President Donald Trump promised more federal help for Americans left jobless by by the pandemic and vowed to press ahead with reopening the economy, addressing the nation in a televised town hall event at the Lincoln Memorial as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to mount.
In the opening minutes of the event, broadcast by Fox News, Trump revised upward the number of Americans he expects to be killed by the virus. “We’re going to lose anywhere between 75, 80 to 100,000,” he said.
He had said in April he hoped deaths would total less than 60,000; the number of dead so far is more than 67,000.
“Now we have to get it back open,” Trump said, addressing the economic fallout of the shutdown.
Trump’s first question, by video, came from an Alabama woman who said she had been unable to apply for unemployment, hadn’t received a federal stimulus check and was feeding her family on donations.
“There’s more help coming,” Trump said. “It’s not your fault. Just remember that. There’s more help coming. There has to be.”
But later in the event, Trump drew a line on further assistance. He said he had instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the next round of stimulus would have to include a payroll tax cut, an idea that hasn’t been met with robust support in his own party, and even less so by Democrats.
“We’re not doing anything without a payroll tax cut,” he said.
The president will follow the event with a visit to Arizona on Tuesday -- his first trip out of town since March 28 other than a visit to Camp David in Maryland this weekend.
The town hall comes as several states across the South and Midwest -- including Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Missouri -- have taken steps to significantly relax restrictions on economic and social life that were put in place to curb the outbreak. Trump has agitated since March to relax shelter-in-place orders and other social distancing practices that have pushed more than 26.5 million people out of their jobs.
In response to questions from a teacher and a student, Trump said Sunday he wants schools and universities to reopen in the fall.
But public-health experts warn that reopening too soon could backfire, leading to a flareup of Covid-19 and even a second shutdown. Another surge could cement perceptions that Trump cares more for the economy and his re-election than the health of American citizens.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are already weighing a fourth round of stimulus after passing another $484 billion rescue plan in late April. But the Washington area is seeing a rash of coronavirus cases, making lawmakers circumspect about returning to work.
Social-distancing measures have also stopped, for now, Trump’s ability to hold campaign rallies, a key component of his bid for re-election. He indicated Sunday he hopes to resume them soon.
The White House used one of nation’s most symbolic backdrops for Trump’s town hall -- a powerful setting known for civil rights and liberty that draws on President Abraham Lincoln’s legacy of emancipating slaves during the Civil War.
Trump in late April called on people in states including Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “liberate” themselves from government rules to slow the pandemic.
Packing Plant Order
Last week, for instance, he ordered meatpacking plants to keep operating after a spate of virus outbreaks among workers had forced shutdowns and threatened to choke off supplies. The move sparked an outcry from unions as Trump moved to shield meat-processing companies from liability but offered no clear assurances for worker safety.
Trump, though, has continued to express confidence about reopening. He suggested a coronavirus vaccine could be developed and widely available by January, and predicted -- in contradiction of his top public-health advisers -- that the virus would be gone by fall.
“We’re going to be very careful as we open,” Trump said at the White House. “If there’s a fire, we’re going to put it out.”
It’s still unclear whether Americans will follow the president’s advice to get back to work, or to frequent businesses that are now reopening. And there are signs his calls are falling flat in the nation’s capital.
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