Donald Trump stepped back a bit from his pledge to get the entire country “back to work” by Easter, saying on Wednesday he might “do sections” at a time instead.
The president on Tuesday raised the ire of Democrats and some public health experts by announcing during a Fox News broadcast from the White House Rose Garden that he wants the country “open for business” by 12 April. He began to hedge Tuesday evening during his daily coronavirus press briefing, floating the idea of opening states or entire regions first that are not as hard hit as places like New York City and Washington state.
He kept that walk back going on Wednesday evening.
“So we’re going to be talking, and it could be we’ll do sections of our country,” he told reporters. “There’s big sections of our country that are, you know, little affected by what’s taking place.”
He added: “Then there are other sections that are very heavily affected, so there’s a big difference. I would say by Easter we’ll have a recommendation and maybe before Easter.”
But, as often happens, his possible timeline for making a decision on giving a non-binding order that “sections” be “open for business” once again was inconsistent. He and leaders at the national, state and local level have all displayed a lack of clarity and consistency since the outbreak began.
“At the end of the 15th day, I think we’ll have some kind of a recommendation,” he said, referring to Monday, the final day of a White House-set period of shutting down much of the country and economy to try stopping the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Still, despite the hedging, Mr Trump made clear before abruptly leaving the James S Brady Briefing Room that he is intent on getting a good portion of the country back to normal much sooner than even Republican lawmakers suggest.
“Our country wants to get back to work,” he said. “Our country was built to get back to work. We don’t have a country where they say, ‘Hey, let’s close it down for two years. We can’t do that. It’s not our country.”
But on Capitol Hill earlier in the day, a Trump ally, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said he expected existing “aggressive containment measures” to remain in place for some time.
Echoing some conservative commentators and financial figures, the president warned “the longer we stay out, the harder it is to bring this incredible, we’re having the most successful years that we’ve ever had in the history of our country [economically].” (Economists, however, say that while the US economic engine has purred under his watch, it has done so louder under previous chiefs executive.)
And as the president kept driving towards opening parts of the country, his top infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, warned that Americans should “be prepared for another cycle”.
Mr Trump flashed his combative side during the daily virus press briefing, saying “there are some people in your profession that write fake news” to one reporter. He accused some in the media of rooting for an economic slowdown so it would damage him politically.
He also repeated his claim that had he not shut down travellers from China, where the novel virus went public, “thousands” more Americans would already be dead. The death toll, on which he appears largely focused, crested 900 in the United States on Wednesday.
The president spent the opening minutes of the session once again seemingly obsessed about size.
He lauded the $2.2trn size of the bill, saying Congress never has taken up and approved a single piece of legislation of that dollar amount.
He said his South Korean counterpart called to tout the federal government’s testing efforts – even though Democrats have slammed it as too slow and at first ineffective.
The president has spent much of the week focused on the virus death toll in the United States, which on Wednesday crested 900. Asked how many deaths he thinks is acceptable, he curtly replied: “Zero.”
Mr Trump repeated his Tuesday evening idea of opening some portions of the US while keeping the hardest-hit cities and regions under some restrictions. And he called the notion of testing everyone inside the US – “ridiculous”.