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Trump team wants to 'open' the country again — but they never actually closed it

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Thursday the economy could be reopened in May.

By Josh Israel - April 09, 2020
Steve Mnuchin

Donald Trump and his administration are pushing to end social distancing measures and reopen the U.S. economy by May. But since Trump refused to issue a national stay-at-home order, it is unclear what it he would lift.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was asked in an interview on CNBC on Thursday if he believed the country might really reopen in May.

“I do,” he said.

Mnuchin continued, “I think as soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues, we are making everything necessary that American companies and American workers can be open for business and that they have the liquidity that they need to operate their business in the interim.”

But Trump never issued any national stay-at-home policy, instead leaving it up to governors to set their own policies on social distancing. “We’ve talked about it … obviously there are some parts of the country that are in far deeper trouble than others,” he said in late March. “If we do that, we will let you know, but it’s pretty unlikely, I think, at this time.”

As recently as April 1, Trump defended not having issued a national stay-at-home directive.

“There are some states that are different. There are some states that don’t have much of a problem,” he claimed. “If a state in the Midwest, or if Alaska, as an example, doesn’t have a problem, it’s awfully tough to say, ‘Close it down.’ So we have to have a little bit of flexibility.”

According to the CDC, Alaska, like every other state, has now reported hundreds of COVID-19 cases, with the total number of cases nationwide in the hundreds of thousands.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a CNN town hall last week, “The tension between federally mandated versus states rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into, but if you look at what’s going on in this country I just don’t understand why we’re not doing [nationwide stay-at-home orders] — we really should be.”

Trump instead downplayed the crisis for weeks, telling the country the virus was under control and would soon go away. It was not until March 14 that Trump finally embraced social distancing — via a tweet containing just the term “social distancing.”

With no federal guidance, governors had to devise their own policies. Several statewide stay-at-home orders have been extended into May or beyond. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered residents to remain home until June 10.

A handful of governors have refused to issue any stay-at-home orders at all.

Asked about Mnuchin’s comment, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee, warned Thursday that a premature end to social distancing could be disastrous for the economy.

“I do think it’s time to have a serious public conversation and a lot of analysis about that,” he told CNBC. “We all want to avoid a false start where we partially reopen and that results in a spike in coronavirus cases, and then we have to go back again to go to square one.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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