Donald Trump has rebuked a state governor and Republican ally over his decision to reopen bowling alleys, hair salons and other businesses on Friday “in violation” of the phased federal guidelines.
“I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he’s doing,” the US president said of Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia. “I think spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlours and barbershops in phase one … is just too soon.”
Trump was speaking on Wednesday at a wide ranging coronavirus task force briefing in which he announced he had signed a “very powerful” order curbing immigration, contradicted experts on how long the virus will linger and compared the crowd size at his last 4 July celebration to Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.
Georgia’s huge gamble is likely to be watched with closely by state governors across the nation. Trump released national guidelines last week for states to pursue a staggered reopening of their economies once they achieve 14 days of declining new infections – criterion that the Peach State has not met.
Kemp endured widespread ridicule when he admitted, on April Fools’ Day, that he had only just learned that people without symptoms can still spread coronavirus, even though health experts had warned about the possibility for months.
Georgia now has more more than 21,000 infections and 846 deaths, according to the state department of public health. The state has tested less than 1% of its population for Covid-19, ranking in the bottom 10 per capita and raising fears that it could suffer a resurgence and be forced into another lockdown.Advertisement
On Friday, elective medical procedures will resume and barbershops, nail salons and gyms will reopen with restrictions and requirements to stagger shifts and keep workspaces six feet apart. Limited in-restaurant dining will resume next week but bars and nightclubs will remain closed.
Trump said he had spoken to Kemp, for whom he campaigned against Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018, and made his views clear. “They can wait a little bit longer, just a little bit, not much, because safety has to predominate. We have to have that. So I told the governor very simply that I disagree with his decision but he has to do what he thinks is right.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joined the criticism. “If I were advising the governor, I would tell him that he should be careful,” Fauci said at the briefing. “I would advise him not to just turn the switch on and go, because there is a danger of a rebound.”
Democrats seized on the president’s remarks. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman for Democratic party of Georgia, said: “You know it’s a serious failure when Donald Trump, whose failed leadership is responsible for how badly this crisis is hitting America, distances himself from his crony Brian Kemp, who is endlessly determined to make this crisis as painful as possible for Georgians.”
Trump and his experts appeared less in sync, however, on the potential risk of a coronavirus resurgence in the autumn, or fall. First the president falsely claimed that Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had been “totally misquoted” in a Washington Post article about the danger of the virus in tandem with seasonal flu.
He then had to look on as Redfield told reporters: “I’m accurately quoted in the Washington Post.”
Trump shifted gear and objected to the newspapers headline, before seeking once again to downplay the threat: “We will not go through what we went through for the last two months … And if it comes back, though, it won’t be coming back in the form that it was. It will be coming back in smaller doses that we can contain … It may not come back at all.”
Fauci, however, was bluntly realistic: “We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.”
Trump also announced that he had signed an executive order that will temporarily suspend the issuance of certain green cards for 60 days he said aimed at protecting American jobs. The order includes a long list of exemptions, including for those who are currently in the country, those who have valid immigrant visas, people seeking entry to work as physicians and nurses, and the spouses and unmarried children of US citizens.
But the American Civil Liberties Union warned that the order will delay the ability of families to reunite and of employers to hire workers necessary to their enterprises. Omar Jadwat, director of its immigrants’ rights project, said: “While the order is limited in scope, President Trump’s transparent attempt to distract from his own failures with this unwarranted suspension will cause real pain for families and employers across the country.
“Meanwhile, he continues to fail to take obvious steps that will save lives – like releasing people from Ice facilities that cannot keep them safe from Covid-19. We all deserve better leadership than this.”
In a bizarre riff, Trump also spoke optimistically about staging a 4 July celebration on the National Mall, including an air display. He compared the turnout at last year’s event to the March on Washington in 1963. “I saw a magnificent picture of Dr Martin Luther King and I saw a magnificent picture of our event last year, and both of them were maxed out. It was beautiful to see. Beautiful, very similar. This year, most likely, we’ll be standing six feet apart. We’ll have to do that in a very interesting way.”
Histories of the Trump presidency are likely to record how he compared the crowd size at his inauguration, also on the National Mall, to that of Barack Obama, even though photos show his predecessor’s was significantly bigger.