Democratic Leaders Renew Call for Pandemic Relief: Live Updates


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Top congressional Democrats renewed calls for a sweeping coronavirus relief package on Thursday, citing record-breaking coronavirus infections and the presidential election results, to justify a larger relief package.CreditCredit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Top congressional Democrats renewed calls for a sweeping coronavirus relief package on Thursday, insisting that voters had given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his party a mandate to fight the pandemic aggressively.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader in the Senate, cited record-breaking infections across the country, along with the presidential election results, to justify their position that any package must be much larger than what Republicans had been suggesting.

By holding firm to keeping $2.4 trillion in new spending as their starting point, Democrats appeared to be closing the door on the possibility of a year-end compromise with Republicans, who have proposed spending a fraction of that amount.

“This election was maybe more a referendum on who can handle Covid well than anything else,” Mr. Schumer said. “The Donald Trump approach was repudiated and the Joe Biden approach was embraced. That is why we think there is a better chance of getting a deal in the lame duck.”

Leaders in both parties have acknowledged the need for another round of stimulus, but they have yet to agree on the scope and cost of a second package, with Republicans insisting on a much smaller bill than what Democrats — and even the White House — had been advocating ahead of the election.

The potential for agreement appeared to narrow further on Thursday, with a top Republican indicating that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, was no longer planning to rely on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to cut a deal with Democrats.

“There hasn’t been any discussion yet between McConnell and Pelosi, but McConnell is not going to rely on Mnuchin anymore to do the dealing,” Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters on Thursday morning. “I think he’s intending to take it over and try to get something going.”

Mr. McConnell, for his part, told reporters on Capitol Hill that “my view is, the level at which the economy is improving further underscores that we need to do something at about the amount that we put on the floor in September and October,” referring to the targeted $500 billion packages Senate Republicans tried to pass before the election.

The price tag Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer were discussing, he said, “is not a place I think we’re willing to go, but I do think there needs to another package.”

But Ms. Pelosi portrayed Republicans as “cold-hearted” for insisting on a smaller relief package and tried to upbraid them.

“It’s like the house is burning down and they just refuse to throw water on it,” she said.

Both sides will also have to reach an agreement on critical spending legislation to prevent a lapse in government funding on Dec. 11, with either an agreement on the dozen annual must-pass bills or another stopgap spending bill.

Credit…Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, and Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, both voiced caution over the prospect for a coronavirus vaccine — arguing that there are too many uncertainties ahead to assume that the global economy is out of danger.

Coronavirus cases are rising in the United States and around the world, which could imperil a steady recovery that has taken place since lockdowns sent economic activity plummeting in March and April. Markets surged in recent days on hopes that a vaccine will be available soon, after the pharmaceutical company Pfizer on Monday announced strong results for its potential coronavirus vaccine.

But the foremost leaders of the global economy sounded less sanguine.

“That is certainly good and welcome news for the medium term,” Mr. Powell said of a vaccine, but it is “too soon” to assess with confidence the meaning for the economy, adding that “the next few months could be challenging.”

He highlighted the virus surge as the biggest cause for concern.

“We do see the economy continuing on a solid path of recovery, but the main risk we see to that is clearly the further spread of the disease here in the United States,” Mr. Powell said. “People may lose confidence that it is safe to go out.”

Ms. Lagarde said that she did not want to be “exuberant” about the vaccine, even as one looks likely early next year.

“There are still uncertainties — about the logistics, about the transportation, about the rolling out, about the fabrication” and about how many people can actually be vaccinated in 2021.

Mr. Powell, asked about the presidential election and Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory, demurred. The Fed closely guards its political independence and avoids talking about partisan contests.

“I won’t comment directly or indirectly — other than to say that this is a good time to take a step back and let the institutions of our democracy continue to do our jobs,” he said. He also reiterated his regular comment that more government support “is likely” to be needed to get through the pandemic era. “My sense is that we will need to do more, and that Congress may need to do more as well.”

Credit…Daniel Slim/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Delta Air Lines has banned nearly 550 customers for refusing to wear masks aboard its planes, its chief executive said Thursday. It is the latest step the company has taken to assure employees and passengers that it is taking the pandemic seriously.

Over the summer, airlines started to ban passengers for refusing to comply with mask requirements in an effort to bolster confidence in the measures the companies were taking to protect travelers. They have also been deep-cleaning planes, leavings seats empty and reducing physical interactions between staff and passengers.

“Fortunately, that number represents a tiny fraction of our overall customers, the vast majority of whom follow our guidelines and appreciate the steps we are taking to keep them safe and healthy,” Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said in a letter updating staff on a range of subjects.

United Airlines said that it had put nearly 350 passengers to its no-fly list. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines declined to say how many people they had put on similar lists.

Delta and Southwest, which are widely regarded as the strongest companies in the industry, are the only large airlines leaving middle seats empty to promote distancing, in part because they can afford to forgo the revenue from keeping seats empty. Southwest plans to end the practice after Thanksgiving and Delta has said it will leave it in place at least through the end of the year.

With demand for flights down substantially — airport traffic on Wednesday was down about two-thirds compared with last year, according to federal data — airlines are desperately marketing the measures they’re taking to keep passengers safe.

Credit…Joel Angel Juarez for The New York Times

The government reported on Thursday that 723,000 workers filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to inflict economic damage.

Another 298,000 new claims were filed under a federal emergency program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, designed for freelancers, part-time workers and others who are not normally eligible for state benefits. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the figure for new state claims was 709,000.

New claims declined to a new low from the stratospheric multimillion levels reached in the spring — but they continue to outrun records set in previous recessions.

“The gradual healing of the labor market continued, but the magnitude is still high,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton.

“Technically it looks like we’re in a recovery,” she said, “but we’re still so much in the hole.”

Prospects for digging out of that hole are shadowed by the alarming rise in coronavirus caseloads around the country.

And many people already collecting unemployment insurance have been hitting the 26-week limit on benefits that exists in most states.

Those workers are eligible to receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits under a federal program called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, though the transfer from one program to the other is not automatic in some states. That caseload has been rising.

Most economists agree that controlling the pandemic is a prerequisite for an economic recovery regardless of any government-ordered shutdowns.

News of the development of a vaccine that is 90 percent effective lifted hopes — and markets — this week. But Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said on Tuesday, “The economy right now is being dictated by coronavirus’s existence, and I think less by the potential for a vaccine.”

Several Fed officials, including the chair, Jerome H. Powell, have said Congress’s failure to agree on another relief package for individuals and business will hamper any recovery. Both federal pandemic-related jobless programs will expire at the end of the year without further action.

Credit…Lindsay D’Addato for The New York Times

With the coronavirus pandemic entering its ninth month, economists warn that the prolonged downturn could inflict long-lasting wounds to the U.S. employment outlook.

“There’s a risk that we’re going to see permanent damage to the labor market,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, referring to laid-off workers who end up dropping out of the work force and to industries like restaurants, entertainment, travel and hospitality that are unable to return to full capacity.

Roughly one-third of unemployed workers have been without a job for 27 weeks or more, compared with 4.1 percent in April. The longer someone is unemployed, the harder it is to get back into the work force.

There have been more job gains than losses recently, and the unemployment rate fell last month to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent in September. But much of the progress was in dining and retail businesses, which are the most vulnerable to losses from rising coronavirus caseloads.

State unemployment rolls have declined in recent weeks, but some of that drop is a result of program limits: In most states, benefits expire after 26 weeks.

Some of the workers who have hit the limits of their state benefits have signed up for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a program that Congress created in March to provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits for people who exhausted their state aid. The number of filings in this program increased to 4.14 million for the week ending Oct. 24, from 3.98 million the previous week.

“That’s where you see the wounds festering and worry about how deep they are and how much they’ll scar us,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton.

Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Tesla has dominated the market for electric cars, but will soon face a much more crowded playing field.

Rivian, a start-up backed by Amazon and Ford Motor, said late Wednesday that it would begin delivering its highly anticipated electric pickup truck and electric sport-utility vehicle next summer. The upscale models will compete directly with Tesla’s vehicles. Separately on Thursday, Ford unveiled an electric cargo van set to go into production in late 2021.

Rivian’s pickup, the R1T, will be available in June for $75,000 and will be able to go more than 300 miles on a full charge. In August, the company will start delivering its S.U.V., the R1S, with the same range and a price of $77,500. Both vehicles should be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and various state incentives.

Other models priced at or below $70,000, and some with options for larger batteries that can support more than 400 miles of travel, will arrive in early 2022, Rivian said.

The Rivian vehicles are likely to arrive a few months before Tesla begins selling its angular Cybertruck pickup. Tesla has said its truck will start at a base price of $39,000. The tax credit is no longer available to Tesla buyers.

Ford’s van, the E-Transit, will start at $45,000, and is designed for delivery companies, plumbers, contractors and other businesses. The van will have a range of 126 miles. Ford said that would be sufficient because commercial van users typically operate in limited geographical area, and often drive just 50 miles a day.

Ford plans to produce the E-Transit at a plant in Kansas City, Mo. In 2022, it plans to add an electric version of its F-150 pickup, made in Kansas City and Dearborn, Mich.

Later this year, Ford intends to start making the Mustang Mach E, an electric S.U.V. styled to look like its sports car. General Motors also recently announced an electric Hummer pickup truck, which it will start selling next year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took the unusual step Wednesday of elevating an editorial critical of Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, above the banner on its front page.

In the editorial, which was posted online on Tuesday, The Journal-Constitution took aim at Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue for calling on Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who is also a Republican, to resign for “mismanagement and lack of transparency” in Georgia’s elections. They did not offer any specific allegations.

“Reckless barely begins to touch on what Perdue and Loeffler have done,” the editorial said. “Without presenting reasons, they have assaulted Georgia’s election system. That is dangerous behavior in this tense moment, both for this state and for the nation that is watching this risky sideshow.”

The newspaper noted that it had been critical of Mr. Raffensperger in the past, but that the charges from Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue were “hyperbole and sly accusations.”

“Their attack seems directly crafted to appeal to core supporters of President Donald Trump who has, so far, refused to acknowledge the reported results of this month’s election,” the editorial said.

Mr. Raffensperger said he had no intention of resigning.

Georgia has emerged as a political battleground, and one that is central to Mr. Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud. (Election officials there and in other states have said there is no evidence of fraud.) On Wednesday, Mr. Raffensperger authorized a hand recount of votes for the presidential election, though it is unlikely to reverse Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s current narrow lead over Mr. Trump.

Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue both face runoff elections on Jan. 5 for their Senate seats. Democrats have a chance to regain the chamber if they flip both seats.

Credit…Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

The particulars of Pfizer’s vaccine, not to mention the challenges of the pandemic, will make add complexity to the effort to distribution efforts, report The New York Times’s Rebecca Robbins and David Gelles.

The vaccine, created with the German company BioNTech, has to be stored at around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit) until shortly before it is injected. That is about the temperature of the South Pole on a winter day and colder than any of the other leading vaccines in development.

Vaccine manufactured in the United States will go into vials (five doses per vial). Vials will go into trays (195 vials per tray). Trays will go into specially designed cooler-type boxes (up to five trays per box).

The reusable boxes, each toting 1,000 to 5,000 doses and stuffed with dry ice, are equipped with GPS-enabled sensors. Pfizer employees will be able to monitor the boxes’ locations and temperatures as FedEx and UPS transport them to hospitals and clinics nationwide.

Once the Pfizer coolers reach their destinations, hospitals or pharmacies will have a few choices of how to store the vaccine. The easiest option is using ultracold freezers, but not many sites have them. Otherwise, the facilities can stash the trays in conventional freezers for up to five days. Or they can keep the vials in the cooler for up to 15 days, as long as they replenish the dry ice and do not open it more than twice a day.

Then there is the thorny question of who will receive vaccines first. That will be up to state governments.

Britain’s economy grew 15.5 percent in the third quarter compared with the previous three months, the biggest quarterly expansion since officials starting keeping records in 1955, according to the national statistics agency.

The economy surged back into action, following a deep recession in the first half of the year, after lockdown measures were eased, schools and offices were allowed to reopen, and the government funded a popular meal discount program to get people back into restaurants.

But the record expansion from July to September still left the British economy 9.7 percent smaller than it was at the end of 2019, and has been already overshadowed by the fact that economists believe Britain is in the midst of another contraction, with England under a second national lockdown. Britain passed a grim record on Wednesday, surpassing more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest in Europe.

The economic recovery started to slow in the late summer, and by September, the monthly increase in gross domestic product was just 1.1 percent. For the fourth quarter, the Bank of England has forecast that the economy will shrink by 2 percent, sending the recovery off course. That prospect prompted the government to extend its wage-subsidy program and grants to self-employed workers.

Britain’s economy is following a similar path as the rest of Europe, where a second wave of the pandemic has interrupted a recovery that began in the summer. But the data shows Britain suffering a deeper recession than other countries.

One reason for that, the Office for National Statistics noted, are differences in how Britain and the rest of Europe calculate changes to their health care and education sectors. Britain recorded a particularly steep decline in these sectors over the spring when nonurgent hospital treatments were delayed and schools were closed.

  • Stocks lost ground on Thursday as the exuberance over potential success in the development of a coronavirus vaccine faded in the face of steadily rising infections. A downbeat assessment of oil demand also cast a shadow on the markets.

  • The S&P 500 fell slightly after ending trading on Wednesday just short of its Sept. 2 record high. The Stoxx Europe 600, a benchmark index for European shares, slipped 0.3 percent, and other major indexes on the continent were about 0.5 percent lower.

  • The recent rally in oil prices also slowed after the International Energy Agency issued a report that said that the combination of a “poor outlook for demand and rising production” in countries like Libya meant that “fundamentals are too weak to offer firm support for prices.” Despite brightening prospects for a coronavirus vaccine, the agency said it did not anticipate a “significant impact” from such a breakthrough in the first half of 2021.

  • Still, U.S. stocks are up about 9 percent in November, in Wall Street’s best two-week stretch since April when markets were rebounding from their plunge over fears of the economic impact of the pandemic.

  • Most of those November’s gains came last week, as clarity over the outcome of the U.S. election raised investor sentiment, but stocks have also been jolted higher by promising news from Pfizer and BioNTech about a vaccine under development.

  • Moderna, the pharmaceutical firm developing a coronavirus vaccine, said Wednesday evening that it had accumulated enough data to begin the first preliminary analysis of its drug. The results are expected within days, and Moderna’s shares rose nearly 5 percent.

  • Still, the virus is spreading in many parts of the world seemingly unchecked. The total number of people hospitalized with the virus in the United States reached 65,368, the most at any point in the pandemic. Worldwide, the number of new infections is growing faster than ever, with many European countries hit particularly hard.

Credit…Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. tapped Ron Klain to be his White House chief of staff. Mr. Klain is a veteran Democratic operative who first worked with Mr. Biden in 1989, when Mr. Biden was a senator from Delaware. He later served as Mr. Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president, helping oversee the 2009 economic rescue package, and later acting as President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar.”

Between those stints at the White House, Mr. Klain has worked at Steve Case’s investment fund, Revolution, which has taken stakes in companies like DraftKings and Sweetgreen. “Ron joined Revolution in 2005 when it was just an idea, and helped build it into a significant venture capital firm,” Mr. Case said in an email to the DealBook newsletter. Mr. Case, the former chief executive of AOL, described Mr. Klain, most recently Revolution’s general counsel, as “a great thinker, a great manager and a great communicator.”

He recalled a party held by Mr. Biden in 2010, when Mr. Klain left the White House to return to Revolution:

Vice President Biden and his family and close advisers were there — and frankly they were a little unhappy to lose him, and made sure I knew it. I had to remind them that they had “stolen” him from us in the first place! Obviously, they now have him back!

Both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg lauded Mr. Biden’s choice of Mr. Klain, suggesting the former venture capital executive has support from different wings of the Democratic Party.

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