Trump Signs Aid Package, 2 Congressman Treated For Coronavirus

Mar 19, 2020
Originally published on March 19, 2020 8:19 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Listed among the top causes of stress are illness and finances. These are obviously concerns a lot of us have right now as we live through the coronavirus pandemic. Washington is taking new action to confront one of those stressors. Yesterday, the Senate passed an emergency aid package, then President Trump signed it. An even larger stimulus package is also in the works. Meanwhile, two members of Congress have now tested positive for COVID-19. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start here. Who are the lawmakers who've gotten sick?

DAVIS: Mario Diaz-Balart is a Republican congressman from Florida. And Ben McAdams, a Democrat from Utah. Both lawmakers were on the floor and voting on Saturday to pass this aid package that President Trump just signed. Both congressmen put out statements last night saying they started to feel symptomatic Saturday evening. Mario Diaz-Balart didn't - chose not to return to Florida. He remained in Washington, D.C. Ben McAdams is back in Utah.

They've both been working with the attending physician of Congress to sort of retrace their steps. And the attending physician has been notifying other members who came in direct contact with them. So far, as of the count this morning, at least five additional lawmakers have self-quarantined due to contact with them, including two members of the Republican leadership team, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and his chief deputy, Drew Ferguson, a Republican from Missouri.

MARTIN: All right. So these diagnoses come as Congress is trying to push ahead on all this legislation to help ease the financial burden of this pandemic. What does this mean for that process?

DAVIS: That is a great question. And Democrats and Republicans don't have the answer to this. There has been a push among some quarters to allow for remote voting, to let members cast ballots from their districts so as not to return and gather.

MARTIN: Right.

DAVIS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, are both against this. This is contrary to the very nature and definition and founding principles of Congress. But I also think members are increasingly clear-eyed that it is a public health risk, not just to themselves, but to the people that work on Capitol Hill to have to come back and vote on these measures.

They could, of course, do things by what we call unanimous consent. Everyone could just agree to it. But it's really hard. I talked to one Republican lawmaker yesterday that said, we just can't unanimously - unanimous consent a trillion dollars in spending, which is the upcoming stimulus package...

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.

DAVIS: ...That they're looking to do. Democrats are going to meet - they're going to have a conference call this afternoon. I'm told that they expect to have sort of an airing of whether or not the House should consider this option of remote voting. It would, however, require a vote of the House to even allow it to happen.

MARTIN: The Senate passed a measure yesterday. The president signed it into law. What's it do?

DAVIS: It is the second piece of legislation that Congress has passed. The main things that come out of it is it mandates free testing for all Americans. Testing, testing, testing was - Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that was the priority of this package. It also expands unemployment insurance, who can get it, unemployment benefits and creates a new federal paid sick leave program that will help millions more Americans who may be out of work or out of work because they have to care for a sick family member.

MARTIN: Right, or just kids who are out of school because of all this.

DAVIS: Exactly.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.