Democrats sink Senate Republicans' coronavirus stimulus plan that would send cash to families

Congress was unable to reach an agreement Sunday on a $1 trillion-plus stimulus package that gives cash to families and keeps small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, deepening fears of economic chaos as Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first U.S. senator to confirm he’s contracted the disease.

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Democrats balked at the Senate GOP’s push to set aside $425 billion for loans to select companies and industries, dubbing it a “slush fund” for the Treasury to direct as it sees fit. They said the bill is tilted toward corporations instead of working people.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dared Democrats to reject the Senate measure in a procedural vote Sunday as tales of joblessness and woe poured in from every part of the nation.

“This national crisis is not going to wait around if Congress slips back into conventional politics or haggles endlessly over the finer points,” Mr. McConnell said.

“In other words — it is just about time to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” he said.

The measure failed to get the 60 votes it needed to advance or even a majority — 47-47 — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her troops will go back to the drawing board and finish their own bill, hoping it is compatible with what the Senate wants.

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Mr. McConnell was angry, saying Democrats continue to “dicker” in the face of a global emergency and need to step up and reach an agreement.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the GOP knew about Democrats’ objections but went ahead, anyway. He said the corporate “bailouts” in the bill weren’t transparent, and that states and hospitals needed more help.

“Changes are being made to the legislation, even as we speak,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Trump, speaking from the White House, said he hopes Congress can rally around what’s been drafted so far.

“It’s a bold package. It’s a big package,” Mr. Trump said.

The president said he doesn’t want companies to use their stimulus money for stock buybacks, as Democrats fear, though he also doesn’t want key industries to fail.

“We can’t let the cruise lines go out of business,” Mr. Trump said.

The president was upbeat as the Senate vote unfolded, saying there is pent-up demand and the economy will soar once the virus is defeated.

“You will see our economy skyrocket once this is over,” Mr. Trump said. “We will win the war.”

Washington doesn’t have much time to spare.

The U.S. has seen over 33,000 infections and about 400 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, prompting governors to place severe limits on commerce so that people stay apart and break lines of transmission. Those limits have led to massive layoffs and fears that many businesses will not survive the crisis.

Wall Street has seen a string of massive selloffs, erasing the gains of Mr. Trump’s presidency and raising fears of a painful recession.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was optimistic early in the day, saying the bill would extend “retention loans” to small businesses that keep their workers on the payroll, cut checks of $3,000 for the average family of four and boost unemployment insurance. The plan calls on the Federal Reserve to offer $4 trillion in liquidity to prop up the economy through broad lending programs.

“I think we have a fundamental understanding and I look forward to wrapping it up today,” Mr. Mnuchin told Fox News Sunday.

Yet his meetings with congressional leaders ended without a bipartisan deal.

Efforts to stem the economic bleeding unfolded as Mr. Paul, a Republican, announced he tested positive for the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and went into isolation, thinning the ranks of senators who can show up to Capitol Hill amid the crisis.

The senator feels fine and doesn’t have symptoms, but received a test out of “an abundance of caution” given his travel and schedule of events, spokesman Sergio Gor said.

“He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person,” Mr. Gor said. “He expects to be back in the Senate after his quarantine period ends and will continue to work for the people of Kentucky at this difficult time. Ten days ago, our D.C. office began operating remotely, hence virtually no staff has had contact with Senator Paul.”

The senator attended an event in Louisville in which two attendees later tested positive, although he doesn’t believe he interacted with them.

Mr. Paul is the first senator to test positive, and it raised concerns both about his recovery and the virus’s potential spread in the chamber.

“I’ve never commented about a fellow Senator’s choices/actions. Never once,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, tweeted with a link to a reporter’s tweet about Mr. Paul’s reported use of the Senate gym. “This, America, is absolutely irresponsible. You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus.”

Mr. Paul’s office stressed that he had no known contact with anyone known to be infected and went into isolation once he learned his results.

“We want to be clear, Senator Paul left the Senate IMMEDIATELY upon learning of his diagnosis. He had zero contact with anyone & went into quarantine,” his office tweeted. “Insinuations such as those below that he went to the gym after learning of his results are just completely false & irresponsible!”

Two House members, Reps. Ben McAdams of Utah and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, previously announced positive tests.

Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were been tested but came back negative.

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It’s infected over 325,000 people worldwide, resulting in over 14,000 deaths.

Italy is seeing waves of death, particularly in its northern regions. It’s approaching a world-worst 5,000 fatalities from the virus.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. is “not necessarily” the same trajectory as Italy, arguing Mr. Trump moved more aggressively to shut out travelers from China early on.

“It isn’t that they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said of Italy. “I think they have a situation in which they’ve been so overwhelmed from the beginning, that they can’t play catch up.”

Elsewhere, Spain remained a worry spot, with nearly 30,000 infections and 2,000 deaths.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel went into quarantine a doctor who gave her a vaccine against pneumococcal infection tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr. Trump continued to blame China for being slow to warn the world about the virus.

“We could have saved a lot of lives around the world,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump has banned foreign nationals from entering the U.S. if they’ve been in China, Iran or many European nations within the past 14 days.

Closer to home, the U.S. shut down its northern and southern borders Friday to all but “essential” traffic and will immediately return all illegal immigrants before they are given a chance to gain a foothold here.

The administration pushed back the tax-filing deadline from April 15 to July 15 and, for college borrowers, the president suspended federal loan payments and interest for 60 days.

Mr. Trump also waived standardized testing requirements for elementary and high school students this year.

The president has defended his efforts after some governors and mayors used the Sunday talk shows to complain about Mr. Trump’s refusal to use a Korean War-era law, the Defense Production Act, to force companies to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment for hospitals.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said the feds will reimburse states that buy equipment on the global market and that his agency has been shipping out equipment “continuously.”

“It is a dynamic and fluid operation,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, told the program it’s the “wild west” on the open market, so things “should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who will likely take on Mr. Trump in November’s election, piled on, saying top experts sounded the alarm about the growing pandemic for months but the president fell short or minimized it.

“He failed to expeditiously get us enough tests, respirators, ventilators and other vital equipment when his peers in other countries did their duty and stood up for their people,” Mr. Biden said. “He ignored my warning not to take China’s word about their containment of the virus, too.”

Later Sunday, Mr. Trump said he’s doled out hundreds of thousands of masks to hard-hit states from the national stockpile and that tens of thousands of face shields and gowns have been delivered to New York, as governors complain about a lack of action from the federal government.

Mr. Trump said he’s sending “federal medical stations” to hard-hit states with thousands of beds to handle patients, and he’s empowered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build medical facilities in New York.

“This will be a great victory,” Mr. Trump said, repeatedly calling the virus an invisible enemy. “There’s never been anything like this. And it’s vicious. Some people recover well, and some people have a hard time, we all know that.”

He also said he is giving Washington state, California and New York “maximum flexibility” to use the National Guard as they see fit to combat the coronavirus.

He said the governors of those states will be “in command” and he hopes they’re up to the task in stemming the crisis.

Yet states and local leaders have also complained about federal stutter-steps in getting test kits out to every corner of the country, saying it forced them to fly blind in the response.

As case counts mount, states and cities are relying on “social distancing,” in which people stay home or remain six feet away from others when going outside.

New York has by far the most cases of any state, with about 16,000 compared to nearly 2,000 in the next on the list, Washington state. Over 100 people have died in the Empire State.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lashed out at people who are still congregating in New York City, especially in parks. He said they were arrogant, self-destructive and insensitive to others.

“I don’t know what they’re not understanding. This is not life as usual,” the Democrat said. “It has to stop and it has to stop now. This is not a joke and I am not kidding.”

Mr. Cuomo also said he agreed with Mr. Trump’s push to see if an antimalarial drug, (hydroxy)chloroquine, works with azithromycin antibiotics in combatting the coronavirus. He said a clinical trial will begin in his state Tuesday.

“We’re gonna see if they work,” Mr. Trump said at his White House briefing.

Mr. Cuomo, however, joined others in pressuring Mr. Trump to use his production powers under the Defense Production Act, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said there needs to be military intervention.

“All military personnel who are medically trained should be sent to places where this crisis is deep, like New York, right now,” Mr. de Blasio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The military is the best logistical organization in the nation. If there are ventilators being produced anywhere in the country, we need to get them to New York. Not weeks from now or months from now, in the next ten days.”

He said his city is entering a worrisome stretch of the crisis.

“April is going to be worse than March. And I fear May will be worse than April. So bluntly, it’s going to get worse, a lot worse, before it gets better,” he said. “But what would be progress? Real, consistent social distancing being enforced, people living with it. And hospitals that can function.”

• Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

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