January 21, 2020

The Senate will vote Tuesday on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-K.Y.) proposed rules for President Trump's impeachment trial. If they approve the rules, the senators will be voting for some very late nights at the office.

McConnell's rules allow 24 hours for opening arguments over two sessions. If Trump's team and the House Democratic impeachment managers use all their time, it "could push testimony past midnight," The Washington Post reports. That would be a long time for senators to sit quietly without checking their phones, assuming they show up for the trial, but arguably worse for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

After the opening arguments, senators would have 16 hours to question Trump's team and the House managers, then four hours to debate whether to allow witnesses and new evidence — and then, whether to allow the House's impeachment documents to be admissible as evidence. That's "a key difference from the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton," the Post notes. "Though the material will be printed and made available to senators, it won’t be automatically admissible unless a majority of senators approve it."

All this may be a moot point, though, because McConnell's rules also allow Trump's team to move to dismiss the charges at any time after the rules are adopted, so 51 senators could end the trial right away. Fox News congressional reporter Chad Pergram isn't impressed.

University of Texas constitutional law professor Steve Vladeck suggests McConnell might not have had impartial justice in mind.

"All 53 Republican senators are expected to support the rules as written by McConnell," the Post reports. Peter Weber

1:39 p.m.

President Trump is reportedly planning to launch an additional coronavirus task force.

The White House is expected to soon announce the formation of this second task force amid the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis that will "aimed specifically at combating the economic ramifications of the virus and focused on reopening the nation's economy," The Washington Post reports. This will be in addition to the current coronavirus task force, which consists of officials including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and national economic adviser Larry Kudlow are reportedly among those expected to make up this second economy-focused task force, which will have some overlap in membership with the first one and which the Post says will be a "mix of private-sector and top administration officials." CNN reports, in fact, "there has been outreach to figures" like Gary Cohn, former director of the National Economic Council, and "even major sports teams and well-known athletes."

This news comes as the Labor Department on Thursday released new numbers showing that over the past three weeks, nearly 17 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims.

Axios is also reporting that the administration is planning this new task force that will be "focused on reviving the U.S. economy" at a time when "there is growing energy within the West Wing to start easing people back to work by May," although health officials caution against prematurely lifting social distancing guidelines. Still, Trump's economic team has advised him to "issue economic guidelines in addition to ones about best health practices," CNN reports.

Mnuchin during a Thursday appearance on CNBC said the administration is doing "everything necessary [so] that American companies and American workers can be open for business" possibly as soon as May. A White House spokesperson told the Post, though, that "scientific data will drive the timeline on those decisions."

Brendan Morrow

1:37 p.m.

The notion of coronavirus immunity is still in question after an announcement from South Korea's CDC.

In a Monday briefing, South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 51 people "cured" after contracting COVID-19 had tested positive for the disease after being released from quarantine. CDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong leaned toward deeming these cases a "reactivation" of the virus, but will study it further.

While it was never certain, the idea that people who test positive for and then recover from the new coronavirus gain immunity from the disease had even informed government policy in some countries. The U.K. originally resisted closing down businesses and enforcing social distancing guidelines in an effort to spread "herd immunity" among its citizens, for one.

But this latest announcement calls the herd immunity strategy into further question. Patients are deemed recovered when they test negative for the disease twice in 24 hours. Yet in at least 51 cases, people who had apparently recovered had tested positive again shortly after they left quarantine. "While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this," Jeong said. Those patients may not have even been cured at all, seeing as "there have been many cases when a patient during treatment will test negative one day and positive another," he said. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:33 a.m.

The Federal Reserve announced a remarkable new step to combat the economic upheaval from the coronavirus pandemic Thursday morning: For the first time ever, it will lend directly to state governments, local governments, and municipalities, by buying up to $500 billion of the bonds they issue.

Since the start of American lockdowns to contain the virus, the Fed has announced a raft of new measures to provide cheap lending to the financial industry, corporations and businesses, all in an effort to keep the economy afloat. These included offers to buy limited categories of state and local bonds from secondary dealers and markets. But this new program will buy those bonds directly from the governments that issue them. For each individual government, the Fed will lend them up to 20 percent of their revenue for 2017; and in total the Fed will lend up to $500 billion. Thanks to a sign-off by the Treasury Department, the Fed will also buy bonds with a maturity of up to 24 months. (Under its own normal powers, the Fed is limited to buying state and local debt of six months or less.)

This is much further than the central bank ever went in response to the Great Recession. Various policymakers and activists have been pushing the Fed to cross this bridge for a while. States, localities, and municipalities cannot borrow from private markets the same way the federal government can, and when economic downturns hit their tax revenue, they’re forced to cut their spending. That dynamic made the hole from the 2008 collapse much deeper than it otherwise would have been. This morning’s announcement is an effort to prevent that from happening again. Jeff Spross

11:31 a.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is backing the idea that the United States' coronavirus death toll may end up lower than previously projected as a result of successful social distancing.

Fauci, member of President Trump's coronavirus task force, spoke to Today on Thursday after the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation revised its estimate for the country's coronavirus death toll to about 60,000 by late summer, still a sobering figure but down from a previously-estimated 94,000, although The Washington Post notes the model's accuracy is in dispute, and it it only goes to August. The White House last week shared projections suggesting between 100,000 and 240,000 people could die in the United States from COVID-19.

Asked on Today if he now believes the U.S. death toll will fall "significantly" below the 100,000 to 240,000 range, Fauci responded, "I do," citing the fact that Americans have done a "really terrific job" adhering to social distancing guidelines.

"I believe we are going to see a downturn in that, and it looks more like the 60,000 than the 100,000 to 200,000," Fauci said. "But having said that, we better be careful that we don't say, 'Okay, we're doing so well we can pull back.' We still have to put our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the mitigation and the physical separation."

Indeed, the Post reports that the IHME model "assumes the maintenance of social distancing measures through May."

Officials like U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams had previously said they anticipate a lower death toll than previously estimated while stressing it's crucial to continue social distancing measures to achieve that result. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sounded a similar note on Wednesday, saying that while the hardest-hit state looks to be flattening the curve, "it's not a time to get complacent," and "if anything, we have to get more diligent, not less diligent." Brendan Morrow

11:24 a.m.

Senators will either have to return to Washington or get negotiating to get the next round of coronavirus relief funding flowing.

With just four senators in the chamber on Thursday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) blocked a unanimous voice vote in favor of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's $250 billion small business loans bill. Cardin called the bill a "political stunt," and reflected congressional Democrats' demands for great accountability and diversity in how the bill would be spent.

Cardin's opposition didn't come as a surprise, seeing as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled Democrats' demands for the bill on Wednesday. They'd like to see that $250 billion doubled, with an extra $100 billion going to hospitals, community health centers, and health systems; $150 billion for state and local governments; and an additional 15 percent support added to SNAP food stamp benefits. They also demanded that half of the small business loans "serve farmers, family, women, and minority and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits in rural, tribal, suburban, and urban communities."

Senators have largely scattered back to their home states amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a provision for remote voting, any actions Congress wants to take have to be done without opposition. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:01 a.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic may change everything about this 2020 presidential race — including its now-presumptive Democratic nominee.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suspended his 2020 run on Wednesday, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the only remaining Democrat in the race. But even though there are major ideological differences between Biden and Sanders, "the plague has changed everything," former Democratic senator and two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart tells Politico.

The new coronavirus pandemic has spurred trillions of dollars in federal spending with more sure to come, including the funding of public welfare programs that wouldn't be out of place in Sanders' democratic socialist platform. That, combined with the current economic and health care crises, should push Sanders to recognize that ideological differences between himself and Biden have become obsolete and that beating President Trump is what matters most, Hart told Politico. Debates between progressivism and centrism mattered in January, but now, "Joe Biden may end up being Bernie Sanders squared just by circumstance," Hart said.

Like Sanders, Hart "mobilized a younger generation of voters while losing the nomination" in both 1984 and 1988, as did Howard Dean in 2004. Dean recommended Sanders campaign wholeheartedly for Biden through the November election, telling Politico "what Bernie does will make a difference." After all, Dean told Politico that he "worked my ass off" after losing the nomination to John Kerry — not that it turned the tides in the end. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:36 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dropped out of the presidential race, saying he has no path to victory, Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "Bernie Sanders is saying Bernie Sanders can't win? Man, he is going to catch hell from Bernie Sanders supporters."

"The president has caught a bunch of blame for his late response to the coronavirus, but at yesterday's daily shout-fest he addressed that criticism head-on by saying, 'Look over there!'" Colbert said. Contrary to Trump's "projection," the World Health Organization "did not ignore early warnings about COVID-19, Donald Trump did, but yesterday Donald Trump explained why he didn't act on the warnings" — he's a "cheerleader for this country," he said, suggesting that if Trump acted like a quarterback, we'd be in much better shape.

Downplaying pandemics is "not what a cheerleader does," Late Night's Seth Meyers agreed. "They cheer. It's in their name. I swear, Trump probably has no idea what an anteater eats."

"Gimme a B! Gimme an S!" Jimmy Kimmel cheered. Trump's "more of a fearleader than a cheerleader. He is so ready to move on from this," tweeting Wednesday that the pandemic "must quickly be forgotten." Kimmel disagreed: "No, it should not be forgotten! We need to remember so the next time it happens, we're prepared for it. Also, is this how we handle tragedies now? We forget?"

"When this whole pandemic was just kicking off, many people thought coronavirus was something that just didn't involve black people, sort of like tennis elbow and Tiger King," Trevor Noah said at The Daily Social Distancing Show. But "it turns out that black people are being hit harder than anyone else in American right now." There are lots of reasons — more health problems, less health insurance, racism — but the bottom line, he said, is that "any widespread crisis in America is bound to hit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups the hardest."

"While we're all distracted by this pandemic," the Trump administration has been working overtime "abusing their power and pulling some truly shady s--t," Samantha Bee said on Full Frontal. Instead of responding effectively to the crisis, Trump is boosting pollution, eroding civil liberties, sneaking in immigration crackdowns, and even taking belated revenge on the inspector general who flagged the Ukraine whistleblower complaint — sadly, she said, this is "the most work he's ever done." Watch below. Peter Weber

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