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Trump vows to ‘open up America’ with 3-phase plan

Trumpspeaks during the daily briefing on the coronavirus at the White House on April 16, 2020, | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Days after declaring “total authority“ over states, President Donald Trump on Thursday kicked responsibility for coronavirus-related shutdowns to state governors as he unveiled general guidelines for a phased reopening of the economy.

In a call with governors and at a White House news conference, the president marked the moment — which he called “open up America again“ — as a key step in reviving a devastated economy and an opportunity for state leaders to tailor a response to their individual needs. But he left many critical questions unanswered for the states, including how testing will be ramped up dramatically and where additional resources will come from to protect millions of front-line workers.

“We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” Trump said. “Some states will be able to open up sooner than others. Some states are not in the kind of trouble that others are in. Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we are starting our life again. We are starting rejuvenation of our economy again in a safe and structured and very responsible fashion.“

“Every state is very different,” he continued. “They are all beautiful. We love them all but they are very, very different. If they need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that. And if they believe it’s time to reopen, we will provide them the freedom and guidance to accomplish that task and very, very quickly, depending on what they want to do.“

The guidelines shared with state leaders called for moving in three phases once they had a downward trajectory of Covid-19 cases in a 14-day period and a robust testing program in place for health care workers. The proposal called for vulnerable individuals — such as the elderly or people with preexisting health conditions — to remain sheltered in place.

The outline served as general guidance rather than a firm mandate for any state. The president told governors in a call Thursday they could call their own shots in reopening/

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who laid out a reopening framework this week but has been markedly more aggressive than the federal government in curtailing social activity, said Trump offered an “encouraging” message of allowing states to manage their own changes.

The president “recognizes the differentiation that exists and persists in counties, and not just states,” Newsom said, and offered to preserve “the kind of specificity at a state-to-state level” that can be tailored to the varying scope of outbreaks.

The latest approach represents a step back from the conflict he launched with states on Monday, when he declared “total authority“ over their decisions. Trump was advised by his staff that he made a mistake picking a fight with governors and that he had been told not to dictate specifics Thursday, according to two people familiar with the reaction.

The clear transfer of responsibility could help limit political fallout for Trump from the coronavirus devastation — in line with what some advisers have urged in leaving major decisions to the states. But given open borders between states, Trump also risks a larger and more confusing crisis — through a potential resurgence of coronavirus across the nation — without a central authority calling the shots

A senior White House official said discussions are ongoing about benchmarks the administration will use to identify which industries and communities are appropriate for reopening. Most officials agreed the primary benchmark for determining whether an area is ready to reopen is testing capacity and the state of its health care infrastructure.

Trump in the coming days is also expected to renew his push for more aid to businesses. The president believes the best way to recharge the economy quickly is to get money in the hands of small-business owners, so he’s still pushing for a payroll tax holiday and he plans to spend time today talking about the importance of small businesses, with an emphasis on minority-owned businesses and hourly workers, a person close to the White House said.

Some aides want the president to appoint a “jobs czar,” but the senior White House official said that’s unlikely “because President Trump views himself as the only job czar the country needs.”

Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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