U.S. governors unite in plea for federal aid to fight pandemic

By Maria Caspani and Doina Chiacu

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. governors from both political parties on Wednesday urged leaders in Washington to abandon partisanship and deliver relief to cities and states facing economic disaster in their efforts to battle what they called a “red, white and blue pandemic.”

The plea followed the unveiling on Tuesday of a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposal would provide funding for states, businesses and families. [nL1N2CU1J5]

Without specifically mentioning Tuesday’s bill, which faces a challenge from Republicans, the bipartisan National Governors Association asked Congress to deliver “urgent state fiscal relief.”

“This is not a red state and blue state crisis … It does not attack Democrats or Republicans. It attacks Americans,” the association’s chair, Maryland’s Larry Hogan, a Republican, and its vice chair, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, wrote in a statement citing colors applied to their respective parties.

“The nation’s governors are counting on our leaders in Washington to come together, put partisanship aside, and to get this done for the American people,” they said.

The legislation includes nearly $1 trillion in long-sought assistance for state and local governments bearing the brunt of a pandemic that has infected nearly 1.4 million people in the United States and killed more than 82,000.

Republicans in Congress want to hold off on new coronavirus relief until an assessment of the impact of nearly $3 trillion in assistance that Congress allocated since early March.

“It’s dead on arrival here,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said of the House bill.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday called the U.S. response to date “particularly swift and forceful,” but also called for additional fiscal spending to mitigate the effects of lockdowns that have shuttered businesses and forced tens of millions of Americans out of work. [nU5N2BQ002]

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, the city hardest hit by the pandemic, urged U.S. President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker who is running for a second term in November, to be “the difference maker” and back the additional funding.

“Mr. President, we’re looking to you. Your hometown is looking to you and cities and states all over the country,” de Blasio said at his daily briefing.

REOPENING

The shape of restrictions imposed because of the crisis remained a patchwork on Wednesday, with New Jersey and Iowa unveiling tentative steps to resurrect commerce and Washington, D.C., extending its stay-at-home order through June 8.

State and city officials, torn between battling the outbreak and restoring business and social life, have often acted along partisan lines, sometimes even within individual jurisdictions.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton told Democratic leaders in three counties and two cities that their local pandemic health requirements were stricter than Governor Greg Abbott’s own orders – and therefore unlawful.

Paxton on Tuesday wrote to the mayors of San Antonio and Austin and leaders in Dallas, Bexar and Travis counties that they were confusing “recommendations with requirements and have grossly exceeded state law to impose their own will on private citizens and businesses.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that his guidelines were modeled on the governor’s. “I ask the public to make decisions based on the recommendations of public health professionals: our lives depend on it,” he wrote.

In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said rallies by armed militia groups against her stay-at-home orders had undermined efforts to stanch the pandemic.

“I am going to make decisions based on facts, not based on political rhetoric or tweets,” she said on Wednesday.

Michigan, which Trump won narrowly as a Republican in the 2016 presidential election, is also considered a swing state that could decide whether he wins a second term in November.

In California, Tesla Inc and officials reached a deal to allow production to resume at the electric vehicle maker’s assembly plant in Fremont as early as Monday, county officials said. Earlier this week, CEO Elon Musk vowed to defy authorities to open the plant. [nL1N2CV0SX]

Two Canadian government sources said on Wednesday that Canada and the United States appeared likely to extend a ban on non-essential travel until June 21. Their border is a crossing point for one of the world’s largest trading relationships. [nL1N2CV0J7]

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Doina Chiacu and Makini Brice in Washington, Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Howard Goller)

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