President Trump appeared on a special Fox News townhall event this afternoon, expressing his hope that the economy will be up and running by the Easter holidays.
Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.
Trump argued he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. He also said he worries the U.S. will see “suicides by the thousands” if coronavirus devastates the economy.
“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview.
Trump added: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”
Taking questions before Trump, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration is not considering a nationwide coronavirus lockdown like some states and cities have taken.
“I can tell you that at no point has the White House Coronavirus Task Force discussed what some people call a nationwide lockdown, or as you describe a stay at home order,” Pence said.
Pence also noted that the federal government sent 2,000 ventilators from the national stockpile to the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of coronavirus in the U.S., and vowed to send 2,000 more on Wednesday.
Pence’s comments come after the president tweeted early Tuesday saying that the government had sent just 400 ventilators to New York.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had requested some 15,000 ventilators to deal with the outbreak in the state. Both de Blasio and Cuomo have repeatedly sounded the alarm on the shortage of ventilators in New York City hospitals, as many COVID-19 patients need the machines to help them breathe. New York now has more than 25,000 positive cases of coronavirus in the state, with roughly half of that in New York City.
The president’s prediction that the U.S. economy would be up-and-running by Easter, however, was tempered by comments earlier in the day by top officials at the Pentagon who predicted the COVID-19 outbreak could last anywhere from 10 weeks to three months.
During a coronavirus town hall with U.S. forces around the world, Defense Secretary Mark Esper estimated it could take up to 10 weeks, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley went a little further saying he expected the military to be dealing with the virus for the next three months.
Trump’s enthusiasm for getting people back to work also comes as he takes stock of the political toll the outbreak is taking. It sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told WMAL on Tuesday that Trump has always heeded his recommendations.
“The president has listened to what I have said and to what the other people on the task force have said when I have made recommendations he has taken them. He’s never countered or overridden me, the idea of just pitting one against the other is just not helpful,” Fauci said.
During the Rose Garden interview, Trump also called on the Senate to pass a massive stimulus bill that is currently being debated between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The president blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for demanding a number of additional stipulations to the bill for the delay in its passage in the Senate.
“I cancelled the deal last night because Nancy Pelosi put in a lot of things that had nothing to do with the workers,” Trump said. “They start throwing Green New Deal stuff in, and the board rooms what they will look like…They have things that are just terrible, windmills everywhere.”
Arguably the most controversial aspect of the proposal, the initial GOP plan called for $208 billion in loans to larger businesses like airlines, which would have to be repaid, and a subsequent; a version released over the weekend called for $500 billion.
Ultimately, a majority of Americans are thankful President Trump is piloting the nation at this time. With characteristic common sense and straight talk, the president informed Americans yesterday that although he will listen to the advice of doctors and experts, he will make decisions that impact the country’s economy.
“Ultimately, I have to make a decision, but I certainly listen to them,” Trump said when asked if he would follow the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx about loosening national guidelines restricting the behavior of the American people.
The president spoke with reporters for over an hour and a half during a White House press briefing on Monday evening.
Trump said he had “respect” for Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx but suggested that they would likely err on the side of caution.
“If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world … and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years,’” he said. “We can’t do that.”
When asked if Fauci agreed with him that the economy should open soon, Trump replied, “He doesn’t not agree with me.”
But the president said that he would be the one making decisions about the future, citing his “double obligation” to the American people. He also warned about the rising mortality rate as a result of losing the American economy:
We have people get tremendous anxiety and depression and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies. You have death probably, definitely would be in far greater numbers than the numbers we’re talking about with regard to the virus.
He compared the mortality rates for suicides, car crashes, and the ordinary flu to the coronavirus death rate and said that had to be weighed before making a decision.
“The whole concept of death is terrible,” Trump said. “But there’s a tremendous difference between one percent and four or five.”
The president ultimately said that America could keep the economy going and fight the virus and said it would be irresponsible to shut down the country longer than necessary.
“We’re going to come up with a date and we’re going to do two things,” he said. “We can do two things at one time. At the same time, we’re going to be very vigilant.”
Trump said the tough restrictions on Americans would be “weeks not months” and said updated guidelines eventually might vary for certain age groups and different hot spots in the country.