Coronavirus government response updates: US, Trump says, not built to be 'shut down'

"There will be tremendous death" from shutting down the economy, he said.

March 23, 2020, 7:40 PM

The novel coronavirus pandemic is spreading around the globe and in the United States, resulting in more than 41,700 cases domestically and more than 500 deaths.

The federal government has been rolling out its response to the virus, its efforts to stem the tide as well as to stimulate the economy, which has taken a severe hit.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a news conference, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington D.C., U.S., March 22, 2020.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Here are the latest developments in the government response:

  • Trump, at White House briefing, says 'country not built to be shut down'
  • Monday is day eight of the White House 15-day guidelines to slow the spread
  • Pence says CDC to issue guidance regarding allowing some exposed to COVID-19 return to work sooner by wearing a mask
  • A second test vote to move forward on a huge relief package failed in the Senate amid increasingly bitter negotiations
  • At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19

Here is how developments unfolded on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol in Washington, March 23, 2020.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

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PHOTO: President Donald Trump addresses the coronavirus response daily briefing at the White House in Washington, March 23, 2020.
President Donald Trump addresses the coronavirus response daily briefing flanked by Attorney General William Barr and Ambassador Debbie Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, along with other members of the administration's coronavirus task force at the White House in Washington, March 23, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump: 'This country wasn't built to be shut down'

President Donald Trump opened the daily White House Monday briefing expanding on reports that he was considering loosening coronavirus guidelines amid growing economic fallout.

"Our country wasn't built to be shut down," he said emphatically.

"We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We're not going to let the cure be worse than the problem. At the end of the 15-day period, we'll make a decision as to which way we want to go," he said, referring to what he said was the coming "opening of our country."

"This was a medical problem, we're not going to let it turn it into a long-term financial problem," Trump declared. "We're just not going to let it happen."

He didn't offer an exact timeline but said it will be a "lot sooner than the three or four months that somebody was suggesting."

"If it were up to the doctors, they may say, 'Let's keep it shut down. Let's shut down the entire world because again you're up to 150 countries,'" Trump said, when asked whether any doctors on the task force agreed with his suggestion that social distancing guidelines will pay off in weeks not months.

"So, let's shut down the entire world and when we shut it down, that'd be wonderful, and let's keep it shut for a couple of years. We can't do that," Trump said.

Trump predicted "there will be tremendous death" from shutting down the economy and job losses, "probably" more than the disease would cause.

"Death, you know, we’re talking about death, probably more death from that than anything we are talking about with respect to the virus,” Trump said.

Comparing hot spots in some states to states with fewer reported cases of COVID-19, Trump said, "We will be quarantining many people in these areas. There are other areas that just aren't affected or they are affected very little."

On the Senate stimulus package, Trump said Republicans and Democrats "have no choice" but to reach a deal.

"Now, Congress must demonstrate the same bipartisanship again and join together to pass the Senate bill as written and avoid playing any more partisan games. They have to get together and just stop with the partisan politics. And I think that's happening," Trump said.

"I got a call a little while ago. I guess they're getting closer. Should go quickly. And must go quickly. It's not really a choice. Don't have a choice. They have to make a deal."

As Trump announced that New York would begin clinical trials on a drug he has touted as a possible treatment for the new coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, was noticeably absent from the briefing.

Fauci has been clear that there is no evidence yet that the drug Trump has touted as one that can treat coronavirus -- as no drugs have been approved yet to treat the disease -- and the evidence, at this stage, is all anecdotal.

The drug, chloroquine, or hydroxychloroquine, has been approved to treat and prevent malaria since 1944. Trump said it would be paired with a commonly used antibiotic.

"I'm pleased to report that clinical trials in New York will begin existing -- for existing drugs that may prove effective against the virus. At my direction, the federal government is working to help obtain large quantities of chloroquine," Trump said.

"We're studying it very closely. Watching it very closely," Trump said.

The government is also monitoring other drugs as possible treatments, Trump said, but he said chloroquine "would be a gift from God" if it worked.

"You probably saw a couple articles today came out where a gentleman they thought he was not going to make it," Trump said, referring to a New York Post article he tweeted out earlier Monday. abiut a Florida man who reportedly had taken chloroquine.

"He said goodbye to his family. They had given him the drug just a little while before, but he thought it was over. His family thought he was going to die. And a number of hours later, he woke up, felt good, then he woke up again and he felt really good."

Asked about the apparent contradiction between the nation's rising death toll and his saying there's a need to quickly open businesses back up amid economic fallout, Trump insisted, "We can do two things at one time."

"Our country's learned a lot. We've learned about social distancing. We've learned about the hands. We've learned about staying away, at least during the time that this is even a little bit around. This disease or -- or whatever you want to call it. Many different names. You can call it many different names. But the virus, while it's around."

"Parts of our country are very lightly affected," Trump continued, downplaying the disease's toll on the Midwest. "You look at Nebraska. You look at Idaho. You look at Iowa ... And that are not affected to the same extent or, frankly, not even nearly to the extent of New York."

State of the stimulus package: Democrats block vote, negotiations continue

While negotiations for the economic stimulus package continue behind closed doors, Democrats have successfully blocked, for a second time in 24 hours, the GOP-backed "phase three" $2 trillion coronavirus relief measure in its current form.

Monday evening Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced from the floor, "we will not be having any votes tonight."

Earlier in the day, he said, "Democrats won't let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed he is continuing negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in hopes to secure a deal "today" -- as long as worker protections are included and a $500 billion fund for corporations has more oversight.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin also took a moment to urge senators to support remote voting, saying, "We know better."

Pelosi introduces the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act

While negotiations continue on the Senate bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled her own economic stimulus proposal, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, Monday afternoon on Capitol Hill.

"The Senate Republican bill put corporations first, but because of the insistence of Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats progress has been made. We urge the Senate to move closer to the values in the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act," the California Democrat said.

Asked about the possibility of returning to Washington for votes, Pelosi said, "That is our hope, yes, but we'll see what the Senate does, too."

House Democrats are slated to discuss the path forward on a caucus conference call Tuesday afternoon, according to a senior Democratic aide.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes a statement about the government's response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the Speakers Lobby on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2020.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters, POOL

Trump continues to push drug not approved by FDA to treat COVID-19

President Trump has again pushed hydroxychloroquine in a tweet that reads, "A great early result from a drug that will start tomorrow in New York and other places! #COVID-19"

In the tweet, he also shared an article from the New York Post with the headline: "Florida man with coronavirus says drug touted by Trump saved his life."

The article is about a man who asked for and received hydroxychloroquine and -- according to that man's reported account -- seems to have recovered from COVID-19 because of it. However, the article also notes some troubling side effects he seems to have suffered after taking the drug including heart palpitations and difficulty breathing.

No drug has been approved for wider use against COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration continues to look at a range of drugs already on the market.

Public health experts warn that Trump's claims may inflate the drug's price and make it difficult for those who need it to fight malaria to obtain it.

Kudlow signals 'tradeoffs' to keep economy afloat

President Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, appeared on Fox News and signaled the administration was partial to "tradeoffs" to keep the economy going.

The anchor asked Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, about Trump's tweet: "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF."

"We're going to have to try to do that," Kudlow said. "We can't shutter the economy. The economic cost to individuals is just too great."

Adding that he spoke about the subject with Trump "late last evening," Kudlow said, "Let's give it another week."

"The president was right. The cure can't be worse than the disease, and we're going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs."

He also said he was stunned at Democrats not approving of the latest stimulus package.

"I just can't believe that the other side of the aisle won't help us on this."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin walks to a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer in his office on Capitol Hill March 23, 2020, in Washington. The Senate is working to pass a coronavirus relief bill.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announces her husband has tested positive for COVID-19

Minnesota senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar has announced in a statement that her husband, John Bessler, received positive coronavirus test results Monday morning.

"He is exhausted and sick but a very strong and resilient person," she wrote. "I love my husband so very much and not being able to be there at the hospital by his side is one of the hardest things about this disease."

Bessler waited five days for the test results, Klobuchar said on a press call with a vote-by-mail advocacy group.

The Minnesota senator said they have not seen either other for 14 days, so she is not taking a test or self-quarantining.

Trump appears to signal his 15-day guidelines may not be worth the economic impact

Eight days into the White House's 15-day guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump appears to signal that the measures taken to flatten the curve -- and possibly extending them -- could be worse than the virus itself.


While public health experts hail the effectiveness of the guidelines at slowing the spread of the disease, some conservatives argue that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have become too severe.

The president fired off a number of retweets Monday morning supporting the idea that the economic costs of extending the strict social distancing guidance beyond the fifteen-day period could outweigh the public health benefit of continuing.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, meanwhile, said on NBC: "I want America to understand -- this week, it's going to get bad. And we really need to come together as a nation ... So we really, really need everyone to stay at home."

Over the weekend, the president provided little indication of what he plans to do at the end of the 15-day period when questioned about it at two press briefings.

He said on Sunday, "I hope we won't have to" extend the guidance but that "It is possible" he will.

On Saturday, he would only say, "We have to see what the result is" at the end of the 15 days: "We want to flatten that out and we're going to see what the result is."

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, March 21, 2020, in Washington.
Patrick Semansky/AP

State of the stimulus package: Negotiations still underway, senator tests positive for COVID-19

Lawmakers and Trump administration officials were unable to come to an agreement Sunday night on the nearly $2 trillion stimulus package meant to serve as a lifeline for Americans and businesses as the coronavirus continues to hold the economy in a virtual standstill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin previously set Monday as the deadline to have "phase three" passed and on the president's desk -- but negotiations stalled out after Democrats voted unanimously Sunday night against starting debate on the Senate floor -- sending leadership back to the drawing board.

Democrats say the legislation doesn't do enough for small businesses while giving Mnuchin a "slush fund" with little oversight, while Republicans argue urgency in its passing which includes a measure to send $1200 relief checks directly to some Americans.

As negotiations continue Monday, so does the risk of the virus spreading across Capitol Hill. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul became the first Senator to announce he tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday, after he interacted with several lawmakers and used the Senate gym in the last week.

Paul's announcement prompted Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to self-quarantine, bringing the number of sidelined senators to five and the balance in the Senate to a near even split: 48 GOP -- 47 Democrats.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hosted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in his office to discuss the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, March 22, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hosted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his office to discuss the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, March 22, 2020.
Office of Senate Majority Leader

Trump says Japan PM will guide U.S. on its 2020 Olympics decision

While Japan now weighs the possibility of postponing the summer Olympic games, President Trump this morning tweets that the U.S. "will be guided by the wishes of Prime Minister Abe."

The president's tweet comes after Canada announced they will not be sending athletes to the games this summer and after Australia told its athletes to "prepare for a Tokyo Olympic Games in the northern summer of 2021."

Trump, by contrast, is deferring to the prime minister of Japan to make a decision about what's best for the U.S. team.

What to know about coronavirus:

ABC News' Ben Gittleson, Jordyn Phelps, John Parkinson and Trish Turner contributed to this report.

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