Trump, Pence Slowly Resume Travel to Signal U.S. Ready to Reopen
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is eager to resume travel outside Washington after almost a month stuck at the White House because of the pandemic to signal that the U.S. is ready to begin opening for business.
The White House is considering trips Trump could take but none is planned before a June graduation speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. There’s no timetable for when Trump will resume a normal travel schedule, two aides said.
Vice President Mike Pence laid the groundwork with two trips of his own outside Washington in the past week and another that’s planned next week. Trump has been grounded since March 28, a stark contrast to his earlier schedule that included campaign rallies, regular golf trips and weekends at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
“He would like to get back on the road,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “He’s certainly itching to.”
Trump has been pushing to restart the U.S. economy after record job losses resulting from social distancing practices designed to limit the spread of the virus. He unveiled guidelines last week for when states can open their economies and said some are ready to restart now.
Getting Americans back to work is key to Trump’s campaign, which had been built on highlighting economic gains before the coronavirus hit. But it’s not clear whether travel by Trump and Pence will help convince Americans it’s safe to leave their homes, or resume air travel.
Roughly two-thirds of Americans say their greater concern is that states will lift restrictions too quickly, compared to 32% who say they worry states will not open quickly enough, according to a Pew Research Center survey. A Harris tracking poll released this week showed 67% Americans say they would not currently travel in an airplane and around two-thirds say they would wait at least four to six months to stay at a hotel.
Many governors are continuing to urge residents to stay home. But southern Republican governors who were among the last to institute shelter-at-home orders are now pushing to become the first to lift them. Tattoo parlors, movie theaters and nail salons in Georgia will begin opening up this week along with beaches, florists and shoe shops in South Carolina.
The president last Friday lamented that he has has been at the White House “for months,” except to see off the USNS Comfort hospital ship from a Virginia naval base on March 28. He also traveled to Florida earlier in the month. “Well, they’d rather not have me travel,” Trump said when asked when he will next leave the White House complex.
Aside from the visit to the Comfort, Trump has otherwise remained at the executive mansion for roughly six weeks, an unusually long stretch for a president who had planned to hit the campaign trail every week.
Trump’s last major trip outside the nation’s capital occurred in early March, when he traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta before heading to Florida to attend political fundraisers and golf.
Trump was also forced to scrap his signature rallies. Conway hinted at the prospect of resuming them with fewer people in the crowd, and used the moment to take a dig at presumptive Democratic Nominee Joe Biden.
“If he has a rally where people are physically distant and there aren’t as many people sitting next to each other, it’ll look a little bit like a Biden rally,” she said Wednesday.
In Trump’s absence, Pence has taken up the mantle of representing the White House on the road. He’s due to visit his home state of Indiana next week after traveling to Colorado and Wisconsin.
In Indiana, Pence will tour a General Motors Co. plant in the city of Kokomo that is manufacturing ventilators used for treating critically ill virus patients. It’s a chance for Pence to champion the administration’s efforts to ramp up U.S. ventilator production, after Trump declared the country has become the “king of ventilators.” The U.S. automaker has a $489.4 million contract to make 30,000 of the machines by August following a dispute with Trump.
Pence’s GM visit is the type of trip Trump is eager to resume after being grounded in Washington due to the outbreak.
The vice president had planned to record a video message for the U.S. Air Force Academy’s graduation last Saturday, but later heard that cadets would gather in person for the ceremony albeit seated far apart and without their families in attendance, administration officials said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pence he would love to have him address the graduates in person. Pence mentioned it to Trump and the president urged him to go to the ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to officials.
During his address, Pence told graduating cadets that beginning their service to the country would “inspire confidence that we will prevail against the invisible enemy in our time as well.”
The vice president’s trips come after Trump announced his three-phase plan for states to reopen their economies. Under the first phase, all Americans are urged to limit non-essential travel. Only in the second phase, after a state shows another two weeks of declining virus cases, should non-essential travel resume except for vulnerable individuals.
The guidelines have been criticized by some public health experts and state officials who say the U.S. lacks sufficient testing capacity to reopen, complaints Trump administration officials say are unfounded.
Pence’s team has nonetheless taken precautionary measures that bow to the dangers of traveling amid the pandemic. The White House is closely monitoring the staff, reporters and advance teams who travel with Pence, and no one has gotten sick, including aides who traveled commercially to Colorado, officials said. Journalists were required to pass coronavirus tests before being allowed to travel on Pence’s plane.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.