Trump Presses to Reopen U.S. With Risk of Promising Too Much

President Donald Trump prodded an anxious nation to reopen for business with a combination of optimism and grievance, seeking to move past the pandemic that has killed more than 67,000 Americans and imperiled his odds of a second term.

In a virtual town hall staged symbolically at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday evening, Trump said he hopes to return to his raucous political rallies in packed arenas in the final months of his campaign for re-election. He complained that some states “aren’t going fast enough” to ease public health restrictions.

“We have to go back,” Trump said during the made-for-TV event on Fox News. “It’s going to pass.”

Trump has agitated since March to end social distancing, which has collapsed the U.S. economy — his calling card for re-election. But in his remarks on Sunday, he risked over-promising and under-delivering both to supporters protesting stay-at-home orders at statehouses around the country and the majority of Americans that polls show are more fearful of the virus than the economic fallout.

His arguments were also hurt by a litany of exaggerations, misstatements and partisan attacks on his opponents, leaving him open to criticism that he is foremost concerned about his own re-election odds than the health and safety of the American people.

The event also highlighted Trump’s characteristic bombast. “They always said, ‘nobody got treated worse than Lincoln.’ I believe I am treated worse,” Trump declared, sitting at the foot of the statue of the 16th president, who was assassinated.

Fourth Quarter Rebound

Trump repeated his aim that the U.S. would have a coronavirus vaccine by year’s end, an extremely ambitious deadline that the president said doctors have urged him not to promote. He also said the economy would fully rebound in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the beginning of next year.

In both cases, Trump’s self-imposed deadlines will only lapse after the election, leaving him less politically exposed to falling short.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell gave a more sobering outlook for the economy last week, suggesting that even if a recovery begins in the third quarter, the economic battle against the virus would be far from over.

Bloomberg Economics’ baseline projections are that a rebound in the second half of the year will still leave growth deep in negative territory for 2020. The vigor of the rebound will be constrained by a slow unlocking of containment measures and lasting damage to household finances.

The U.S. economy shrunk at a 4.8% annual rate during the first three months of the year, ending a record-long stretch of economic expansion.

U.S. INSIGHT: Worst Is Yet to Come as GDP Downturn Intensifies

Trump made scant mention of measures experts say are necessary to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections, such as widespread testing for the disease and contact tracing of those who are infected. He spoke remorsefully about the 67,000 people in the U.S. killed by the virus, a number he said just days ago would “probably” represent the upper limit of U.S. deaths.

The president acknowledged Sunday that the death count would likely be higher, between 75,000 and 100,000, but stressed it would still be around the administration’s lower projection.

China’s ‘Horrible Mistake’

Trump accused China of making “a very horrible mistake” with its handling of the outbreak. “They tried to cover it, they tried to put it out,” he said, promising a “very conclusive” report from the U.S. government on the Chinese origins of the pandemic.

Trump was joined for part of the town hall by Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who have spoken publicly about a re-opening in early summer. Top government health officials, such as Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, did not attend.

Several mostly Republican-run states across the South and Midwest — including Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Missouri — continue to take steps to significantly relax restrictions that were put in place against the coronavirus outbreak.

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Sunday the economic outlook in the coming months is “not positive” but declared that the nation is “entering a transitional period.”

“We have got to get through the next month or two,” Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Thepivot toward re-opening comes despite warnings from public-health experts it may be too soon for much of the country to resume everyday life. Reopening could backfire, leading to a flare-up of covid-19 and even another wave of shutdowns.

Southern, Midwest Reopenings

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose projections are closely watched in the White House, recommends states not lift social distancing measures until they reach an infection rate of one per one million people and implement strong testing and contact tracing regimes. Lifting rules prematurely could trigger a major rebound in infections.

Several states that have been the most aggressive in re-opening — such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas — are not expected to reach that mark until mid-June at the earliest, according to the latest IMHE data.

Trump has nonetheless urged governors to re-open their economies and has publicly embraced protesters demonstrating against strict stay-at-home rules, tweeting last month that those in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia should “liberate” their states.

And he has sought to use his bully pulpit to re-assure Americans they can begin to safely resume their normal routines, even though several polls show the public still favors measures aimed at fighting the virus.

A majority of Americans say they are unlikely to resume activities that involve large groups if social distancing orders were lifted tomorrow, according to anABC News/Ipsos poll released last Friday. More than three quarters say they would return to work, but under half say they would attend church or eat at a restaurant and only 20% would go to a sporting event in a large stadium. Republicans are more willing than Democrats, however, to resume each of the activities.

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