On Politics: The Bill’s Being Sold. Does It Have the Goods?

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  • The Senate finally passed its $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill late Wednesday night — putting the largest spending package in the country’s history on a cruise course to the president’s desk. The House is expected to approve it on Friday, and it could become law by the end of the week. But the bill isn’t without its detractors. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it “would really be terrible for the State of New York.” A group of Republican senators objected to its expansion of jobless benefits, until Bernie Sanders threatened to hold it up in retaliation over what he called insufficient worker protections. And yet it ultimately passed 96 to 0, with the Senate agreeing that it was essential to keeping the economy afloat. The legislation beefs up unemployment compensation and offers loans and other forms of support to keep businesses open. Also notable: Its fine print is teeming with long-sought provisions for specific industries and interest groups — including a hotel-industry carveout that could benefit President Trump’s businesses.

  • As written, the bill is a mix of loans, payments and benefits. It contains small-business loans designed to keep employees on the payroll; one-time payments of $1,200 to many Americans; expanded unemployment benefits for a period of four months; $500 billion in funding for the Federal Reserve to use in a program of business grants, which administration officials say could bloom to $4 trillion through leveraging and investments; $100 billion toward medical care; and $150 billion to state antivirus efforts.

  • Cuomo’s criticism of the bill comes from a calculation: His office said that based on a draft bill’s contents, New York State stands to receive roughly $3.8 billion in funding — far short of the up to $15 billion the governor says he needs to pay for coronavirus response efforts. New York has experienced the sharpest increase in confirmed cases of any state over the past week, and at more than 30,000 on Wednesday, it has by far the highest number confirmed over all.

  • Joe Biden’s main focus right now is competing for attention with Trump. The president’s daily news conferences give him a big microphone throughout this crisis, and these appearances are probably contributing to a bump in his approval ratings (no matter the veracity of his claims at them). But Biden also has to contend with Sanders, who has not dropped out of the Democratic primary race and is arguing for stronger government intervention for working people during the coronavirus outbreak. Once again, it seems that Sanders is ahead of Biden on message, even if he’s far behind him on voter support. Sanders’s campaign said he would welcome the opportunity to debate Biden again in April, but on Wednesday Biden said: Been there, done that. “I think we’ve had enough debates,” he told reporters from his home. “I think we should get on with this.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday at the Javits Center in New York, where workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were constructing a makeshift hospital for coronavirus patients.

President Trump’s briefings have become must-see TV. Some journalists and public health experts aren’t sure that’s a good thing.

Even by the standards of a crazy news cycle, the cable news ratings for the daily White House coronavirus briefing are eye-popping: 12.2 million people watched on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC on Monday, the kind of Nielsen stat usually reserved for prime-time football. Millions more tuned in via ABC, CBS, NBC and online streams.

The concern is that Mr. Trump’s misleading and sometimes false remarks are being beamed unfiltered to a mass audience. “Training a camera on a live event, and just letting it play out, is technology, not journalism; journalism requires editing and context,” the veteran anchor Ted Koppel told me.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say news networks should not be in the business of preventing the public from seeing their president speak during the crisis, and TV executives tend to agree. With occasional exceptions, the major networks continue to carry the briefings live.

And the TV viewership may continue to rise as millions more Americans are instructed to remain in their homes indefinitely.

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