Trump: Yes, reopening US economy will cost lives

“The people of our country should think of themselves as warriors. We have to open,” Trump declared.

By Associated Press

Making himself Exhibit A for reopening the country, President Donald Trump visited an Arizona face mask factory Tuesday, using the trip to demonstrate his determination to see an easing of stay-at-home orders even as the coronavirus remains a dire threat.

Trump did not wear a mask despite guidelines saying they should be worn inside the factory at all times.

“The people of our country should think of themselves as warriors. We have to open,” Trump declared as he left Washington on a trip that was more about the journey than the destination.

In Arizona, Trump acknowledged the human cost of returning to normalcy.

“I’m not saying anything is perfect, and yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon,” he said.

Trump’s visit came as the White House said it hopes to wind down its coronavirus task force in the coming month as the president shifts his focus from battling an “invisible enemy” to rebooting the economy.

The president spent about three hours in Phoenix, touring the Honeywell factory and holding a roundtable on Native American issues. Aides said the trip would be worth the nearly eight hours of flight time as a symbolic show that the nation is taking steps back to normalcy.

The trip was also expected to be a marker of Trump’s return to a regular travel schedule, as he hopes the nation, too, will begin to emerge from seven weeks of virus-imposed isolation.

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Trump got a first-hand view of one big impact. At the airport, Air Force One parked next to dozens of grounded commercial airliners with covered engines and taped-over probes and vents.

Trump’s first stop was a meeting with Native American leaders during which he distributed 1,000 Abbott quick virus tests.

“Native Americans have been hit hard by the terrible pandemic,” Trump said. “Hopefully, that will be helpful to you.”

Trump sees economic revival as a political imperative, as his allies have noted an erosion in support for the president in recent weeks. Republicans believe Trump’s path to a second term depends on the public’s perception of how quickly the economy rebounds from shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus.

That includes in Arizona, a key swing state, which Trump carried by less than 4 percentage points in 2016.

“I love Arizona. I have a lot of friends in Arizona. I’ve had great success over the years in Arizona,” Trump boasted as he left.

Infections rising

But even as many Americans have adhered to strict social distancing guidelines, the numbers of new infections and deaths from the virus have not decreased as quickly as hoped. Indeed, when the New York metropolitan area’s progress against the virus is taken out of the equation, numbers for the rest of the U.S. are moving in the wrong direction.

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The infection rate is rising even as states move to lift their lockdowns, an Associated Press analysis found Tuesday.

Nonetheless, the White House has begun discussions about winding down its coronavirus task force, which has already been meeting less frequently, Pence said. Its members have become fixtures on television sets across the nation, with Americans hungry for information and marooned at home.

“I think we’re having conversations about that and about what the proper time is for the task force to complete its work and for the ongoing efforts to take place on an agency by agency level,” Pence said at the White House. He said the group could wind down its work by early June.

“We’re now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening,” Trump said in Arizona, “and we’ll have a different group, probably, set up for that.”

Asked about his statements in February playing down the threat of the virus, Trump told ABC in an interview that medical experts also had underestimated the risk and added: “I want to be optimistic. I don’t want to be Mr. Doom and Gloom. It’s a very bad subject. I’m not looking to tell the American people when nobody really knows what is happening yet, ‘Oh this is going to be so tragic.’”

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Trump is seeking to pivot his focus away from the virus’s spread and toward more familiar — and, aides hope, politically safer — ground: talking up the economy. As more states have begun to ease closure orders, despite warnings that that could lead to spikes in new cases, Trump has been trying to highlight his administration’s work in helping businesses and employees rebound.

To that point, aides said the president would hold more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future “phase four” recovery package.

Pence told reporters at a White House briefing Tuesday that the U.S. could be “in a very different place” come late May and early June “as we continue to practice social distancing and states engage in safe and responsible reopening plans.”

The administration is beginning to eye that window as the appropriate time for federal agencies to begin managing the pandemic response “in a more traditional way,” he said.