Congress toils on $1t rescue, Trump unleashes fury
WASHINGTON, March 21: As leaders from Congress and the White House toiled in high-stakes negotiations on a mammoth $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package Friday, President Donald Trump unleashed fury on those questioning his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
It was an extraordinary moment in Washington: Congress undertaking the most ambitious federal effort yet to shore up households and the US economy and an angry president lashing out at all comers. All while the global pandemic and its nationwide shutdown grip an anxious, isolated population bracing for a healthcare crisis and looming recession.
When one reporter asked Trump what he would tell a worried nation, the president snapped, "I say that you're a terrible reporter."
Despite the enormous pressure on Washington to swiftly act, the challenges are apparent. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and administration officials labored late into the evening over eye-popping sums and striking federal interventions, surpassing even the 2008-09 bank bailout and stimulus. They'll be back at it Saturday morning.
"Everybody is working very hard," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, exiting one closed-door session and heading into another.
While key negotiators said they made progress during the daylong talks, they failed to hit an end-of-day deadline to strike a deal. Talks broke around 10:30 p.m.
Mnuchin launched negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and senators from both parties using McConnell's GOP offer as a starting point.
"Our nation needs a major next step, and we need it fast," McConnell said earlier in the day to an empty chamber, the iconic US Capitol closed to visitors.
Preliminary Senate votes are set for Sunday. McConnell said the goal is passage by Monday.
But Mnuchin also conferred privately Friday with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the two leaders pressed for Democratic priorities. Pelosi late Friday called the GOP plan a "non-starter."
At one point, Schumer told reporters, "We're making good progress." But Schumer acknowledged trying to wrap up "tonight is hard."
The GOP plan aims to pump billions into $1,200 direct checks to Americans and billions to small businesses to pay idled workers during the global pandemic.
But Democrats say McConnell's plan is insufficient, arguing for greater income support for workers and a "Marshall Plan" for the US healthcare industry, which is preparing for an onslaught of newly sick patients.
At the White House, Trump welcomed the stimulus plan, believing it is needed to stabilize the economy. -AP