Coronavirus Live Updates: Officials Meet on Capitol Hill After $600-a-Week Lifeline for Jobless Expires


Top officials work to break impasse over jobless benefit that helped keep afloat millions of unemployed Americans.

Hours after unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans lapsed, administration officials arrived on Capitol Hill on Saturday morning for a rare meeting with top congressional Democrats to discuss a coronavirus relief package and work to break an impasse over new aid as the American economy continues to shudder.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who hosted the meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in her Capitol Hill suite, said she hoped that “we’ll make progress and I think we will.” She again dismissed the prospect of a short-term deal, which administration officials have pushed this week.

“We’re just hopeful that they’re willing to really negotiate today and if they are, we’re prepared to make a deal on behalf of the American people,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said as he entered Ms. Pelosi’s office with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. (Mr. Mnuchin observed it was “just another working day in the Capitol.”)

Among the largest sticking points in the discussion is a $600 weekly federal jobless benefit that became a lifeline for tens of millions of unemployed Americans, while also helping prop up the economy. The aid expired at midnight as officials in Washington failed to agree on a new relief bill.

Democrats wanted to extend the $600 weekly payments through the end of the year, as part of an expansive $3 trillion aid package that would also help state and local governments. Republicans, worried that the $600 benefit left some people with more money than when they were working, sought to scale it back to $200 per week as part of a $1 trillion proposal.

At a White House news conference on Friday, Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, accused Democrats of playing “politics as usual.” At the Capitol, Ms. Pelosi said administration officials “do not understand the gravity of the situation.”

As the deadline neared, Republicans proposed continuing the $600 benefit for one week while talks continued. Democrats rejected the short-term extension.

“When you have a six-day, one-week extension on a provision, it is usually — has always been — to accommodate a legislative topic if you’re on the verge of having an agreement,” Ms. Pelosi said. “Why don’t we just get the job done? Why don’t we just get the job done?”

The leader of a secretive religious sect in South Korea was arrested early on Saturday on charges of embezzling church money and conspiring to impede efforts to fight the coronavirus.

The rapid spread of the virus this winter among worshipers of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, a city in the southeast, briefly made South Korea home to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outside China. As of Friday, more than a third of the 14,300 coronavirus cases known to the government were members of Shincheonji or their contacts.

Prosecutors say that Lee Man-hee, the church’s founder, failed to fully disclose the number of worshipers and their gathering places. Seven church officials were indicted last month on the same charge.

Mr. Lee, 88, has also been accused of embezzling 5.6 billion won, or $4.7 million, from church funds to build a luxurious “peace palace” north of Seoul. The church has broadly denied all the charges against him. He could face years in prison if convicted.

Intense criticism from the South Korean public forced Mr. Lee to apologize in March.

In a statement on Saturday, the church said that Mr. Lee had never intended to hamper efforts to control the epidemic, and that he had only expressed concern over the scale of government demands for worshipers’ data.

“He has emphasized the importance of disease control and urged the church members to cooperate with the authorities,” the church said. “We will do our best to let the truth be known through trial.”

But parents who accused the church of luring and brainwashing their children with its unorthodox teachings welcomed his arrest on Saturday, calling Mr. Lee a “religious con artist.”

Here are some other developments from around the globe:

A school opened in Indiana. It had to quarantine people within hours.

National health ministers, prime ministers and other heads of state (he wouldn’t say who) and friends he hasn’t heard from in years have been calling him, he said, begging for the first batches.

“I’ve had to explain to them that, ‘Look I can’t just give it to you like this,’” he said.

The Serum Institute finds itself in the middle of an extremely competitive and murky endeavor. To get the vaccine out as soon as possible, vaccine developers say they need Serum’s mammoth assembly lines — each year, it churns out 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, mostly for poor countries, more than any other company.

Half of the world’s children have been vaccinated with Serum’s products. Scale is its specialty. Just the other day, Mr. Poonawalla received a shipment of 600 million glass vials.

But right now it’s not entirely clear how much of the coronavirus vaccine that Serum will mass-produce will be kept by India or who will fund its production.

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Europe has a bad reputation with investors. For years, asset managers and bank strategists have characterized the region by its anemic growth rate and shaky political union.

Now a crisis has turned into an unlikely investment opportunity, as the region appears to have handled the pandemic better than some other parts of the world. In the past few months, European assets have staged a comeback.

The euro this week rose to its highest level in more than two years against the U.S. dollar, and the region’s benchmark index, the Stoxx 600, is set for a second straight month of gains greater than those of the S&P 500 index, in dollar terms, according to data from FactSet.

The most important reason for this upswing, analysts say, is that Europe is recording far fewer new cases of the coronavirus. There are still occasional spikes in Europe, and there are some early signs that the infection rate is starting to level off in the United States. But there are about 65,000 new cases each day in the United States, compared with fewer than 10,000 across the Atlantic.

Another significant reason for the increase is politics. When European leaders reached an agreement last week on a 750 billion euro, or $888 billion, recovery fund, it wasn’t the size of the deal that impressed investors, but the fact that it happened after four long nights of negotiations.

The decision to raise money collectively and give grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic indicated that there is some political will left to further the project that created the euro two decades ago, despite the exit of Britain from the European Union, budget fights with Italy and concerns about the dismantling of democracy in Hungary.

Reporting was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Johnny Diaz, Jeffrey Gettleman, Jason Gutierrez, Shawn Hubler, Mike Ives, Zach Montague, Liliana Michelena, Eshe Nelson, Matt Phillips, Kai Schultz and Eliza Shapiro.



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