President Trump said Tuesday he’ll work with all 50 governors on reopening their states for business individually, some before May 1, as he confronted a rebellion by 10 governors determined to set their own timetables.
In a second major announcement at his daily afternoon coronavirus briefing, Mr. Trump said he will stop U.S. funding to the World Health Organization while it reviews its role in “severely mismanaging” the coronavirus crisis.
He blamed the international agency for complicity in China’s lying about the initial coronavirus breakout in Wuhan, which he said cost the world the chance to avoid a global pandemic. More than 25,000 Americans have been killed in that pandemic, with tens of thousands more deaths likely.
“The United States has a duty to insist on full accountability,” he said. Mr. Trump said the freeze will last 60 to 90 days and should have been done by previous administrations.
“This is an evaluation period,” Mr. Trump said.
He said he will channel the money to the areas that most need it.
On the momentous challenge of reopening an economy in freefall, the president appeared to head off a budding power struggle with mostly Democratic governors over the question of how and when to get the nation back in business.
On Monday, Mr. Trump asserted he had “total authority” over the states, but he offered a customized approach for states on Tuesday.
“The plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized,” Mr. Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. “We will soon be sharing details and new guidelines with everybody. I will be speaking to all 50 governors, very shortly. We’re counting on the governors to do a great job.”
The economic stakes for the U.S. and the world were underscored on Tuesday by the International Monetary Fund, which predicted the global economy in 2020 will be the worst since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In the U.S., 10 major airlines reached an agreement in principle with the federal government for aid designed to prevent layoffs.
Some states that have avoided the worst of the outbreak so far are scenes of grassroots movements to reopen their local economies. In Michigan, residents chafing at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s extended stay-at-home order prepared for a massive protest Wednesday in the state capital.
The president said he would probably hold a conference call with governors on Thursday.
“I’m not going to put any pressure on any governor to open,” he said. “We’ll open it up in beautiful little pieces.”
He said he has been consulting with a wide array of business leaders and economists.
“I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening, in a very powerful way, a reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate,” Mr. Trump said. “Some can open very, very shortly, if not immediately.”
He said certain states “are in much different condition” than others such as hotspots like New York and New Jersey.
“Actually there are over 20 that are in extremely good shape,” Mr. Trump said. “We think we’re going to be able to get them to open fairly quickly, and then others will follow. The federal government will be watching them very closely. And we’ll be there to help.”
Some critics said Mr. Trump was merely granting states the authority they already have.
“I am hereby authorizing everyone to do things that they were already authorized to do,” Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, said in a wry tweet.
While he was conducting his briefing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fired a shot across his bow in a letter to House Democrats that warned Americans to “ignore the lies” on the next steps.
“There are important decisions ahead,” the California Democrat wrote. “But if we are not working from the truth, more lives will be lost, economic hardship and suffering will be extended unnecessarily.”
She accused the president of an “incompetent” reaction that ignored early warnings and took “insufficient” action. She said that “caused unnecessary death” and led to the economy’s becoming a “disaster.”
For his part, Mr. Trump rattled off an incredibly long list of high-powered CEOs who will help in the decision-making, noting a few are friends of his. He also name-checked a few chefs at the tony restaurants in his old hometown in New York City.
“My friend Jean-Georges. And Daniel, You know them,” Mr. Trump said, presumably meaning Daniel Boulud.
He said former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is involved, as are religious leaders and major sports leagues.
“I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old. But I haven’t had much time to watch,” Mr. Trump said.
He’s also talking to his former Food and Drug Commission Scott Gottlieb, who’s been vocal about the right way to respond to the virus.
The president also said he’s receiving input from Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase; Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation; James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group; economist Art Laffer; Apple CEO Tim Cook; and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, among others.
Earlier on Tuesday, the president had chided New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is leading a faction of seven governors in the Northeast, all but one being Democrats, saying Mr. Cuomo came “begging” him for help, but now “seems to want independence.”
“That won’t happen!” the president tweeted.
Mr. Cuomo, who earlier had accused Mr. Trump of behaving like a “king,” said Tuesday that he won’t escalate a political fight with the president.
“The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue,” Mr. Cuomo said. “He has no fight here. I won’t let it happen — unless he suggested that we do something that would be reckless and endanger the health or welfare of the people of the state. Then I would have no choice.”
But Mr. Cuomo said he felt compelled to challenge Mr. Trump’s earlier claim that the president has “total authority” over states.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is developing a plan on loosening stay-at-home restrictions with Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, said California needs to increase testing and expand hospital capacity before the state can begin to return to normal from the stay-at-home restrictions he imposed a month ago.
Mr. Newsom didn’t offer a timetable, but said he would have a better idea in two weeks if the state continues to see a decline in hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.
“Ask me the question then, and we will be in a very different place where we could be more prescriptive,” he said. “There’s no light switch here — I would argue it’s more like a dimmer.”
Mr. Newsom said the changes would likely entail modifications to places like schools and restaurants to accommodate social distancing measures.
The other benchmarks are successfully tracking COVID-19 cases through testing and contact tracing, protecting at-risk populations from infection, preparing hospitals for a potential “surge,” making progress on therapeutics, and determining a mechanism to reinstitute the restrictions if things start to worsen again.
“We have a state vision, but it will be realized at a local level,” Mr. Newsom said. He urged residents to “continue to hold the line on our stay-at-home orders today.”
California has more than 24,000 coronavirus cases and more than 700 deaths out of a population of close to 40 million people, though hospitalization rates have stabilized recently.
The governor said it’s “unlikely” that he would allow large gatherings before September.
“I know you want the timeline, but 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. That’s the sober reality. I want you to know … it will not be a permanent state.”
Mr. Newsom told Californians he is mindful that “the consequences of the stay-at-home orders have a profound impact on the economy, your personal household budget, your personal prospects around your future.”
More than 2.3 million Californians applied for unemployment benefits in the last month.
In Michigan, thousand of conservatives are expected to descend on the state Capitol in Lansing in their cars and trucks on Wednesday for a “gridlock rally” to protest Ms. Whitmer’s decision to extend stay-at-home restrictions through the end of April.
The Michigan Conservative Coalition organized the event through a Facebook ad.
The governor, who is being touted in the media as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, blamed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for the protest.
“I think it is this group is funded in large part by the DeVos family, and I think it’s really inappropriate for a sitting member of the United States president’s Cabinet to be waging political attacks on any governor, but obviously on me here at home,” Ms. Whitmer said this week. “I think that they should disavow it and encourage people to stay home and be safe.”
The protesters plan to stay in their vehicles during the rally to observe social-distancing guidelines.
The Michigan Freedom Fund, which advocates for conservative policies, has ties to the DeVos family. But the group’s executive director said this week that the fund only contributed $250 for the Facebook ad.
DeVos family spokesman Nick Wasmiller said the family hasn’t provided any funds or organizing for the protest, but understands the frustrations of Michiganders.
“As elements of the governor’s top-down approach appear to go beyond public safety, Michigan deserves competent governance — not baseless attacks,” he said in a statement.
Ms. Whitmer, who faces a recall movement, changed her approach somewhat Tuesday by offering praise for Amway for helping the state to stock up on medical supplies. Mrs. DeVos’ husband Dick serves on the Amway board of directors.
“Amway has really stepped up to help keep Kent County families and health care workers safe during this time,” the governor said. “I’m eager to work with them and every other business that wants to contribute their time and machinery to helping us fight this virus.”
On the WHO funding, Mr. Trump said the U.S. contributes more than $400 million while superpowers like China, where the outbreak began, contribute closer to $40 million.
The president cited the WHO’s lack of pushback to Beijing’s foggy reporting on the virus in the early going, saying it cost the rest of the world valuable time.
He also cited WHO’s opposition to bans on travel related to the outbreak, accusing it of putting “political correctness above life-saving measures.”
“Countless more lives would have been saved. Instead, look at the rest of the world,” he said, citing the rampant spread of the virus in Europe.
He said U.S. funding wasn’t put to good use and the WHO failed to vet and share information in a timely fashion.
The president also accused the WHO of failing to contain samples of the virus from China and getting a team into the source country, though WHO ultimately did get a team in with cooperation from Beijing.
Mr. Trump’s decision to cut off funding to the public health arm of the U.N. in the middle of a pandemic is sure to raise eyebrows, though the president may resume funding after sending “powerful letters” to the organization and discussing it with other nations.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said Mr. Trump shouldn’t be punishing the WHO for what he called the U.S. administration’s bungling of the public health crisis, including the president downplaying the coronavirus early on as no worse than the common cold.
“Withholding funds for WHO in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century makes as much sense as cutting off ammunition to an ally as the enemy closes in,” he said. “Not wanting to take responsibility as the deaths continue to mount, he blames others. WHO could have been stricter with China and called for travel restrictions sooner, but it is performing an essential function and needs our strong support.”