Trump’s Guidelines to Reopen The Economy is Putting the Responsibility on Governors.

Written by on April 21, 2020

WASHINGTON—President Trump is planning to outline new federal guidelines for opening up the country that will put the onus on governors to decide how to restart the economies in their states amid mounting fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

The new guidelines come as lawmakers and business leaders press the administration to expand virus testing, and days after Mr. Trump said that he—not governors—was the final arbiter on when to reopen the country.

“The buck stops with the governors,” said one senior administration official involved with the planning.

The new guidelines, formally known as Opening Up America Again, will include medical data on a county-by-county level, White House officials said. The guidelines won’t suggest reopening dates, and it was unclear whether they would provide a recommendation on a time frame to reopen based on the data.

The president previewed the guidelines during a call with governors this afternoon, the officials said.

“You’re going to call your own shots,” Mr. Trump told the governors, according to a person who was briefed on the call. “We’ll be standing right alongside of you and we’re going to get our country open.”

Mr. Trump praised the guidelines and said he wanted to get the country running again. He told the governors that some states were in “good shape” to open quickly, even before May 1 if they want, though other states may need to take longer, said the person briefed on the call.

He also said the country’s testing capabilities are excellent, adding that the testing process has improved from early versions that involved sticking a swab into the nasal cavity.

“I was a victim of the first test, meaning I had to go through it and I didn’t like what was happening when they tell you that it goes up your nose and they hang a right at your eye and it goes right to your eye,” Mr. Trump said, according to the person. “You’ve got to be kidding. I called it an operation, not a test.”

The president will formally announce the guidelines during a Thursday evening White House news conference. A White House official said there was consensus on the new guidelines from the administration’s public health advisers, including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.

Lifting the restrictions has been the subject of fierce debate both inside and outside the Trump administration, at times pitting economic policy makers eager to reverse massive job losses against public health experts concerned about a resurgence of cases.

It will ultimately be up to individual governors to formally lift state stay-at-home orders. While some governors are looking to the federal government for guidance and may feel political pressure to follow Mr. Trump’s lead, most governors will make the decision based on evolving conditions in their states.

Some states have already extended restrictions past April 30. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Thursday that nonessential businesses in his state would remain closed at least through May 15.

Mr. Cuomo is part of a coalition of East Coast governors consulting each other on coronavirus guidelines. A similar group exists on the West Coast, and a bipartisan group of seven Midwestern governors said Thursday it would do the same.

In recent days, Mr. Trump has touted his relationships with governors, stressing that he will work closely with them as they weigh plans to reopen. During a Wednesday news conference, the president maintained that the federal government has the power to overrule governors’ decisions about reopening, a contention that is disputed by constitutional experts.

“We would have the right to close down what they’re doing if we want to do that,” he said. “But we don’t want to do that.”

At the same time, the president has emphasized that states have responsibility for obtaining crucial medical supplies and coronavirus tests, positioning the federal government, which has faced criticism for its response to the outbreak, as a backup. The president has criticized some governors, including Mr. Cuomo, with the two men publicly trading barbs in recent days.

Public health experts, including some in the Trump administration, have warned that reopening the country too soon could prompt a second wave of coronavirus cases, undercut ongoing mitigation efforts and overwhelm the health-care system. Dr. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said this week that the country lacked the testing and virus-tracing capabilities needed to reopen. Some business executives raised similar concerns during a teleconference with Mr. Trump on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump held phone briefings on Thursday with House and Senate lawmakers. The White House announced a coronavirus advisory group made up of elected officials, part of a broader task force of more than 200 business executives that Mr. Trump established this week.

The bipartisan group includes all Republican members of the Senate, except Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Mr. Trump in the impeachment trial in February. Twelve Senate Democrats will serve on the committee, alongside 32 House members—22 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

The president opened a call with several House lawmakers by touting his response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying he had done a lot of things right, according to people who were on the call.

Lawmakers from both parties repeatedly told the White House that testing for coronavirus needed to be expanded to reopen the government, as well as contact tracing.

Vice President Mike Pence said that the guidelines they plan to release would be a checklist for states to use. “If they meet various criteria, then they are good to go, and in the absence of that, then they might not be,” one of the people said of the vice president’s remarks. Mr. Pence didn’t go into detail, according to two people on the call.

On a separate call with senators, Mr. Trump again heard bipartisan calls to ramp up testing. He said the country’s testing system had steadily advanced, according to a person familiar with the matter. He pointed to a newly developed saliva test, arguing it would make it easier for people to determine whether they have the virus.

The U.S. has conducted more than 3 million tests for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, since the start of the outbreak. Experts say the level of testing would need to increase to millions of tests a week before Americans can return to work in large numbers.

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Dr. Fauci sought to play down expectations about reopening the country in its entirety and instead characterized the process as a “rolling re-entry.”

Because of varying caseloads in different states, Dr. Fauci said, “There will be some areas of the country which will really be much, much more attuned to and ready to be able to get more towards the normality than others.”

Dr. Fauci again emphasized the need for mechanisms to contain the virus, such as rapid testing and contact tracing, to be in place in order for officials to slowly lift current restrictions on the public.

Mr. Trump is eager to reopen the country as soon as possible, according to White House officials, who are closely tracking the ailing economy. Another 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total seeking aid in a month of coronavirus-related shutdowns to 22 million.

The president has said he is consulting with his administration’s health experts as he crafts the guidelines. The president extended the administration’s initial set of social distancing guidelines through the end of April after consulting with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator. Mr. Trump has said he believes some states can reopen before the current social-distancing guidelines lapse.

“I can assure you that the guidance being put out today is in line with what the experts are saying, it’s in line with what the data is showing, and it’s a plan to put this economy back on track,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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