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Next round of virus relief, early prison releases and a cautious holiday weekend

Battle lines drawn as Congress gets ready for next coronavirus relief round.
Image: Police officers wearing face masks guard the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington
Police officers wearing face masks guard the U.S. Capitol Building last week.Erin Scott / Reuters

Good morning, NBC News readers.

As the country gets set for Memorial Day weekend in the midst of the new coronavirus-norm, here's what we're watching this Friday.

Congress is getting ready to duke it out over the next round of coronavirus relief

Congress is moving toward another round of coronavirus relief as jittery Republican senators demand action and the Trump administration says more legislation is likely to be needed, with unemployment soaring and the U.S. death toll approaching 100,000.

Lawmakers are far from a deal — the Senate left town for a 10-day recess Thursday without taking up any coronavirus relief legislation.

But the battle lines are emerging in what is likely to be the most contentious negotiations yet after trillions of dollars have already been spent to ease the economic and public health devastation wrought by COVID-19.

Meantime, after weeks of opting not to wear a mask, President Donald Trump was spotted wearing a face covering with the presidential seal on it Thursday. But he refused to wear it during the public part of his tour of a Ford plant in Michigan — despite factory policy.

"I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it," Trump told reporters.

Here are some other developments:

Image: Donald Trump wears mask
Trump was spotted wearing a mask during his Ford factory tour Thursday, but refused to wear it in front of press cameras.

Early release of Trump associates shows how unfair prison system is, experts say

Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was released from federal prison on Thursday because of coronavirus concerns and will serve the rest of his three-year sentence at home.

His release comes on the heels of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's release last week to serve the rest of his 7½ year sentence in home confinement also because of COVID-19 concerns.

New data shows that Cohen and Manafort are among a small fraction of prisoners who have been sent home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many others lack legal help and connections to make their case.

Melissa Ketter, a Minnesota woman whose daughter has served just over half of her sentence for a federal nonviolent drug crime, said she almost cried when she heard about Cohen’s release.

"I'm happy for him don’t get me wrong — but at the same time it was like, the rich white guy gets out early. I don’t wish for bad things to happen to these people, but it’s like can everybody be treated the same?" Ketter said.

Image: Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen arrives at his Manhattan apartment Thursday after being released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence under home confinement.Mike Segar / Reuters

China in global spotlight as coronavirus response takes center stage at key annual meeting

The huge and highly choreographed set piece of the Chinese political calendar got underway Friday with around 3,000 Communist Party officials and military delegates descending on Beijing.

The 13th National People's Congress is predominantly an economic affair, with China setting its target for gross domestic product growth in the coming year.

But this year, China watchers will be looking for clues to how Beijing is handling the global economic slowdown, a possible second spike in infections and the growing war of words with Washington, which some have described as a new Cold War.

Image: Chinese president Xi Jinping is applauded by delegates wearing protective masks as he arrives at the opening of the National People's Congress on May 22, 2020 in Beijin
Chinese President Xi Jinping is applauded by delegates wearing protective masks as he arrives at the opening of the National People's Congress on Friday in Beijing.Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

Scientists say it's OK to go outside for Memorial Day — if you're cautious!

With Memorial Day on Monday, beaches are reopening. Cities are letting restaurants seat people outside and closing streets to encourage foot traffic. Many parks are also letting people back in.

Stay-at-home orders have been eased in many cities this week just as temperatures are warming up for the holiday weekend. And many of the changes have a distinct feature: They allow for outdoor activities.

A growing scientific consensus around the spread of the coronavirus has given the OK for people to be outdoors but with some very important caveats.

Being outside "seems to be a low-risk setting," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. "But that doesn't mean there is no risk."

Image: Mission Dolores Park In San Francisco Encourages Social Distancing With Marked Circles
Visitors sit in social distancing circles at Dolores Park in San Francisco on Wednesday.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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THINK about it

The State Department IG Mike Pompeo fired should be digging into Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Dan DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, writes in an opinion piece.


Americans are burned out working from home. Here's how to cope.


Shopping for face masks? We consulted medical experts on how to shop for face masks and rounded up those adhering to the CDC's guidelines.

Quote of the day

"Imagine seeing it not as an infringement on your freedom, but rather the simplest, easiest act of kindness that you can do in a day."

Actor-producer Dan Levy urging people who are angry about wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic to start looking at it as an act of kindness.

One fun thing

"Six and two, Tickety-boo."

The old Scottish saying that means "everything's O.K." was used by Prince William's wife Kate when the pair virtually hosted a game of bingo for a group of seniors in Cardiff, Wales.

Everyone was "90, Top of the shop," in British "bingo lingo."

Although, one resident got a laugh when she complained to the couple that the bingo calling "wasn't as good as it should have been."

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I hope you have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

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Thanks, Petra Cahill