President Trump itching to scale back social distancing after 15 day-period, aides say

(CNN) — Another week of self-isolating — or, for many Americans, mandatory lockdowns — are raising tough questions for President Donald Trump on how long the coronavirus mitigation measures he recommended will last and whether they are worth the economic pain.

Trump has suggested he believes they may not be.


Aides say Trump is itching for the guidelines to be eased when the 15-day period ends a week from Monday, but realistically there are few health experts who think that’s enough time to know whether the measures he announced last week — including recommending closing schools, limiting gatherings and keeping at least 6 feet of distance between individuals — will suffice.

Trump and some of his top officials are growing more anxious with social distancing guidelines put in place to combat the coronavirus, sources close to the White House effort said. One senior official said the President is losing patience with the period of national self-isolation that has frozen the US economy.

Meanwhile, the public health experts advising the President and his team on the coronavirus pandemic are continuing to argue that the broad guidelines urging people to work from home, avoid restaurants and large gatherings should remain in place.

The dynamic has led to a robust internal debate over how best to balance the actual health of the country — with potentially hundreds of thousands of lives at stake — with its economic health.

“The President is right, the cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs,” Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Monday on Fox News. “I spoke with the President about this very subject late last evening, so we’ll be looking at a number of different things. Let’s give it another week.”

Some of Trump’s allies have continued to publicly suggest the measures announced by the White House last week were too stringent and have caused unnecessary economic pain. Many of his conservative allies circulated a Wall Street Journal editorial from last week, which questioned whether the shutdown was worth the trade-off of a shuttered economy.

That has helped fuel growing opposition among some of Trump’s advisers to an extended lockdown.

Discussions are already underway with advisers over what to do at the end of the 15 days. Trump very much wants to get people back to work, but his medical advisers continue to tell him the country has a way to go before emerging from the worst of the outbreak, a source familiar with the matter said.

While White House officials are eager to relax the guidelines because of concerns of a severe economic downturn, they also believe the President can relax the guidelines while ensuring the hardest-hit areas of the country — such as New York, California and Washington — continue to maintain their own stringent restrictions on daily life, independent of federal guidelines.

Not all of Trump’s allies appear to be in the same camp. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, wrote Monday on Twitter that “we should always err on the side of doing more – not less – when it comes to containment.

“President Trump’s best decision was stopping travel from China early on,” Graham wrote. “I hope we will not undercut that decision by suggesting we back off aggressive containment policies within the United States.”

Trump has been weighing the situation with advisers both inside and outside the White House, the source said.

Officials aren’t sure where Trump will ultimately land after 15 days — and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist who has pushed for tough mitigation steps — will continue to act as a critical voice behind the scenes.

Trump was initially resistant to Fauci’s recommendations that he take steps to encourage social distancing during the first go-around, people familiar with the deliberations said. After coming under intense criticism for not acting more decisively, Trump went ahead with the recommendations — but remains unconvinced it was the right decision.

Trump has been irked by the images of spring breakers in Florida ignoring the self-isolating guidance, a source close to the White House who is involved in the coronavirus response said.

“What’s the point of social distancing if 20% ignore the order?” Trump has said to aides, according to the source.

Outside the doctors and public health experts, nearly all of the President’s senior advisers are eager to relax the nationwide guidelines to begin reopening the economy.

“I don’t know anybody in the building who is arguing that we should keep going the way we’re going,” one senior White House official said. “Everybody here is pulling in the same direction.”

Already, some conservatives have suggested the US went too far in limiting people’s movements to protect health at the expense of businesses, including Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Steve Hilton.

“You know that famous phrase, ‘the cure is worse than the disease’?” Hilton asked during his monologue on Sunday night. “That is exactly the territory we are hurtling towards.”

One person who is not easing back is Fauci. If it were up to him, an official said, “there would be no contact between humans until July.”

In recent days, Fauci has been vocal in his disagreements with Trump — including in interviews openly discussing his role in correcting the President’s false or misleading statements.

“I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” Fauci said in an interview with Science magazine. “OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”

On Monday, Trump began sending retweets that seem to be encouraging an end to strong social distancing measures after the current 15-day period, despite concern from public health officials that it won’t be long enough to blunt the worst of the coronavirus.

“15 days,” one user tweeted. “Then we isolate the high risk groups and the rest of us get back to work before it’s all over for everyone!! #Landslide2020”

“Flatten the curve NOT the Economy,” reads a follow up tweet.

“After 15 days are over the world can begin to heal!,” another user tweeted.

On Monday he retweeted one user, responding to his original tweet, who wrote, “Correct. Fifteen days, then we keep the high risk groups protected as necessary and the rest of us go back to work.”


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