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Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar unexpectedly praised President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday night, saying it was “incredible and the right response in this critical time.”
Omar, normally a staunch critic of the White House who herself has repeatedly drawn the president’s ire, went on to quote Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., as saying “unprecedented times require unprecedented leadership” — and, Omar added, “we are seeing that in our country right now.”
“Finally, we should never let politics get in the way of good policy,” Omar concluded. “This is a great start and hope others will be part of a united front to push for good policies that will help us work through the economic anxiety the country is feeling right now.”
Omar was responding to a post by The Intercept’s Lee Fang, who noted: “Trump suspending mortgage foreclosures, demanding cash payments to Americans, now invoking the Defense Production Act to force private firms to produce needed supplies is incredible. Kind of a shell shock for anyone who reported on any economic policies in the Obama years.”
Her praise for the president was matched this week by other Democrats and left-of-center commentators. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Tuesday, told reporters, “His team is on it. They’ve been responsive. … I want to say thank you.” And, CNN’s Dana Bash asserted that Trump’s new tone on the coronavirus made him the “kind of leader that people need.”
On Wednesday, Trump invoked rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the coronavirus pandemic. Trump tapped his authority under the 70-year-old Defense Production Act to give the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.
Describing himself as a “wartime president” fighting an invisible enemy, the president also signed an aid package — which the Senate approved earlier Wednesday — that will guarantee sick leave to workers who fall ill.
The Canada-U.S. border, the world’s longest, was effectively closed, save for commerce and essential travel, while the administration pushed its plan to send relief checks to millions of Americans.
Trump said he will expand the nation’s diagnostic testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast. And the Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through April to help the growing number of Americans who face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.
But as Trump laid out efforts to help the economy, markets plummeted. As reporters quizzed the White House as to whether the term “Chinese virus” is racist, or whether an unnamed White House staffer actually used the term “Kung Flu,” gone were thousands of jobs and nearly all the gains that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had made since Trump took office.
The administration announcements came on a fast-moving day of developments across the capital, its empty streets standing in contrast to the whirlwind of activity inside the grand spaces of the White House and the Capitol.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks before introducing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at a campaign rally in Springfield, Va., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a second coronavirus response bill, which Trump signed Wednesday night. The vote was a lopsided 90-8 despite worries by many Republicans about a temporary new employer mandate to provide sick leave to workers who get COVID-19. The measure is also aimed at making tests for the virus-free.
Meanwhile, the administration pushed forward its broad economic rescue plan, which proposes $500 billion in checks to millions of Americans, with the first checks to come April 6 if Congress approves.
The White House urged hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries to reduce the risk of being overwhelmed by cases. The president was pressed on why a number of celebrities, like professional basketball players, seemed to have easier access to diagnostic tests than ordinary citizens.
“Perhaps that’s the story of life,” Trump said. “I’ve heard that happens on occasion.”
Trump dismissed a suggestion from his own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, that the nation could face 20 percent unemployment at least in the short term.
That’s an “absolute total worst case scenario,” Trump said. “We’re no way near it.”
The government has told Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people and the elderly to stay home while a pointed reminder was given to millennials to follow the guidelines and avoid social gatherings. Trump likened the effort to the measures taken during World War II and said it would require national “sacrifice.”
“It’s a war,” he said. “I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president. It’s a very tough situation.”
The White House has had several coronavirus-related health scares, with the president himself exposed to at least three people who later tested positive. Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Wednesday that she had tested negative for the virus. McDaniel, who met last week with the president and Senate Republicans, had previously been exposed to someone who tested positive.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.