Barack Obama takes rare public swipe at Trump over coronavirus response

The 2020 Democrats Compete to Reject Barack Obama's Legacy - WSJ

Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday called out President Donald Trump’s widely criticized handling of the coronavirus pandemic, urging voters to “demand better of our government.”

“We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic,” Obama tweeted. “We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall,” he added.

Obama did not mention Trump by name in the tweet.

However, Trump has been fiercely rebuked over his initial downplaying of the threat of the virus. He has previously called climate change a “hoax” and his administration has pursued an anti-environment agenda.

Trump has also sought to blame Obama for his own government’s botched response to the public health crisis that has sickened more than 188,000 people in the U.S. and killed upwards of 4,000. The U.S. now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country in the world.

Obama linked to a Los Angeles Times article documenting the Trump White House’s rollback of Obama-era fuel economy standards with his tweet.

Dr. Birx predicts up to 200,000 coronavirus deaths 'if we do things almost perfectly'

Phil Burgess: Deborah Birx is the grandmother coordinating the ...

The White House coronavirus response coordinator said Monday that she is "very worried about every city in the United States" and projects 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths as a best case scenario.

In an interview on "TODAY," Dr. Deborah Birx painted a grim message about the expected fatalities, echoing that without doing any measures they could hit as high as 2.2 million, as coronavirus cases continue to climb throughout the U.S.

"I think everyone understands now that you can go from five to 50 to 500 to 5000 cases very quickly," Birx said.

"I think in some of the metro areas we were late in getting people to follow the 15-day guidelines" she added.

Birx said the projections by Dr. Anthony Fauci that U.S. deaths could range from 1.6 million to 2.2 million deaths is a worst case scenario if the country did "nothing" to contain the outbreak, but said even "if we do things almost perfectly," she still predicts up to 200,000 U.S. death

On Sunday, Birx said on "Meet the Press" that "no state, no metro area will be spared," a message she reiterated on Monday. Even if metro or rural areas don't see the virus in the community now, by the time it does appear, the outbreak will be significant, she added.

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Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader and MLK aide, dies at 98

Civil Rights Icon Rev. Joseph Lowery passes away at age 98

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery fought to end segregation, lived to see the election of the country’s first black president and echoed the call for “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” in America.

For more than four decades after the death of his friend and civil rights icon, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fiery Alabama preacher was on the front line of the battle for equality, with an unforgettable delivery that rivaled King’s — and was often more unpredictable. Lowery had a knack for cutting to the core of the country’s conscience with commentary steeped in scripture, refusing to back down whether the audience was a Jim Crow racist or a U.S. president.

“We ask you toahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right,” Lowery prayed at President Barack Obama’s inaugural benediction in 2009.

Lowery, 98, died Friday at home in Atlanta, surrounded by family members, they said in a statement.

He died from natural causes unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak, the statement said.

“Tonight, the great Reverend Joseph E. Lowery transitioned from earth to eternity,” The King Center in Atlanta remembered Lowery in a Friday night tweet. “He was a champion for civil rights, a challenger of injustice, a dear friend to the King family.”

Lowery led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for two decades — restoring the organization’s financial stability and pressuring businesses not to trade with South Africa’s apartheid-era regime — before retiring in 1997.

Considered the dean of civil rights veterans, he lived to celebrate a November 2008 milestone that few of his movement colleagues thought they would ever witness — the election of an African-American president.

At an emotional victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama in Atlanta, Lowery said, "America tonight is in the process of being born again."

An early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama over then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Lowery also gave the benediction at Obama's inauguration.

"We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union,” he said.

In 2009, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In another high-profile moment, Lowery drew a standing ovation at the 2006 funeral of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, when he criticized the war in Iraq, saying, "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor." The comment also drew head shakes from then-President George Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush, who were seated behind the pulpit.

Lowery's involvement in civil rights grew naturally out of his Christian faith. He often preached that racial discrimination in housing, employment and health care was at odds with such fundamental Christian values as human worth and the brotherhood of man.

"I've never felt your ministry should be totally devoted to making a heavenly home. I thought it should also be devoted to making your home here heavenly," he once said.

Lowery remained active in fighting issues such as war, poverty and racism long after retirement, and survived prostate cancer and throat surgery after he beat Jim Crow.

His wife, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who worked alongside her husband of nearly 70 years and served as head of SCLC/WOMEN, died in 2013.

“I’ll miss you, Uncle Joe. You finally made it up to see Aunt Evelyn again,” King's daughter, Bernice King, said in a tweet Friday night.

Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1950s when he met King, who then lived in Montgomery, Alabama. Lowery’s meetings with King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and other civil rights activists led to the SCLC’s formation in 1957. The group became a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

Lowery became SCLC president in 1977 following the resignation of Abernathy, who had taken the job after King was assassinated in 1968. He took over an SCLC that was deeply in debt and losing members rapidly. Lowery helped the organization survive and guided it on a new course that embraced more mainstream social and economic policies.

Coretta Scott King once said Lowery "has led more marches and been in the trenches more than anyone since Martin."

He was arrested in 1983 in North Carolina for protesting the dumping of toxic wastes in a predominantly black county and in 1984 in Washington while demonstrating against apartheid.

He recalled a 1979 confrontation in Decatur, Alabama, when he and others were protesting the case of a mentally disabled black man charged with rape. He recalled that bullets whizzed inches above their heads and a group of Klan members confronted them.

"I could hear them go 'whoosh,'" Lowery said. "I'll never forget that. I almost died 24 miles from where I was born."

In the mid-1980s, he led a boycott that persuaded the Winn-Dixie grocery chain to stop selling South African canned fruit and frozen fish when that nation was in the grip of apartheid.

He also continued to urge blacks to exercise their hard-won rights by registering to vote.

"Black people need to understand that the right to vote was not a gift of our political system but came as a result of blood, sweat and tears," he said in 1985.

Like King, Lowery juggled his civil rights work with ministry. He pastored United Methodist churches in Atlanta for decades and continued preaching long after retiring.

Born in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1921, Joseph Echols Lowery grew up in a Methodist church where his great-grandfather, the Rev. Howard Echols, was the first black pastor. Lowery’s father, a grocery store owner, often protested racism in the community.

After college, Lowery edited a newspaper and taught school in Birmingham, but the idea of becoming a minister "just kept gnawing and gnawing at me," he said. After marrying Evelyn Gibson, a Methodist preacher’s daughter, he began his first pastorate in Birmingham in 1948.

In a 1998 interview, Lowery said he was optimistic that true racial equality would one day be achieved.

"I believe in the final triumph of righteousness," he said. "The Bible says weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Lowery is survived by his three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery and Cheryl Lowery-Osborne.

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Federal officials reach deal on $2 trillion aid package

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The White House and Senate leaders of both parties have struck an agreement on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight.

The agreement came after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure and still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. We have a deal,” Ueland said.

The unprecedented economic rescue 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.

One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

Unprecedented legislation to rush sweeping aid to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic remained snagged on Capitol Hill Tuesday night, despite predictions by negotiators that a deal was at hand.

After days of pressure, unusual partisanship in a crisis, and intense haggling over the fine print, negotiators were almost done with a $2 trillion bill to respond to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called "the most serous threat to Americans' health in over a century and quite likely the greatest risk to America's jobs and prosperity that we've seen since the Great Depression.” The final details proved nettlesome as Trump administration officials continued negotiations deep into the night.

Yet even as the public-health crisis deepened, President Donald Trump expressed eagerness to nudge many people back to work in coming weeks and held out a prospect, based more on hope than science, that the country could be returning to normal in less than a month.

“We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought,” Trump told a Fox News town hall. He said he'd like to have the country “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter, April 12. But in a White House briefing later, Trump said "our decision will be based on hard facts and data.”

Medical professionals say social distancing needs to be stepped up, not relaxed, to slow the spread of infections. At the White House briefing, the public-health authorities said it was particularly important for people in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area to quarantine themselves for 14 days, and for those who have recently left the city to do the same.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said pointedly at the briefing, “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional leaders engaged in final negotiations after a tumultuous but productive day Monday. While the two sides have resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some sticking points remained. A Senate vote appeared likely Wednesday, with a House vote to follow.

“We're trying to finalize all the documents, going through a lot of complicated issues, and we're making a lot of progress,” Mnuchin said.

Ravaged in recent days, stocks rocketed as negotiators signaled a resolution was in sight.

At issue is an unprecedented economic rescue package that would give direct payments to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

A one-time payment of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child would go directly to the public.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks at the insistence of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, while Republicans pressed for tens of billions of dollars for additional relief to be delivered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal disaster agency.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salary 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. Companies would be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.

Opening the Senate on Tuesday, McConnell combined optimism about the chances for a deal with frustration at the delays — and a sober view of the crisis at hand.

“The urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone,” he said. On the negotiations, he said, “It's taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here.” Still, "we are very close. We are close to a bill that takes our bold Republican framework, integrates further ideas from both parties, and delivers huge progress.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump urged swift action. “Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today," he tweeted. “The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy.”

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Democrats pointed to gains for hospitals, additional oversight of the huge industry stabilization fund, and money for cash-strapped states. A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to more than $300 billion, which dwarfs earlier disasters — including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.

To provide transparency, the package is expected to create a new inspector general and oversight board for the corporate dollars, much as was done during the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program bank rescue, officials said.

The sense of optimism extended to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who told CNBC, "I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours.” Only Monday, Pelosi introduced a massive Democratic measure with liberal priorities, drawing scorn from Republicans.

Trump in recent days has sounded a note of frustration about the unprecedented modern-day effort to halt the virus' march by essentially shutting down public activities in ways that now threaten the U.S. economy.

Even though Trump's administration recommended Americans curtail activities for 15 days, starting just over a week ago, the president saids he may soon allow parts of the economy, in regions so far less badly hit by the virus, to begin reopening.

He continued on that theme Tuesday as he weighed a relaxation of social distancing guidelines after the 15-day period is up. His suggestion that the pandemic could ease and allow a return to normalcy in a mere few weeks is not supported by public health officials or many others in government.

On Tuesday, top defense and military leaders warned department personnel that the virus problems could extend for eight to 10 weeks, or longer. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Defense Department town hall meeting that the crisis could even extend into July.

The emerging rescue package is larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.

Trump has balked at using his authority under the recently invoked Defense Protection Act to compel the private sector to manufacture needed medical supplies like masks and ventilators, even as he encourages them to spur production. “We are a country not based on nationalizing our business,” said Trump, who has repeatedly railed against socialism overseas and among Democrats.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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Trump Administration considering opening Obamacare enrollment amid pandemic

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The Trump administration is considering opening up a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act to help uninsured Americans during the coronavirus crisis, Politico and The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

At least nine states that run their own health insurance exchanges have already reopened Obamacare enrollment to uninsured residents so they can obtain coverage now, according to the Journal.

But most states depend on the insurance marketplace run by the federal government. Open enrollment for states that use the federal exchange ended on Dec. 15. But a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs the Trump administration insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov, said officials are now considering a new enrollment period.

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CMS is evaluating offering a Special Enrollment Period specifically designated for COVID-19,” she told the Journal. “We will continue to work with states and health plans around the country to assess what additional actions are necessary to ensure the American people have coverage for and access to the services they need during this time.”

The representative also encouraged people to check the HealthCare.gov site now to determine if they may already be able to enroll because of a change in circumstances, such as losing a job.

About 30 million people are currently uninsured, and that number is likely to skyrocket as businesses shut down.

Insurance lobby organizations America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association urged lawmakers in a letter Thursday to include insurance plan subsidies in upcoming coronavirus stimulus packages. It also encouraged a “one-time special enrollment period for the individual market — regardless of an individual’s current health status or whether they have coverage today.”

The letter added: “Given the risk posed by COVID-19, it is more important than ever for people to have health coverage. This will give people the opportunity to get the security and peace of mind that health care coverage provides.”

Ironically, GOP officials in 20 states — with the backing Donald Trump — are currently fighting in court to kill Obamacare. The Supreme Court will hear the case, likely next term.

The Affordable Care Act was passed ten years ago.

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