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Trump invoking Defense Production Act to speed coronavirus resources

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivers remarks alongside President Donald Trump during a briefing on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

President Donald Trump said he is invoking the Defense Production Act, which allows the administration to expedite and expand the supply of resources. Trump did not say specifically what powers he would execute, but the act could allow him to step up production of respirators and other medical equipment.

The announcement comes as the White House and Congress negotiate a trillion-dollar economic stimulus plan to combat the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s what else was said at the briefing:

Trump also said health officials are working on a “self swab” coronavirus test that would allow front line health care workers to test themselves for the virus. “It would free up a lot,” Trump said.

Trump also announced he plans to hold an additional news conference either later Wednesday or early Thursday to discuss coronavirus progress at the Food and Drug Administration. Trump said he “asked the FDA to cut through the red tape and reduce regulatory barriers.”

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Vice President Mike Pence said the Canada border closing should not affect business relationships between the two countries: “This does not include essential travel or the transfer of goods.”

The federal government is recommending Americans and doctors postpone elective surgeries, including dental surgery, to increase capacity at medical facilities, said Seema Verma, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “We fully appreciate that this is going to have a major impact on the health care system,” Verma said.

John Fritze and Courtney Subramanian

Pentagon to make 5 million masks available

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon would make 5 million masks available from its own reserves to the Department of Health and Human Services. He said the first million would be made available immediately.

Esper also said the Defense Department would make up to 2,000 operational ventilators available to HHS as needed. Two medical ships, Comfort and Mercy, will be deployed to assist with hospital beds. He said the Army Corps of Engineers in New York is meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He said the Defense Department remains “ready and capable” to defend the U.S. and interests abroad.

Official: millennials should take special precautions against coronavirus

Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that health officials are concerned about reports coming out of France and Italy that young people are getting ill.

Birx said the reports are worrisome because those who have been most at-risk have been the elderly or people with other health issues.

She urged “the millennial generation” to take special precautions. “You have the potential to spread it,” she said.

Pentagon has 89 coronavirus cases

The Pentagon has confirmed 89 COVID-19 cases among active-duty troops, their family members, civilian and contract employees, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

Of the 89 infected by the virus, 14 have been hospitalized.

The virus has forced the cancellation of military exercises across the globe, prompted enhanced screening of troops in close proximity to one another, including pilots, and kept senior leaders apart for fear of contracting the disease.

Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters Wednesday that he worked from home on Tuesday to mitigate the risk.

Travel has been restricted, and only personnel essential to critical missions are authorized to move, especially to or within countries hardest hit by the disease such as Italy.

Crews traveling to the air base at Aviano, Italy, stay in their aircraft as long as possible, and are kept as isolated as possible when moving to their quarters on base, Goldfein said.

The Air Force is “keeping them in a bubble,” he said.

Trump: HUD will ‘suspend foreclosures and evictions’

President Donald Trump said the Department of Housing the Urban Development would “suspend foreclosures and evictions” through the end of April. It was not immediately clear whether that would apply to all housing or just housing financed through federally backed loans or subsidized with federal funding.

McConnell: ‘burden’ on small businesses must be addressed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote Wednesday on a House bill to protect workers from the coronavirus crisis but said the “burden” it places on small businesses will have to be addressed in the next stimulus package the Senate will take up in the coming days.

The House bill, which includes a controversial provision to guarantee paid sick leave for workers affected by the pandemic, is expected to pass and be sent to President Donald Trump for his expected signature.

Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is expected to propose an amendment to the House bill that changes the sick leave to unemployment insurance.

McConnell said House bill would impose “a new untested mandate on small business without guaranteeing they will have sufficient funds in advance to finance this new employee benefit.”

“Everyone agrees that workers need relief … but small businesses need relief as well,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “This is literally the worst time in living memory to pile even more burdens and costs onto small business which are themselves fighting to stay alive unless we back it up with major assistance.”

Schumer says stimulus won’t pass under McConnell procedure

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the latest coronavirus stimulus plan, the details of which are still being negotiated, would not pass the Senate by the end of the week under the current procedure led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Secretary Mnuchin says he wants legislation passed by the end of the week. The McConnell process will not get us there,” he said.

On Tuesday, McConnell told reporters he had divided Republican senators into three working groups that would work with the Trump administration to come up with a plan Republicans would support. Schumer, instead, wanted negotiations between the House, Senate and Trump administration on a bipartisan basis.

“That’s the way that’s worked the best, the quickest, the fairest in the past,” he said, calling the procedure McConnell had outlined as likely to lead to “delay and gridlock.”

Pentagon deploying ships to support coronavirus response

The Pentagon is preparing to deploy the Navy’s hospital ships to support the domestic response to the coronavirus, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

The military has had 89 cases of the infection, including 49 troops, 19 of their dependents, 14 civilian workers and seven contractors. Of those cases, 14 were hospitalized.

Trump: We’re going to close Canada border to ‘non-essential’ traffic

President Donald Trump and his aides said Wednesday the United States and Canada are working on a deal to temporarily close the border to discretionary travel in order to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Trade should not be affected, Trump said.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic,” Trump tweeted. “Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!”

Canada, which announced border closures this week, has been negotiating with U.S. officials this week on rules for essential traffic.

Trump to meet with airline execs, hold call with doctors

The Coronavirus Task Force will hold a 11:30 a.m. EDT news conference Wednesday to discuss the latest developments on the pandemic.

President Donald Trump also tweeted about holding a news conference with the Food and Drug Administration to “discuss very important news from the FDA” about the coronavirus.

His schedule is packed with meetings to discuss responses to the coronavirus. He has a phone call with airline executives, a business roundtable teleconference, a physician teleconference and a nurse briefing listed on his public schedule.

Senate plans to vote on sick leave, coronavirus testing bill

The Senate is planning to vote Wednesday on a legislative package that will offer billions to bolster unemployment insurance, offer free coronavirus testing and paid sick and family leave for Americans following days of intense negotiations and pleas for lawmakers to quickly approve the legislation.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate and then be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. The vote comes after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefed Senate Republicans and appeased some concerns about the ramifications sick and family leave could have on small businesses that are already feeling the economic effects of the virus.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is planning to offer an amendment to the legislation before the Senate votes on the measure. The amendment would offer a way to offset the costs of the bill by using funds that would “include ending our decades-long involvement in Afghanistan,” his office said in a statement.

Paul offered a similar proposal earlier this month to offset costs when the Senate took up a bill offering roughly $8 billion for states and local entities to prevent the spread of the virus and help bolster efforts to create a vaccine. The effort was shot down by his Senate colleagues.

Trump administration personnel chief abruptly resigns

The director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has resigned, leaving a key vacancy at a time when federal employees – like other work forces around the country – are wresting with how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

OPM said in a statement that the agency received the resignation of Dale Cabaniss, a longtime Republican official who President Donald Trump named to the post last year.

Cabaniss battled with John McEntee, who Trump named this year to lead the White House personnel office, according to several reports citing unnamed officials. McEntee’s appointment came at a time when Trump acknowledged he was seeking to elevate White House employees who have proven their loyalty to him.

Federal offices in Washington expected to remain open Wednesday but provided “maximum telework flexibilities” to eligible workers because of coronavirus. Trump and public health officials have advised Americans to work from home whenever possible.

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© 2020 USA Today