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US Senate approves $2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill

Washington, DC – The United States’s Senate overwhelmingly approved a $2 trillion economic rescue bill on Wednesday to help lift the economy and address the coronavirus pandemic.  The Senate vote ratifies a political agreement between leading Senate Democrats, Republicans and the White House and sets the stage for final passage likely later this week. More: Fighting virus:…

US Senate approves $2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill

Washington, DC – The United States’s Senate overwhelmingly approved a $2 trillion economic rescue bill on Wednesday to help lift the economy and address the coronavirus pandemic. 
The Senate vote ratifies a political agreement between leading Senate Democrats, Republicans and the White House and sets the stage for final passage likely later this week.
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The legislation is now under review in the US House of Representatives. If passed, it will be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress. The president said he would sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk. 
“It’s good news for the doctors and nurses in emergency rooms around the country who are waiting for more masks and more funding,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 
“It will rush new resources onto the front lines of our nation’s healthcare fight and it will inject trillions of dollars of cash into the economy as fast as possible,” the Republican leader added. 
US stock markets opened higher on Wednesday, following the announcement of the deal, which was struck in the early morning hours. But the rally lost steam near the close after three Republicans expressed reservations over language in the bill that addressed enhanced unemployment benefits for Americans. 
But after hours of negotiations on Wednesday, those Republicans were unable to impose changes to the legislation.

Volatility in global markets has weighed heavy on investors during the coronavirus crisis [Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expects to take up the Senate bill under expedited procedures in coming days.
“America is facing a grave health crisis with a serious impact on our economy,” Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday morning.
“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said.
The Senate bill does not go as far as House Democrats wanted and Democratic committee chairmen in the House will be reviewing the legislative text, she said. 
A vote in the House, whose members left Washington, DC, more than a week ago is not expected until at least Friday. 
The legislative package includes: 
$500bn for a Treasury Department lending facility to support US companies, including airlines, with public oversight
$350bn for small businesses. Current small business loans will be forgiven. Grants will be available to keep employees on payroll for eight weeks
$100bn for hospitals, nurses and doctors to battle the outbreak
$150bn for state and local governments
$300bn in direct payments to most Americans of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child within about three weeks. A typical family of four would get $3,400. Individuals making more than $100,000 a year (households making more than $150,000) would not be eligible
$250bn in federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week for individual employees as well as gig workers and independent contractors in addition to regular state unemployment benefits available for up to four months
“The bill before us is filled with resources to help struggling families, to provide relief to workers and enable businesses to retain their employees during this crisis,” said Senator John Thune, the No 2 Senate Republican.
“This is a pro-worker bill. This is about getting paychecks in the hands of American workers,” Thune added.
The passage in the Senate came after several days of gruelling talks between Senate and House leaders, Treasury secretary and other White House officials. 
“After sleep-deprived nights and marathon negotiations, we have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday morning. 
‘Unemployment insurance on steroids’
The Senate stimulus bill would allow businesses to put employees on paid furlough for up to four months, Schumer said. 
“We call it unemployment insurance on steroids,” he added. “Every American who is laid off will have their salary remunerated.” 
The enormous size of the emergency spending equals roughly 40 percent of the entire $4.6 trillion annual budget of the US government or about 10 percent of the total annual output of the $21-trillion US economy.
Over the weekend and as talks dragged into Monday and Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats had blamed each other for delays as tempers flared and the sense of urgency grew as evidence of the scope of the crisis mounted daily.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Wednesday the relief package would cover damage to the US economy for three months.
“Hopefully we won’t need this for three months. Hopefully, this will be over quicker, but we expect that this is a significant amount of money, if needed, to cover the economy,” Mnuchin said.
Businesses ordered shut
Businesses have been ordered shut in more than a dozen US states encompassing large population centres on the East and West Coasts.
More than 100 million Americans, or about a third of the US population, are living under stay-at-home restrictions ordered by mayors and governors.
Preliminary data on unemployment claims indicate as many as 3.4 million Americans lost their jobs in just the last week which would be the largest one-week job loss in US history.

Trump has called for the US to ‘reopen’ on April 12 in spite of dire warnings that it could worsen the crisis [Evan Vucci/Pool via Reuters]

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US has surged as testing becomes more widely available. More than 65,000 cases have been identified in the US so far, according to a cumulative tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In New York City, the epicentre of the outbreak in the US, concern was rising as authorities prepared for an expected overflow of COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that the Senate bill does not provide enough for states.
New York faces a $15bn cost for the coronavirus response while the federal relief bill promises the state only $3.5bn.
“How do you plug a $15bbn hole with $3.8bn? You don’t,” he said. 
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Senate approves subpoenas of Obama officials in Russian collusion probe

A Senate committee approved subpoenas Thursday for more than 50 mostly Obama-era officials in a dramatic escalation of the investigation into origins of the Trump-Russia collusion probe. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is wielding the subpoena power, said the move will finally put on the hot seat top officials,…

Senate approves subpoenas of Obama officials in Russian collusion probe

A Senate committee approved subpoenas Thursday for more than 50 mostly Obama-era officials in a dramatic escalation of the investigation into origins of the Trump-Russia collusion probe.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is wielding the subpoena power, said the move will finally put on the hot seat top officials, including former FBI Director James B. Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“Comey and McCabe and that whole crowd — their day is coming,” Mr. Graham said.

Others targeted for subpoenas are former National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper, former CIA chief John O. Brennan, former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and FBI officials Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, James Baker and Bill Priestap.

The panel’s politically charged inquiry has the potential to rewrite the Russia collusion narrative that until recently dominated Washington and colored voters’ views of the Justice Department and the Obama administration, in which presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden served as vice president.

Democrats said the investigation is a fishing expedition intended to smear President Trump’s political enemies as the campaign season heats up.

“Never has a chairman devoted the full weight of this committee’s resources to pursue a wholly partisan investigation after being prompted by a presidential campaign,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and a panel member.

The committee’s probe also is a response to public pressure from Trump supporters who are frustrated with the lack of accountability for top officials at the FBI and Justice Department who publicly pushed the unsubstantiated collusion accusations.

Accusations of collusion with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election dogged Mr. Trump since he took office and fueled Democrats’ charges that he occupies the Oval Office illegitimately.

Most of Mr. Trump’s term was conducted under the cloud of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which failed to dig up evidence of collusion or charge any Trump allies on charges related to conspiring with Russia.

Mr. Trump calls the Russia probe a “hoax.”

His supporters think it was a political hit job orchestrated by Democrats with the help of a deep state.

In a party-line vote, Republicans on the panel granted Mr. Graham the authority to subpoena individuals for documents and testimony about the origins of the Russia probe.

Mr. Graham has the power to subpoena “any current or former executive branch official or employee involved in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the name of the FBI’s investigation into alleged ties to the Trump campaign and Russia.

He also has the authority to subpoena individuals involved in the dissemination of a report by former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a salacious but unverified opposition-research dossier against Mr. Trump funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Fusion GPS founder Glenn R. Simpson and Nellie Ohr are expected to receive subpoenas for their roles in commissioning and distributing the dossier.

Republicans contend that mounting evidence suggests the Russia probe was not on the up and up.

A report last year by the Justice Department inspector general found multiple errors and omissions in the FBI’s application for a court order to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The omissions, which included potentially exculpatory evidence, have raised questions about whether Mr. Page was a political target by anti-Trump officials in the FBI before and after the election.

Mr. Graham also wants to probe the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

The Justice Department moved this year to dismiss the case after spending roughly two years prosecuting it. The department said the FBI did not have a sufficient basis to interview Flynn because it sought to close the case after failing to uncover wrongdoing.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, accused Mr. Graham of going over “ground that has already been covered.”

In a bid to upend the subpoena vote, Democrats sought to add a series of amendments to compel testimony and documents from Mr. Trump’s allies.

Among the individuals Democrats want to be subpoenaed are former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and Flynn.

The amendments were defeated easily in a series of party-line votes.

“The fact that you are turning down every single relevant witness tells us and tells the world this is an irrelevant investigation,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Mr. Graham clapped back that Trump associates were heavily scrutinized in the Mueller probe.

“I don’t understand why you would want to do the Mueller investigation all over again after we’ve spent 2½ years and $25 million doing it,” said Mr. Graham. “I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the way people liked, but it is behind us. Now we are going to look at what happened and the misconduct involved and hold people accountable.”

Under committee rules, Mr. Graham cannot issue a subpoena unilaterally. The committee chairman can issue a subpoena only with the consent of the ranking member or a committee vote.

Democrats said the granting of subpoena power to one person violated the committee’s bipartisan spirit. They accused Mr. Graham of trying to grant himself “unilateral subpoena authority.”

“The resolution would give the chair sole authority to issue literally hundreds of subpoenas without any agreement from the ranking member of any committee to vote on any specific subpoena,” said Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted last week to authorize subpoenas from individuals associated with the Russia probe. It is not clear how the two committees will work together with similar investigations and subpoenas.

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US Senate approves $484bn funding for small businesses, hospitals

Washington, DC – The United States Senate on Tuesday approved legislation worth $484bn to provide funding for a small business jobs programme, hospitals overrun by the coronavirus outbreak, and a national testing impetus to help tamp down the pandemic. The Senate bill, agreed to in advance by the White House, allocates $25bn for a testing…

US Senate approves $484bn funding for small businesses, hospitals

Washington, DC – The United States Senate on Tuesday approved legislation worth $484bn to provide funding for a small business jobs programme, hospitals overrun by the coronavirus outbreak, and a national testing impetus to help tamp down the pandemic.
The Senate bill, agreed to in advance by the White House, allocates $25bn for a testing strategy that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats insisted was key to reopening the US economy. The bill calls on the Trump administration to define a strategy to provide nationwide testing and report on that plan to Congress.
The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent and will now advance to the House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on it as soon as Thursday.
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“There is a world economic contraction because of the virus and you are seeing demand just plunge,” Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to US President Donald Trump, told reporters at the White House. “There is some deflation in the air.”
The emergency spending package adds approximately $320bn to a programme designed to help small businesses keep employees on their payrolls until the US economy can be reopened again. The money is in addition to the $350bn approved by Congress in March for small businesses under the so-called Paycheck Protection Program, which was quickly exhausted by overwhelming demand.
A portion of the new funding – $60bn – would be directed through community lenders to under-banked neighbourhoods and rural areas.
More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs since the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shut down – the biggest job loss since the Great Depression between 1929 and 1933.
The bill includes $75bn for hospitals hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and $60bn for economic disaster assistance, as well as $11bn for states, according to a summary of the legislation.
The testing funds will be directed to “a national strategic testing policy that will focus on increasing testing capacity including testing supplies,” Pelosi and Senator Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
The availability of coronavirus testing has been a point of contention between the White House and state governors grappling with the pandemic.
More than four million tests have been administered in the US to date, with some 814,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – thus far identified, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 44,000 Americans have died from the disease. 

US companies face bankruptcy over crash (1:59)

Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he supported a negotiated agreement with Democrats and would sign the bill.
“I urge the Senate and House to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act with additional funding for PPP [personal protective equipment], Hospitals and Testing,” the president said on Twitter, citing the full title of the bill and indicating he would sign the legislation.
Just as the initial financing for US small businesses ran out quickly, the new funding for small businesses is not likely to last long. 
Major US banks already have a pipeline of applications for the loans and grants, and are warning customers that not every qualified applicant would receive funds.
Terms of the new funding package were negotiated late into the night on Monday by Pelosi and Schumer with Trump’s representatives, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Democrats had demanded more funding for small businesses that do not have established relationships with commercial banks. “If you don’t know a banker, you were left out,” Schumer said of the earlier programme. 
In the negotiations, Republicans won more than the initial $250bn in additional funding for small businesses they had requested last week.
The legislation is the fourth bill Congress has passed to address the coronavirus outbreak. Before today’s bill, the US has committed more than $2.2 trillion in emergency spending, and Democrats and Republicans are already discussing funding priorities for a fifth bill.
The president tweeted on Tuesday that he wants to provide a financial lifeline for the US oil and gas industry.

We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down. I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020 

Democrats said they were “disappointed” that more funding was not included for states and cities whose budgets have been decimated by the economic slowdown, but said they were “pleased” Trump committed to addressing that need in the next round of legislation.
The next bill must be “transformative and far-reaching” and aimed at “getting Americans back to work” by “ensuring economic security” and “putting health and safety” first, Schumer and Pelosi said.
Schumer said the bill would need to be “similar in scope” to the $2.2 trillion measure previously passed by Congress.
Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, expressed concern that the massive new spending, which will be financed by government bond sales, will burden future generations with too much debt.
The US “can manage this disease without the draconian lockdown of the economy” and should quit “printing bailout cash”, Paul said in remarks to the Senate.
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China approves two coronavirus vaccines for human trials

China has approved early-stage human tests for two experimental coronavirus vaccines as it battles to contain imported cases and prevent a second wave of COVID-19.  The experimental vaccines are being developed by a Beijing-based unit of Sinovac Biotech and by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, an affiliate of state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group, state news…

China approves two coronavirus vaccines for human trials

China has approved early-stage human tests for two experimental coronavirus vaccines as it battles to contain imported cases and prevent a second wave of COVID-19. 
The experimental vaccines are being developed by a Beijing-based unit of Sinovac Biotech and by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, an affiliate of state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.
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Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Hong Kong, said China’s National Health Commission also confirmed the trials will go ahead. 

In March, Beijing gave the green light to another clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by the military-backed Academy of Military Medical Sciences and biotech firm CanSino Bio, shortly after US drug developer Moderna said it had begun human tests for their vaccine with the US National Institutes of Health.
“We can confirm now that three particular vaccines are being tested in China, and the National Health Commission has said it will have to clear a number of conditions before they can enable mass production of the vaccines globally,” said Clarke.
As of Tuesday, China reported 82,249 coronavirus cases and 3,341 deaths. There were no fatalities over the past 24 hours.
‘Very bold decision’
Scientists around the world are racing against time to develop a vaccine for coronavirus, which has killed more than 119,000 people and infected more than 1.9 million globally.
The first approved vaccine in China has started its second phase of the trial, Clarke reported.
“A total of 500 people signed up to volunteer for that in the first phase, which looked at the safety of this vaccine, and the second phase has now introduced a placebo control group,” she said. 

Good news! China approved clinical trials for two types of inactivated #vaccines for #COVID_19 on Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/4nx41wiN20
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) April 14, 2020

But even as hope for a cure is raised, John Nicholls, clinical professor of Pathology at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Vaccines can’t be rushed”.
His team was one of the first outside mainland China to reproduce the virus in a laboratory for research. 
“Normally with vaccines you start off with small animals and then move to primates and then to the humans,” Nicholls told Al Jazeera. “It seems that with this one they have gone straight to the humans, which is a very bold decision.
“Most of the mortality in this disease is in the elderly, so the best thing would be to actually see what the anti-body response is in the elderly rather than the young,” he added.

Meanwhile, Russia has become China’s largest source of imported cases, with a total of 409 infections originating in the northern neighbour. 
Of the 89 new cases reported in mainland China on Monday, 79 were imported coronavirus cases in China’s northeastern border province of Heilongjiang, all Chinese citizens travelling home from Russia, according to state media.
At a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on Monday, China’s coronavirus taskforce decided to deploy more health resources on its borders.
It said it would build hospitals and establish isolation points in border regions, and would also strengthen cooperation with neighbouring countries.
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