Connect with us

Politics

Coronavirus Live Updates: Senate Passes $484 Billion Aid Package – The New York Times

Published

on

Coronavirus Live Updates: Senate Passes $484 Billion Aid Package – The New York Times_5e9f88ddb1c7e.jpeg

Senate passes the $484 billion relief package.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief package that would replenish a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, approving yet another huge infusion of federal money to address the public health and economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

The measure was the product of an intense round of bipartisan negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small business loan program created by the stimulus law quickly ran out of its initial $349 billion in funding. The program ran dry before many companies were able to have their applications approved, collapsing under a glut of appeals from desperate businesses struggling to stay afloat.

The money is just a fraction of the amount that Congress will consider in the weeks to come, as lawmakers contemplate spending another $1 trillion or more on a sweeping government response.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote — a necessity since most senators were not present because the chamber had been in a prolonged recess — though two Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, spoke against it beforehand.

Mr. Paul, a libertarian, said he had returned to Washington “so that history will record that not everyone gave in to the massive debt Congress is creating” with the multiple rounds of coronavirus relief it had enacted over the past six weeks.

The agreement would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers guarantees for forgivable loans to small businesses if a majority of the money is used to retain employees.

About a fifth of the funding for the small-business loan program, $60 billion, would be set aside for smaller lenders, in line with Democrats’ request to steer resources to businesses that typically have trouble accessing loans.

The bill would also add $60 billion for the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief fund — divided into $50 billion in loans and $10 billion in grants — and farms and other agriculture enterprises would be made eligible. There would also be $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

The House is expected to pass the bill on Thursday, and President Trump has indicated he will sign it.

The federal aid has not been sufficient to keep more than 22 million Americans from filing for unemployment. And the first round of loans issued through the small business program bypassed many smaller businesses, who watched their larger competitors get help.

Small restaurants have been particularly hard hit. Now in the second month of compulsory closings, many owners of independent restaurants and bars across the country are starting to despair of getting the help they need to come back.

Shake Shack, a national chain, came under fire this week for taking millions of dollars of stimulus money that was meant to help small businesses. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was pleased that Shake Shack had announced that it would be returning its Paycheck Protection Program loan and said other big companies that received money should not expect to keep those funds.

“The intent of this was for businesses that needed the money,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “The intent of this money was not for big public companies that have access to capital.”

Mr. Trump, asked about the Shake Shack loan at his news briefing, took the opportunity to lash out at another recipient of federal aid: Harvard University. The president joined mounting criticism of Harvard’s receipt of $8.6 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act he signed into law on March 27.

“Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” Mr. Trump said at his news briefing. “And they shouldn’t be taking it.”

But Harvard said Tuesday that Mr. Trump appeared to misunderstand the source of the funds.

“Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses,” said Jason Newton, a Harvard spokesman. “Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate. President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses.”

Harvard instead was one of hundreds of American universities to receive stimulus money through a $14 billion allocation distributed by the Education Department to help offset the financial hit of the coronavirus and support low-income students. Harvard’s share was calculated according to a formula that depends heavily on a college’s number of students and share of poor students.

“It was purely mechanical,” Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, a trade group, said Tuesday. “Harvard got that money because that’s the way the formula allocated it.”

President Trump said on Tuesday that he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States, but he backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.

Mr. Trump, whose administration has faced intense criticism in recent months for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, abruptly sought to change the subject Tuesday night by resuming his assault on immigration, which animated his 2016 campaign and became one of the defining issues of his presidency.

He cast his decision to “suspend immigration,” which he first announced in a late-night tweet on Monday, as a move to protect American jobs.

But it comes as the United States economy sheds its work force at a record rate and when few employers are reaching out for workers at home or abroad. More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the economic devastation caused by the virus and efforts to contain it.

Mr. Trump said that his order would initially be in effect for 60 days, but that he might later extend it “based on economic conditions at the time.”

While numerous studies have concluded that immigration has an overall positive effect on the American work force and wages for workers, Mr. Trump ignored that research on Tuesday, insisting that American citizens who had lost their jobs in recent weeks should not have to compete with foreigners when the economy reopens.

“By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens. So important,” Mr. Trump said. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker.”

Lawyers at the Department of Justice were still studying whether the president had the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the issuance of green cards, an order that caught officials at the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security off guard, according to people familiar with the announcement.

The decision not to block guest worker programs — which provide specific visas for technology workers, farm laborers and others — is a concession to business groups, which assailed the White House on Tuesday.

Jason Oxman, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group, said in a statement earlier in the day that “the United States will not benefit from shutting down legal immigration.”

As late as Monday night, after Mr. Trump’s tweet, top White House officials said they believed the president’s order would apply to some of the guest worker programs while exempting others.

By Tuesday afternoon — amid the business backlash — officials conceded that designing an order that applied to some guest workers but not others would be overly complicated, and they abandoned it.

Mr. Trump said that his “pause” in immigration “will not apply to those entering on a temporary basis,” a reference to the worker visas, though he hinted that could change. “We want to protect our U.S. workers,” he said, “and I think as we move forward, we will become more and more protective of them.”

The record oil market collapse is continuing.

A bust in the oil market, the likes of which the industry has never seen, worsened on Tuesday as traders were gripped by fear that crude output remained far too high and storage was quickly running out.

The futures contract for West Texas Intermediate crude to be delivered in May fell on Monday into negative territory — a bizarre move that has never happened before. In other words, some traders were willing to pay buyers to take oil off their hands.

But other benchmarks of the price of crude remained much higher (closer to $20 per barrel), suggesting that the negative price was partly a result of how oil is traded, with different prices set for crude that will be delivered at different points.

The rest of the oil market also crashed on Tuesday. The West Texas Intermediate contract for June delivery sank more than 50 percent to below $10 a barrel, and Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down about 21 percent.

Demand for oil is disappearing; despite a deal by Saudi Arabia, Russia and other nations to cut production, the world is running out of places to put all the oil being pumped out, about 100 million barrels a day. At the start of the year, oil sold for more than $60 a barrel.

Refineries are unwilling to turn oil into gasoline, diesel and other products because so few people are commuting or flying, and international trade has slowed sharply. Oil is already being stored on barges and in any nook and cranny companies can find. One of the better parts of the oil business these days is owning storage tankers.

“I’m just living a nightmare,” said Ben Sheppard, the president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, which represents shale oil companies in the area of Texas and New Mexico that became the world’s largest oil field last year.

The sell-off in oil sharpened after the Texas Railroad Commission declined on Tuesday to force oil producers in the state to cut production. While one commissioner wanted to cut production by 20 percent, the other two members of the commission said they needed more legal advice before acting. The commission used to regularly manage oil production but hasn’t done so since the early 1970s.

Stocks on Wall Street fell for a second straight day. The S&P 500 dropped about 3 percent, its biggest daily decline in three weeks. Major European markets were 3 percent to 4 percent lower.

The two-day slump was yet another shift in sentiment for the stock market as it searched for a clear path forward during the crisis.

The decision by Gov. Brian Kemp to begin restarting Georgia’s economy drew swift rebukes on Tuesday from mayors, public health experts and some business owners, with skeptics arguing that the plan might amplify another wave of coronavirus outbreaks.

Mr. Kemp said Monday that he would allow certain businesses, including gyms, nail and hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors, to begin operating as soon as Friday. Under Mr. Kemp’s approach, which he said he approved because he believed the situation had sufficiently stabilized, dine-in restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues could resume operations on Monday.

But some Georgia mayors, barred from issuing their own restrictions, urged residents to ignore the reopenings and stay at home.

“I am beyond disturbed,” Savannah’s mayor, Van R. Johnson, said on CNN, of the governor’s decision.

When Mr. Kemp announced his easing of restrictions, he explicitly stated that they would apply statewide, and that “local action cannot be taken that is more or less restrictive.”

But Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing Tuesday that she believed decisions should be judged “community by community” when she was asked about Mr. Kemp allowing hair salons and tattoo parlors to open.

“I believe people in Atlanta would understand that if their cases are not going down, that they need to continue to do everything that we said — social distancing, washing your hands, wearing a mask in public,” she said. “So if there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things. I don’t know how. But people are very creative.”

Mr. Trump said that he planned to speak with Mr. Kemp on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Kemp is not alone among governors in seeking to relax restrictions. South Carolina is pressing ahead with a partial reopening on Tuesday — two weeks after restrictions were put in place — of retail shops that had been deemed “nonessential,” such as sporting goods, book and craft stores. Beaches were also allowed to reopen in the state, which has recorded nearly 4,000 cases and more than 100 deaths.

The governors of Ohio and Tennessee have also taken early steps toward reopening their states. Mr. Kemp, though, was the target of some of the most ferocious criticism on Tuesday.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, the capital and the site of a recent surge in cases, told ABC News that she would keep asking “people to continue to stay home, follow the science and exercise common sense.”

Mr. Kemp said that stores were not reopening for “business as usual,” noting that social distancing rules would still be enforced and that businesses should check employees’ temperatures for fevers and ramp up sanitation efforts.

But Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, still expressed alarm, writing on Twitter that he feared “our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon.”

“We respect Georgia’s right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together,” Mr. Graham wrote. “What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.”

An informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House, has been quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure to overturn state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The groups have tapped their networks to drive up turnout at recent rallies in state capitals, dispatched their lawyers to file lawsuits, and paid for polling and research to undercut the arguments behind restrictions that have closed businesses and limited the movement of most Americans.

Among those fighting the orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago, and a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials. The effort picked up some influential support on Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr expressed concerns about state-level restrictions potentially infringing on constitutional rights.

While polls show a majority of Americans are more concerned about reopening the country too quickly, those helping orchestrate the fight against restrictions predict the effort could energize the right and potentially help President Trump as he campaigns for re-election.

Noah Wall, the advocacy director for FreedomWorks, described the current efforts as appealing to a “much broader” group. “This is about people who want to get back to work and leave their homes,” he said.

Jay Timmons, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, one of America’s largest business lobbying groups, had another word for the protesters: idiots.

“These people are standing so close together without any protection — with children, for God’s sakes,” Mr. Timmons said in an interview. “And they have no concern, and it’s all about them, and it’s all about what they want.”

Leaders of Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to block a statewide stay-at-home order issued by the Democratic governor, who closed schools and businesses.

The legal fight adds a new note of partisan rancor in a roiling national debate that has seen Mr. Trump, conservative protesters and some states lawmakers push for a faster reopening of shuttered state economies. Wisconsin’s Republican leaders filed the lawsuit after Gov. Tony Evers’s administration extended a statewide stay-at-home order through May 26, citing a need to prevent increases in coronavirus cases.

The lawsuit comes just weeks after the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to postpone the state’s April 7 primary election or expand mail-in voting, leading to scenes of hundreds of masked voters standing in line for hours outside polling places. At least seven people in Milwaukee contracted the coronavirus after participating in the elections, public health officials said on Tuesday.

Robin Vos, the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, and State Senator Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader, said in a statement on Tuesday that the governor’s orders had exceeded his legal authority and churned up “immense frustration.”

“The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach,” they said. “Wisconsinites deserve certainty, transparency and a plan to end the constant stream of executive orders that are eroding both the economy and their liberty.”

Two new studies using antibody testing to assess how many people have been infected turned up numbers higher than some experts had expected.

Both studies were performed in California: one among residents of Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, and the other among residents of Los Angeles County. In both cases, the estimates of the number of people infected countrywide were far higher than the number of confirmed cases.

In the Santa Clara County study, researchers tested 3,330 volunteers for antibodies indicating exposure. Roughly 1.5 percent were positive. After adjustments intended to account for differences between the sample and the population of the county as a whole, the researchers estimated that the prevalence of antibodies fell between 2.5 percent and a bit more than 4 percent.

That meant that between 48,000 and 81,000 people were infected in Santa Clara County by early April, the researchers concluded.

In Los Angeles County, researchers conducted antibody tests for two days at six drive-through test sites in early April and estimated that between 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent of the county’s adult population carried antibodies. If accurate, that would mean that 220,000 to 442,000 residents have been exposed.

By comparison, only 8,000 cases had been confirmed in the county at the time the testing was done.

Antibody studies in other countries have produced similar numbers, noted Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and an author of the paper on Santa Clara County.

If the numbers proved accurate, he said, the virus might be much less deadly than originally expected, with a fatality rate more closely resembling that of a bad flu strain than an especially lethal pandemic.

Neither report has been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, and both pieces of research have been met with criticism. Both relied on volunteers, which may have skewed the results, and the investigators say they are now examining their data to see how significant this bias may have been.

But they maintain that so-called participation bias would not alter the data enough to negate the overall conclusions.

Many widely available antibody tests have been found to be inaccurate. The investigators say they validated the accuracy of the tests they used beforehand, and they argue that the tests could not be so much in error as to invalidate the conclusions.

For vulnerable people, like those in nursing homes, the virus is a terrible new threat, the researchers said in interviews. But the new data suggest most adults will experience milder to asymptomatic infections.

Little is known about the transmissibility of the virus from asymptomatic adults, however; that may complicate scientific understanding of the virus’s spread.

Still, with better estimates of the virus’s prevalence, it may be possible to reopen society in a rational manner, said Neeraj Sood, the vice dean of research at the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy and an author of the Los Angeles County report.

“We can model the scenarios,” he said. “We should not make decisions just based on I.C.U. mortality.”

He added, “I would want whoever makes the decision to make it holistically and based on the best evidence.”

The president, asked to comment on a series of news reports that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, was in failing health after undergoing heart surgery, said he wished the dictator well.

“I’ve had a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un, and that’s to the benefit of the country,” Mr. Trump said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. “And I’d like to see him be well. We’ll see how he does.”

He added, speaking directly to Mr. Kim, “Good luck, good luck.”

Mr. Kim, the 36-year-old dictator who has spent much of Mr. Trump’s presidency making and then walking back pacts to dismantle his country’s nuclear arsenal, has been largely out of sight in recent days.

Mr. Kim’s absence from a celebration for his grandfather’s birthday, a major event in North Korea, has led to rampant rumors about his failing health but no confirmed reports.

Over the course of their negotiations, the two leaders have traded fawning letters. The White House confirmed in March that Mr. Trump had sent Mr. Kim a letter offering assistance with handling the coronavirus outbreak.

But this week, North Korean officials denied that Mr. Kim had sent Mr. Trump a letter of his own after the president said he’d received a “nice note” from him recently.

Hobbled by government scandal and dysfunction at the start of the pandemic, Puerto Rico has performed an average of 15 tests a day for every 100,000 people, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That rate is lower than any state and more than 10 times less comprehensive than the testing effort in New York.

Public health experts fear the situation could leave the island uniquely vulnerable once it attempts to reopen. Puerto Rico has one of the strictest lockdowns in the country, which has kept hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients but has also required much sacrifice from Puerto Ricans enduring the 14th year of an economic recession.

“Everything has been delay and disorganization,” said Dr. Carlos Mellado, a physician in San Juan, the capital, who has been treating patients. “We’re still under a complete lockdown. People are starting to get desperate.”

The health department, which is being led by its third secretary since March 13, has been double-counting some test results. It is also embroiled in a $38 million contracting scandal over antibody tests that never materialized. Federal agencies are investigating.

More than in other places where testing has been insufficient, experts say that the huge lag has left Puerto Rico blind to where it lies on its infection curve.

With testing in the spotlight, Trump and Cuomo met at the White House.

The president and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, two New Yorkers who have alternately praised and quarreled with each other during the pandemic that has ravaged their mutual home state, met in person on Tuesday to try to resolve their differences on testing and financial relief.

After weeks of talking by telephone and through the news media, Mr. Cuomo traveled to Washington to sit down with the president at the White House and press for more federal assistance to expand testing for the virus and to help financially devastated state and local governments.

Mr. Cuomo emerged afterward and called it “a good conversation,” playing down the sporadic disputes between the two men.

“The president is communicative about his feelings and I’m communicative about what I think,” Mr. Cuomo told Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. “But look, for the president and for myself, this isn’t about — this is not about anyone’s emotions, about anyone else. Who cares what I feel, what he feels. We have a tremendous job that we have to get done and put everything else aside and do the job. And that was the tone of the conversation.”

Earlier in the day Mr. Cuomo had announced 481 more fatalities in New York, lower than the daily tolls last week, bringing the overall total to at least 14,828. Total hospitalizations were “basically flat,” he said, and the number of intubations declined. New York would begin to allow elective treatment in hospitals in parts of the state that were less battered, he said.

Mr. Cuomo said that he asked Mr. Trump for help with the supply chain so that he can dramatically expand testing in New York before reopening businesses and everyday life. He said he also made the case for federal aid to states and localities that was not included in the latest legislation working its way through Congress. He said the president was “very open and understanding” about that.

In recent days, Mr. Cuomo has said that one of the main testing obstacles is the availability of the reactive chemicals in test kits known as reagents. He has called on the federal government to help in coordinating supply chains for national manufacturers.

“I stayed focused on what we were there to talk about and for me, the substantive agenda was testing — who does what, how do we get it up to scale — and somebody has to stand up for funding for the states,” Mr. Cuomo said. “You can talk about small businesses and airlines. How about police? How about fire? How about teachers? And how about funding the reopening?”

Mr. Trump’s signature hotel in the nation’s capital wants a break on its rent. The landlord determining the fate of the request is Mr. Trump’s own administration.

Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House, had been a favored gathering place for lobbyists, foreign dignitaries and others hoping to score points with the president. But like most hotels, it is now nearly empty and looking to cut costs because of the pandemic.

The Trump Organization owns and operates the luxury hotel, but it is in a federally owned building on Pennsylvania Avenue. As part of its deal to open the 263-room hotel, the company signed a 60-year lease in 2013 that requires the monthly payments to the General Services Administration.

The Trump Organization is current on its rent, according to Eric Trump, the president’s son, but he confirmed that the company had opened a conversation about possible delays in future monthly payments.

The younger Mr. Trump said the company was asking the G.S.A. for any relief that it might be granting other federal tenants. The president still owns the company, but his eldest sons run the day-to-day operations.

“Just treat us the same,” Eric Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “Whatever that may be is fine.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump was asked about several of his family company’s luxury clubs furloughing workers as a result of the coronavirus.

All told, the Trump Organization has furloughed nearly 200 workers at its properties, including the Trump International Hotel, as well as a beachfront resort in Doral, Fla.

Mr. Trump said the company had made the decision as a result of stringent policies guarding against the spread of the coronavirus, and he suggested that he did not agree with a decision to bar people from golf courses in Florida.

“You’re not allowed to have a customer. So in some places it’s very strict. New Jersey is strict. New York is strict. And you have to do what you have to do. And it’s too bad,” Mr. Trump said. “I feel so badly when I see that. I think it’s a tough policy, but I go by whatever the policy — that’s a state policy in the case of Florida.”

Here’s some advice on managing your emotions during the lockdown.

As each week of the pandemic passes, it is not unusual to experience unexpected emotions. Here are some strategies that might be helpful in trying to cope.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Karen Barrow, Jo Becker, Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Steve Eder, David Enrich, Lola Fadulu, Dana Goldstein, Anemona Hartocollis, Jack Healy, Andrew Jacobs, Miriam Jordan, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer, Patricia Mazzei, Allison McCann, Matt Phillips, Ben Protess, Alan Rappeport, Katie Rogers, Rick Rojas, Jim Rutenberg, Marc Santora, Katharine Q. Seelye, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel and Jin Wu.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Politics

Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel

Published

on

By

Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel_5ed43a3d6fdc5.jpeg

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.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are seen at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL)

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.

Incoming Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, with his predecessor, incoming Finance Minister Israel Katz, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020 (Foreign Ministry)

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.

Incoming Economy Minister Amir Peretz at a changeover ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“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.

Continue Reading

Politics

Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN

Published

on

By

Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN_5ed43a31b38fc.jpeg

Continue Reading

Politics

In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times

Published

on

By

In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times_5ed43a2a0f874.jpeg

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!”

Continue Reading

Trending