Coronavirus US live: Trump repeats attacks on press as deaths continue to mount

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said loans from the Paycheck Protection Program would be audited if they are worth over $2 million.

Mnuchin’s announcement comes as the small-business loan program has attracted criticism for approving funds for some not-so-small businesses, like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Squawk Box

“The purpose of this program was not social welfare for big business,” says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “This was meant for small businesses that didn’t have liquidity.”

April 28, 2020

Mnuchin said he thought it was “outrageous” that the Lakers had been approved for a $4.6 million loan, which the professional basketball team is now returning following intense criticism.

“This was a program designed for small businesses,” Mnuchin said. “It was not a program that was designed for public companies if they had liquidity.”

The treasury secretary added he is encouraged the average loan amount for the program is coming down, indicating more of the money is going to actual small businesses, which account for half of American jobs.

This is Joan Greve, taking over for Martin Pengelly.

Another poll indicates most Americans agree with the current restrictions on non-essential businesses, even as protests against stay-at-home orders have received much attention in recent weeks.

According to the Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 66% of Americans say their states’ restrictions on restaurants, stores and other businesses are appropriate. Another 16% say their states’ restrictions are not tight enough. Only 17% say the restrictions are too severe.

But Republicans remain more likely than Democrats or independents to say the restrictions go too far. While 27% of Republicans believe the restrictions are too severe, only 8% of Democrats and 17% of independents say the same.

Armed protesters demand an end to Michigan’s coronavirus lockdown orders – video

Thousands across the country have attended protests against their states’ stay-at-home orders, ignoring social-distancing guidelines to demand their governors allow businesses to reopen.

The organizers of the anti-stay-at-home movement have billed the protests as a grassroots operation demonstrating the frustration with restrictions on businesses, but the rallies have actually been backed by groups with ties to the Republican party and the Trump administration.

And now in Sean Hannity news, the Fox News host is both threatening the New York Times with legal action over how it reports on him – and sharing a lawyer with Donald Trump again as he does so – and writing a book, due out from Simon & Schuster on 4 August.

Sean Hannity.

Sean Hannity. Photograph: Sean Hannity

The stories at issue are about Hannity, Fox News and the coronavirus. A Times spokeswoman said the paper had “reported fairly and accurately on Mr Hannity. There is no basis for a retraction or an apology.”

Here, meanwhile, is some Guardian reporting on Hannity.

Hannity’s book, meanwhile, is going to be called Live Free or Die, so in my reckoning it’s either going to be a swiftly written screed about American rights, freedoms and how Big Government Is Bad, available at all good airport and Amtrak branches of Hudson News next to the latest Ann Coulter, or an unexpected swerve from the Ian Fleming estate in which Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd bend the knee to their new master and Bond fights evil villain Cuo Mo and his plan to keep New York on socialistic lockdown for the rest of recorded time.

I’m betting on the second, because I like Bond books, even the dodgy non-Fleming ones. The Boyd is actually pretty good. Honest.

Noted small business the Los Angeles Lakers – employers of noted small businessman LeBron James – have returned a loan of around $4.6m they got from the federal government’s coronavirus relief funds.

LeBron James.

LeBron James. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

It seems staggering that an NBA franchise could gain access to funding meant to save everyday businesses during the shutdown of the US economy, but as the Associated Press reports, we’ve been here before:

The Lakers applied for the loan under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, a part of the federal government’s $2.2tn stimulus package. The Lakers’ request was granted in the first round of distribution, but after the fund ran out of money in less than two weeks, the team returned its loan, as did several wealthier businesses including Shake Shack and AutoNation.

‘The Lakers qualified for and received a loan under the Payroll Protection Program,’ a statement read. ‘However, once we found out the funds from the program had been depleted, we repaid the loan so that financial support would be directed to those most in need. The Lakers remain completely committed to supporting both our employees and our community.’

It turns out the Lakers, the second-most valuable NBA franchise at $4bn or so, playing in the second-most valuable media market, qualified for small business relief because they only have around 300 employees.

The AP report continues:

The treasury department issued further guidance for the loan program last week, asking companies not to apply for the funds if they don’t need the cash to survive.

The Lakers haven’t furloughed or fired any employees during the coronavirus pandemic, and the franchise doesn’t plan to make any cutbacks. The team’s top executives agreed to defer 20% of their salaries until later this year or early next year.

Earlier this month, James, perhaps the most famous current NBA player, told fans “he had been spending his time at home during the coronavirus outbreak playing basketball with his teenage sons, enjoying time with his young daughter, and binge-watching Netflix hit Tiger King with his wife”.

We have a first tweet of the day from the president, and he is attacking the press once again:

We are doing far more, and better, Testing than any other country in the world, and yet the media does nothing but complain. No matter how good a job is done, the same as with the Ventilators, they will never say we are doing a great job, they will only viciously gripe!

As fact checkers have consistently pointed out, the US has not done the most tests per capita while the efficacy and efficiency of US testing is, to put it mildly, at issue. The US is getting better at testing, but public health experts suggest it needs to get much better before the economy can properly reopen.

Access to ventilators has been a constant theme in the outbreak. It has turned out that states such as New York have not needed as many as they thought they would, but the Trump administration’s handling of the federal stockpile has also been a subject of considerable controversy.

Andrew Cuomo: I wish I’d blown the bugle earlier

Andrew Cuomo has said he wishes he had “blown the bugle” about Covid-19 earlier. Speaking to Axios on HBO, the New York governor discussed US reactions to the first news of the outbreak, from China in December.

Andrew Cuomo.

Andrew Cuomo. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

“When we heard in December that China had a virus problem,” he said, “and China said basically, ‘It was under control, don’t worry,’ we should’ve worried.”

Cuomo added: “I wish someone stood up and blew the bugle. And if no one was going to blow the bugle, I would feel much better if I was a bugle blower last December and January. … I would feel better sitting here today saying, ‘I blew the bugle about Wuhan province in January.’ I can’t say that.”

Again, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, New York has confirmed more than 290,000 coronavirus cases and approaching 23,000 deaths. France, Italy and Spain have recorded more deaths but not by much, and New York City alone has the fifth-highest death total in the world, with the UK in fourth.

Cuomo is widely seen to have had a good outbreak, so to speak, with daily briefings of the media much more to the point than the president’s and a grip on governance of his state that has kept it on lockdown and in line while he manages a tricky relationship with the federal government. Still, questions are increasingly being asked about whether such New York’s heavy death toll might have been avoided.

When the US economy will reopen remains the key question but Congress will be back in session for sure on Monday 4 May.

Many people think that’s not a good idea at all, not least because the Senate skews old, to say the least, in a time when a virus is disproportionately killing older Americans. Only 14 of 100 senators are under 50 and 28 are 70 or older, six of those past 80.

Majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday he would “modify routines in ways that are smart and safe”. Here’s a look at how the House of Commons is doing it in the UK. And here, from the Welsh Assembly, is a chilling demonstration of the perils of forgetting to mute your mic on Zoom.

The 100 senators and 435 representatives will return to the usual political battles, anyway, looking to add to coronavirus stimulus/rescue efforts under a president who tweeted on Monday: “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help. I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?”

The mechanics of which states bail out which are fascinating. Ask Andrew Cuomo:

Andrew Cuomo

NY has given $116 billion more to the federal government than we received since 2015.

Kentucky *took* $148 billion more from the federal government than it gave.

Just give NY our money back, Senator McConnell.

April 24, 2020

Good morning…

…and welcome to another day of coverage of the coronavirus outbreak – and the politics of it under Donald Trump – in the US.

First, as ever, the figures according to Johns Hopkins University:

  • US cases: 988,303
  • US deaths: 56,248
  • New York cases: 291,996
  • New York deaths: 22,668

Other states are badly hit too: there have been more than 6,000 deaths in New Jersey, more than 3,000 in Michigan and Massachusetts, more than 2,000 in Connecticut and more than 1,000 in many others.

Whither Trump, then. On Monday the president first cancelled his daily press briefing, in the aftermath of last week’s disinfectant disaster, then announced it was on again. In the Rose Garden the president seemed a little subdued but also stuck to his usual talking points. Washington bureau chief David Smith’s sketch is here – and true to its distinctly British journalistic form:

His autocratic tendencies are well-known. His sudden absence from public view prompted fierce speculation and rumour. One headline suggested that he was “brain-dead”.

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts remain unknown. But after a lost weekend, Donald Trump bounced back into the spotlight on Monday determined to prove that he is not only healthy but working very, very hard.

This question, by the by – “If an American president loses more Americans over the course of six weeks than died over the entirety of the Vietnam war, does he deserve to be reelected?” – produced more blowback for the questioner than the questioned, on grounds of whether it showed the proper respect. Such are the mechanics of the White House press corps. For the record, around 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

Otherwise, at his White House presser Trump also:

  • Announced a plan to increase coronavirus testing, which public health experts say is at nowhere near the level needed if the US economy is to reopen.
  • Blamed China (the subject of this fascinating Politico story about jittery Senate Republicans being told not to defend the president).
  • Refused to take responsibility for more people ingesting disinfectant in the days since his remarks on the subject.

After the briefing, Trump made his usual attacks on the press on Twitter, at one point seeming to conflate them with the coronavirus, “the Invisible Enemy!”

But as of this writing, on Tuesday morning, there is no White House briefing on the schedule for Tuesday, though Trump is set to deliver remarks on small business in the Rose Garden at 3pm.

Elsewhere, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a death toll in continued decline and started to look towards reopening parts of the state, while states including Texas and Ohio outlined their own plans to reopen.

More to come. Before it does, some further reading:


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