President Trump weighs controls on companies that take coronavirus bailouts
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday the government should take an equity stake in some companies that need bailouts because of devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy.
Trump told a briefing he has executive authority to curb the impact on businesses. "There's a lot of executive power," he said. “If we don't have to use it, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Such a move could be an extraordinary reach by government into the private sector. He said he’d specifically target companies that did stock buybacks, rather than investing in infrastructure. Trump also said he’d back restrictions on executive bonuses and future buybacks from companies receiving federal support.
Trump reported Thursday on therapeutic drugs that might hold potential down the road to treat those suffering with COVID-19 and stepped up criticism of China for not telling the world earlier about what has become a pandemic.
"More help is on the way," Trump said at a White House briefing on the spread of the virus.
Trump and FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn described several approaches under testing, such as chloroquine, a drug long used to treat malaria; remdesivir, an experimental antiviral that's being tried in at least five separate experiments, and possibly antibodies culled from the blood of COVID-19 patients after they recover. But no new and imminent treatment was announced.
Chloroquine is widely available now and could be used off-label, but Hahn said officials want a formal study to get good information on safety and effectiveness.
"We're looking at drugs that are already approved for other indications" as a potential bridge or stopgap until studies are completed on other drugs under investigation, Hahn said. But there remains no proven treatment for the disease, from which most people recover.
Trump, who planned to visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday, has invoked rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the coronavirus pandemic. Trump also signed an aid package — which the Senate approved earlier Wednesday — that will guarantee sick leave to workers who fall ill.
Trump jabbed at China, where the virus was first reported, contending: “Could have been stopped. Could have been stopped. Could have been stopped pretty easily." He said Chinese officials “didn't decide to make it public” in time to stop the virus from going global.
The pandemic was starting to show its effects in the job market. The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits surged last week by 70,000.
The Canada-U.S. border, the world's longest, was effectively closed, save for commerce and essential travel, while the administration pushed its plan to send relief checks to millions of Americans.
Trump says he is expanding the nation's diagnostic testing capacity and deploying a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast. And the Housing and Urban Development Department is suspending foreclosures and evictions through April to help the growing number of Americans who face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.
On Wednesday the Senate overwhelmingly passed a second coronavirus response bill, which Trump signed Wednesday night. The vote was a lopsided 90-8 despite worries by many Republicans about a temporary new employer mandate to provide sick leave to workers who get COVID-19. The measure is also aimed at making tests for the virus free.