Legislating in a time of coronavirus: House leaders hope to approve the Senate-passed $2 trillion emergency relief package by voice vote. That’s so lawmakers don’t have to come back to the Capitol building as a growing number of lawmakers feverishly self-quarantine, including some from Massachusetts.
Lawmakers Fall Ill As That Key Vote Looms
One lawmaker unlikely to make the trek back to D.C. this week is Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who was tested for the coronavirus yesterday.
“After experiencing flu-like symptoms, Rep. Pressley sought professional medical treatment out of an abundance of caution,” spokeswoman Lina Francis said in a statement last night. “She has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting test results.”
Unlike Pressley, Rep. Seth Moulton did not take a coronavirus test after experiencing a fever and chest tightness last week. He says he’s feeling better.
Other lawmakers tell me they have been trying their best to stay healthy while performing the duties that often involve coming in close contact with others. As they voted on the relief package last night, senators could be seen mingling much more closely than the recommended 6-foot social distance.
“I am social distancing,” Sen. Ed Markey assured me earlier this week. “I am washing my hands frequently. And I am trying not in any way to be in personal contact with anyone unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Kennedy Calls For Nationwide Shelter-In-Place Order
As President Trump signals he would like to see social distancing restrictions lifted by Easter, Rep. Joe Kennedy joined a growing number of Democratic lawmakers calling for Trump to instead impose a nationwide shelter-in-place order to fight the coronavirus crisis.
Citing public health experts who say stopping the spread of COVID-19 requires Americans to stay home, Kennedy said he’d back a plan with exceptions for essential workers and services, like the food industry and medical care.
"We are out of time,” Kennedy said today in a statement. “A shelter-in-place of this magnitude will be difficult and painful. Travel restrictions, quarantines, and self-isolation are not easy things to ask of our people. They come with profound, short-term economic pain. But that pales in comparison to the pain this country will feel for months — if not years — if we do not stem the tide of this virus.”
Earlier this week, Reps. Stephen Lynch and Lori Trahan signed onto a letter with 18 other House Democrats calling on President Trump to implement a two-week nationwide shelter-in-place order.
Warren Campaign Aide Blasts Moulton’s Resolution on China
Meanwhile, a resolution led by Moulton to condemn the Chinese government’s role in the spread of the virus drew some ire from within the Bay State.
The resolution, led by Moulton and Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana, would express “the sense” of the House that the Chinese government “made multiple, serious mistakes in the early stages of the COVID–19 outbreak that heightened the severity and spread of the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic.”
Moulton is the only Democratic co-sponsor of the nonbinding resolution.
Roger Lau, who managed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, excoriated the bill in a tweet, noting the recent rise in attacks on individuals of Asian descent during the pandemic.
“This is just so wrong. It’s lazy scapegoating, hateful fear mongering, & just flat out dangerous,” Lau tweeted Tuesday. “Asian Americans have been victims of hate crimes that have been incited by ignorance like this. This is a global crisis & we’re all in this together. We’re better than this!”
In a statement Moulton, a Marine combat veteran, noted that instead of responding to the early spread of the virus, “China’s leaders were focused on spreading propaganda that said the American military caused the virus, downplaying its severity.”
Markey Grills FEMA Over Backtrack On Defense Production Act
Markey is seeking answers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about conflicting messages on using the Defense Production Act. Using the act would allow the federal government to direct private manufacturers to produce equipment like coronavirus testing kits and personal protective devices.
Markey pointed to a statement earlier this week by FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor that the administration would invoke the act to secure 60,000 test kits and 500 million masks. Then later, a FEMA spokesperson stated that “at the last minute” FEMA had been “able to procure the test kits from the private market without evoking [sic] the DPA.”
Markey questioned whether the White House was behind the shift.
“It is entirely unclear whether, and if so, how, FEMA and this Administration are intending to use the DPA, even as the chorus of pleas for its invocation from around the country grow louder with each passing day,” Markey wrote in a letter to Gaynor.
3 More Things:
Warren Backs Relief Package, Reluctantly: Sen. Elizabeth Warren was a leading voice criticizing the half trillion dollars in funding for corporate loans within the massive COVID-19 economic relief package as a “slush fund.” She said changes to the bill boosting oversight of the fund were enough to win her vote, but not her inaction.
“I make you this promise: I will spend every waking moment watching the Trump Administration and do everything I can to hold it accountable for how it spends this $450 billion taxpayer fund,” Warren tweeted after her vote late last night.
She laid out exactly what she wants Congress and the president to do now in a Medium post today.
Trahan Files Bill To Compel Trump’s Use Of Defense Production Act: The Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act would federalize the manufacturing and distribution of certain types of medical supplies that have become scarce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our health care workers and first responders are on the front lines of this unprecedented public health crisis working around the clock to save lives – all too often lacking the protective equipment to keep themselves and their families safe,” Trahan said in a statement.
Delegation Presses Census Bureau To Use College Data To Count Students: All 11 members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation voiced support for state officials’ call to expand how the Census counts college students.
Currently, the Census Bureau only uses college administrative records to count on-campus students. But Mass. Secretary of State William Galvin wants colleges to report students living off-campus as well.
“We are deeply concerned that in the current circumstances, continuing to count students residing in institutions by collecting individual student surveys will result in a drastic undercount for Massachusetts,” the lawmakers said in the letter to U.S. Census director Steven Dillingham.
WHAT I'M READING
Party Zero: How A Soirée in Connecticut Became A ‘Super Spreader’ (The New York Times)
Of Course You’ve Noticed Deborah Birx’s Style. That’s Why It’s So Reassuring (The Washington Post)
No Welcome Mat For Returning Part-Time Cape Residents Amid Virus Outbreak (South Coast Today)
NUMBER OF THE WEEK
The number of senators absent from yesterday's otherwise unanimous vote on the COVID-19 economic relief package. That includes Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. The former Bay State governor is self-quarantining, as is fellow Utah Sen. Mike Lee, after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul tested positive earlier this week. South Dakota Sen. John Thune also missed the vote after reportedly feeling ill.
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