Update: House passes bill in lopsided bipartisan vote, all WI GOP members vote no. Sen. Johnson opposes.
[Note: This article has been updated to reflect the Friday night vote in the House and to clarify the President’s misstatement about a Google website.]
“I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words,” the President said Friday afternoon during Rose Garden remarks bookended with self-praise. But short on specifics, it was up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce hours later that she and Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary had made a deal that the House passed late Friday night.
All of Wisconsin’s Congressional Republicans voted against the deal that passed overwhelmingly, 363-40. The Senate is not meeting over the weekend. In a Saturday morning statement, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said he opposed the bill because of the potential impact of paid sick leave on small businesses, and that he hopes the Senate will pass a bill with changes “or, it won’t, (then) pass nothing at all.”
The President used his address to take shots at Europe and at the Obama administration’s initial website for the Affordable Care Act. He congratulated himself and his administration for “closing borders” and “suspending the entry of foreign nationals.”
While the President announced an acceleration in testing for coronavirus, he did not encourage their widespread use.
“We don’t want people to take a test if we feel they shouldn’t be doing that… only if they have certain symptoms,” he said on the same day that Wisconsin health officials announced 11 new COVID-19 cases bringing the state’s total to 19.
Promising a goal of providing more tests, Trump said “five million within a month, but I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that.”
The President announced a partnership with Google to design a website that would provide tracking and information related to coronavirus. He said it would work, “unlike websites of the past.” But after the event, Google’s parent company Alphabet said no such website was in the works, it is Google’s sister company Verily that is instead working on a tool to help triage individuals for COVID-19 testing, and executives were not aware the President was even going to mention them.
Hospitals will receive broad relaxation of rules that normally regulate licensing of physicians and the use of tele-medicine. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid authorized a national ban on visitors and non-essential personnel to nursing homes.
After his prepared address, Trump turned the podium over to a series of members of a group he referred to as the “largest companies and greatest retailers and medical companies” for a series of self-promotional remarks, promises and praise for the President.
“This day should be an inspiration to every American, thanks to your leadership,” added Vice President Mike Pence, praising temporary travel bans to China, Italy and, starting late Friday night, the European continent with late inclusion of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The President’s opening half-hour of remarks made no reference to the ongoing debate on Capitol Hill regarding emergency relief to benefit individuals, businesses and the economy.
When asked why a deal was slow in coming together, Trump said, “We just don’t think the Democrats are giving enough.”
In the hour prior to the President’s proclamation, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, outlined measures that Democrats had been prepared to pass Friday night if lawmakers and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had failed to reach a bipartisan deal. The Washington Post reports the pair spoke on the phone 13 times throughout the day, and that the President was never directly involved with the Speaker.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” said Pelosi in a letter to colleagues, according to the Associated Press.
In a summary, Pelosi said coronavirus will be free for everyone who needs a test, including those without health insurance.
“We secured paid emergency emergency leave with two weeks of paid sick leave,” said Pelosi, among the other provisions. Congressional Republicans had to wait for a tweet of support from the President before committing their votes.
When the President was pressed for what other specific, targeted measures his Administration was promising beyond the buying of oil and the waiving of student loan interest, he said “We’re looking at many different things.”
In Senate, a group of 25 members, including Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, is urging the administration to open a special enrollment period to allow people without health insurance to purchase an ACA plan through the health insurance marketplaces. About 27.5 million Americans lack health insurance of any kind, the Senators said in a letter to Trump.
“Patients should not feel the need to avoid care out of fear of incurring medical bills they cannot afford,” Baldwin and her colleagues wrote.
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told POLITICO he is “consulting with doctors on what he should do after news came out that a Spanish right-wing politician, Santiago Abascal, he met with on March 2 tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he’s sure he shook Abscal’s hand but added he ‘feels fine.’”