President Donald Trump held a more than 2-hour press conference beginning at about 5:20 Thursday evening. It was broken into two segments. In the first segment the President was joined by Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. In the second segment he was joined by Vice President Pence, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner, FEMA Supply Chain Task Force Leader Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx.
Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:
- The President said we are in a critical phase and urged all Americans to follow the 30-day social distancing guidelines. They should practice vigorous hygiene and stay home.
- They continue to work on therapies, treatments and vaccines.
- They are working to get relief to small business and workers, with paycheck loans starting tomorrow.
- The President said new guidelines will be issued for nursing homes to protect elderly Americans, including suspending the entry of medically unnecessary personnel, having the same staff to care for the same group of residents, and separate areas for the healthy and sick.
- Relief will be provided for veterans – extending the deadline for benefits and postponing debt collection.
- FDA has authorized the first coronavirus antibody test that will help identify people who have recovered.
- Defense Production Act authority is being used to ensure domestic manufacturers have the supplies they need to produce ventilators. It will help multiple companies overcome obstacles in the supply chain.
- He anticipates more orders under the Defense Production Act.
- More facilities are being provided in New York. The Javits Center is being converted to a COVID-19 hospital and will be staffed by federal personnel.
- There will also be facilities in Louisiana and Dallas.
- New York is a hot spot, but we have other hot spots. New York needs help and he referred people to gov helpnow.
- The President also said he took the self-swab test today and got negative results in 15 minutes.
- With respect to Buy American, the President said that he let previously placed orders go to Italy and Spain. In a little while we will build a stockpile. But states should be doing it. We are a backup. Ideally states should have these materials/.
- He was asked if he will reopen Obamacare so that those who need insurance can sign up. He said the administration is working to get cash payments for people.
- The President was asked again about states bidding against each other. He said that states should have stocked up, and should do so when times are normalized. He said that should be within 6 months and items will be sold for the right price.
- Mayor de Blasio has said that New Yorkers leaving their homes should wear masks. The President responded that regulations will be coming out. He does not believe it will be mandatory. People can wear them if they want. They can use scarves which are thicker and better.
- The President was asked if there will be an opportunity for insurance companies to get compensated for extraordinary expenses. He said it is being discussed.
- The President was asked about the Georgia announcement regarding stay at home. The President said it was the Governor’s decision.
- He was asked if the Russian aid was requested or accepted. He said that President Putin made a generous offer that he was happy to accept. He was asked if he would take further assistance, and said he would.
Summary of Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza’s remarks and questions:
Administrator Carranza said the Administration is making unprecedented efforts to help small businesses, and there will be challenges. Small businesses are a critical part of the economic fabric of the country.
- The Paycheck Protection Program will help employees on the payrolls of small businesses. Loans will be forgiven for job retention and other expenses.
- They are working with local lenders so that businesses can go directly to them.
- SBA is also providing advances on disaster loans and forgiving payments on existing loans for the next 6 months. Go to sba.gov for information.
- Administrator Carranza was asked which category of small business she is most concerned about. She said she is concerned about all. She wants business to stay intact.
Summary of Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin’s remarks and questions:
- Secretary Mnuchin said that the President made clear that we need to get this program executed. They have been working with banks, and expect the program to be up and running tomorrow. Businesses should be able to get the money the same day.
- They did raise the interest rate to 1%, which is paid for as part of the program, in response to small community banks who said this amount was needed to cover their expenses.
- Economic Impact Payments will be made within 2 weeks with direct payments into accounts. There will be a portal for those for whom the IRS does not have direct deposit information.
- There is also an employer retention credit equal to $5,000 per person which can be obtained immediately. It will be deducted from what is owed, and will be a refundable tax credit if nothing is owed.
- Secretary Mnuchin was asked about claims by Chase that they do not have enough information about the program. He said they had just posted a Federal Register notice with new guidelines, and urged banks to go to the website.
- He was asked about a supposed power struggle between SBA and Treasury, and claims that banks cannot make enough money to service loans. The Secretary said there is no power struggle, that they had worked until 4AM and resumed at 7AM, and made the forms simpler. He said lenders can make 5 basis points on government guaranteed loans, and may never have this kind of opportunity again.
- He was asked about claims from the House Ways and Means Committee that it could take up to 5 weeks for those who do not have direct deposit to get funds. He said that is not true. People can go to the portal to enter their information or will get a check.
- The Secretary was asked about the website crashing. He said resources have been brought in so there is additional web capacity. But this does not mean that everyone will get their loan tomorrow.
- He was asked about conversations he may have had with Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Pelosi about a fourth bill. He said he has spoken with both and the President. When the President is ready to go he will be prepared to go.
- He was asked if additional relief might be provided to Americans out of work for extra weeks. He said the current package will provide coverage for 10 weeks. If they need to go back for more, they are prepared to do so.
- The Secretary was asked if the Select Committee to oversee the funds suggested by Speaker Pelosi is necessary. He said it is not. There will be an oversight committee, as provided for by the legislation, which should be enough. The agreement supports full transparency.
- Senator Murkowski wants consideration for loans to energy companies under the CARES Act. The Secretary said he has limited ability to make direct loans. He expects that energy companies will go for the broad based loans afforded by the Act, not direct loans.
- He was asked about the level of direct government oversight of loans to airlines. He said there are very strict requirements imposed by the Act. There is an expectation for the maintenance of substantially all employees. He is working with the Secretary of Transportation regarding the maintenance of routes. Three outside financial advisors and three lawyers will provide oversight.
- Some small businesses, restaurants for example, say laying off people and going to unemployment benefits is better. What incentives are there for them to keep these employees? He said that he wants them to retain their businesses, and it doesn’t cost them anything. Fifty percent of the workforce is made up by small business with fewer than 500 employees.
- With respect to small businesses the Secretary added that independent contractors and small proprietors are eligible as well, but that will not be set up until next week. Charities are also eligible, and that includes faith organizations.
Summary of the Vice President’s remarks and questions:
- Vice President Pence said the supply chain team convened in the Oval Office.
- 3 million tests have been conducted with 236,000 positive results with over 5,000 deaths.
- Military healthcare personnel will operate COVID facilities at the Javits Center, and the New Orleans and Dallas Convention Centers.
- They are working to deploy and gather Personal Protective Equipment.
- Regarding the President’s statement about direct payments for people, the Vice President said the task force is working on a proposal to use some of the $100 billion for hospitals to compensate them directly for coronavirus treatment provided to uninsured Americans. Blue Cross has announced that will totally waive copayment on coronavirus treatment.
Summary of Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner’s remarks and questions:
The President wanted all recommendations based on data.
- The President instructed him to break down every barrier that needed to be broken, and to think outside the box.
- The supply chain task force is finding supplies all around the world.
- The President had heard from a friend in New York that the public hospital system was running low on supplies. He then called Mayor de Blasio and send we would send a month’s supply. He will do the same with other public hospitals in hot spots.
- When the President was asked about what the granular approach on data for signals that might be needed for other needs for the Defense Production Act, Mr. Kushner said requests are based on models. They ask states to see what they have in their own states. They have asked them to survey for alternative ventilators. Then they ask for utilization rates. There are lots of areas asking for things they do not need. A number of states and cities are providing FEMA information. They want to make informed data driven decisions.
- He was asked about criticisms that he is a shadow task force and how he describes his role. He said that everything he does is at the direction of the Vice President.
- He was asked what might trigger sending a ventilator to a state. He said that states should know what they have. Some are better managers than others. They should take an inventory and show there is a real need.
Summary of FEMA Supply Chain Task Force Leader Rear Admiral John Polowczyk’s remarks and questions:
The Admiral reviewed the volume of specific items of equipment that have been provided thus far.
- He said that they are finding ventilators. While 30,000 are normally produced each year they are working to acquire 100,000 by the end of June.
- He spoke about the Air Bridge, saying normally it takes 37 days to get materials from overseas to the point of distribution. They are working to align transportation with products. They are finding pockets of Personal Protective Equipment not otherwise in the US supply chain. Six flights have been completed, with another 28 scheduled over the next weeks.
- Pallets are being formed and trucks loaded for delivery in New York tomorrow.
- He has brought on a supply chain tool used by the Department of Defense for complex weapon systems to help see what companies are doing and to ensure supplies are provided where needed.
- They are expanding the industrial base. Walmart will use their supplies to make masks.
- The Admiral was asked where is the logjam. He said there are 6 or 7 distributors with 600-700 warehouses. They have trucks going to hospitals every day. FEMA is working to put volume into this system.
- When asked about states with the greatest need claiming they cannot get supplies, he said they are working to marry up those needs with supplies.
Summary of National Defense Production Act Policy Coordinator Peter Navarro’s questions:
- Navarro was asked about product going to the highest bidder, and what can be done to keep the product in the US. Mr. Navarro described the Defense Production Act being used for the mobilization of the base. The first element is allotment of resources to make sure the supply chain has enough components to make what is needed. The second element is prioritizing supply chain manufacturing. He spoke about issues with 3M to make sure product will go to the right people and expected the issue to be resolved by close of business tomorrow. The third element goes to the hoarding issue. Attorney General Barr took action with the Department of Justice three days ago seizing Personal Protective Equipment from a warehouse in New Jersey and giving it to healthcare workers within hours.
- Tomorrow there will be another Executive Order dealing with black markets, empowering Customs and Border Protection and the United States Postal Service to deal with these issues.
- He also spoke about efforts by the President to get for the New York Police Department 4,000 Tyvek suits in 4 hours and 6,000 gallons of sanitizers within 2 hours on a UPS truck.
- He was asked about the Buy American Executive Order. He said this episode has shown how dangerously dependent we are on the global supply chain. Over 50 countries imposed export restrictions. The Executive Order is going through the review process. Nothing is being done at this time. But going forward, the VA, DoD, and HHS will buy American for essential medicines, countermeasures, and needed medical equipment. Deregulation will be done to get EPA and FDA to facilitate domestic manufacturing. The key is advanced manufacturing on American soil.
Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:
- Birx was asked if masks may be more harmful. After reviewing various data reports and applauding governors looking at whole-of-state or whole-of metro-area approaches, she said that public hospitals may have had the weakest supply chain or had been too busy to look at supplies. She said New York and New Jersey have had 35% positive tests. Louisiana is at 26%. Michigan, Connecticut, Indiana, Georgia and Illinois are at 15%. Colorado, Washington DC, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are at 13%. California and Washington are at 8%. There is experiential data for communities that have used masks. Social distancing and washing hands is the most important preventative. She does not want people to get an artificial sense of security from wearing a mask. The debate continues. The advisory will be an additive piece if it comes out – not a substitution.
- She was asked when will everyone will get to take the test that works so quickly. She suggested that these are new tests and will be prioritized for areas that have not had access to tests, including the Indian Health Service and Public Health Labs. There are 18,000 machines out there. Knowing where they are and moving them to where they are needed – hot spots or where surveillance is needed.
- She was asked if she is concerned about people not following the guidelines. Is it enough to change the curves? She said no, and that what was said 16 days ago was serious. The people that are infected today became so after the guidelines. There are other states where the increase rate is flat. But the curve can change by every new Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, or Colorado. It is a matter of an all-of-a-sudden spike in new cases. Metro areas are absolutely crucial.