that anyone who has left New York City in recent days may have been exposed to coronavirus, and should self-quarantine for 14 days regardless of where they are now.
Pence said the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] was providing 7.6 million N95 masks and 4 million surgical masks to states. The agency told Fox News that at the last minute, it was able to procure coronavirus test kits from the private market and did not need to invoke the “prioritization” clause of the Defense Production Act.
“We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival,” Trump said, adding that coronavirus has shown “how critical it is to have strong borders and a robust manufacturing sector.”
“This package will be the single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States.”
As his approval numbers hit their highest point ever, with 60 percent of Americans approving of his coronavirus response efforts, Trump went on to tout the impact of the expected congressional stimulus package as a good sign for the nation’s financial future.
“The Dow surged over 2,100 points,” Trump said. “That’s the all-time record in the history of the exchange.”
Investors had released some frustration that had pent up over days of watching Democrats repeatedly block GOP stimulus efforts. Leaders from both parties were more optimistic late Monday and early Tuesday that a deal could be reached.
There was some good news inside the White House grounds, as well. As the briefing concluded, White House press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, who has been quarantined since coming in contact with Brazilian officials almost two weeks ago and working from home, revealed she has received negative COVID-19 test results and will be back to work Wednesday.
Grisham will return as the Trump administration increasingly has sought to project optimism. The president, who tweeted Sunday that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” declared at the Fox News virtual town hall that he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
Pressed by Fox News’ John Roberts on the timeline, Trump said at the briefing: “We’ll be looking at a lot of things — we’ll also be looking at very large portions of our country, but I’ll be guided very much by Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, and by Deborah [Birx].”
Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose absence from recent coronavirus briefings triggered a wave of speculation in the media, said the timeline was still “flexible.”
This past Sunday, Fauci rejected attempts by journalists to drive a wedge between himself and the president. “The president was trying to bring hope to the people. I think there’s this issue of [the media] trying to separate the two of us. There isn’t fundamentally a difference there,” Fauci said.
On Sunday, Fauci elaborated in a radio interview, saying media efforts to create a rift were “unfortunate.”
“I would wish that would stop because we have a much bigger problem here than trying to point out differences,” Fauci said. “They’re really fundamentally at the core when you look at things, they are not differences.”
Democrats have reacted furiously to Trump’s new timeline for relaxing economic restrictions, with Hillary Clinton suggesting people would “needlessly die,” and Joe Biden accusing Trump of spreading “misinformation.”
“This a–hole and his rich friends are too stupid to get that we can only get through this together,” former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau wrote. “Everyone is at risk from the virus. Everyone suffers when there aren’t enough hospital beds. Everyone struggles when millions are too sick to work.”
Fellow Obama communications alum Tommy Vietor, meanwhile, deleted a tweet lamenting that he was reduced to drinking red wine in the shower during the economic shutdown.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Andrew O’Reilly, John Roberts, Allie Raffa and The Associated Press contributed to this report.