Sunday's top stories

Senate's trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus bill hits speed bump

Mitch McConnell. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

After days of intense negotiations, talks between Capitol Hill leaders and the White House over a Phase 3 stimulus package to fight the coronavirus broke down on Sunday, leading to a failed cloture vote meant to move the bill forward.

Why it matters: The emergency legislation, which is expected to be one of the largest and most expensive stimulus packages in American history (it could grow beyond $2 trillion), would deliver desperately needed aid to American families, small businesses and corporations hit hardest by the virus.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Justice Stephen Breyer on politics and the rule of law

Photo: Axios on HBO

In an interview with "Axios on HBO," Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer urged Americans to re-engage in civics and vote — and not to expect the judiciary to resolve political questions.

Driving the news: It's more than knowing that "judges are not just shouldn't-be-politicians," he said. "They're very bad politicians. Don't get involved in that. That's not your job."

Ina Fried, author of Login

Microsoft CEO focused on "new demand" caused by coronavirus

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told "Axios on HBO" that he is not focused on cutting costs in the face of the coronavirus crisis, but instead aiming to meet "new demand" for Microsoft Teams and other Office applications as more employees work from home.

Why it matters: Tech companies like Microsoft are taking on central new roles in keeping government, business and education up and running as offices shut down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets

Carnival CEO defends coronavirus response

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald insisted in an "Axios on HBO" interview that his company did the right thing when it came to shutting down cruises earlier this month, despite criticism from some health experts who say it should have happened sooner.

Why it matters: Carnival has generated controversy for continuing to sail cruise ships after a CDC recommendation that all Americans defer cruise travel. Its Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was carrying hundreds of infected passengers, was held at sea for weeks before finally being able to dock in early March.

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - Health

Top Chinese official disowns U.S. military lab coronavirus conspiracy

In a rare interview, China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, told "Axios on HBO" that he stands by his belief that it's "crazy" to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the United States.

Why it matters: Cui called this exact conspiracy theory "crazy" more than a month ago on CBS' "Face the Nation." But that was before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, began publicly promoting the conspiracy.

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - Health

Senate Republicans enter quarantine ahead of critical coronavirus vote

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

More Republican senators entered self-quarantine on Sunday after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The Senate is expected to vote Monday on a $1.8 trillion stimulus package intended to curb the economic impacts of the coronavirus. As of Sunday evening, Democrats in the House and Senate had not yet agreed to back the bill as proposed by Republicans.

Syria reports first coronavirus case

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence prepare their sterilisation equipment before sterilising a hospital in Idlib, March 22. Photo: Oman Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images

Syria reported its first case of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, according to state media.

Why it matters: The actual number of cases in Syria is likely far higher, especially considering its proximity to Iran — the site of one of the worst outbreaks in the world. Syria faces unique challenges in attempting to curb the spread of the virus, with the country having been ravaged by a civil war for the past nine years.

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - World

Germany bans public gatherings of more than 2 people

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo by John MacDougall/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The German government is banning public gatherings of more than two people to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, stopping just short of confining people to their homes Bloomberg reports.

Driving the news: Chancellor Angela Merkel is in quarantine after coming in contact with a doctor who tested positive for the virus.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 22, 2020 - Health
Dion Rabouin, author of Markets

Architect of Trump's coronavirus stimulus plan says it's too little, too late

Former Council of Economic Advisers chair Jason Furman, December 2017. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

The Trump administration's proposal to send Americans $1,000 checks is now too little, too late, the plan's architect tells Axios.

What happened: Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took two weeks to publicly support the proposal put forth in a March 5 Wall Street Journal editorial by Jason Furman, who served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama.

De Blasio says coronavirus outbreak will be "a lot worse" in April and May

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that "all Americans deserve the blunt truth" and that the current trajectory of the coronavirus outbreak suggests it will be "a lot worse" in April and May.

Driving the news: De Blasio ripped into President Trump for his response to the outbreak in New York City, claiming he "will not lift a finger to help his hometown." The mayor called on the military to be mobilized and for Trump to use the Defense Production Act to produce medical supplies like ventilators.

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - Health

Illinois governor: States are "competing against each other" for medical supplies

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that inaction by the federal government has forced state governments to compete “against each other” for coronavirus supplies.

Why it matters: Hospitals around the United States are running out of medical equipment, including masks, gowns, gloves and ventilators — all of which are necessary both to protect health care workers and to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - Health

Boris Johnson: Coronavirus outbreak in U.K. is only weeks behind Italy

Photo: Julian Simmonds/WPA Pool/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday that a surge of coronavirus cases over the next two weeks could cripple the country's National Health Service (NHS), Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Johnson said the U.K., in terms of cases, is only "a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy," which overtook China last week as the country with the most reported deaths from the virus.

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - World

Fauci on contradicting Trump: "I just want to get the facts out"

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times that he tries to be diplomatic when forced to contradict President Trump on the facts of the coronavirus outbreak.

What he's saying: “I’ve been telling the president things he doesn’t want to hear. I have publicly had to say something different with what he states. It’s a risky business. But that’s my style. ... I say it the way it is, and if he’s gonna get pissed off, he’s gonna get pissed off. Thankfully, he is not. Interestingly.”

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - Health

Becoming White House chief of staff during coronavirus

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Mark Meadows is immersed in one of the most extraordinary job training sessions an incoming White House chief of staff can get: how to manage thousands of staffers — and President Trump — in the middle of a pandemic.

The state of play: The retiring Republican North Carolina congressman, who's slated to formally take over Mick Mulvaney's post on April 1, has been coming to the White House daily as he transitions into the job.

The workers feeding America

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As worried shoppers buy in bulk, stress is mounting for retailers, warehouses and farms — which need more labor at the very time people are being told to stay at home.

Why it matters: America isn't running out of food. But there's increasing strain on the supply chain as the workers who produce and deliver our groceries are sheltering at home, quarantined or are (justifiably) too spooked to show up for work.

Non-medical business giants help hospitals facing supplies shortage

A woman makes face masks at a textile factory in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 16. Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images

Apple, GM and Tesla are among the U.S. firms diversifying from their specialist areas to help deliver essential medical supplies like masks and ventilators to assist in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: Testing capacity for COVID-19 has expanded in the U.S., as demand for medical equipment increases. Leading medical associations expressed concern in a letter to President Trump Saturday that "there will not be enough medical supplies, including ventilators, to respond to the projected COVID-­19 outbreak."

Go deeperArrowMar 22, 2020 - Health

Pence tests negative for coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence briefs reports at the White House on March 21. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence has tested negative for the novel coronavirus, a spokesperson said on Saturday.

Catch up quick: Pence said he elected to test for COVID-19 after a member his office tested positive on Friday. "Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence had close contact with the individual," Katie Miller, Pence's press secretary, said on Friday.

DOJ emergency powers report raises ire among conservatives and liberals

Attorney General Bill Barr gives a speech in Washington, D.C., on March 6. Photo: Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Republican and Democratic lawmakers reacted with concern Saturday to a Politico report that the Department of Justice is seeking new powers to ask judges to detain people indefinitely without trial in emergency situations.

The big picture: Politico reports the DOJ documents for Congress it reviewed "detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted." The unconfirmed report prompted Doug Stafford, the chief strategist for Rand Paul (R-Ky.), to tweet his agreement with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who criticized such a measure.