Senate Republican plan includes corporate tax cuts, limits on paid leave and $1,200 checks for taxpayers.
Senate Republicans unveiled an economic rescue plan on Thursday that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to big corporations and small businesses; large corporate tax cuts; and checks of $1,200 for many taxpayers, as well as impose limits on a paid leave program enacted this week to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, introduced the proposal after private talks with Republicans and the White House. It is likely to face opposition from Democrats, who have their own plans and have pushed for more generous paid leave benefits.
The 247-page bill would provide the $1,200 payments to those earning up to $75,000 a year; those earning $75,000 to $99,000 would get smaller amounts, and those earning more than $99,000 would get none.
On the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell asked Democratic senators to join in-person negotiations on Friday, saying that the talks would include Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary; Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser; and other administration officials.
Italy’s death toll soars, surpassing China’s, as other nations in Europe report upticks.
Italy, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world since the coronavirus first began to spread, passed a grim milestone on Thursday: It announced that deaths from the virus had soared to 3,405, outstripping the toll in China, where the virus first hit.
With the crisis mounting, Italy is increasingly turning to its military for help.
Cemeteries in the northern city of Bergamo are so overwhelmed that the army was called in to transport bodies elsewhere to be cremated, and the army sent 120 doctors and health professionals to help in Bergamo and nearby Lodi, two cities in the Lombardy region, while field hospitals and emergency respiratory units are being set up elsewhere in the north.
The spread of the virus in Italy has been swift, and terrifying, even after the country became the first in Europe to impose strict limits on people’s movements to try to curb the outbreak. As the death toll grew, traditional funeral services were outlawed as part of the national restrictions against gatherings.
The country tallied 902 deaths in the last two days alone: 475 Wednesday and 427 on Thursday. Most of those who died had serious pre-existing conditions, officials said. Italy now has 41,035 cases.
The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, said in an interview in Corriere della Sera Thursday that the country’s restrictive measures are working.
“It’s obvious that when we reach a peak and the contagion begins to descend, at least in percentages, hopefully in a few days, we won’t immediately be able to return to our regular lives,” he said.
In the face of relentlessly bad news, Italians have risen to meet the crisis — the worst the country has faced since World War II — with fortitude, and creative attempts to keep their spirits up. Some housebound Italians, trying to follow social distancing rules in a famously social country, began serenading one another from their balconies in the evenings. And many began taking to their balconies to applaud the doctors and medical workers risking their own lives on the front lines, a show of communal gratitude later emulated by Spain and other countries.
Other countries in Europe also reported upticks. France crossed the threshold of 10,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday as the nation experienced its third day of lockdown, reporting 10,995 cases and 372 deaths.
The French government came under intense pressure from doctors, police and the public over a shortage of face masks and gloves. And after groups of people were seen strolling in the parks of Paris and along France’s coastlines on Wednesday in defiance of the rules, the police moved to close riverside walkways and block beach access in most places.
“There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” the country’s interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, told a French radio station.
Germany’s official count of coronavirus infections jumped 34 percent from Wednesday to Thursday, reaching 10,999, the Robert Koch Institute, the government’s disease control agency, reported. It did not say what accounted for the big increase. Germany’s fatality rate remains strikingly low, with 20 dead.
Spain has reported more than 17,000 cases and 800 deaths. Most of the deaths were in Madrid, where a hotel has been converted into the country’s first makeshift coronavirus hospital. The country is scrambling to bolster its public health system amid reports of shortfalls, with some doctors and nurses forced to work without face masks and other basic equipment. The government launched an emergency recruitment plan on Thursday to add tens of thousands of workers to the health sector, ranging from medical students to retired doctors.
And in perhaps the most high-profile cultural event to be affected, the Cannes Film Festival has been postponed. It was meant to run from May 12 to May 23 on the French Riviera, but organizers said in a statement on Thursday that could not happen.
The State Department is advising Americans to refrain from travel abroad.
The State Department recommended on Thursday that American citizens abroad either return home or stay in place as the new coronavirus pandemic grows.
The department raised its global travel advisory to level four, the top-tier warning, usually reserved for nations with war zones or beset by serious disruptions.
The announcement is a recommendation, not a requirement. Millions of Americans are still overseas, and many would likely choose to remain in place.
“If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite time frame,” the advisory said.
Some tourists or American citizens without long-term living arrangements or support networks abroad have been trying to get back to the United States, but have found that difficult because of border closings or the cutting of flight routes and other transportation shutdowns.
President Trump, asked during a briefing on Thursday about Americans stranded abroad and trying to re-enter the United States, said that the administration is working with the military to get them home.
The State Department used five charter flights sent from the United States to evacuate American citizens from Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, and two to bring back Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers from Japan, but has no plans at the moment to run similar evacuation flights elsewhere. American diplomats who have returned to the United States from countries where large outbreaks have occurred have done so mostly on commercial flights.
Politico first reported the State Department’s plans on Thursday.
Some other countries have already issued travel advisories telling their citizens to return home or not go abroad. Canada did so last Friday, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in a 14-day period of self-quarantine because his wife, Sophie Trudeau, had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Canada and many other countries have also closed borders to nonessential traffic in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.
Also on Thursday, U.S. military officials announced they would halt deployments into Iraq for at least the next 14 days. The move follows similar initiatives in Afghanistan as the Pentagon wrestles with the spread of the coronavirus.
The change comes at a time when U.S. troops in Iraq are contending with a recent spate of rocket attacks launched by Iranian-linked militias, and as the U.S.-led coalition in the country closes several smaller bases throughout the country.
The decision means some of the more than 5,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will have to stay longer than expected.
Doctors and nurses plead for masks and other equipment.
The Open Cities Community Health Center in St. Paul, Minn., is considering shutting its doors, because of a dwindling supply of face masks. Doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis have been forced to perform invasive procedures with loose fitting surgical masks rather than the tight respirator masks recommended by health agencies. At one Los Angeles emergency room, doctors examining a suspected coronavirus patient were given a box of expired masks.
When they tried to secure them to their faces, the elastic bands snapped.
With cases soaring, doctors, nurses and other front-line medical workers across the United States are confronting a dire shortage of masks, surgical gowns and eye gear to protect them from the virus.
“There’s absolutely no way to protect myself,” said Dr. Faezah A. Bux, an anesthesiologist in central Kentucky who in recent days had to intubate several elderly patients in respiratory distress without the N95 masks and protective eye gear recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Not only can I not protect myself, I can’t protect my patients.”
At a White House briefing on Thursday, Mr. Trump said millions of masks were in production and that the federal government had made efforts to address the shortages. But he said it was largely up to governors to deal with the problem.
“The federal governments aren’t supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping,” Mr. Trump said. “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
He said there were no immediate plans to activate the Defense Production Act, which authorizes presidents to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of equipment needed for national security.
“We hope we are not going to need it,” he said.
The president’s optimistic statements contrasted starkly with the situation on the ground. Rebecca Bartles, who heads infection prevention efforts for the Providence St. Joseph hospital chain based in Washington, said it was only a matter of days before some of the system’s 51 hospitals and 800 clinics run out of personal protective equipment, often referred to as P.P.E.
“We’re on mile one of a marathon,” she said. “If we’re out of P.P.E. now, what does mile 25 look like?”
A surveillance tool could soon become a smartphone virus tracker.
Health officials and scientists in Britain hope to begin testing soon for a smartphone app that would alert the user about coming in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
The project is an urgent effort by the British authorities to translate a surveillance tool used to fight the outbreak in China into something more palatable in Western democracies. The app is being developed for use in Britain, but could be adapted for other countries, particularly those with centralized health systems like Britain’s, officials said.
Unlike the smartphone-tracking system used by the Chinese government, the British project would rely entirely on voluntary participation, and would bank on people sharing information out of a sense of civic duty. Users who sign up for the program would agree to share their location data for the duration of the pandemic, or as long as they kept the app.
Such cooperation might have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago, but it is expected to gain traction as the death toll mounts and the economy stalls.
The app would be officially associated with the country’s National Health System, said researchers at the University of Oxford who are working on it with the government. The researchers said the government could make assurances about deleting the data and would not make the movements of infected individuals fully public, as has been done in South Korea.
The proposal is the latest attempt by governments to harness technology to fight the coronavirus, while avoiding concerns about enabling long-term government surveillance.
Trump says White House “slashed red tape” to expand trials.
As coronavirus cases soared in the United States and health care workers complained of shortages of critically-needed supplies, President Trump said Thursday that his administration had “slashed red tape” to expand trials for possible treatments but gave mixed signals about whether he would move to compel private industry to produce medical equipment.
With the development of a usable coronavirus vaccine at least a year off, Mr. Trump, surrounded at the White House by leading federal health officials, said that they had been working to swiftly expand trials of several antiviral therapies they hoped would prove effective against the coronavirus.
“I’ve directed the F.D.A. to eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy so this work can proceed rapidly, quickly, and I mean fast,” said an enthusiastic Mr. Trump, who said that several drugs could turn out to be a “game changer,” before adding a note of caution: “and maybe not.”
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, gently tamped down some of Mr. Trump’s optimism, saying that while it was important for doctors to give hope, it was also important “not to provide false hope.”
“We need to make sure the sea of new treatments will get the right drug to the right patients at the right dosage at the right time,” Dr. Hahn said, citing the importance of establishing the safety and efficacy of possible treatments. There is no proven drug treatment for the new coronavirus.
During the briefing, the president and Dr. Hahn said that the F.D.A. had approved the use in coronavirus patients of the prescription drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which have been used for malaria. There have not been clinical trials to determine whether those drugs actually work for the disease, and Dr. Hahn did not explain why the F.D.A. is supporting their use.
Doctors in China and France have said there were indications they might help, and many hospitals in the United States had already begun using them. Mr. Trump and Dr. Hahn also said they planned to allow patients to gain access to an experimental drug, remdesivir.
When the president was asked if it was acceptable that there were such shortages of masks some health care workers were being urged to reuse them, he turned to Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pence said that there had been “a dramatic increase in production” in masks, but did not say when they would be in the hands of health care workers.
Mr. Trump gave mixed signals on whether he would use the Defense Production Act, which authorizes presidents to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies. In this case, the list could include ventilators, respirators and protective gear for health care workers.
When asked why he hadn’t yet compelled companies to do this — especially given the projected shortages of masks and lifesaving ventilators — the president first told reporters that governors were responsible for buying equipment for their states.
“Nobody in their wildest dreams would have thought we would need tens of thousands of ventilators,” he said. But he said he would use the power if needed, before adding ambiguously, “You don’t know what we have done.”
The risk of equipment shortages, particularly ventilator shortages, have been known for some time. It was cited in a draft report completed in October after the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services ran a series of exercises to gauge how well prepared the United States was for a pandemic.
The U.S. tested its pandemic response last year and found significant problems.
The United States ran a detailed exercise testing the federal government’s response to a fictional respiratory virus for nine months last year. The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.
That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion,” was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.
In the scenario, the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead. It was not the first time in recent years that the government had studied its capacity for dealing with a pandemic.
The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and local hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own way on school closings.
Stocks inch higher as Wall Street’s turmoil continues.
Stocks ended slightly higher on Thursday, after a volatile session, as investors weighed fresh evidence of a sharp economic decline against efforts in the United States and Europe to offset the damage.
By the end of the day, which had started with a sharp drop on Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose by less than 1 percent, and shares in Europe also scratched out small gains. Oil prices, which had collapsed by more than 20 percent on Wednesday, sharply rebounded.
The uneven trading came as the steady drumbeat of bad news about the spread of the coronavirus, and its impact on the economy, continued.
In the United States, the number of workers filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance surged, government data released on Thursday showed. Those figures do not reflect the sharp cuts made in the past few days as companies quickly scale down operations. And a survey of manufacturers by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed a sudden drop off in activity.
Overnight, the European Central Bank unveiled a huge bond-buying program aimed at preventing economic calamity, and the Fed presented a plan to support money market funds, which are threatened when there is a rush for cash. U.S. officials made progress on passage of stimulus efforts to keep the American economy running. The Bank of England on Thursday announced that it would reduce its benchmark interest rate to 0.1 percent and increase its buying of British government bonds and corporate bonds.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the White House’s economic relief plan included sending checks of $1,000 for every American adult and $500 per child within three weeks. If the crisis continues, the plan would be to send checks of the same amounts again in May.
But news of efforts to bolster the economy has been matched by a sharp escalation in the number of coronavirus cases in Europe and the United States, and fresh evidence of the impact on businesses. On Thursday, Ford Motor said that it would suspend its dividend payment and draw down about $15 billion from two lines of credit to help offset the impact of coronavirus-related production shutdowns, becoming the latest company to take such measures to cushion itself.
Panic grows as the number of U.S. cases exceeds 10,000.
The number of known coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 10,000 on Thursday, rippling into Capitol buildings and the homes of mayors and prompting sweeping action even from state leaders who only days ago had been reluctant to order radical changes to daily life.
The Army is preparing two mobile hospitals, with around 250 beds each, to deploy to communities hard hit by the coronavirus, senior Army leaders said on Thursday.
Gen. James T. McConville, the Army chief of staff, said that the two hospitals, one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State and one at Fort Campbell in Kentucky are have been put on “prepare to deploy” orders.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Thursday stopping dine-in service at restaurants and bars, officially shutting down all schools and gyms, and barring gatherings of more than 10 people statewide. The order, effective at midnight, imposes stringent new regulations similar to those in place in other states on the 28 million residents of Texas.
Known for its independent spirit and pro-business stance, Texas had previously left it to local officials to decide what restrictions were necessary. But by Thursday, Mr. Abbott said serious action had become necessary as numbers in the state had rapidly accelerated over the past week.
The state also declared a public health disaster for the first time since 1901, Mr. Abbott said.
In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday said he was ordering all non-life sustaining businesses to close by 8 p.m. “Enforcement actions against businesses that don’t close will begin Saturday and could include citations, fines & license suspensions,” he said on Twitter.
In Georgia, all members of the State Legislature were being asked to self-quarantine on Thursday after a state senator who voted at the Capitol earlier this week tested positive for the coronavirus. In Kentucky, the Louisville mayor reported that his wife had tested positive for the virus. And in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo waived mortgage payments for 90 days for people facing hardship, while also warning against fear and panic.
“I spend half my day knocking down rumors that we are going to lock people in their homes,” Mr. Cuomo said, noting that New York City seemed to be at “near panic levels.”
“I am not going to imprison anyone in the state of New York in their homes,” he said. “I am not going to declare martial law in the state of New York.”
Some states were also recognizing the ongoing need for basic necessities, including food, by classifying grocery store workers as emergency personnel. In Minnesota this week, Gov. Tim Walz passed an executive order recognizing store clerks, stockers, food preparation personnel, cleaning staff and deli staff as “Emergency Tier 2” workers, which will allow the workers to receive free child care.
Vermont is also planning to reimburse private child care centers that are looking after children of emergency workers. The state’s public safety commissioner, Michael Schirling, said he would add grocery store workers to the growing list of essential employees that would receive free child care.
And Connecticut is joining the list of states putting off voting during the coronavirus outbreak, postponing its presidential primary from April 28 to June 2. The governors of Maryland and Ohio, two others states that are rescheduling their primaries, have also selected that date. It is among the last dates available before the June 9 deadline set by the Democratic National Committee for states to hold their nominating contests.
The virus is forcing Americans to confront the possibility of mandatory quarantines.
In New York State, more than 1,700 people are under mandatory quarantine orders, which have provoked concern and confusion.
In North Salem, N.Y., a day after Bill Roberts’s oldest daughter was tested, two nurses from the county health department showed up in hazmat suits at his front door, requested to test the seven other people in the house, and delivered a four-page order barring them from leaving home for two weeks.
“It has been strange — we had no idea that it was going to happen,” Mr. Roberts said.
He added that he had called the hotline number listed on the order about 10 times and was told something different each time. The order said they would be provided with food and other services, but one person on the hotline suggested it would be quicker to ask neighbors for help, for example.
After several days and an inquiry from The New York Times, state officials said the Roberts household was quarantined by mistake and lifted the order.
In the United States, the right to quarantine individuals is most widely held by states and local governments under their “police powers” to protect public health. Laws vary by state, but generally accepted medical guidelines suggest using quarantines as a last resort and ensuring the right of appeal.
Legal experts warn that the lack of clear laws will cause widespread confusion. Though they are rare, there are precedents, including when the Connecticut forced eight people into quarantine during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.
With Ebola raging across West Africa, two Yale graduate students and an immigrant family arrived from Liberia. The country had the highest death rate during the 2014 outbreak, but neither the two students nor the family had been directly exposed to any victims, their lawyers say.
In a case still on appeal and designed by a Yale Law School clinic partly to try to set a modern legal precedent, they sued over their treatment in a case that raises far-reaching questions. The plaintiffs claimed that Connecticut failed to meet basic requirements, including providing services and the right to appeal.
As China reports zero local infections, a new study finds the death rate in Wuhan was lower than previously thought.
A new study reports that people who became sick with Covid-19 in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, had a lower death rate than previously thought.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine, calculated that people with coronavirus symptoms in Wuhan had a 1.4 percent likelihood of dying. Some previous estimates have ranged from 2 percent to 3.4 percent.
Assessing the risk of death in Wuhan is instructive because it provides a snapshot of the epidemic from the beginning, when doctors were scrambling to treat people with a brand-new virus and hospitals were overwhelmed.
Some experts say that such a benchmark — known as the case fatality rate — could be lower in countries like the United States if measures like widespread business and school closures and appeals for social distancing have the desired effect of slowing the spread of the disease.
But a 1.4 percent case fatality rate still means a lot of deaths. By comparison, the average seasonal flu kills about 0.1 percent of the people it infects in the United States.
Also, on Thursday, China reported no new local infections for the previous day for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, a milestone in its costly battle with the outbreak that has since spread around the world. Officials said 34 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed, all of them involving people who had come to China from elsewhere.
In signaling that an end to China’s epidemic might be in sight, the announcement could pave the way for officials to focus on reviving the country’s economy. But China is not out of danger. Experts have said that it will need to see at least 14 consecutive days without new infections for the outbreak to be considered over. It remains to be seen whether the virus will re-emerge once daily life restarts and travel restrictions are lifted.
With two members of Congress sickened, leaders face pressure to allow remote voting.
Congressional leaders are under mounting pressure to rethink their plans to bring the House of Representatives back to Washington, after Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, and Ben McAdams, Democrat of Utah, both announced that they tested positive after voting on the House floor early Saturday.
The news stoked anxiety that has been building among the 435 members of the House for days about the wisdom of gathering — in defiance of public health guidelines that warn against meetings of 10 people or more — to debate and vote in the House chamber.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the House would return to Washington to consider additional economic relief legislation, and the Senate is in talks with the White House on a $1 trillion plan that could be approved within days.
Ms. Pelosi and other top Democrats have discussed instituting social distancing to limit the number of lawmakers on the House floor at one time, but resisted the idea of allowing members to vote remotely. News of the virus’s spread among lawmakers has fueled calls for her to change course.
“In. Person. Voting. Should. Be. Reconsidered,” Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democrat of Florida, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “For the safety of our communities, during this emergency, we must be able to legislate from our districts.”
Brazil shuts down land borders as travel is halted across Latin America.
Brazil closed its land borders on Thursday, in an effort to spare the region from widespread contagion.
The step was a reversal for President Jair Bolsonaro, who had dismissed recent calls for severe measures to curb the virus as “hysteria.” That view drew withering criticism, even from former allies, and prompted protests by people who banged pans from their windows and chanted anti-Bolsonaro slogans.
As of Thursday afternoon, Brazil had 529 confirmed coronavirus cases and four deaths. The country has yet to adopt more restrictive measures like those of Peru, Chile and Argentina, which have sought to halt all nonessential movement.
Netanyahu says Israeli police will enforce a strict order for residents to stay home.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered most Israelis to stay in their homes except when buying groceries or medicine, and said the police would enforce the decree.
He said Israel had not yet had a death linked to the coronavirus, but expected to at some point.
“We’re talking about saving very many lives — saving family members, friends, neighbors from death,” Mr. Netanyahu said grimly on national television. “If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, look at the images coming from Spain, from Italy.”
The order will apply initially for seven days. Essential workers will still be permitted to travel to their jobs.
Mr. Netanyahu said his caretaker government was making a “mighty effort” to address shortages of vital supplies like disinfectants and swabs for test kits, and urged ordinary Israelis to heed government warnings.
“Don’t say, ‘It won’t happen to me, it won’t happen to my family,’ because if you don’t behave correctly, it will happen to you,’” he said.
What does ‘social distancing’ actually mean?
Reporting and research were contributed by Sarah Mervosh, Jenny Gross, Elisabetta Povoledo, Michael Cooper, Katie Rogers, Edward Wong, Raphael Minder, Neil MacFarquhar, Ernesto Londoño, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Karen Zraick, Katie Thomas, Niki Kitsantonis, David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton, Eileen Sullivan, Michael Crowley, Aurelien Breeden, Javier C. Hernández, Alisa Dogramadzieva, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Nick Corasaniti, Lara Jakes, Ana Swanson, Nicholas Fandos, Emily Cochrane, Rick Gladstone, Megan Twohey, Steve Eder, Mariel Padilla, David M. Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Marc Stein.
Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel
The cabinet on Sunday approved widespread fiscal reforms that will cut the budgets of most ministries in order to fund the establishment of six new ministries, including the office of the “alternate prime minister,” in a series of controversial decisions.
A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.
The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the new offices created Sunday was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.
Other offices are Ze’ev Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries; Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Ministry of Community Empowerment; David Amsalem’s Cyber Ministry; and Tzipi Hotovely and Tzachi Hanegbi’s Settlements Ministry.
Gantz — who is currently defense minister, in addition to the new post of alternate premier — is set to take over as prime minister in 18 months under the coalition deal, at which point Netanyahu will become alternate prime minister.
As the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office was approved, Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports that the alternate prime minister would also be granted an alternate prime minister’s residence. “It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” he said.
In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi opposed the budget cuts to foreign service, whereupon the cuts to his ministry were reduced from NIS 11.5 million ($3.2 million) to NIS 4.8 million ($1.3 million), the Walla news site reported.
On the 22-item agenda, the cabinet was also voting on filling the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, led by Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, and other ministerial panels; appointing directors general of the defense and economy ministries; and giving the green light to new Finance Minister Israel Katz’s program to encourage employment amid the pandemic.
In a Saturday night address, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March. For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May. Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) have been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the treasury proposal during the meeting, arguing that it rewards employers who dropped their workers while harming those who kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.
Katz retorted: “There is an alternate prime minister. There is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority,” the Ynet news site reported.
Sunday’s cabinet meeting also saw Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri receive building and planning powers that were previously under the treasury’s purview, while the Health Ministry was granted additional powers to combat the coronavirus.
The meeting on Sunday was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing, according to reports.
Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.
“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.
“For redundant offices like the Water Resources Ministry, the nonexistent Community Empowerment Ministry and for deputy ministers that no one needs. Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”
Separately, last Wednesday, a bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament passed its preliminary Knesset plenary reading. The so-called Norwegian Law — which still requires three more votes to become law — would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.
The opposition has blasted the bill, and the coalition’s rush to pass it, as a way of pushing more people into sweetheart jobs on the taxpayers’ dime.
Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN
In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times
WASHINGTON — With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.
Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.
While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.
As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.
The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.
The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.
Mr. Trump praised the Secret Service for being “very cool” and “very professional” but assailed the Democratic mayor of Washington for not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, which she denied. While governors and mayors have urged restraint, Mr. Trump seemed more intent on taunting the protesters, bragging about the violence that would have met them had they tried to get onto White House grounds.
“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”
His suggestion that his own supporters should come to the White House on Saturday foreshadowed the possibility of a clash outside his own doors. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for his first campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Asked about the tweet later, he denied encouraging violence by his supporters. “They love African-American people,” he said. “They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” By evening, however, Mr. Trump’s supporters were not in evidence among the crowds at the White House.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded sharply on Saturday morning, saying her police department will protect anyone in Washington, including the president, and by Saturday evening her officers were out in force around the White House.
But she called the president a source of division. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”
After his morning barrage, Mr. Trump tried to recalibrate later in the day, devoting the opening of a speech at the Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX rocket launch to the unrest in the streets and clearly trying to temper his bellicose tone.
“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” he said. “We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”
The days of discord have put the president’s leadership style on vivid display. From the start of his ascension to power, Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. That appeals to a substantial portion of the public that sees in him a president willing to take on an entrenched and entitled establishment.
But the confluence of perilous health, economic and now racial crises has tested his approach and left him struggling to find his footing just months before an election in which polls currently show him behind.
“The president seems more out-of-touch and detached from the difficult reality the country is living than ever before,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “At a moment when America desperately needs healing, the president is focused on petty personal battles with his perceived adversaries.”
Such a moment would challenge any president, of course. It has been a year of national trauma that started out feeling like another 1998 with impeachment, then another 1918 with a killer pandemic combined with another 1929 given the shattering economic fallout. Now add to that another 1968, a year of deep social unrest.
It is fair to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year that has frayed the fabric of American society with an accumulation of anguish that has whipsawed the country and its people. But in some ways, Mr. Trump has become a totem for the nation’s polarization rather than a mender of it.
“I am daily thinking about why and how a society unravels and what we can do to stop the process,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “The calamity these days is about more than Trump. He is just the malicious con man who lives to exploit our vulnerabilities.”
As the nation has confronted a coronavirus pandemic at the same time as the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, whatever unified resolve that existed at the beginning of the twin crises quickly evaporated into yet another cultural clash. And the president has made everything into just another partisan dispute rather than a source of consensus, from when and how to reopen to whether to wear a mask in public.
Mr. Trump led no national mourning as the death toll from the coronavirus passed 100,000 beyond lowering the flags at the White House, posting a single tweet and offering a passing comment on camera only when asked about it. Rather than seek agreement on the best and safest way to restore daily life, he threatened to “override” governors who prevented places of worship from resuming crowded services.
“Crisis leadership demands much more from the White House than irresponsible threats on social media,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.
Mr. Trump’s initial response to the rioting in Minneapolis, where a police officer has been charged with murder after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe, underscored the president’s most instinctive response to national challenges. Threatening to send in troops, he wrote early Friday morning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Only after a cascade of criticism did he try to walk it back, posting a new tweet 13 hours later, suggesting that all he had meant was that “looting leads to shooting” by people in the street.
“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said, a reformulation that convinced few if any of his critics.
Even some of Mr. Trump’s usual allies were distressed at the original shooting tweet. Geraldo Rivera, the television and radio host who often spends time with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, decried “the recklessness” of that message and called on the president “to self-censor himself.”
“Come on, what is this, sixth grade?” Mr. Rivera said on Fox News. “You don’t put gasoline on the fire. That’s not calming anybody.” He added: “All he does is diminish himself.”
But many of the president’s defenders rejected the idea that he had mishandled the crises, pressing the argument that Democrats and the news media were to blame for the turmoil in the streets, which spread from Minneapolis to New York, Atlanta, Washington, Louisville, Portland and other cities.
“Keep track of cities where hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and serious injuries and death will take place,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote on Twitter on Friday night. “All Democrat dominated cities with criminal friendly policies. This is the future if you elect Democrats.”
Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Mr. Trump for tax fraud earlier this year, amplified the point on Twitter. “It should be no surprise that every one of these cities that the anarchist have taken over, are the same cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t handle their cities normally, so how are they going to deal with this?”
Mr. Trump, who this past week retweeted a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (though the supporter insisted he meant that in a political sense), picked up the theme on Saturday.
With crowds visible from his upstairs windows, Mr. Trump reached for his phone and again assailed the “Democrat Mayor” of Minneapolis for not responding more vigorously and called on New York to unleash its police against crowds. “Let New York’s Finest be New York’s Finest,” he wrote. “There is nobody better, but they must be allowed to do their job!”
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