Pence, Pelosi Spar on Coronavirus Testing 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sparred Sunday on the shortfall in testing people for coronavirus in the United States, but said they were close to a deal on more funding for small businesses shut by the pandemic to pay their workers and eventually reopen. Pence, the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, told “Fox News Sunday” he believes there are a “sufficient” number of test kits available throughout the country “for any state” to move into the first phase of new government guidelines to slowly return the country to work and a sense of normalcy. The U.S. is currently performing 150,000 coronavirus tests a day, but some experts say that 500,000 are needed. Pence said he thinks the government can reach 300,000 a day, which he said was a big enough number to give Americans “the confidence and tools to go back to work.” FILE – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks outside her office on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2020.However, Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, attacked President Donald Trump’s performance in handling the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. and the government’s slow response in testing. “We’re already very late” on testing in the U.S, she told Fox News. “We’re way late on that. The president gets an F.” Two governors also assailed the national government’s lax testing, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the eastern state of Maryland, who is also chair of the National Governors Association. “The administration I think is trying to ramp up testing, they are doing some things with respect to private labs,” Hogan told CNN. “But to try to push this off, to say the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren’t doing our jobs, is absolutely false.” Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia told CNN that claims by Trump and Pence that states have plenty of tests were “just delusional.” But both Pence and Pelosi said the White House and Democratic lawmakers are close to a deal to add another $250 billion to the fund to help thousands of small businesses in the U.S. that have been forced to close their operations in the face of stay-at-home orders issued by 43 of the 50 U.S. state governors to curb the spread of the virus.  FILE – President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 16, 2020, in Washington.Trump and Congress initially approved a $350 billion small business fund, but with thousands of businesses applying for the money, the fund ran out of money last week and the government stopped taking more applications for the cash.  If businesses spend the money on paying workers over the next eight weeks, the government says it will foot the bill for the payments and the businesses will not have to repay it. Otherwise, if the money is not spent on salaries for workers in the next two months, it turns in to a loan and must be repaid.  “We’re very close,” Pence said of a new deal on small business aid. Pelosi told ABC’s “This Week,” “We’re close, we have common ground,” with billions more added to the small business aid to assist hospitals that have been inundated with coronavirus patients. “The businesses will have the money in a timely fashion,” she said.  Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told CNN, “I’m very hopeful we could come to an agreement (Sunday night) or early tomorrow morning.” Republicans had initially sought new aid only for small businesses, defined as those with 500 or fewer employees, while Democrats insisted on also adding hospital aid. Democrats also sought new money for financially hard-pressed local governments, but the new deal will likely exclude that funding. Pelosi defined the Democrats’ sentiment in the negotiations as: “Let’s get as much as we can for those who are helping to fight this fight so we can soon open our economy.” Some workers in several states have taken to the streets to protest their governors’ stay-at-home edicts, which were extensions of Trump’s national guidelines to Americans to maintain social distancing of two meters or more through the end of April. Vehicles sit in gridlock during a protest in Lansing, Mich., April 15, 2020. Flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to keep people at home.But Trump, after last week issuing a three-phase plan for governors to follow to reopen their state economies, called on protesters to “liberate” the states of Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, all states led by Democratic governors who had imposed stay-at-home orders. Protesters, defying social distancing recommendations, have also taken to the streets in states led by Republican governors to protest their restrictions, but Trump did not single them out. In Texas, the protesters chanted “Fire Fauci,” attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert on the White House task force who has cautioned against reopening the country’s economy too quickly for fear of a renewed surge of the pandemic. “I think some of the governors have gotten carried away,” Trump said at one of his daily coronavirus news briefings in critiquing their orders. Pence declined to criticize the street protests, saying the demonstrators wanted their governors to adopt the White House’s “phased framework” for reopening workplaces as quickly as possible. A total of 22 million workers — more than an eighth of the country’s labor force — have been laid off because of the pandemic. The U.S. death toll now totals more than 39,000, with more than 740,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.            

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