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Senate Passes $2.2T Coronavirus Aid Plan, House Votes Friday

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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Washington, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed a mammoth $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented response amid record new jobless claims and mounting evidence that the economy is in a recession.

The unanimous Senate vote late Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

Thursday brought grim economic news as the government reported 3.3 million new weekly unemployment claims, four times the previous record, fresh evidence that the U.S. is sinking into recession as coronavirus isolation steps have led to business closures.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a televised interview that the economy “may well be in a recession.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people.”

The measure is set for House passage on Friday and President Donald Trump’s immediate signature.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

“Pray for one another, for all of our families and for our country,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”

The package is intended as relief for a sinking economy and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed more than 21,000 people worldwide.

“This is a unique situation. This is not a typical downturn,” Fed chief Powell told NBC’s “Today” show. “What’s happening here is people are being asked to close their businesses, to stay home from work and to not engage in certain kinds of economic activity and so they’re pulling back. And at a certain point, we will get the spread of the virus under control and at that time confidence will return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work.”

Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House’s best guess.

Insistently optimistic, Trump said of the greatest public health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think its going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over.

The drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was Wednesday slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states whose economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written was so generous that workers like store clerks might opt to stay on unemployment instead of return to their jobs. They settled for a failed vote to modify the provision.

Wednesday’s delays followed Democratic stalling tactics earlier in the week as Schumer held out for additional funding for states and hospitals and other provisions.

The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers and food aid.

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which is expected to pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the measure would pass by voice vote without lawmakers having to return to Washington.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday his members were on board.

“We’ll have a debate, and then we’ll have a voice vote to bring it up and move it to the president’s desk,” he told Fox News Channel. He said that while Democrats inserted things in the bill that didn’t deal with coronavirus, ”we will still get this package done for hospitals, workers, small businesses.”

“Every day matters, so we want to get this done quickly,” McCarthy said.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

It includes a heavily negotiated $500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

Six days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress’ top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they maneuvered and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure was not an option.

“This is a proud moment for the United States Senate and the country, and we’re going to win this battle,” McConnell told reporters after the vote. “We’ve pivoted from impeachment to 100-to-nothing on this rescue package … this is about as flawless as you could possibly be.” The vote actually was 96-0 because several members missed the vote out of concerns they have been exposed to the virus.

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600-per-week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.

Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials, including Trump and his immediate family members, would be ineligible for the bill’s business assistance.

Schumer boasted of negotiating wins for transit systems, hospitals and cash-hungry state governments that were cemented after Democrats blocked the measure in votes held Sunday and Monday.

But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Senate package would send less than $4 billion to New York, far short of his estimate that the crisis will cost his state up to $15 billion over the next year. More than 280 New Yorkers have died from the virus, a death toll more than double that of any other state.

Still, Pelosi said the need for more money for New York is “no reason to stop the step we are taking.”

Pelosi was a force behind $400 million in grants to states to expand voting by mail and other steps that Democrats billed as making voting safer but Republican critics called political opportunism. The package also contains $15.5 billion more for a surge in demand for food stamps as part of a massive $330 billion title for agency operations.

State and local authorities would receive up to $150 billion in grants to fight the virus, care for their residents and provide basic services.

Republicans won inclusion of an employee retention tax credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

In the United States, more than 69,000 people have been sickened and more than 1,000 have died.

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Trump impeachment leader Schiff joins California Senate race

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who rose to national prominence as the lead prosecutor in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, said Thursday he is running for the Senate seat held by long-serving Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

The 2024 race is quickly emerging as a marquee Senate contest, even though the 89-year-old Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress, has yet to announce if she will seek another term, though her retirement is widely expected. Schiff is jumping in two weeks after Rep. Katie Porter became the first candidate to declare her campaign for the safe Democratic seat.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, made clear he intends to anchor his candidacy to his role as Trump’s chief antagonist in Congress. In his campaign kickoff video, he said the “biggest job of his life” was serving as impeachment manager, and he promised to continue to be a “fighter” for democracy.

“If our democracy isn’t delivering for Americans, they’ll look for alternatives, like a dangerous demagogue who promises that he alone can fix it,” Schiff said of Trump, who has announced his 2024 campaign for the presidency.

Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who joined the Senate in 1992, told reporters in Washington this week that she will make a decision about 2024 in the “next couple of months.”

The jockeying for the seat has created a politically awkward dynamic for Feinstein, who has broken gender barriers throughout her decadeslong career in local and national politics. In recent years, questions have arisen about her cognitive health and memory, though she has defended her effectiveness in representing a state that is home to nearly 40 million people.

Schiff, 62, said in an interview Thursday that he had spoken to Feinstein a day earlier to inform her about his plans.

“I want to make sure that everything I did was respectful of her and that I did so with her knowledge and her blessing,” Schiff told The Associated Press.

Asked if he was aware of the senator’s plans, Schiff said, “I don’t want to presume to speak for Sen. Feinstein, and I think she’s earned the right to announce her decision when she’s ready to make that announcement.”

Schiff was first elected to Congress in 2000 and represents parts of Hollywood. He has been a frequent target of conservatives — Trump in particular — since the then-GOP-led House Intelligence Committee he served on started investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the 2016 election. Schiff appeared frequently on television to question Trump’s actions.

That criticism intensified when Democrats took the House majority in early 2019 and he became the committee chair, and it reached a full-on roar with his role in the impeachment investigation of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Trump was impeached in December 2019 on charges he abused the power of the presidency to investigate rival Joe Biden and obstructed Congress’ investigation.

In an impassioned plea to the Senate in early 2020, Schiff urged Trump’s removal from office and framed the choice in moral terms. “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost,” he said at the time.

“You know you can’t trust this president do what’s right for this country,” Schiff said. “You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months, he’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters.”

The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump of both charges. In 2021, he became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, this time for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after he lost the 2020 election. He was again acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans are still angry about Schiff’s starring role at the impeachment trial, with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accusing him of using his leadership position to “lie to the American public again and again.” McCarthy, R-Calif., said this week that he intended to block Schiff from continuing his service on the House Intelligence Committee.

With the centrist Feinstein in the twilight of her career, the race in the heavily Democratic state already is shaping up as a showcase for an ambitious, younger generation on the party’s left wing.

Both Schiff and Porter are nationally recognized — Schiff through his leading impeachment role and Porter, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, through her tough questioning of CEOs and other witnesses at congressional hearings. Each is also a formidable small-dollar fundraiser.

Neither has run statewide before, and each would face the challenge of becoming better known beyond their Southern California districts. Democrats are expected to dominate the contest — a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in California since 2006, and the past two Senate elections had only Democrats on the November ballot.

The field is expected to grow, with other possible contenders including Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Asked how he would stand out in what is expected to be a crowded field, Schiff said he would emphasize his central role of national struggles over democracy and the economy.

“I think that record of leadership, that record of staunch defense of our democracy, and the way that I’ve championed an economy that works for everyone, I think are a powerful record to run on,” he said.

In his announcement video, Schiff mixed shots of his family and highlights from his courtroom work with video from the impeachment proceedings and clips of Trump and other Republicans.

He warns that the threat of extremism is not over.

“Today’s Republican Party is gutting the middle class, threatening our democracy” Schiff says. “They aren’t going to stop. We have to stop them.”

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Florida House Democrats React to House Bill 1 Passing its First Committee

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In response to the committee vote referring House Bill 1 to its next House committee, Florida House Democrats provided the following statements.

“While I am disappointed my third amendment was not accepted to give Florida’s families the accountability and transparency they deserve so they make the right choice for their children, we will continue working with our Republican counterparts to ensure no student gets left behind,” said Choice and Innovation Subcommittee Democratic Ranking Member Representative Susan L. Valdés (D-Tampa).

“Today’s committee hearing hosted a robust discussion about policy and finance, but we need to realize that is ultimately about the children,” said Representative Kevin Chambliss (D-Homestead). “Each child is different and unique, especially those with disabilities. Every child deserves quality education, and I sincerely hope we can work together to put our children before the politics of the bill.”

“Today’s vote is disappointing. While there is definitely room for innovation in the public-school system, the negative fiscal impact on public schools will be felt on the back of public school students,” said Representative Katherine Waldron (D-Wellington).

This morning’s Choice and Innovation Subcommittee hearing can be replayed any time via The Florida Channel’s archive.

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Randy Fine Announces Endorsement of Brevard State Rep. Chase Tramont

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Melbourne Beach, Fla. – Today, State Representative Randy Fine (R-Melbourne Beach)
announced the endorsement of Brevard County State Representative Chase Tramont in Fine’s
bid for the open State Senate District 19 seat.

“For many years, I have had the privilege of knowing Representative Fine and observing his
service in the Florida House,” said Tramont. “I can personally vouch for his tenacious spirit.
When it comes to fighting for our families, he’s left it all on the field. I have no doubt he will
do the same in the Florida Senate.”

Representative Tramont joins fellow Brevard County Representative and former Senator Thad
Altman in endorsing Fine, along with former Senate President from Brevard Mike Haridopolos
and Republican Party of Florida Chairman and Senator Joe Gruters. Fine’s political committee,
Friends of Randy Fine, has almost $500,000 on hand.

“Representative Tramont has been a fantastic addition to the Brevard Delegation,” said Fine.
“Many legislators talk about fighting for the most vulnerable among us; Representative Tramont
is an inspiration in living that fight every day. I am so excited to work with him this term in the
House, and moving forward, in the Senate.”

Representative Fine currently serves as the Chairman of the House Health & Human Services
Committee, where he oversees all aspects of health care and welfare reform in Florida.

Previously, he served as Chairman of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, where
he sponsored the largest School Choice expansion in American history and as Chairman of the
House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where he redesigned the process of
capital funding for state universities. He also served as the Chairman of the House Select
Committee on Gaming. In his time in the legislature, Fine has passed over two dozen pieces of
legislation, including the bill holding Disney accountable for its wokeists attacks on Florida’s
parents.

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