Donald Trump calls himself a 'wartime' president and signs aid bill
Washington - US President Donald Trump invoked broad federal powers on Wednesday, including the ability to force production of materials by the private sector, as he called himself a "wartime president" in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Defense Production Act invoked by Trump is a law from the Korean War era that gives the president the power to steer the private sector towards national security needs in a time of crisis.
Speaking at a press conference from the White House, Trump said the order is "just in case we need it."
Trump's federal actions to cope with the economic and public health crisis are in tandem with a massive stimulus package, estimated at 1 trillion dollars, currently being hashed out in Congress.
A separate roughly 100-billion dollar package was signed into law by Trump on Wednesday after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it. The stimulus package will cover free coronavirus testing, boost unemployment insurance and paid sick leave, and comes on top of a 8.5-billion-dollar bill passed earlier.
Trump also announced that two military hospital ships will be deployed - one to New York City and another along the West Coast - to help cope with the rapidly expanding outbreak that has surged to over 9,200 cases in all 50 US states, including 149 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The Pentagon later said it could take weeks for the USNS Comfort to sail for New York as it is currently undergoing maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia. Its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, is based in San Diego on the West Coast and could be ready for deployment within days.
The US president also said the federal government will suspend home foreclosures and evictions in public housing through April.
Despite Trump's announcements Wall Street continued to reel from the crisis with markets halted for 15 minutes on Wednesday - the fourth time this month - after the S&P 500 slid more than 7 per cent, triggering the trading halt.
Markets saw a late rally, but still closed down sharply, with the S&P 500 dropping 5.18 per cent on the day, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was lower by 6.3 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq shed 4.7 per cent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has now nearly erased all the gains of Trump's three-year time in office, where he touted the once-booming stock market as a barometer of his economic success.
The US-Canada border was also closed to "non-essential traffic," with Trump saying the closure would likely last at least 30 days.
The pandemic has brought much of the nation to a standstill with dine-in restaurants, gyms and theatres closed and people encouraged to stay at home across the country.
Two members of Congress - representing districts in Florida and Utah - announced Wednesday that they tested positive for Covid-19, becoming the first national lawmakers impacted by the virus.
In New York state, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he will sign an executive order prohibiting non-essential businesses from letting more than 50 per cent of their staff work outside their homes.
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for an "urgent intervention" by the US military as the number of coronavirus cases neared 1,000 in the nation's largest city.
"We need their medical resources, their logistical know-how, we need them to help ensure that food and medicine moves around this country and our supply chain is not disrupted," he said.
Starting Monday, the New York Stock Exchange will close the floor for trading and move to electronic-only trading, because of the health concerns over the coronavirus.
Trump on Wednesday insisted on referring to Covid-19 as the "Chinese Virus," prompting concerns that his rhetoric could spur xenophobia.
"It comes from China that's why," Trump said when asked about his word choice. He blamed China, saying Beijing "could have given us a lot earlier notice" about the outbreak.dpa