WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday reached the extraordinary milestone of five million coronavirus cases as President Donald Trump was accused of flouting the constitution by unilaterally extending a virus relief package.
The US has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, recording nearly 163,000 deaths — by far the highest of any country, ahead only of Brazil, which on Saturday became the second country to pass 100,000 deaths.
The global death toll is at least 727,288 since the novel coronavirus emerged in China last December, according to a running tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Nearly 20 million cases have been registered worldwide — probably reflecting only a fraction of the actual number of infections.
As around much of the globe, the small African country of Malawi on Sunday imposed tight social restrictions to try to contain the disease, shutting all bars and churches, while hot weekend weather drew crowds in Europe to the beach.
In Washington, the new virus relief package — announced by Trump on Saturday after talks between Republican and Democrat lawmakers hit a wall — was “absurdly unconstitutional,” senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told CNN.
Fellow Democrat and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, appearing on ABC, dismissed Trump’s unilateral measures as “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”
But with the nation’s economy still struggling to dig itself out of an enormous hole, Democrats appeared skittish about any legal challenge to a relief package they see as seriously inadequate.
The four executive orders Trump signed Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey will, among other things, defer payroll taxes and provide some temporary unemployment benefits.
The president was seen as keen to show himself taking decisive action ahead of a November 3 election that could see him ousted from office, with polls showing a large majority of voters unhappy with his handling of the crisis.
On Sunday night, Trump blamed what he called Democratic stubbornness for his being forced to take executive action.
“The Democrats were unwilling to do anything,” Trump told reporters as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington.
“It was time to act,” he said. “We have to get money out to the people.”
Democrats say the president’s orders infringe on Congress’s constitutional authority over the federal budget.
But Pelosi demurred when asked about possible legal action, saying, “Whether (it was) legal or not takes time to figure out.”
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow defended the new measures.
“Maybe we’re going to go to court on them. We’re going to go ahead with our actions anyway,” he said.
Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Joe Biden, tweeted that five million coronavirus cases was “a number that boggles the mind and breaks the heart.