Their argument was a fresh sign that Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill are still fighting the pandemic they wish existed, rather than a virus that unfolds at its own pace and is oblivious to their artificial political and economic timetables.
The Senate impasse predated exceedingly difficult negotiations with Democrats and will inevitably degenerate into a hyper-partisan struggle given the stakes of the approaching election. But any delay could could see millions of Americans who lost jobs in lockdowns deprived of most of a $600 a week federal government lifeline — that has already paid out for the last time at previous levels.
The machinations in Washington unfolded against a backdrop of a crisis that is nowhere near fading despite Trump’s upbeat rhetoric. While there are signs the latest explosion of sickness in southern and western states may be cresting, the situation remains dire. On Monday, Johns Hopkins reported 56,336 new cases and 1,076 reported deaths.
Trump returns to agitating for reopenings
The President has little patience for such long horizons.
He did spend last week trying to show Americans that after months of denial and indifference, he was now taking the virus seriously after its wildfire spread through states that followed his advice to open up early.
But his remarks on Monday suggest that the President is still working not with a timetable set by the most prudent way to suppress the worst public health crisis in 100 years but by the fast dwindling timeline set by his reelection campaign.
During a visit to North Carolina to tout vaccine development, Trump presented his habitually upbeat and misleading summary of a pandemic that is killing hundreds of Americans a day. And he betrayed impatience for even the hardest-hit states to turn the corner.
“These states are not out of the woods, but rigorous compliance with guidelines should allow them to turn the corner, and very, very quickly,” the President said, before turning his focus to other unidentified states.
“I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they’re not opening and we’ll see what happens with them.”
Maryland’s governor criticizes Trump’s reopening push
The costs of stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, restrictions on bars and restaurants and all service industries are savage, and have caused deep economic and psychological misery across the country.
But the lesson from the earlier state reopening that Trump championed while flouting guidelines written by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that opening up too quickly can cause out of control spikes of disease.
The President may now have in mind states like New York, which endured tragic fights against Covid-19 earlier this year, but have been ultra cautious in fully reopening in an effort to prevent a return of high rates of infection.
New York City has managed to reduce its infection rate — a key marker on the way to slowing transmission — to 1%, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.
In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who imposed strict stay at home measures and has seen an uptick in cases mostly among younger people since slowly reopening, condemned Trump’s rhetoric.
“We are in a holding pattern … we’re not ready to reopen anything, open anything further,” Hogan told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
“Twenty-two states are now rolling things back that they had already reopened. We are not in that position either. It’s the same kind of messaging that the President had previously and I think it’s a mistake to return to that kind of messaging as we are seeing flareups around the country.”
Trump’s impatience appears to hint at a return to the gut-level calls on Covid-19 that are not based on scientific practice but a desire to see the economy — that he views as crucial to his reelection — firing on all cynlinders at all costs.
“The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many lives as possible,” they wrote.
But Trump’s new opening demands mirror his calls for all schools to get back to full operation in coming weeks, while ignoring concerns among parents, teachers and administrators that going too fast would unleash a new virus wave.
And the President’s comments also suggest that his more sober approach last week — that saw him finally endorse the use of masks and warn the pandemic would get worse before it gets better — was what it appeared to be at the time: a PR effort precipitated by plunging election polls, rather than a serious effort to reassess his approach to the pandemic.
Republicans split over stimulus plan
Republican senators on Monday rolled out at $1 trillion economic support bill to rival a $3 trillion version backed by Democrats.
Although it includes a $1,200 check for most Americans, the plan — an opening bid in talks with Democrats — cuts $600 federal support payments to laid off workers to $200. Democrats are demanding that the payments remain at $600 and dismiss Republican attempts to set up a system designed to replace 70% or the prior wages of the unemployed that would incentivize a return to work that many observers say is not yet justified by conditions.
GOP leadership in the Senate did however break with Trump’s wishes by including billions more in their legislation to increase Covid-19 testing, though far less than what Democrats have said they wanted.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the states now worst-hit by the virus, said there was “significant resistance” to spending another trillion dollars.
“The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington, the answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work,” Cruz said. The senator did not say how people should be expected to return to their jobs in the middle of a pandemic, and the notion of reopening the economy at all costs seems to ignore the need for mitigation measures to stop the spread.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said the cut to federal payments was a non-starter and disagreed with the GOP position that paying people $600 was an incentive for people to stay at home.
“The idea that we need to drastically reduce these benefits because workers will stay home otherwise is greatly exaggerated,” Schumer said, with the duel over the bill now framing an explosive backdrop to congressional elections that will take place alongside the presidential race in November.
GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who serves in the party’s Senate leadership group, said it was just reality that a number of GOP senators would be opposed on principle to the goals and specifics of the bill.
“When it comes to spending money on these kinds of things, a number of Republicans just are not going to be willing to do that,” he said.