Fact-checking Trump on coronavirus: No, Americans don't want 'to be open' during pandemic

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Multiple polls show Americans do not want to go back to work if it poses risks to their health.

It's been nearly a month since Donald Trump started his daily news conferences on his administration's efforts to combat the new coronavirus.

In those briefings, Trump has told dozens of lies and distorted the facts on everything from the severity of the virus to the steps he did or did not take to slow the spread. 

Below is a list of his most recent claims, which will be updated throughout the week.

April 16

"America wants to be open. And Americans want to be open." — Trump at a White House news conference.

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Trump announced a set of loose guidelines on Thursday for how the United States can reopen for business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And to build support for his proposal, he falsely claimed that Americans want to get back to work during the pandemic.

But multiple polls have found that voters don't want to reopen for business if it poses a risk to their health.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday found that 81% of voters want to "continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy."

A Gallup poll released on Tuesday found similar results, with just 20% of Americans saying they would "return to their normal activities immediately."

April 15

"[China] is considered a developing nation? And we're not? Well we're a developing nation too, in my book. We're developing too." — Trump at a White House news conference.

The United States is not a developing nation.

The United States ranks 15th in the United Nations' 2019 Human Development Index, which the UN defines as "a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and [having] a decent standard of living."

China is 85th on the list.

"Well, I don't know too much about it, but I understand my name is there. I don't know where they're going, how they're going, I do understand it's not delaying anything, and I'm satisfied with that. I don't imagine it's a big deal, I'm sure people will be very happy to get a big, fat, beautiful check, and my name is on it." — Trump at a White House news conference

Trump said he doesn't know why his name is being added to the millions of economic relief checks set to be mailed out to Americans as part of the federal government's coronavirus relief package.

Administration officials told the Washington Post that Trump himself asked that his name appear on the checks.

According to the report from the Post, Trump asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin if he could sign the checks himself. However, presidents do not have the authority to be the signatory, so he "settled" for his name appearing on the memo line of the checks.

Trump claimed that the addition of his name to the checks would not delay the payments.

However, the Washington Post reported that Trump's demand could delay payments by a few days, according to officials at the IRS.

April 14

"On testing — very important — we've always wanted the states to do the testing." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump's claim that he always wanted states to handle coronavirus  tests rather than the federal government is false. 

On March 13, Trump promised that the federal government, in conjunction with major pharmacy chains, was going to open drive-through testing locations across the country.

"We've been in discussions with pharmacies and retailers to make drive-through tests available in the critical locations identified by public health professionals," Trump said at a news briefing with leaders from CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens.

Since that announcement, those companies have opened less than a dozen sites across the country, according to NPR. 

Mike Pence also promised in March that the federal government was going to send tests to the states — another indicator that Trump didn't "always" want states to handle the procurement of COVID-19 tests on their own. 

Trump has also refused to take responsibility for the lack of testing.

"I don't take responsibility at all," Trump said at that same March 13 news conference. 

"I don't talk about China's transparency." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump on Tuesday lied about comments he's made publicly about China, falsely claiming that he has never talked about China's "transparency" about the novel coronavirus.

In a tweet on Jan. 24, Trump directly complimented China for its transparency about the virus, which was first detected in China in December 2019.

"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency," Trump said in the Jan. 24 tweet. "It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!"

"I'm the only leader of a country that closed our borders tightly against China." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump lied about the steps other countries took to restrict travel from China in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and overstated the travel restrictions he himself placed on the country.

Trump did not "tightly" close the United States' borders to China. He merely instituted restrictions that diverted flights from China to a handful of airports in the United States, where travelers were supposed to receive heightened screenings. 

More than 40,000 people traveled to the United States from China after Trump placed restrictions on travel from the country, the New York Times reported. And many of those travelers did not receive heightened screening, according to the Associated Press.

Trump's claim that other countries didn't restrict travel from China is also false.

The Washington Post reported that 38 other countries also restricted travel from China, with some of them taking those moves, "before or at the same time the U.S. restrictions were put in place."

April 13

"When somebody's the president of the United States, the authority is total and that's the way it's got to be." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Trump falsely proclaimed on Monday that he has the absolute power to decide when the country will reopen for business amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In reality, it was governors of individual states that made the call whether to institute shelter-in-place orders — and it will be those same governors who decide when to lift those mandates. 

Currently, groups of regional governors are working together to create plans on how they will reopen their states for business.

Trump, for his part, has only issued non-binding guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the first guideline is to, "Listen to and follow the directions of your STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES." (Capitalization and bolding was from the White House itself.)

Legal experts also agree that Trump does not have "total" authority to reopen the country for business.

Stephen Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas, tweeted on Monday, "The President has no formal legal authority to categorically override local or state shelter-in-place orders or to reopen schools and small businesses. No statute delegates to him such power; no constitutional provision invests him with such authority."

Reporters at Monday’s press conference asked Trump to name the provision in the Constitution that gives him the power to reopen states' economies. 

"Numerous — numerous provisions. We'll give you a legal brief if you want," Trump said, never actually naming a provision.

"That's because I let that happen. … But if I wanted to, I could've closed it up." — Trump on school closures at a White House news conference.

As Trump was proclaiming he had the "absolute power" to reopen the country to business, he was asked by a reporter why that was the case if it was governors who closed schools in their states.

Trump then claimed that he was the one who let school closures happen, suggesting without any evidence that he could've overridden them.

Again, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised state and local officials on March 13 to close schools, it was ultimately those state and local authorities who had the power to make that call.

And Trump only made the recommendation to close schools at a White House news conference on March 16 — nearly a week after schools started closing in some counties in Washington state, one of the earliest locations to experience a COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

Ultimately, it will be those same state and local authorities who make the decision on when to reopen schools.

As legal scholars said, the Constitution does not have a provision granting Trump the power to unilaterally override state and local decision making.

According to the 10th Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Even GOP lawmakers who support Trump conceded this.

"The federal government does not have absolute power," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeted Monday night. 

"Nobody is asking for ventilators." — Trump at a White House news conference.

Governors in states across the country have been pleading for the federal government to help them procure ventilators — expensive machines that are critical for patients in severe respiratory distress from COVID-19.

Those same governors said the federal government did not do an adequate job of ensuring that their states could procure those machines.

Some said they only received a fraction of the equipment they requested. And a number of the ventilators they received from the federal government arrived broken.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state needed tens of thousands of ventilators to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic. But he said he had to bid against other states to get that equipment, raising costs.

"You now literally will have a company call you up and say, 'Well, California just outbid you,'" Cuomo said at a March 31 news conference. "It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator."

April 12

"I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban, long before most others wanted to do so." — Trump tweet.

Trump spent his Sunday lashing out at the media, after the New York Times published a bombshell report on his "failure" to stop the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to more than 22,000 deaths in the United States. 

To defend himself, Trump overstated one of the first steps he took to stop the spread of the virus.

It was not a full-fledged "ban" on travelers from China as he described, but rather travel restrictions that still allowed people who had been in China — where the virus was first detected — to return to the United States. 

The New York Times reported that nearly 40,000 people have come to the United States from China since Trump announced the travel restrictions. And the Associated Press reported in March — more than a month after the restrictions went into place — that many of those travelers received no screening for the virus. 

Trump was also not criticized because he moved too fast with a travel ban, but rather because the ban was still not enough to contain the virus.

That criticism even came from former members of his own administration.

Tom Bossert, a former Trump homeland security adviser, tweeted on March 12, "We will regret wasting time and energy on travel restrictions and wish we focused more on hospital preparation and large scale community mitigation."

This post will be updated throughout the week.