President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that swaths of the United States could lift coronavirus shutdowns “very soon” and made peace with state governors after being accused of acting like a king.
While defusing an extraordinary domestic row, Trump, however, opened a new front on the international stage when he announced a freeze in US funding to the World Health Organization because he said it had been biased to China.
According to Trump, the WHO prevented transparency over the Covid-19 outbreak when it appeared in China, costing other countries crucial time to prepare, delaying decisions to stop international travel.
“Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” he said.
“The WHO’s attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above life-saving measures.
“We have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” he said, adding that Washington would now “discuss what we do with all that money that goes to the WHO.”
Some reopenings ‘very soon’
Facing a tough re-election in November, the Republican president is eager to get the world’s biggest economy back on its feet as quickly as possible.
But a threat on Monday to invoke his “total” power to force state governors to follow his directives on reopening prompted an outcry.
“We don’t have King Trump, we have President Trump,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on CNN.
Equally combative, Trump responded on Twitter by likening skeptical governors to rebellious sailors in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty.
At his press conference, Trump backpedalled, clarifying that governors would take the lead on when and how to ease the restrictions paralysing the US economy.
“I’m not going to put any pressure on any governor to open,” Trump said.
The president indicated that numerous states with less dense populations could open “very, very soon, sooner than the end of the month,” while places like New York could take longer.
“We’ll open it up in beautiful little pieces,” Trump said.
The president had been expected to unveil a new task force on Tuesday for managing the national reopening. That did not happen.
Instead, Trump announced he would be talking to large groups of business leaders, Congress members and all 50 governors in conference calls this week.
“Our country has to get open and it will get open,” he said.
For weeks, Trump has veered between supporting a sudden, large-scale reopening and a cautious, case-by-case relaxation of mitigation measures.
In the end, Trump has bowed – often reluctantly – to advice from medical experts who argue that relaxing social distancing and allowing people back to work prematurely would spark a coronavirus second wave.
Reflecting the sense of instability, economic powerhouses California and New York, both led by Democrats, are developing their own reopening plans, insisting that Trump will not set the pace.
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, who has joined forces with Oregon and Washington states to coordinate the transition, said he would not announce any concrete timing for at least another two weeks.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “I don’t want to make a political decision that puts people’s lives at risk and puts the economy at even more risk.”
Talks are underway for the eventual reopening of California restaurants, schools and businesses, but many social distancing procedures are likely to be retained, including wider spacing at meal times and wearing of masks, he said.
“Normal, it will not be,” he warned.
No ‘King’ Trump
On Monday, Trump had insisted that he can override state governors to determine the reopening schedule.
“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said.
Trump’s claim – disputed by constitutional experts – took long-running confusion over who is in charge to a new height.
Having previously argued vociferously that he is not responsible for managing the crisis, Trump was now accused of seeking monarchical powers to impose his will.
“We ran away from having a king, and George Washington was president, not King Washington. So the president doesn’t have total authority,” Cuomo told CNN.
“If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Trump fired back on Twitter, comparing the situation to Mutiny on the Bounty.
“A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain,” he tweeted.