Trump taps emergency powers as virus relief plan proceeds

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President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Describing himself as a “wartime president” fighting an invisible enemy, President Donald Trump on Wednesday invoked rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the coronavirus pandemic. Trump also signed an aid package — which the Senate approved earlier Wednesday — that will guarantee sick leave to workers who fall ill.

Trump tapped his authority under the 70-year-old Defense Production Act to give the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.

Yet he seemed to minimize the urgency of the decision, later tweeting that he "only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future."

"Hopefully there will be no need," he added, “but we are all in this TOGETHER!”

The mixed messaging came as Trump took a series of other extraordinary steps to steady the nation, its day-to-day life suddenly and fundamentally altered.

The Canada-U.S. border, the world's longest, was effectively closed, save for commerce and essential travel, while the administration pushed its plan to send relief checks to millions of Americans.

Trump said he will expand the nation's diagnostic testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast. And the Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through April to help the growing number of Americans who face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.

But as Trump laid out efforts to help the economy, markets plummeted. Gone were nearly all the gains that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had made since Trump took office.