Senate passes virus aid bill; Trump to sign ‘temporary suspension’ of immigration

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A $483 billion coronavirus aid package flew through the Senate on Tuesday after Congress and the White House reached a deal to replenish a small-business payroll fund and provided new money for hospitals and testing.

Passage was swift and unanimous, despite opposition from conservative Republicans. President Donald Trump tweeted his support, pledging to sign it into law. It now goes to the House, with votes set for Thursday.

“I urge the House to pass the bill,” Trump said at the White House.

After nearly two weeks of negotiations and deadlock, Congress and the White House reached agreement Tuesday on the nearly $500 billion package — the fourth as Washington strains to respond to the health and economic crisis.

“The Senate is continuing to stand by the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to an almost empty chamber.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill was made “better and broader” after Democrats forced the inclusion of money for hospitals and testing.

A copy of the measure was provided to The Associated Press by a GOP aide.

Most of the funding, $331 billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program that ran out of money last week. An additional $75 billion would be given to hospitals, and $25 billion would be spent to boost testing for the virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen state economies.

Missing from the package, however, was extra funding for state and local governments staring down budget holes and desperate to avert furloughs and layoffs of workers needed to keep cities running.

Trump said he was open to including in a subsequent virus aid package fiscal relief for state and local government — which Democrats wanted for the current bill — along with infrastructure projects.

Also, Trump announced what he described as a “temporary suspension of immigration into the United States” on Tuesday. But he said the executive order he plans to sign as soon as Wednesday would apply only to those seeking permanent residency and not temporary workers.

Trump said he would be placing a 60-day pause on the issuance of green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in a U.S. economy wrecked by the coronavirus. But he said there would be “certain exemptions” included in the order, which staff were still crafting Tuesday.

An administration official familiar with the plans had said earlier the order would be focused on preventing people from winning permission to live and work in the U.S. That would include those seeking employment-based green cards and relatives of green card holders who are not citizens. Americans who wish to bring immediate family to the country would still be able to do so, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the plan was announced. About one million people were granted green cards last year.

While a hard stop on immigration would normally affect millions of people, much of the immigration system has already ground to a halt because of the pandemic. Almost all visa processing by the State Department has been suspended for weeks. Travel to the U.S. has been restricted from much of the globe. And Trump has used the virus to effectively end asylum at U.S. borders, including turning away children who arrive by themselves and putting a hold on refugee resettlement — something Congress, the courts and international law hadn’t previously allowed.

Criticism of Trump’s new announcement was swift, especially his timing during the pandemic. Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, noted that thousands of foreign-born health care workers are currently treating people with COVID-19 and working in critical sectors of the economy.

Andrea Flores of the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump seemed “more interested in fanning anti-immigrant flames than in saving lives.”

But Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower rates of immigration, said that eliminating millions of work permits and visas would “instantaneously create” new jobs for Americans and other legal workers — even though most businesses are shuttered because of social distancing dictates and stay-at-home orders.

Trump has often pivoted to his signature issue of immigration when he’s under criticism. It’s one he believes helped him win the 2016 election and one that continues to animate his loyal base of supporters heading into what is expected to be a brutal reelection fight. It has also served as a useful tool for distracting from news he’d prefer removed from the headlines.

Watch the full White House briefing below.

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