As President Donald Trump laid out new federal guidelines for states and stressed their authority Thursday, he stopped short of condemning protesters who challenge it.
Not long after measured remarks to start the day’s coronavirus task force briefing, Trump declined to criticize demonstrators in some states refusing to follow stay-at-home orders, claiming that people are “suffering” and saying, “I think they’re listening, I think they listen to me,” when asked if they should listen to local authorities.
“They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion, and my opinion is the same as just about all of the governors,” Trump said.
When he was first asked about the protesters, Trump lamented that people have been “going through it a long time… and it’s been a tough process for people.”
“There’s death and there’s problems in staying at home too,” Trump said. “It’s not just, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to stay at home?’ They’re suffering. This country wasn’t built on that principle. It was built on an exact opposite principle, actually.”
Trump then said he watched “in one particular state where they want to get back.”
“There were very strict sanctions that were put on people that was probably the most strict of all,” Trump said, leaving the state unnamed. “But I just think the American people have been incredible.”
One such protest that gained national attention happened in Michigan on Wednesday. Trump has made a point of calling out Gretchen Whitmer, the state’s Democratic governor, during her tenure and used part of a coronavirus task force briefing last month to criticize her.
Leading off the briefing, Trump outlined new federal guidelines for states, dubbed “opening up America again,” saying they would “allow governors to take a phased and deliberate approach to re-opening their individual states.”
It was a sharp departure from the president’s claims Monday of total authority over the nation’s governors during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Governors will be empowered to tailor [an] approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states,” Trump said Thursday. “Every state is very different. They’re all beautiful. We love ’em all. But they’re very, very different.”
But the phased-in approach touted by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other officials during the briefing took a far different tone than the aggressive reopening, via his own overriding authority, that Trump spent the early moments of this week championing.
Trump’s relationship with America’s governors has been fraught throughout the pandemic, but his actions this week have managed to make the back and forth between the White House and the state leaders even more complicated.
On Monday, Trump falsely claimed total authority over states and stay at home orders that could serve as a reopening for the country. The verbal power grab by the president was quickly cited as incorrect, and a day later Trump appeared to roll back his approach.
By Wednesday, after threatening to adjourn Congress over his displeasure with a lack of recess appointments, Trump promised to soon “have some information on some openings” for states.
Even if the president decided to apply pressure to certain areas in an effort to get them to reopen, both Democratic and Republican governors in their respective states have the power to make the final decision.
Already some states have shown a willingness to band together during the pandemic. Groupings of states on both the West and East coasts have emerged with a common focus on when they will begin to return to a sense of normalcy. Thursday saw another collaboration announced, this time in the Midwest, with both Democratic and Republican governors pledging in a joint statement to “work in close coordination to reopen the economy in the Midwest region.”
Governors haven’t been shy about breaking with the president as of late. Early warning signs came last month when Trump championed the idea of an Easter reopening timeline that received pushback from even some Republicans.
Thursday’s briefing also appeared to be a win of sorts for the medical professionals on the task force who have been more publicly hesitant than the president about charging forward while Trump has fretted vocally about the economic impact of the pandemic on the U.S. economy.
“It will be staggered,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Not every state, not every region is going to do it at the same time. That’s clearly obvious because of the very dynamics of the outbreak. But we feel confident that sooner or later we will get to the point, hopefully sooner with safety as the most important thing, to a point where we can... get back to some form of normality.”