10 things you need to know today: March 21, 2020
States ramp up coronavirus restrictions, Senate reportedly getting closer to agreement on coronavirus stimulus bill
States ramp up coronavirus restrictions
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Friday issued a stay-at-home order to 13 million state residents in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The mandate calls on residents to remain indoors except for essential outings like buying groceries or seeking medical care; it's effective from Saturday evening until April 7. Illinois has 422 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four have died. California issued a similar order on Thursday, and New York is also ramping up its restrictions, banning nearly all gatherings of any size and requiring workers in nonessential businesses to stay home starting Sunday. Connecticut and Oregon are reportedly planning to implement similar measures.
Senate reportedly getting closer to agreement on coronavirus stimulus bill
The Senate is holding a weekend session beginning at noon Saturday so the chamber can expedite an agreement on a stimulus package to provide relief from the coronavirus pandemic. The final bill could reportedly cost at least $1 trillion. Negotiators said they're getting closer to an agreement, but they missed the original Friday night deadline set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) because of differences over increased unemployment insurance payments, financial assistance for hospitals and health-care providers, and funds to cover for state governments' revenue shortfalls. But Congress remains under pressure to get something done quickly, and Republicans — who hold the majority — reportedly believe Democrats won't block any rescue bill with time running short.
Trump pauses student loan collection, closes U.S.-Mexico border
President Trump enacted a series of strong measures on Friday meant to combat the spread of the new coronavirus and curb the economic downfall it has brought. In a Friday press conference, Trump announced that the U.S. Department of Education would waive interest on student loans and that borrowers could suspend loan payments for at least 60 days "without penalty." Trump also announced that the U.S. and Mexico had mutually agreed to close their shared border to all nonessential travel. A similar agreement to close the U.S.-Canada border goes into effect Friday night. The president said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to produce much-needed medical supplies. The Korean War-era act will let Trump order manufacturers to start producing ventilators and other necessary goods.
Market drop closes out worst week since 2008
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 913 points on Friday afternoon, the S&P 500 sank 4.3 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite slid 3.8 percent, completing a remarkably volatile week that ultimately ended as all three indexes' worst since the 2008 financial crisis. Markets have fluctuated rapidly as news of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic changes outlooks daily. As New York, California, and Illinois drastically moved to shut down nonessential business to contain the outbreak, indexes sank, though some experts say investors are seemingly "trading more on emotion than the actual data." "The Dow is down more than 24% for March and is currently on pace for its biggest one-month fall since September 1931," writes CNBC.
Bloomberg gives $18 million to DNC rather than pay staffers as pledged
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is backing out of his promise to form an independent super PAC to support the eventual Democratic nominee against President Trump, instead laying off his staff and transferring $18 million from his campaign to the DNC. Bloomberg had promised his campaign's staff they would have jobs through the November election. "The dynamics of the race have also fundamentally changed," said Bloomberg, "and it is critically important that we all do everything we can to support our eventual nominee and scale the Democratic Party's general election efforts." FEC regulations show Bloomberg transferred nearly $1 billion of his own money to his campaign during his 3-month run.
At least 4 senators sold significant stock holdings shortly before markets tanked
Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sold large stock holdings in late January through mid-February, after receiving closed-door briefings on the COVID-19 coronavirus but before its spread sent the stock market spiraling downward. Loeffler began selling between $1.3 million and $3.1 million in stock on the same day she attended a Jan. 24 Senate Health Committee briefing on COVID-19. Feinstein sold $1.5 million to $6 million worth of shares between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18. Inhofe unloaded as much as $400,000 worth of stock on Jan. 27 then up to $100,000 more on Feb. 20. The stock market started its sharp descent on Feb. 21. Feinstein, like Loeffler, said she had no role in selling the stock. Burr denied wrongdoing and called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his stock sales.
Tax return filing date pushed to July 15
The filing deadline for U.S. tax returns has been moved from April 15 to July 15, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Friday. Mnuchin said he made the decision at President Trump's direction with the intention of giving people more time to pay tax penalties. Those who may have refunds are encouraged to file and claim that money now, Mnuchin added. The pause comes as more and more Americans find themselves out of work as COVID-19 continues to spread and force business shutdowns, some of which will inevitably become permanent.
North Korea fires two short-range ballistic missiles
North Korea launched two projectiles, believed to be short-range ballistic missiles, into the Sea of Japan early Saturday, South Korea's military said and Japan's coast guard confirmed, as the United States and China continue to wait for Pyongyang to return to denuclearization talks. It was North Korea's third weapons test in the past three weeks. Seoul described the actions as "extremely inappropriate" given that South Korea and much of the world are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. North Korea has not reported any COVID-19 cases, but many observers are skeptical considering its proximity to China and South Korea, both of which have dealt with major outbreaks, as well as Pyongyang's history of censorship.
PG&E, Newsom strike bankruptcy deal
Pacific Gas & Electric reached a deal Friday with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), allowing the company to emerge from bankruptcy, which it fell into because its outdated system triggered a series of California's devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018, by June 30. In the agreement, the utility pledged billions of dollars to aid wildfire victims and improve safety to prevent future disasters. A federal judge will still need to sign off on the plan, but Newsom's agreement reportedly makes the final step much more likely. Newsom said the negotiations resulted in "a totally transformed board and leadership structure for the company" with "real accountability tools to ensure safety and reliability."
Kenny Rogers dies at 81
Country music star Kenny Rogers died Friday night from natural causes, his family said in a statement early Saturday. He was 81. Rogers' career spanned six decades and included 24 number-one hits and more than 50 million albums sold in the United States alone. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013. Two years later he announced his farewell tour, with his last performances taking place in 2017 before his health began to take a toll. "Kenny Rogers left an indelible mark on the history of American music," his publicist Keith Hagan said in a statement. "His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world."