Trump Says More Help Is Coming for Out-of-Work Americans
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a Fox News town hall at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg)

Trump Says More Help Is Coming for Out-of-Work Americans

(Bloomberg) --

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.

States Reopening

Trump’s remarks were laced with exaggerations and falsehoods. He claimed again that former Vice President Joe Biden had written a letter apologizing for calling Trump “xenophobic” after the president restricted travel from China on Jan. 31. The Biden campaign says there is no such apology or letter, and the White House has never released one.

Trump also suggested that cases of the virus are falling in most states, which isn’t accurate. “There’s not too many states that I know that are going up,” he said. “Almost everybody is headed in the right direction.”

Cases of the disease are still rising in most states, though the rate of increase slowed over the month of April as Americans practiced social distancing. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that 20,000 to 30,000 new cases and more than 1,000 deaths per day could be the “new normal” for months.

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.

Ratings Fall

The president has already seen his approval ratings fall as the number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. climbed past 1.1 million and deaths mounted in the world’s largest outbreak.

As his approval ratings declined, Trump has ramped up his rhetoric about reopening the economy and looked to shift blame for the pandemic to China, where the outbreak originated.

Trump trails presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in key battleground states including Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, recent public polls show. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey taken April 13-15 showed registered voters believe Biden would do a better job of responding to the virus than Trump by a 9 percentage-point margin.

The decision by some states to begin reopening reflects what they see as the growing risk to their economies if businesses remain closed. It’s a similar calculus for Trump campaign officials, who say the election will hinge on how well the president manages the economic recovery now that tens of millions of Americans are unemployed.

But critics say Trump’s haste to reopen is putting Americans in a position of choosing whether to risk their health for their jobs.

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.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a rare moment of agreement, issued a joint statement on Saturday rejecting a White House offer of rapid coronavirus testing for lawmakers.

“Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly,” Pelosi and McConnell said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.