White House seeks to block funds for coronavirus testing and tracing in relief bill

The White House is trying to block billions of dollars for coronavirus testing and contact tracing in the upcoming stimulus relief bill, two Republican sources told NBC News, even as infections surge across the country and Americans face long wait times to receive test results amid high demand.  

Senate GOP lawmakers, in a break with the administration, are pushing back and trying to keep the money for testing and tracing in the bill, the sources told NBC News. Some White House officials reportedly believe new money shouldn’t be allocated for testing because previous funds remain unspent. 

The White House declined CNBC’s request for comment. The Washington Post first reported the news. 

The Trump administration also wants to block billions of dollars that would go toward bolstering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pentagon and the State Department to combat the pandemic, The Post reported Saturday, citing people familiar with the deliberations.  

While moving to block testing assistance, the Trump administration is trying to use the legislation to fund priorities unrelated to the pandemic such as a new FBI building, according to the Post. 

The White House effort to block funding for testing comes after the administration relied on overly optimistic models which suggested the U.S. moved past the peak of the outbreak in the spring, according to a report in the New York Times. As a result, the administration pushed to reopen the economy and shifted responsibility for responding to the pandemic from the federal government to the states with disastrous results, according to the Times. 

President Trump has called coronavirus testing a “double-edged sword” and suggested at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma that officials should slow testing down. White House officials later said Trump was joking.

However, the Times report portrayed a president who feels boxed because cases counts inevitably increase as more people are tested, jeopardizing the reopening of the economy and damaging his re-election chances. 

Trump, when confronted with a chart showing surging infections in the U.S., dismissed the data in a Fox News interview, telling anchor Chris Wallace that if the nation tested less there would be fewer cases. The U.S. hit a record 77,225 new cases on July 16, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

“Chris, that’s because we have great testing, because we have the best testing in the world,” Trump said. “If we didn’t test, you wouldn’t be able to show that chart. If we tested half as much, those numbers would be down.”

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to unveil a coronavirus relief plan this coming week when the Senate returns from its two-week Fourth of July recess. The Republican last week said that “kids in school, jobs and health care are likely to be the focus of the bill.”

Leaders in the Democratic-held House and GOP-controlled Senate acknowledged earlier this month that they need to approve more aid to combat the disease’s raid spread while supporting the economy and schools.

The White House deliberations come as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to spike nationally. Dozens of states encountered resurgences after reopening their economies. Only nine U.S. states have the virus under control and just three are on track to contain Covid-19, according to the tracking project Covid Act Now.  

On Saturday, the United States reported 71,558 new cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, marking the second consecutive day that the country has seen at least 70,000 new cases. Average daily new cases have increased 18.34% nationwide compared to one week ago as of Saturday, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins’ data. 

The coronavirus outbreak has spread worldwide, with more than 14 million confirmed cases and over 597,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has had more than 3.6 million cases and  at least 139,302 deaths, according to the latest tallies, more than any other country. 

CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

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