Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 29, 2020

U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpasses that of Vietnam War, Hillary Clinton endorses Joe Biden, and more


U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpasses that of Vietnam War

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States passed 1 million on Tuesday. The death toll has now reached more than 57,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. That surpasses the American death toll in the Vietnam War. The news came in a week when several states have started letting many non-essential businesses reopen for the first time in more than a month, despite warnings from public health officials that lifting stay-at-home orders before more testing and contact tracing is possible risks fueling a deadly second wave of infections. The number of new infections reported nationwide has been trending lower, but a surge on April 24 set a one-day record of 36,200 new cases.


Hillary Clinton endorses Joe Biden

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former secretary of state, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday in a show of party unity. "We need a leader — a president — like Joe Biden," Clinton said from New York in an appearance with Biden in a virtual women's town hall. She added that she was "thrilled" to join his campaign to "help highlight a lot of the issues that are at stake in this presidential election." The two served together in the Senate, and Clinton said she had "watched Joe bring people together." Biden, who became the presumptive nominee when progressive rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stopped campaigning and endorsed him, won Ohio's delayed primary on Tuesday, picking up 74 of the state's 136 delegates in a test of mail-in voting.


Trump orders meat processing plants to stay open

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to force meat processing plants to stay open to protect the food supply through the coronavirus crisis. Without the order under the Defense Production Act, one administration official said in a message to NBC News, "The vast majority of processing plants could have shut down, reducing processing capacity in the country by as much as 80 percent." Industry analysts say pork and beef processing has dropped by 25 percent due to outbreaks at plants that have forced major companies, including Tyson Foods and Smithfield, to close at least 20 facilities. Trump said hours before making the move that his order would "solve any liability problems" meat processors faced. He did not elaborate about those problems.


China accuses U.S. of 'barefaced lies' about coronavirus response

U.S. politicians have repeatedly blamed China's government for an allegedly botched response to the COVID-19 crisis, with President Trump saying Monday he'd consider billing China for damages. Beijing responded Tuesday, accusing those politicians of "telling barefaced lies" in an attempt to "shirk their responsibility" for their own sub-par response. "American politicians have repeatedly ignored the truth and have been telling barefaced lies," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. "They have only one objective: shirk their responsibility for their own poor epidemic prevention and control measures, and divert public attention." Before the disease spread in the U.S., China had previously admitted to "shortcomings and deficiencies" in its coronavirus response.


Mnuchin: Small-business loans over $2 million will be audited

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that the Small Business Administration would audit all companies that received more than $2 million in loans intended for small businesses. "We want to make sure this money is getting to where it should be," Mnuchin told CNBC. The comments came a day after the Paycheck Protection Program started a second round of funding after Congress replenished its funds, which quickly ran out. The program attracted scrutiny when reports emerged of numerous large public companies that secured multimillion dollar loans under the $660 billion program, which is designed to help businesses with fewer than 300 employees continue paying workers through coronavirus crisis shutdowns.


Democrats scrap plan for return to House

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that lawmakers would not be called back to Washington next week as planned. The decision came after members of both parties protested, arguing that the danger of COVID-19 coronavirus infection would be too high. "We made a judgment that we will not come back next week but that we hope to come back very soon," Hoyer said. Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made the call after meeting with the Capitol's attending physician, who recommended a delay because the number of coronavirus infections in Washington, D.C., was still rising. "The House physician's view was that there was a risk to members that was one he would not recommend taking," Hoyer said.


Amash launches presidential exploratory committee

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) announced Tuesday that he was forming an exploratory committee to seek the Libertarian Party's nomination for president. "Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people," the former Republican said via Twitter. "We're ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together." Amash, 40, was first elected in 2010 as a tea party conservative. He has been a vocal critic of President Trump, and was the first and only House GOP member to support his impeachment. He left the Republican Party last July. If he runs, he could tip close races in swing states, although it was not immediately clear whether he would draw more votes away from President Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden.


Pence declines to wear mask despite Mayo Clinic policy

Vice President Mike Pence toured the Mayo Clinic without a mask on Tuesday, despite the facility's policy requiring all staff and visitors to wear them as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus. A video of the visit showed Pence with a patient and nine other people, all wearing masks. Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, told reporters that one reason he didn't need to wear a mask was that he is tested regularly and isn't infected. "Since I don't have the coronavirus I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to be here to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health-care personnel, and look them in the eye and say, 'thank you,'" Pence said.


Life of Pi actor Irrfan Khan dies at 53

Veteran Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, best known in the U.S. for roles in Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi, and Jurassic World, died Wednesday after being admitted to a Mumbai hospital with a colon infection. He was 53. Khan, one of India's most famous exports to Hollywood, made his screen debut in the 1988 Academy Award-nominated Salaam Bombay!, a drama about Mumbai's street children. He later worked with numerous directors, including Mira Nair, Wes Anderson, and Ang Lee. In 2018, he was diagnosed with a rare neuroendocrine cancer. He received several months of treatment in the U.K. "I trust, I have surrendered," he wrote in a note after announcing that he was fighting cancer.


Oscars change rule requiring films be released in theaters

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has adjusted its rule requiring that films receive at least a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles in order to qualify for the Oscars. After a meeting of the board of governors, the Academy said on Tuesday that for the 2021 Oscars, movies that "had a previously planned theatrical release but are initially made available" on streaming can now qualify for the awards as long as they meet other eligibility requirements and are made available on the Academy's streaming site within 60 days of release. The Academy said this is a "temporary exception" that will no longer apply beginning "on a date to be determined" after movie theaters reopen.


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