Trump Pivots to ‘Phase Two,’ Risking More Death to Save Economy

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President Donald Trump fixed his course on reopening the nation for business, acknowledging that the move would cause more illness and death from the pandemic but insisting it’s a cost he’s willing to pay to get the economy back on track.

Trump shifted his rhetoric on Tuesday, removing cautionary caveats about when and whether states should reopen and instead presenting the imminent easing of stay-at-home rules as a fait accompli.

As governors across the South and Midwest have begun returning people to work, Trump said he’s pivoting to “phase two” of the nation’s response to the pandemic, a step that will include disbanding the White House coronavirus task force, a group of public health experts that has been advising the administration on how to confront the outbreak.

The president has for more than a month clamored for a return to normal, stuck between the devastating human cost of the pandemic and the calamity that has befallen the economy as social-distancing measures pushed more than 30 million people into unemployment in a matter of weeks.

Tuesday marked the first time he clearly and unreservedly laid out his own cost-benefit analysis of the situation.

“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes,” Trump said. “But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

On his visit to a Phoenix Honeywell International Inc. factory producing medical masks, Trump encouraged Americans to think of themselves as “warriors” as they consider leaving their homes, a tacit acknowledgment of deep public reservations about reopening the country too soon.

The U.S. continues to endure the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world, with about 1.2 million people infected and more than 70,000 killed so far.

Speaking separately in an ABC News interview broadcast on Tuesday evening, Trump said closing down the nation was “the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

And while as recently as April 22, he criticized Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for reopening salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and gyms, on Tuesday he was resolute about getting people back to work.

“There’ll be more death,” he said. “The virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal.”

“But it’s been a rough process. There is no question about it,” Trump said. “I think our economy is going to be raging” next year, he added.

No Face Mask

While in Phoenix, Trump encouraged states to ease social-distancing measures and allow businesses to reopen, though he cautioned that it should be done “safely.”

Yet the president declined to set an example for the nation by engaging in one government-recommended safety protocol himself: wearing a face mask. As he toured the Honeywell plant, Trump wore only safety goggles. Music from his standard campaign rally soundtrack played over loudspeakers, including Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and Guns N’ Roses’s version of “Live and Let Die.”

Senior White House officials also did not don the masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend when social distancing isn’t possible. Factory workers, members of the press and other support staff did. Trump also lamented that he had to stand six feet apart from two supporters during his speech, including one who was wearing a sequined denim vest with his campaign slogan.

Trump said that “doctors” he didn’t name had advised him to close the economy “for a couple of years.”

“I created, with a lot of other very talented people and the people of our country, the greatest economy in the history of the world. The greatest that we’ve ever had,” Trump said, referring to what had been the key argument of his re-election campaign. “And then one day they said, ‘we have to close our country.’ Well, now it’s time to open up.”

Public-health experts have repeatedly warned the country risks a second wave of infections if restrictions are lifted too early, which could lead to another round of shutdowns and economic damage.

Models ‘So Wrong’

But even as Trump said a full-scale reopening could lead to more deaths, he expressed optimism the virus would go away. And he added that if cases do rebound, it would be like a “fire” that could be extinguished “fast.”

He also dismissed two new projections that painted a gruesome picture of what could happen if the country lifts shutdown orders too quickly: a Johns Hopkins University model showing deaths could reach 3,000 per day by June 1 and a University of Washington analysis showing the U.S. death toll could reach 135,000 by the beginning of August.

“These models have been so wrong from day one. Both on the low side and the upside. They’ve been so wrong, they’ve been so out of whack. And they keep making new models, new models and they’re wrong,” the president said.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier Tuesday the Johns Hopkins model, included in a government document obtained Monday by the New York Times, relied on “faulty assumptions” about mitigation efforts and didn’t represent federal government projections.

“The people of our country are warriors,” Trump said of Americans, some 69% of whom are “somewhat” or “very” worried about contracting Covid-19, according to an analysis of polls by

Vice President Mike Pence said earlier Tuesday the White House has begun discussing disbanding the coronavirus task force, which could happen as soon as later this month.

“Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form and that form is safety and opening. And we’ll have a different group, probably, set up for that,” Trump said in Phoenix.

When asked if the move meant he considers the mission of combating the virus to be accomplished, Trump replied: “No.”

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