March 26, 2020

Senate and White House negotiators threw together the largest economic rescue bill in modern U.S. history in less than a week, and the final version of the $2.2 trillion package — passed unanimously in the Senate late Wednesday — has a lot of money for a lot of businesses and institutions. The goal of the legislation is to shore up the U.S. economy and civil society during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Here's where some of that money will go:

Direct cash payments: Most Americans will get checks of up to $1,200 plus $500 per child, at a cost of about $290 billion.

Hospitals: $100 billion is for grants to hospitals and health care providers struggling to purchase critical supplies and losing money from postponed elective surgeries. There's also money for community health centers, Medicare, telehealth, and public health agencies.

Unemployment: The bill sets aside $260 billion to expand unemployment payments to a broader group of workers affected by the pandemic, add 13 weeks of coverage for the unemployed, and boost weekly payments by up to $600.

State and local governments: $150 billion will go to help state and local governments weather the outbreak, including a minimum of $1.5 billion per state and $8 billion for tribal governments. There's another $25 billion in state infrastructure grants.

Small businesses: $377 billion is set aside for zero-interest loans and other payments for businesses with fewer than 500 employees — including nonprofits and individual hotels and restaurants from large chains. The loans will be forgiven if the companies retain their employees and meet other conditions.

Big businesses: The bill has $500 billion for industries hit especially hard by the pandemic. This includes $50 billion for passenger airlines — $25 billion in loans, $25 billion in grants — $8 billion for cargo carriers, and $17 billion for "businesses critical to maintaining national security" (read: Boeing). The other $425 billion is loans allocated through Federal Reserve programs, with some limits on executive compensation and stock buybacks, new oversight mechanisms, and a ban on participation by companies significantly controlled by President Trump, other top administration officials, members of Congress, or their families.

Miscellaneous: The Pentagon receives $10.4 billion, FEMA gets $45 billion, $25 billion goes for food stamps, $25 billion for public transit systems, $31 billion for local schools and colleges, and states get $400 million to prepare for the 2020 elections, including expanding vote-by-mail and polling locations.

Find more details at Politico, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post, and learn more about the fine print at The New York Times. Peter Weber

9:53 a.m.

Tesla is offering a look at the ventilators it's working on making out of car parts amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla engineers in a YouTube video uploaded Sunday explain they're "trying to make some ventilators out of some car parts so that we can help out the medical industry without taking away from their supply," showing a prototype for a ventilator that's "heavily based on Tesla car parts" and that makes use of the Model 3's infotainment system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who last month claimed that "coronavirus panic is dumb," in March pledged that the company would make ventilators "if there's a shortage," prompting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to urge them to do so. "New York City is buying," de Blasio wrote. New York has been facing a ventilator shortage, and de Blasio said Sunday that "we believe now we can get to Tuesday or Wednesday with the supplies we have."

Musk recently donated ventilators to New York that reportedly aren't the kind hospitals are most in need of. The Verge notes that Tesla "has been criticized for attempting to invent a new ventilator rather than utilizing an existing design." In the video, the Tesla engineers say they wanted to use parts "that we know really well," that "we know the reliability of," and that are "available in volume."

Asked on Sunday about Tesla's efforts, though, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said, "Nobody can make you a ventilator right now in two weeks. That's General Motors, that's Ford, that's Elon Musk. ... their time frame, frankly, doesn't work for our immediate apex because whether we're talking two days or 10 days, you're not going to make ventilators at that time." Brendan Morrow

9:45 a.m.

President Trump is very excited about hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, frequently touting it as a "game changer," and he isn't alone in his enthusiasm. His economic adviser Peter Navarro, who reportedly sparred with top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, told Fox & Friends on Monday morning he would "bet on President Trump's intuition on this." Other boosters Trump is apparently listening to include his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the controversial television personality.

At Sunday night's press briefing, Trump said he hopes doctors use the drug, "because I'll tell you what, what do you have to lose?" He added: "I may take it. I'll have to ask my doctors about that." When a reporter asked Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, Trump stepped in and shut it down.

Most health officials and medical scientists, like Fauci, are unconvinced about the malaria drug's effectiveness at treating the coronavirus, noting that the evidence so far is anecdotal and contradictory. "I think we've got to be careful that we don't make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug," Fauci said on Friday's Fox & Friends. Hydroxychloroquine also has heath risks, including cardiac arrest in some cases.

Giuliani has been pushing hydroxychloroquine on Twitter, his podcast, and, he tells The Washington Post, in one-on-one calls with Trump. He said he has no financial stake in hydroxychloroquine. After watching Dr. Oz repeatedly tout the drug on Fox News, Trump said he wants to speak with Oz and told health officials it would be "a good idea" if they did, too, The Daily Beast reports. At least one official, Medicare administrator Seema Verma, spoke with Oz privately.

In mid-March, Reuters reports, "Trump personally pressed federal health officials" to green-light hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, and "shortly afterward, the federal government published highly unusual guidance informing doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with key dosing information based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science." When asked about its guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Trump's coronavirus task force had requested the document. Peter Weber

8:49 a.m.

With a flying leap off a balcony, former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski became a WWE champion on Sunday night.

Gronk, who was the host of the two-day WrestleMania 36 in Orlando, Florida, had said earlier in the show that "I've won three major championships in my life and that's cool and all, but that's in the past. I wouldn't mind winning the 24/7 title before the end of tonight." And that he did, by vaulting over a balcony railing to flatten a crowd of wrestlers and pin his friend, Mojo Rawley, in order to take the 24/7 championship belt — which, as the name suggests, can be defended anytime anywhere.

ESPN reports that "Gronk relinquished his hosting duties and left the event immediately after winning the title." Jeva Lange

8:39 a.m.

Wisconsin's presidential primary remains scheduled for Tuesday with in-person voting even amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an idea a group of mayors is calling "irresponsible and contrary to public health."

Amid calls for Wisconsin to postpone its primary as other states have done in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers (D), who previously issued a safer-at-home order, recently called a special session of the GOP-held legislature to consider canceling in-person voting and extending the deadline to mail in ballots. The legislature ultimately didn't do so. Wisconsin general elections are also set for Tuesday.

Now, a group of 10 Wisconsin mayors, including the mayor of Milwaukee, have written to the state's top health official, Department of Human Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm, asking her to take action and close the buildings where voting is to take place, Politico reports.

"We need you to step up and stop the state of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads," the letter, signed by 10 Wisconsin mayors representing 1.3 million people, reads. "...We believe it would be irresponsible and contrary to public health to conduct in-person voting throughout the state at the very time this disease is spreading rapidly."

Politico notes that in Ohio, the governor's top health official shuttered polling places when that state's primary was scheduled for March 17. In that case, Ohio subsequently extended absentee voting until April 28.

The Wisconsin mayors in their letter also urge the state's legislature to meet before Tuesday in order to "craft a procedure that protects public health and protects the right to vote," which they suggest would be "to mail every registered voter a ballot."

As the voting remains set to go ahead for now, NPR reports that "clerks are now dealing with a shortage of about 7,000 poll workers across the state." Brendan Morrow

8:10 a.m.

Ukrainian firefighters battled two wildfires on Sunday and Monday near the Chernobyl nuclear power station, which was evacuated during the Soviet era after a 1986 nuclear-reactor explosion, The Associated Press reports. Radiation levels at blazes, which covered dozens of acres in the 1,000-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, rose to 16 times above normal, said the head of the state ecological inspection service, Yehor Firsov.

The zone has been unpopulated, except for about 200 people who refuse to leave, since the disaster at the plant produced a cloud of radioactive fallout that drifted over Europe. Fires in the forests around the shuttered plant have been common. Radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, remained within the normal range. Harold Maass

6:47 a.m.

President Trump informed Congress late Friday that he intends to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson after a mandatory 30-day period but also said he was placing Atkinson on immediate administrative leave. "Inspectors general are traditionally removed for 'cause' — usually involving misconduct," The Washington Post notes. "In Atkinson's case, there was no apparent misconduct. Rather, Trump said in a letter to Congress on Friday night that it was 'no longer the case' that Atkinson had his 'fullest confidence.'"

In a press conference Saturday, Trump strongly suggested he was sacking Atkinson for informing Congress about the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that, once largely confirmed, led to Trump's impeachment. "I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible," Trump told reporters. "He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress." Atkinson released an unusual statement Sunday night defending his handling of the Ukraine matter and saying "it is hard not to think that the president's loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial inspector general."

Democrats and some Senate Republicans criticized the late-night sacking, and Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general and chairman of a council of federal inspectors general, said Atkinson was known by his peers for "integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight," including "his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then-acting director of national intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done 'by the book' and consistent with the law."

Trump also announced Friday night he intends to nominate a White House lawyer, Brian Miller, as special inspector general for a $500 billion coronavirus relief fund and replace Glenn Fine, the well-regarded acting inspector general of the Defense Department, with Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Horowitz had tapped Fine as inspector general of the entire $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package. Peter Weber

5:28 a.m.

President Trump "has made no secret of his disdain for the media," but his COVID-19 press conferences have "highlighted the fact that there is one media outlet he seems to really enjoy calling on," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "OAN stands for One America News, and when you hear the kinds of questions that they ask, you begin to see why Trump calls on them so much." He showed some of the moments that "explain why Trump has such a love affair with OAN," explained "they're punching way above their weight right now," and took "a look at who they are and what they do."

For starters, "OAN is the brain-child of Robert Herring, conservative millionaire," and "since its birth, OAN has been a home for extreme conservatism" and even conspiracy theories, including that the coronavirus originated as a bioweapon in North Carolina, Oliver said. "The whole selling point for OAN is that they are Fox News with even less shame and even fewer scruples. In fact, they're so flagrantly smitten with Trump their network account actually tweeted a "pathetically thirsty" complaint about Trump not thanking them, his "greatest supporters."

"I know that it is easy to dismiss OAN as just a stupid, little-watched, borderline self-parody," Oliver said. "The problem is, if we're learning one thing right now, it's that toxic things that start small can get big fast, and it's dangerous to ignore them. And right now, the president's putting a lot of energy into boosting OAN's profile," even inviting back OAN's White House correspondent after the White House Correspondents' Association revoked her seat for flouting social-distancing rules.

This Trump-OAN symbiosis "is a problem," Oliver said. "In the best of times, you can laugh at an almost Anchorman-esque parody of right-wing news, but much like the problem with Anchorman 2, it's just not the right time for Ron Burgundy right now. OAN's weird combination of far-right-wing talking points and dirt-stupid reporting is incredibly dangerous at a time like this." In fact, some of the "misinformation OAN is spewing right now could end up getting people killed," he said. "And sadly, their message is getting actively spread by the White House." (There is NSFW language.) Peter Weber

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