The president appears in public with Anthony Fauci, his infectious disease official, and Deborah Birx, a State Department infectious disease expert, daily. Mr Fauci told reporters he had a candid conversation with Mr Trump in the Oval Office just before the two, along with Dr Birx and other officials, appeared in the briefing room for a coronavirus update.
But it appears the president did not inform the duo and other members of his coronavirus task force that he was going to tell Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer during an afternoon town hall program that he wants all or most of the country “open for business” by 12 April.
Stephanie Grisham stopped by Fox News studios in Washington, DC, before her first day back at the White House after 14 days of self-quarantining at home after coming in contact with a Brazilian official at Mr Trump’s South Florida resort who later tested positive. The White House press secretary was asked whether the president huddled with his experts before making the declaration, which has been panned by Democrats and health experts.
“I don’t know how well informed they were,” Ms Grisham admitted.
She echoed her boss by saying “the president listens to his medical team.”
But, when it comes to just when Mr Trump might say parts or all of the country should go back to work, Ms Grisham made clear who will make the call — even if governors and mayors will not be bound by it.
“They’ll make some recommendations and he’ll make a final decision,” she said of the Fauci-Birx team and Mr Trump.
Her comments came hours after the Senate passed a $2tn economic stimulus package intended to shore up the US economy amid the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of jobs already have been lost and a Labor Department unemployment report due Thursday morning is expected to report a substantial number more — likely sending stock markets back into a free fall.
That measure contains billions in direct payments to Americans, loans for small and large business and enhanced unemployment benefits.
The upper chamber is expected to vote on the measure later Wednesday, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi trying to find a way to pass it and send it to Mr Trump’s desk without calling the 435-member lower chamber back to Washington.
Ms Grisham told Fox News that the president “looks forward” to the Senate vote and is ready to sign the massive stimulus package into law.
‘Rally’ around Trump?
That signature will come as a majority of Americans, 60 percent, approve of the president’s handling of the pandemic crisis.
That’s according to the nonpartisan Gallup organisation, which found a majority of a key voting bloc, independents, approve of his crisis management. Sixty per cent of that group voiced approval, as did 94 per cent of Republicans and 27 per cent of Democrats.
The same survey also put Mr Trump’s approval rating at 49 per cent, tying the highest level of his term.
The Gallup poll, which has a 4 per cent margin of error, was conducted March 13-22, a time period during which Mr Trump shifted from his dismissive tone about the scope and severity of the virus to a more serious and measured one. His overall approval rating jumped 5 points from the last version of the survey, taken March 2-13.
Notably, his approval rating jumped 8 points among independents and 6 points among Democrats.
“Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic may be behind his higher overall approval rating,” according to Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones.
Another likely reason is what Mr Jones calls the “presidential approval rally effect.”
“His rating shows a fairly sudden increase, and that increase is seen among both independents and Democrats — both highly unusual for Trump in particular,” he said. “Historically, presidential job approval has increased when the nation is under threat. Every president from Franklin Roosevelt through George W Bush saw their approval rating surge at least 10 points after a significant national event of this kind.”