President Trump ordered a sweeping emergency deregulation effort Tuesday to jump-start the economic recovery as states reopen from coronavirus shutdowns, and he directed federal agencies not to “over-enforce” regulations against small businesses that are working to bounce back.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order, in his first Cabinet meeting since the crisis hit, that directs federal agencies to rapidly use all emergency and “good cause” authorities to find red tape that can be rescinded or temporarily waived to promote job creation and economic growth.
In addition to cutting regulations, the president’s order instructs Cabinet agencies to “consider exercising appropriate temporary enforcement discretion” for the good of the recovery.
The president told his Cabinet members as he signed the order, “I want you to go to town and do it right. It gives you tremendous power to cut regulation.”
“We’re fighting for the livelihoods of American workers, and we must continue to cut through every piece of red tape that stands in our way,” Mr. Trump said. “With millions of Americans forced out of work by the virus, it’s more important than ever to remove burdens that destroy American jobs in a few minutes.”
The jobless rate in the U.S. rose to 14.7% in April as governors ordered businesses to close to slow the spread of the virus. In February, the unemployment rate was at a historically low 3.5%.
The president took action Tuesday as all 50 states were easing at least some shelter-in-place restrictions for the first time since March 16.
“The American people are responding and breathing that free air again, and they’re doing it responsibly,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who ended more than a week of self-imposed isolation Monday after his press secretary tested positive for COVID-19.
The president pointed to the decline in coronavirus infections, even as states ease stay-at-home restrictions, as proof that the U.S. can rebound from the pandemic and have an economic revival.
“It’s already happening. You see what’s going on. We’re opening up,” Mr. Trump told reporters after speaking to Senate Republicans at their weekly luncheon at the Capitol. “We’re going to have a really good third quarter. It’s already happening. We have states that are opening up, and the [infection] numbers are going down.”
During the closed-door meeting, the president expressed opposition to extending federal unemployment benefits of $600 per month beyond July, according to people familiar with the discussion. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he told Mr. Trump that the provision is hurting the economy by providing a disincentive to work.
House Democrats have proposed extending and expanding unemployment benefits in a $3 trillion relief package they approved last week.
The Congressional Budget Office released projections Tuesday showing a more optimistic view of the economic recovery, saying unemployment will rebound faster than originally expected. CBO said the jobless rate will bottom out at 15.8% this summer — it was 14.7% last month — and will average 9.3% next year.
Mr. Trump again voiced optimism about the economic transition, as transmission of the virus appears to be slowing. The U.S. is recording 20,000 to 25,000 infections per day, compared with about 30,000 to 35,000 in late April.
But the death toll surpassed 91,000 Tuesday.
Canada and the U.S. agreed to extend a ban on nonessential cross-border travel for another 30 days to help fight the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. Similar restrictions are in place between the U.S. and Mexico.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said restrictions on nonessential travel have been successful and “now is not the time to change course.”
“Nonessential travel will not be permitted until this administration is convinced that doing so is safe and secure,” Mr. Wolf said.
Asked by a reporter whether he is considering reopening commercial air travel to Europe, Mr. Trump said, “I’d love to open it up as soon as I can, but we have to make sure that we’re doing well and they’re doing well.”
The administration also announced an indefinite renewal of its policy on illegal immigration that allows Border Patrol agents to quickly return most apprehended migrants to the other side of the border.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the move under the Public Health Act. The CDC triggered the act in March and extended it in April. The move Tuesday renews the policy for the foreseeable future.
Negative effects of the shutdown on the U.S. economy during March and April continued to roll in.
U.S. homebuilding plunged 30.2% in April to the lowest level in five years, the Commerce Department said. Housing starts dropped 43.6% in the Northeast, 14.9% in the Midwest, 26% in the South and 43.4% in the West.
Walmart provided one of the few bright spots in the first quarter. The nation’s largest retailer became one of the few lifelines to millions of people as the coronavirus spread. Online sales in the U.S. jumped 74% for the quarter ended April 30, and same-store sales rose 10% on strong sales of food, health and wellness goods.
At a time when a huge swath of stores that sell nonessential merchandise temporarily shut down, Walmart had an advantage in carrying items that consumers need during a pandemic.
Strengthening the nation’s food supply chain was behind Mr. Trump’s announcement Tuesday of $16 billion in direct payments for farmers hurt by the pandemic.
The direct payments, funded by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was approved in March and a commodity credit law, follows farm bailouts totaling $28 billion in 2018 and 2019. Those earlier payments compensated growers and ranchers for losses from tariffs imposed by China during the administration’s trade war with Beijing.
“Now we’re standing strong with our farmers and ranchers once again,” Mr. Trump said during an event at the White House.
Growers lost about 40% of their customer base when restaurants were ordered to close during the outbreak. Another $3 billion will be used to buy surplus food to supply food banks and other nonprofits across the country with boxes of dairy, produce and meat.
The president said of the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, late last year: “It should have never happened. You know that, I know that. The people that caused the problem, they know that, too.
“These payments will compensate farmers for losses related to the global pandemic caused by China,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ll be providing billions of dollars for corn, cotton, soybean and specialty-crop farmers, cattle ranchers, just about every category I can think of.”
Robert Mills Jr., owner of Briar View Farms Inc. in southern Virginia, said the money is not a bailout.
“We always expect the unexpected, and we didn’t expect this [pandemic],” he said. “It’s not a rescue program. It’s going to help these farm families be able to make good, wise financial decisions. This country relies on what these farmers and ranchers do every day.”
Mr. Trump also directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to pursue cutting off trade deals with countries that ship beef cattle to the U.S. He said the U.S. beef industry is “very self-sufficient.”
The president had helped forge a strong economy largely on an agenda of tax cuts and aggressive deregulation. Mr. Trump famously ordered when he came into office that his administration would cut at least two regulations for every new one proposed; the administration has far exceeded that goal.
After carrying out the new round of emergency deregulation, Mr. Trump said, “We want to leave it that way.”
Senior administration officials said the action could speed the growth of telemedicine, for example, and accelerate pending transportation rules aimed at shipping liquefied natural gas by rail and more efficiently transporting livestock and other food products by truck.
Russ Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said federal agencies have taken more than 600 temporary deregulatory actions to fight the pandemic, and now the administration will move to make permanent “any deregulation possible” to boost the economy.
“Typically when our country has faced a crisis, Washington responds by grabbing more power,” Mr. Vought said. “President Trump understands that to get the economy moving, the power needs to be given back to the people and entrepreneurs. If a bureaucratic rule needs to be suspended during a time of crisis to help the American people, we should ask ourselves if it makes sense to keep at all.”
Paul Ray, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said the move highlights the president’s unique perspective on “the administrative state.”
“He knows that what will jump-start the economy is not Big Government, but the American people,” Mr. Ray said. “That’s why this president is fighting the economic emergency by returning even more liberty to the people.”
Environmental groups criticized the president’s executive order.
“Trump’s latest order makes about as much sense as drinking bleach,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “He’s using the pandemic to slash lifesaving protections for our air, water and wildlife when these safeguards have never been more important.”
Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, applauded the move.
“Too many federal rules were never needed and are especially problematic now, because they aggravate the health and economic crisis,” he said. “The Trump administration is right to heed calls to do its part unilaterally to cut red tape. Next, Congress should do its part to permanently eliminate rules that inflict all pain with little gain.”
⦁ Tom Howell Jr. and Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.