Trump Tries to Reassure Lawmakers on Virus Testing
President Donald Trump sought to reassure lawmakers on Thursday that coronavirus testing is improving, as he prepared to unveil new guidelines for some parts of the country to lift stay-at-home measures that have crippled the U.S. economy.
Trump, in a call with senators on Thursday, said that a self-administered saliva test and diagnostics to detect antibodies were closer to being widely available, two people familiar with the call said.
In one exchange, Republican Senator Pat Toomey said some counties in his home state of Pennsylvania had virtually no cases, urging Trump to support a resumption of economic activity in such areas even before universal testing is available. Trump told the senator he strongly agreed, the people said.
But tensions flared as other lawmakers warned that reopening too soon could spark a second wave of the outbreak. Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware cautioned the president to be guided by science and refrain from relaxing rules until the crisis abates.
Trump offered a curt thanks for Carper’s comments and moved on to the next lawmaker, one of the people said.
Trump plans to reveal guidelines later Thursday for parts of the country to begin reopening. The announcement is an opportunity for the president to take a victory lap in the fight against coronavirus, which has sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin. Roughly 22 million Americans havefiled for unemployment claims in the past three weeks, effectively erasing a decade of job creation.
John Kennedy, a Republican senator from Louisiana, said on the call Thursday that the U.S. economy could collapse if the nation remains largely shut down. Trump responded that some governors may be able to relax distancing rules in areas with few cases by the end of the month. The federal guidelines are set to expire April 30.
Several lawmakers echoed concerns business executives raised with Trump on Wednesday, saying that testing capacity needs to be dramatically expanded in order to catch asymptomatic people who might be spreading the virus. Some senators also told Trump that without a widely available therapeutic drug, many Americans would be afraid to go back to their workplaces.
Trump suggested he might consider an executive action to expand access to prescription treatments. He has for weeks touted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential therapy for coronavirus. The medicine has been administered to many patients, but it isn’t yet proven effective against the disease and the medical community hasn’t publicly echoed Trump’s endorsement.
The president told lawmakers Thursday that the country would be opening soon, but that every state would go about it differently. He said that states would be responsible for managing testing, while arguing that U.S. tests are superior to those of other countries.
Trump also hit China, saying the U.S. received no notice from the Chinese government about the threat posed by the coronavirus.
Tensions between Trump and states over when and how to reopen the economy boiled over this week. On Tuesday, the president backed away from an earlier claim that he has “ultimate authority” to reopen the country after broad criticism from legal scholars and governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who warned of “a constitutional crisis like you haven’t seen in decades” if the president sought to lift social-distancing requirements over states’ objections.
As Trump spoke to the senators, Cuomo announced that New York would remain under a lock-down until at least May 15.
The 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserves for states all powers that aren’t specifically granted to the federal government.
“They know when it’s time to open, and we don’t want to put pressure on anybody,” Trump said Tuesday at a White House briefing. “I’m not going to put any pressure on any governor to open.”
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