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President Trump demanded on Monday that the Senate “stop playing partisan politics” and pass a massive stimulus bill meant to jumpstart a flagging economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, while saying he hopes the administration’s guidelines on social distancing will end soon and not go on for “months.”
“They must pass the Senate bill as written and stop playing partisan politics,” Trump said during an evening news conference with the White House coronavirus task force. “They have to make a deal.”
He added: “This should not be a time for political agendas.”
Trump struck a much more somber tone than some of his previous press conferences on the outbreak, admitting that the numbers of people infected are going to rise. He did say, however, that he was optimistic that the country could begin opening up again in weeks, not months.
“I’m not looking at months,” he said. “This is going away. We’re going to win the battle.”
During the lengthy press conference, the president — who recently tested negative for the virus — revealed that first lady Melania Trump has also been tested and the results came back negative. Also during the briefing, taskforce member Dr. Deborah Birx revealed she had a low-grade fever over the weekend and tested negative, too.
While Trump did not specifically call out Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., or other Democrats in the Senate, his comments on Thursday hit on arguments made by his fellow Republicans that Democrats are using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to push unrelated political agendas.
During a speech on the Senate floor earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., McConnell accused Democrats of trying to extract concessions from airlines over their “carbon footprint,” with the economy hanging in the balance.
“They ought to be embarrassed,” he said. “This is no time for this nonsense.”
Among the demands Schumer wants included in the bill are new collective bargaining powers for unions, higher fuel emissions standards for airlines, and expanded wind and solar tax credits.
Democrats had also complained that the draft aid package did not go far enough to provide health care and unemployment aid for Americans, and failed to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations, saying the ban on corporate stock buy-backs are weak and the limits on executive pay would last only two years.
“We Democrats are trying to get things done, not making partisan speech after partisan speech,” Schumer said earlier Monday while calling the legislation an exclusively Republican-authored bill.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Trump said that the bill needed to be passed to mitigate any more financial fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This is not a country meant to be shut down,” he said. “We are not going to let this turn into a long-lasting financial problem.”
It seems, however, unlikely that any legislation will be voted ono the Senate on Monday as Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin continue to work out a version of the bill that will appease both sides.
Along with the Senate bill, Trump during the briefing also addressed concerns about price gouging and reports of people hoarding medical supplies – such as face masks and hand sanitizer – that are desperately needed by health care workers battling to stop the spread of the contagion.
Earlier in the day, Trump signed an executive order meant to curtail price gouging and hoarding, and also warned that federal law enforcement would take strict measures in prosecuting any person found to hoarding, raising prices, or selling fake cures for the pathogen.
“It will be a crime to stockpile these necessities,” Trump said. “As president, I will always fight against Americans being exploited.”
Speaking to reporters, Trump also called out the reports of hostility directed at Asian-Americans amid the outbreak.
Trump has been criticized by Democrats for labeling the contagion the “Chinese virus” but has denied the term is racist. He claims he uses the phrase as part of an attempt to be accurate about where the first cases originated.
“The spreading of the virus is not their fault,” Trump said of Asian-Americans.
The White House press briefing was noticeably less crowded then it was even a day ago as the administration enacted strict limits on the number of people admitted to the briefing after it was reported that a member of the press corps has a “suspected case” of the coronavirus.
Trump acknowledged that reporters were now practicing social distancing and wish the journalist a speedy recovery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.