Trump invokes act to marshal private sector against virus
By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN
WASHINGTON (AP) - Managing dual health and economic crises, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will invoke a federal provision that allows the government to marshal the private sector in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, now describing himself as a “wartime president,” said he would sign the Defense Production Act “in case we need it" as the government bolsters resources for an expected surge in cases of the virus.
Trump also said he will expand the nation's testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming the epicenter of a pandemic that has rattled the U.S. economy and rewritten the rules of American society. A second ship will be deployed to the West Coast.
The president also said the Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through April as a growing number of Americans face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.
The announcements came on a fast-moving day of developments. The Senate was taking up a financial aid package while the administration pushed forward its economic relief plan, which proposes $500 billion in checks to millions of Americans, with the first checks to come April 6 if Congress approves the plan.
Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced that the U.S.-Canada border would be closed, except for essential personnel and for trade, as the nations try to reduce the spread of a virus afflicting people in both countries.
Trump dismissed talk from his own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who suggested that the nation could face 20% unemployment at least in the short term.
That's an "absolute total worst case scenario," Trump said. “We're no way near it."
The administration 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 Defense Production Act gives the president a broad set of authorities to shape the domestic industrial base so that it is capable of providing essential materials and goods needed in a national security crisis.
The law allows the president to require businesses and corporations to prioritize and accept contracts for required materials and services. It also allows the president to provide incentives for the domestic industrial base to expand the production and supply of critical materials and goods, according to a March 2 report by the Congressional Research Service.
The president, at the briefing, also continued his recent habit of referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” which has been sharply criticized as racially inflammatory.
“It's not racist at all," Trump said. “It comes from China, that's all."
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
President Donald Trump used Twitter to air his grievances and boasts Wednesday even as he announced new steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Moments before telling the country that the U.S. and Canada had decided to temporarily close the world's longest border to non-essential traffic, Trump was tweeting about his approval rating and bashing the news media that his administration is relying on to share its warnings about the virus.
“I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning," Trump tweeted, despite his record of playing down the threat for weeks. “The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!”
It was a jarring contrast even for a president well-practiced in preaching unity in one breath and pummeling his political rivals in another.
As he needled Democrats, Trump tried to assure those who are now out of work as hotels, bars, restaurants and other gathering spots close that, “money will soon be coming to you. The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault! Will be stronger than ever!”
Asked Tuesday whether he would consider laying off the insults during a national emergency, Trump said that he would continue to respond “if they're not going to play fair. ”
“I want it to be bipartisan and nobody’s going to be better than me.," he added. “But when they attack me or the people -- these incredible people behind me -- I’m not going to let them get away with that. I can’t do that.”
Since the virus has spread, Trump and his top aides have stepped up their criticism of China, noting consistently that the outbreak was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. They have referred to the virus as the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese virus” on multiple occasions, disregarding World Health Organization terminology that avoids identifying it by geography.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, like pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
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