Mnuchin Dismisses Report That U.S. Ignored Coronavirus Warnings: ‘No One Expected’ It

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday that “no one expected” the coronavirus to spread as quickly as it did, in response to a question about a recent report stating that federal government officials ignored warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about the virus as early as January.

“I’ve now been on the task force listening to the medical professionals for a long period of time,” Mnuchin said on Fox News when asked about Friday’s report in the Washington Post. “I said a few weeks ago I felt comfortable traveling on commercial airfare. I did. The situation has changed very quickly and the president has responded to that.”

According to the article, U.S. intelligence agencies issued classified warnings in January and February to members of Congress as well as the Trump administration about the potential global impact of the virus. It further warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.

Mnuchin, responding to the Post article, said he wanted to be careful when talking about “specific intelligence.” 

“I don’t think anybody should second guess the government actions. This has been moving very quickly and I think we have been responding appropriately,” he said.

Mnuchin, who said his focus is on the economic side of the outbreak, also outlined a proposed coronavirus relief package that he has been hammering out with congressional leaders of both parties in hopes of securing its passage on Monday. The package would support the economy for 10 to 12 weeks, he said.

The first proposal would provide small businesses with two weeks of cash flow to pay their workers, with the agreement that they will be retained. Should businesses agree, the loan will be forgiven, he said.

“That’s about half of our workforce,” Mnuchin said of the affected workers. “That will allow small businesses to keep people and make sure when we open the economy, they’re up and running.”

A second measure would provide direct deposits to Americans, with the average amount provided to a family of four being about $3,000.

“This you can think of as a bridge for them to get through this,” he said.

There would also be enhanced unemployment insurance to those laid off and up to $4 trillion in liquidity to support the economy, as part of an agreement with the Federal Reserve, he said.

A final proposal would provide hospitals and medical professionals economic relief. Though an exact amount has yet to be determined, he acknowledged it is expected to be about $110 billion.

“I think we have a fundamental understanding and we look forward to wrapping it up today,” he said of his work with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

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