Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual townhall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
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.
Democrats have complained that the Republican-led draft of the aid package did not go far enough to provide health care and unemployment aid for Americans, and failed to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion "slush fund" for corporations, saying the ban on corporate stock buy-backs are weak and the limits on executive pay would last only two years.
Schumer said Democrats also want included in the bill new collective bargaining powers for unions, higher fuel emissions standards for airlines, and expanded wind and solar tax credits.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., McConnell accused Democrats of trying to extract concessions from airlines over their "carbon footprint," with the economy hanging in the balance.
“They ought to be embarrassed,” he said on Monday. “This is no time for this nonsense.”
The nearly $2 trillion stimulus package would include direct financial help to Americans in the form of stimulus checks sent out to many Americans. The proposal would include a one-time payment of $1,200 per adult, $2,400 per couple in the U.S. and up to $3,000 for a family of four.
An estimated $350 billion would be provided for small businesses to keep making payroll. Companies with 500 or fewer employees could tap up to $10 million each in forgivable small business loans to keep paychecks flowing. The program would provide 8 weeks of assistance through federally guaranteed loans qualifying employers who maintain payroll; if they do, other costs like mortgage interest, rent, and utilities would be forgiven.
The bill also includes an additional $242 billion in additional emergency appropriations to fight the virus and shore up for safety net programs. That includes money for food stamps, child nutrition, hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and public health and transportation agencies. The figure has gone significantly higher during talks over the weekend.
Fox News' Brooke Singman, Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.