Trump calls reopening U.S. economy ‘biggest decision of my life’ as his advisers urge against rushing
President Trump takes questions during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Friday.
In a rare moment of self-reflection, President Trump acknowledged Friday that reopening the U.S. economy will be the “the biggest decision” of his life, as the country’s coronavirus death toll bordered on becoming the highest in the world.
Trump offered the window into his mind during a nearly two-and-a half-hour long pre-Easter weekend briefing at the White House, as the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. climbed above 18,000.
“I’m going to have to make a decision and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision," Trump said toward the end of the marathon briefing. "But I would say without question it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Trump said he would move next week to appoint a second COVID-19 task force — this one consisting of “great doctors and business people” who will determine when to lift his administration’s social distancing guidelines and allow Americans to get back to work.
“I call it the ‘opening our country task force,'" said Trump, whose reelection chances could be jeopardized if the economy continues to tank.
Despite the new task force, Trump said he ultimately wouldn’t rely on anyone or anything but himself to make the momentous decision.
“The metrics right here," Trump said, pointing to his head, when a reporter asked what sort of data he’ll lean on. "That’s my metrics. That’s all I can do.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a senior member of Trump’s first COVID-19 task force and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said stay-at-home orders and other social distancing restrictions enacted in New York and other hard-hit states are proving effective, with the total U.S. death toll estimate now closer to 60,000 than the initial 240,000.
But, in remarks that appeared directed at Trump as much as the nation, Fauci advised against rushing to scrap those restrictions.
“This is not the time to feel that, since we have made such important advance in the sense of success of the mitigation, that we need to be pulling back — at all,” Fauci said.
The administration’s current social distancing guidelines — which recommend people stay at home as much as possible and refrain from gathering in groups larger than 10 — are scheduled to expire April 30.
After that, Trump could either extend the guidelines or rescind them altogether.
With unemployment figures shooting through the roof and companies of all shapes and sizes closing down, Trump has been itching to get rid of the guidelines.
But the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services warned in a joint report Friday that as many as 200,000 Americans could die if the restrictions are lifted on April 30.
Trump told reporters at the White House he hadn’t seen that report and reiterated his dubious belief that people will die regardless.
“Staying at home leads to death also. It’s very traumatic for this country," Trump said. “But staying at home, if you look at numbers, that leads to a different kind of death, perhaps ... so it’s a very big decision. It’s the biggest decision I will ever make.”
As of Friday evening, Italy was the only country with a higher coronavirus death toll than the U.S.
The U.S. toll is likely to become the highest, as there are more than 490,000 confirmed cases of the virus — far more than any other country.
Worldwide, more than 100,000 people have died from the virus. New York, with its more than 170,000 confirmed cases and at least 7,800 deaths, has emerged as a global epicenter for the respiratory scourge.
Trump’s daily White House coronavirus briefings have been marred by contradiction and misinformation, as the president tends to offer one set of advice and his health experts another.
The president also frequently veered off-topic, including jokingly telling Fauci at Friday’s briefing that he should move back to his native New York City and launch a campaign to unseat progressive Queens-Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Nonetheless, Trump demurred when asked by a reporter why he frequently dips into “happy talk.”
“There’s no happy talk,” Trump fumed. “This is the real deal ... I’ve got to make the biggest decision of my life."