President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening reversed himself on a key argument he made just the day before, saying it would now be up to the governors of individual states to decide when their states would reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the federal government would be available to help oversee that process.
On Monday, Trump had said he had "total" authority to make those decisions, drawing rebukes from several governors, including New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said 20 states were in "extremely good shape" and some could reopen even before the end of April when the current federal social distancing guidelines are set to expire.
"I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly, and will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening -- and a very powerful reopening plan of their state -- at a time and in a manner as most appropriate," Trump said.
He said governors would be responsible for the testing health experts have said is critical to avoid further spread and a possible new spike in cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested that a "rolling reentry" could be possible but cautioned Tuesday that May 1 is "a bit overly optimistic" without widespread testing and contract tracing in place.
Trump says some states could reopen before May 1
President Donald Trump opened Tuesday’s briefing in the White House Rose Garden by pointing to some counties across the country that he said don’t have reported cases of COVID-19, appearing to lay the groundwork for reopening parts of the country.
"We grieve at every precious life that's been lost to the invisible enemy, but through the darkness we can see the rays of light," Trump said. "Fifteen percent of counties within the United States have zero cases, and many counties within the United States have a very small number of cases."
"Large sections of our country are really looking at other sections and saying, 'wow, that looks bad,' but they don't have the problem," he said.
Later, after addressing other topics, he turned back the country's reopening he has promised, predicting "the day will be very close" that some states will implement reopening, saying that plans are "close to being finalized."
He said he'll speak to "each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening -- and a very powerful reopening plan of their state -- at a time and in a manner as most appropriate."
The president said that some states could even reopen before the end of this month when the current federal social distancing guidelines expire.
"Certain states -- the day will be very close, because certain states as you know are in a much different condition, much different place than other states. It's going to be very, very close, maybe even before the date May 1st," Trump said.
"Actually, there are over 20 that are in extremely good shape, and we think we will be able to get them open fairly quickly, and then others will follow," he said.
"Frankly, it will be at a time that will be earlier than the deadline we imposed, the end of April," Trump predicted. "So, we think some of the governors will be in really good shape to open up even sooner than that."
Trump's comments saying decisions on reopening will be up to individual governors was a sharp reversal from what he said just the day before when he declared he had "total" authority -- that he "calls the shots" when it comes to deciding how and when states can start lifting restrictions.
"The governors will be very respectful of the presidency. The presidency has such a great importance. You can talk about Constitution, you could talk about federalism, you could talk about whatever you want."
He said governors will be "responsible for the testing" that health experts say is critical to stop further spread and that without it, new spikes in cases could result.
"We don't want to put pressure on anybody. I'm not going to say to Governor Cuomo that you have to open within seven days," Trump said. "I want him to take his time and then open New York. I'm not putting any pressure on. Some of them are ready to go. And that's a good thing," he added. "So, we will open it up in beautiful pieces as it comes."
At the same time, the president ended his news conference with a warning to governors if they don't do what he considers to be a good job reopening.
"Lots of positive things are happening. If the governors don't do a good job, we will come down on them very hard," Trump said.
Trump blames World Health Organization, announces funding halt
Trump announced he was putting a hold on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, a move he has signaled for weeks as he tries to shift blame for his response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the world health organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus," Trump said in an extended diatribe, arguing the organization was against his travel ban to China.
"They were very much opposed to what we did. Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China, saving untold numbers of lives," he said.
The U.S. is the largest donor to the world health agency by far and makes its contribution annually.
While Trump criticized the WHO for what he called a failure "to investigate credible reports from sources in Wuhan that conflicted directly with the Chinese government's official accounts," the president had previously praised President Xi and China for "their effort and transparency" in handling the pandemic.
Trump: 'Scariest day of my life' when told of ventilator shortage
President Trump said that the "scariest" day of his life was about a month ago when he was told the nation had a possible ventilator shortage.
"The scariest day of my life was about a month ago when, after a long day of meetings, my team told me that we were going to be needing 130,000 ventilators but we were short hundreds of thousands of ventilators," Trump said.
He then shifted the blame to governors and the previous administration for the shortage.
"This is the system we inherited. And we look at the states, the states were not prepared," he said.
"Would we be able to prevent Americans from dying because we couldn't get them ventilators? I instructed my team to where heaven and Earth to make sure that this didn't happen," Trump said.
From earlier today:
Fauci says 'we're not there yet' on testing procedures needed to reopen country, calls May 1 date 'a bit overly optimistic' for many areas of country
In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged Tuesday the country does not yet have the critical testing and contact tracing procedures needed to safely begin reopening the nation's economy, as the White House prepares to announce a council to do just that -- and "ahead of schedule," according to the president.
"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," Fauci told The AP.
He called the possibility of opening businesses by May 1 "a bit overly optimistic" for many areas of the country and repeated his suggestion that any easing off the social distancing guidelines should happen on a "rolling" basis.
Fauci also said the White House briefings can be "really draining" and signaled that his time might be better spent directing government research.
"If I had been able to just make a few comments and then go to work, that would have really been much better," he said. "It isn't the idea of being there and answering questions, which I really think is important for the American public. It's the amount of time."
It's not uncommon for the president's briefings to last more than two hours.
Senator looks to protect Fauci with legislation that echoes Mueller protection bills
Echoing legislation that a bipartisan group of senators authored to protect special counsel Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is looking to shield Fauci from being fired by President Trump for anything other than "malfeasance, neglect of office, or incapacity."
"We cannot allow Donald Trump to silence Dr. Fauci or any other government scientists," Markey said in a statement. "This legislation will close the hole in the law that currently allows the President to fire a National Institutes of Health Director such as Dr. Fauci for any reason. Educating the public about the science and the facts that will save lives is not, and should never be, a firing offense."
The bill comes one day after the White House pushed back at new speculation that Fauci's fate was at risk, trying to tamp down questions raised after Trump himself he retweeted a tweet that included the hashtag "#FireFauci."
When senators proposed similar legislation to protect Mueller, it surfaced significant constitutional concerns, including separation of powers, so it's unclear if this would get bipartisan support.
--ABC News' Trish Turner
Trump continues to assert powers over states, tweets that Cuomo reliant on him after governor forms Northeast coalition
After the president claimed his has "total authority" to set the terms of a nationwide reopening, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN this morning: "If he ordered me to reopen, in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn't do it."
Hours later, Trump went on Twitter to say that New York has been reliant on him in responding to the coronavirus in the nation's hardest-hit state, but that "now he seems to want Independence!"
"That won't happen!" Trump added.
Trump also tweeted this morning about one his "all-time favorite movies," the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty," appearing to issue a metaphorical warning to the nation’s governors to follow in line.
"The Constitution does not go out the window in an emergency," said Cuomo, in another phone interview with CNN after the president's remarks Monday. "We don't have a king. We have an elected president."
Even members of Trump's own party have acknowledged the president does not have "total authority," as he suggested.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, House GOP Conference Chair, pointed to rights reserved to states by quoting the Constitution on Monday night, and saying "the federal government does not have absolute power."