Morning Brief

Will the White House Send Cash to All Americans?

The measures are part of a $1.2 trillion dollar package the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, field questions at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, field questions at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The White House pushes a massive stimulus package, EU leaders vote on travel ban, and China bans U.S. journalists.

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White House Proposes $1.2 Trillion in Stimulus Plan

Washington is considering a stimulus plan totaling $1.2 trillion to deal with the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Part of the package would involve distributing cash to every American, with a number above $1,000 expected. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to give cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said. According to the White House plan, other measures would include $300 billion in small business loans, and a further $200 billion in stabilization funds.

Will Republicans support it? U.S. Senators are under pressure to pass a separate bill that would provide paid leave and increase medical spending. The bill, which was negotiated by House Democrats and the White House, has already passed in the House of Representatives. “A number of my members think there are considerable shortcomings in the House bill. My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The willingness of a Republican administration to embrace the idea of direct cash transfers surprised many observers, given the party’s staunch opposition to the expansion of most social programs. But even libertarians are now advocating strong government-led measures given the scale of the crisis. Writing in the Washington Post, Megan McArdle urged the government to “subsidize everything” despite the fact that “those are hard words for a libertarian to say.” Given the risk to the economy and the lives of Americans, “the government will need novel, creative policymaking to minimize the damage—and not just the same old predigested ideological programs,” she wrote.

How has Europe responded? The United Kingdom has announced a package of business loan guarantees and fiscal support worth about $400 billion. France has made $50 billion available in assistance for small businesses, a further $330 billion in business loan guarantees, and has even promised to nationalize industries if necessary. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez promised a suspension of mortgage payments for workers affected by the coronavirus as well as $100 billion in loan guarantees.

Will any of these stimulus plans work? In Foreign Policy, Keith Johnson explains the stimulus options available—from mailing checks to an airline bailout—and whether they’ll have an impact.

Is it enough to stave off a recession? Not according to economists at two of the world’s biggest banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, who have joined a growing chorus of experts pointing to a global recession. So far, they predict a contraction worse than 2001 but not as bad as the world experienced in 2009.

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What We’re Following Today

EU Approves Closing Borders. Most of the 26 members of the European Schengen travel area have now agreed to close their external borders for 30 days, while still allowing some travel within the bloc, although there have been closures inside the EU, too. Austria has closed its borders with Italy, Switzerland, and Luxembourg; Switzerland has closed its borders with Germany, Austria, and France; and Portugal has partially sealed its border with Spain.

The border closure will likely soon include those Schengen zone countries not in the EU. The travel ban will not include Ireland, as the country has a passport-free travel arrangement with the United Kingdom. An Irish government spokesman said Ireland would consult with Britain on any implementation of the ban.

Another Baghdad attack. Rockets struck Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” an area including Iraq’s seat of government and a number of foreign embassies. A U.S. spokesman said the rockets landed 1.2 miles away from the U.S. embassy and there were no reports of casualties. It’s now the fourth rocket attack on international targets in the Baghdad area in just one week.

China blocks U.S. journalists. China has rescinded the press credentials of American journalists working in China at three major U.S. newspapers: the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. It also named the newspapers, along with TIME magazine and Voice of America as instruments of the U.S. government. China’s foreign ministry said the moves “were entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures” following February’s move by the Trump administration to designate many Chinese media outlets operating in the United States as tools of Beijing and enacting employment restrictions.


Keep an Eye On

Bolsonaro tested again. President Jair Bolsonaro was tested a second time for the coronavirus as members of his inner circle continue to contract the disease. His first test was reportedly negative. Meanwhile, Brazil has now recorded its first coronavirus-related death.

Coronavirus spread uncovered. A new study, published in Science magazine, has attempted to shed light on the rapid spread of the coronavirus after it was first discovered in Wuhan. The joint study from experts in China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong estimated that 86 percent of infections were not documented in the two weeks before Wuhan was eventually locked down. The study says that the spread was likely facilitated by a high number of people with only low-level symptoms.

A possible cure? A drug developed by the Japanese company Fujifilm Holdings could be effective against COVID-19, according to the Chinese government. Beijing has started recommending the drug favipiravir, sold under the brand name Avigan. “It is very safe and clearly effective,” said Zhang Xinmin, director of the science ministry’s China National Center for Biotechnology Development, in a news conference. Clinical trials were conducted on 200 patients at hospitals in Wuhan and Shenzhen. Results showed that patients who received the drug tested negative in a comparatively short time, while pneumonia symptoms were markedly reduced. On Wednesday, shares in Fujifilm shot up 15.4 percent in Tokyo in the afternoon session.

Iraq’s new prime minister. Adnan al-Zurfi, the former governor of Najaf, has been named prime minister-designate by Iraqi President Barham Salih. He now has 30 days to form a government. Zurfi is the second prime-minister designate following the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi in November and already his appointment has been denounced by Shiite groups in Iraq’s parliament, “He’s an American joker and we reject him”, one lawmaker told Reuters.


Odds and Ends

Hundreds of prisoners in four of Brazil’s low-security semi-open prisons have escaped. The mass breakout occurred when inmates were told that planned Easter holidays would be cancelled over fears of spreading the coronavirus. “These prisoners were unhappy about the decision that suspended the Easter leave,” said Lincoln Gakiya, a prosecutor in São Paulo state. “The prisoners were told and in some units, rebelled.”


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Colm Quinn is an Irish freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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