CORONAVIRUS UPDATE… The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has topped 634,000 and at least 27,900 people have died, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University. Governors of about 20 states with relatively few coronavirus cases hope to start the process of reopening their economies by May 1. In harder-hit states such as New York, California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan, governors stressed a need for more widespread testing before letting up on the coronavirus shutdown. President Trump said yesterday that he will issue federal guidelines today on reopening the economy.
TRUMP THREATENS TO SHUT DOWN CONGRESS… A frustrated President Trump yesterday issued an unprecedented threat to shut down Congress so he could fill vacancies in his administration without Senate confirmation. The threat came as lawmakers are on a two-week spring break that makes them unavailable to vote on Trump’s nominees for federal judgeships and other positions. The Senate and House of Representatives plan to return to the nation’s capital on May 4.
BIG BANKS HIT HARD BY PANDEMIC… The major banks in the U.S. are anticipating a flood of loan defaults as households and business customers take a big financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic, according to earnings reports released over the past two days. The nation’s four largest banks — Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — say the financial stress caused by the pandemic could cause borrowers to default on upwards of $71 billion in debt. Bank of America and Citigroup announced yesterday that their profits sank more than 40 percent in the first quarter as both set aside billions for potentially bad loans. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo reported the day before even steeper profit losses. The four banks set aside large sums to cover loan losses.
JUDGE REVOKES KEYSTONE PIPELINE PERMIT… A federal judge yesterday dealt a major blow to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by revoking a key permit. Judge Brian Morris said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately consider effects on endangered species the pipeline would cross. Pipeline sponsor TC Energy will need the permit for future construction across hundreds of rivers and streams along Keystone’s 1,200-mile route.
TEXAS JUDGE EXPANDS MAIL-IN BALLOTS… A Texas state judge ruled yesterday that voters who are concerned about the safety of in-person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic are eligible for mail-in voting. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party, which sought to expand alternative polling options. The temporary injunction from district judge Tim Sulak in Travis County broadens the definition of “disability” to include those with concerns about the potential health implications of in-person voting. Primary runoffs in the state are set for July 14.
BOB ODENKIRK SIGNS SONY TV PRODUCTION DEAL… Bob Odenkirk has signed a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop drama, sketch comedy and other content. Odenkirk enters the endeavor with a new production company that will “develop captivating stories filled with dynamic characters and social relevance,” according to its mission statement. Odenkirk currently stars as Saul Goodman in “Better Call Saul” after establishing the character in “Breaking Bad.” He previously co-created “Mr. Show” and wrote for “Saturday Night Live,” “The Ben Stiller Show” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
THOM YORK BRINGS SOLO TOUR TO U.S. IN FALL… Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke announced yesterday that he will bring his solo tour to the U.S. in the fall. The “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” tour was originally scheduled to begin in March but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The tour begins September 27 in Washington, D.C. and ends October 19 in Denver.
HALLADAY ON DRUGS, PERFORMED STUNTS BEFORE FATAL CRASH… Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Roy Halladay was doing extreme acrobatics and had high levels of amphetamines in his system prior to his November 7, 2017, fatal plane crash into Tampa Bay, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report issued yesterday. The report says the 40-year-old Halladay died of blunt force trauma and drowning after losing control of his small plane and nosediving into tHe water. Blood tests revealed amphetamine levels that were about 10 times therapeutic levels along with a high level of morphine and an anti-depressant that can impair judgment. The report noted that Halladay performed high-pitch climbs and steep turns, sometimes within 5 feet of the water while piloting the propeller-driven two-seat amphibious aircraft that he had bought a month earlier. During 11 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and four with the Philadelphia Phillies, Halladay was 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA. He was an eight-time All Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner.