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Trump considers reopening economy, defying doctors
As cases of the novel coronavirus soar in the United States, health experts continue to warn that the only way to "flatten the curve" of the pandemic's impact is to enforce harsh social distancing restrictions and keep Americans at home.
But President Donald Trump, less than a week after encouraging such steps in his 15-day "Coronavirus Guidelines for America," is already mulling a reversal.
"Our country wasn't built to be shut down," Trump said during his press briefing on Monday, in what has become a daily ritual. "America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. Lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself."
In tweets, retweets, and comments at the briefing on Monday, Trump publicly ruminated about pushing Americans to go back to work after his 15-day guidelines expire on March 30. According to reports, such an action would contradict the advice of public health officials — but be in line with some of his economic advisers, who are concerned about the long-term impact of keeping the American workforce on shutdown. U.S. stock markets continued to sink on Monday, fresh off of their worst week since 2008; all of the market gains made since President Trump took office have been erased since the coronavirus began to spread.
In short, the president is trapped between two competing impulses: protecting America's public health and its economic well-being.
Asked on Monday if the doctors on his coronavirus task force had endorsed an end to social distancing guidelines, Trump replied: "Not endorsed. We talked together and I think they're okay with it and I'm okay with it."
"Don’t forget, the doctors — if it were up to the doctors, they may say, 'Let’s keep it shut down. Let’s shut down the entire world,'" he added.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has signaled in multiple interviews that it will be "at least several weeks" more before people can return to their pre-pandemic routines.
However, President Trump is reportedly tiring of Dr. Fauci, who has become something of a celebrity for his blunt truth-telling at the White House briefings.
"Mr. Trump’s patience [with Dr. Fauci] has started to wear thin," the New York Times reported. "So has the patience of some White House advisers, who see Dr. Fauci as taking shots at the president in some of his interviews with print reporters while offering extensive praise for Mr. Trump in television interviews with conservative hosts."
In an interview with Science magazine this week, Dr. Fauci spoke openly of his differences with President Trump and others in the administration. "When you're dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things one, two, three, four times, and then it happens," he said. "So, I'm going to keep pushing."
While public health officials and congressional allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham have urged Trump to stay the course of social distancing, the idea of reopening the economy instead has come from a familiar source: Fox News. According to the Washington Post, numerous hosts and guests on the network (which President Trump has been known to watch faithfully) have begun calling for a reversal of the coronavirus guidelines in recent days.
One Republican politician, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, even suggested on the network Monday night that he and other septuagenarians would be willing to risk their health for the U.S. to "get back to work" quickly. "Those of us who are 70 plus, we'll take care of ourselves," he said. "But don't sacrifice the country."
According to Politico, health officials are "rattled" as they vie to "fight off" these "ascendant voices" around the president, contending that the "fallout [from the pandemc] will be worse if the White House declares victory now, only to have the virus resurface weeks or months from now."
Indeed, if President Trump were to move to reopen the economy instead of urging the virus-induced slowdown to continue, he would be moving against the grain of other countries and many U.S. states. The United Kingdom announced a nationwide lockdown on Monday, while governors of 17 states and territories have enacted similar measures. According to a Wake Up To Politics analysis, between these states and other major cities and counties, more than half of Americans — 171 million, or about 52% — are now under such stay-at-home orders.
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has now surpassed 46,000; nearly 600 Americans have died from the outbreak.
Coronavirus: Latest updates
Senate negotiations: "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that they are 'very close' to an agreement on a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue package, raising the possibility of a Senate vote on the legislation as early as Tuesday."
"Following a series of late-night meetings in Schumer's office in the Capitol — and a phone call with President Donald Trump to review the status of the discussions — Mnuchin and Schumer told reporters around midnight that they hope to have the final agreement in place in the morning." (Politico)
Olympics postponed: "The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021 on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation that the games could not go ahead as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic."
"The International Olympic Committee made the decision after speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers." (Associated Press)
Shutdown of domestic flights possible: "Major U.S. airlines are drafting plans for a potential voluntary shutdown of virtually all passenger flights across the U.S., according to industry and federal officials, as government agencies also consider ordering such a move and the nation’s air-traffic control system continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus contagion." (Wall Street Journal)
2020 campaign marches on: "President Trump calls himself a 'wartime president' and former vice president Joe Biden says the nation must 'put politics aside,' but both leaders have allowed their campaigns to launch deeply personal offensives against the other in recent days as they confront a likely general election clash before a nation grappling with a viral pandemic."
"The faceoff comes as much of the presidential campaign has been either put on hold or shifted online as the contenders retool for an new era of economic crisis and social distancing. Fundraisers have been postponed, rallies have been canceled, and new technologies are under consideration." (Washington Post)
Klobuchar's husband hospitalized: "U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced Monday that her husband John Bessler has been diagnosed with coronavirus."
. . . "Bessler, 52, has developed pneumonia and is on oxygen, but does not need a ventilator at this time, according to the statement. He received confirmation that he has coronavirus on Monday morning, five days after taking the test." (Minnesota Star Tribune)
President Donald Trump will participate in a Fox News Virtual Town Hall at 12:30 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence will participate in a call with conservative leaders on coronavirus at 10:30 a.m., participate in the Fox News Virtual Town Hall at 12 p.m., participate in a call with educators on coronavirus at 2:15 p.m., and lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 3 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of H.R.748, the legislative vehicle for the coronavirus stimulus package.
The House will meet in a pro format session at 12 p.m. No business will be conducted.
The Supreme Court has canceled its oral arguments for March.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual press briefing. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has no events scheduled.
*All times Eastern
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