- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Positive economic news poured in from reopened states Wednesday as President Trump hosted the governors of Arkansas and Kansas at the White House, while Florida’s governor blasted the media for incorrectly predicting that he ended the state’s coronavirus shutdown too soon.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told the president in a White House meeting that his state is “back to work” and that the state’s sales tax revenue likely will bounce back faster than expected.

“All of our retail stores are open, all of our retail establishments totally are open, our gyms are open,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Our barbers are open, our restaurants.”

Echoing the president’s prediction of “pent-up demand,” Mr. Hutchinson said he now projects the state’s sales tax revenue will be down only 5%, instead of the 10% he had projected.

The president said that prediction is more evidence of “a great transition period” in the third quarter.

“I think you’re going to have a very good fourth quarter,” Mr. Trump said. “States are opening up, some rapidly, safely.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, citing the Congressional Budget Office, said third-quarter growth could be 21.5% — “the biggest growth quarter in American history.”

The second quarter is likely to be the worst in history, with some forecasts predicting economic output falling at an annualized rate of 40% as nearly all states imposed restrictions on work and travel.

Stocks rose to more than 10-week highs Wednesday as investors focused on signs of the economy reopening. The S&P 500 gained more than 1.6%, to 2,972 and is up more than 30% from its low two months ago.

All 50 states have lifted at least some stay-at-home restrictions ahead of the three-day Memorial Day weekend.

An AP-NORC poll released Wednesday showed that opposition is rising to stay-at-home orders. The survey found 24% of respondents oppose requirements to stay at home except for essential errands, compared with 11% in the same poll on April 16.

In the poll, 62% still favor stay-at-home requirements, compared with 80% a month ago.

Mr. Hutchinson said Arkansas still has some restrictions, such as one-third occupancy limits in restaurants.

“And we’re emphasizing appropriate social distancing, but we’re at work,” the governor said.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, praised the president for sending in a “CDC SWAT team” to help the state through an outbreak of COVID cases at meatpacking plants in the southwestern part of her state.

In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis received a visit from Vice President Mike Pence, the governor showed he had his fill of the press second-guessing his plan to reopen the state relatively quickly.

“You got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York — ‘wait two weeks, Florida’s going to be next,’” Mr. DeSantis told reporters with the vice president at his side. “Well hell, we’re eight weeks away from that, and it hasn’t happened. Not only do we have a lower death rate, we have way lower deaths generally.

“We have a lower death rate than the Acela corridor, D.C., everyone up there. We have a lower rate death rate in the Midwest, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio. But even in our region — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia — Florida has the lower death rate, and I was the Number One landing spot from tens of thousands of people leaving the Number One hot zone in the world [New York] to come to my state.”

“So we’ve succeeded,” the governor said. “And I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative. It challenges their assumption, so they got to try to find a boogeyman, maybe … there are black helicopters circling the Department of Health. If you believe that I got a bridge in Brooklyn, I’d like to sell you.”

Florida has recorded almost 2,100 deaths from COVID-19 and about 47,000 cases. It ranks ninth in the U.S. in total cases, with a population of 21.5 million.

Nationwide, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany pointed to “encouraging numbers” as she said states are reopening safely.

“We continue to see a week-over-week decline, a 15% decline in deaths in just the last week,” she said. “April 1 to mid-May, a 50% decline in new hospitalizations, and under 25,000 cases today. So we are seeing progress.”

The U.S., with a population of 330 million, has recorded more than 1.5 million cases and 93,000 deaths.

Mr. Pence visited a senior living complex with Mr. DeSantis to deliver supplies of personal protective equipment.

“Now as Florida begins to open up again … we are going to continue to partner with you to protect your most vulnerable,” Mr. Pence told the governor.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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