President Donald Trump says he plans to speak with the nation's governors on Thursday after reversing himself on a key argument, now saying it will be up to the governors of individual states to implement reopening plans amid the coronavirus pandemic and that the federal government would provide oversight.
"Encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country, which we’ll be announcing -- we're going to be talking about that tomorrow," the president said Wednesday.
Trump previously said he would "authorize" governors to reopen their states, even though he has no power to do so and governors don't need his permission. His assertion of "total" authority as president earlier this week drew rebukes from several governors, some of whom banded together by region to form geographically-coordinated responses to the virus.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden for a second day in the row, Trump continued to lay the groundwork for reopening across states, touting his conversations with industry executives, while members of his task force pointed to areas of the country with few cases.
The president also spent several minutes blaming Senate Democrats for blocking his judicial nominations and even threatened to "adjourn" both chambers of Congress amid the ongoing pandemic, which constitutional scholars note he does not have the authority to do for that reason under the circumstances.
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Here are Wednesday's most significant developments in Washington:
- Trump, Pence say new reopening guidelines for states coming Thursday, details to follow discussion with governors
- Trump says US has 'passed the peak for new cases' nationwide, while doctors have cautioned different areas will have varied peaks
- Trump threatens to unilaterally 'adjourn' Congress amid the pandemic if his judicial nominees are not approved
- Coronavirus relief checks to have Trump's name printed on them, some experts call move 'unprecedented'
- Governors will be responsible for critical testing, Trump says, not the federal government
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump says new guidelines for 'reopening the country' coming
President Donald Trump opened Wednesday's coronavirus task force briefing on an optimistic note, pointing to what he said were "signs of great progress" as the number of cases declines in hard-hit areas like New York, and laying the foundation to reopen businesses in "various states."
"The battle continues, but the data suggest that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases," the president said, speaking from a chilly White House Rose Garden for the second day in a row.
Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, among other experts, have previously said a better way to look at "the peak" is state-by-state, city-by-city and community-by-community -- since the U.S. is so large and diverse, and each place will have it's own peak.
Trump went on to announce that he will be speaking with the nation's governors on Thursday to discuss these new "guidelines" -- though he already said the federal government will oversee governors' plans to implement reopenings in their individual states, instead of setting nationwide terms.
"These encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country, which we'll be announcing -- we are going to be talking about that tomorrow," Trump said.
The president earlier Wednesday added to an expansive list of American businesses and industry executives to advise him on reopening parts of the country, after suggesting some areas could open ahead of May 1, when the current White House social distancing guidelines are set to expire.
He had several phone calls with some of those leaders on his newly formed "opening of the country council" who must have reiterated to the president what public health experts and governors have been warning him for weeks: that there needs to be widespread testing in place for a successful and safe reopening.
"They provided valuable insights on how to move forward, including on the role of protective gear -- where we have tremendous amounts of protective gear coming in -- robust testing and the future use of therapies and treatments," Trump said. "They also underscored the crucial importance of strong supply chains and communications infrastructure."
In an apparent effort to encourage Americans, the president also said, "We'll be the comeback kids, all of us," before repeating his message that it's time to "get our country back."
"Again, we'll have some openings that will be, will exceed our expectations. And they'll be safe, they'll be strong, but we want to get our country back," Trump said. "We're going to do it, and we're gonna do it soon."
Pence, Birx point to data of areas with fewer cases, as Trump looks to reopening
Vice President Mike Pence, leading the coronavirus task force, also teased Thursday's unveiling of guidelines to that nation's governors and signaled data from each state will be used to form guidance -- so states with fewer cases will be given more flexibility.
"The American people will be encouraged to know as we stand here today, 24% of the counties of this country have no reported coronavirus cases. In fact, half of the states in America have less than 2500 cases per state," Pence said.
"We are going to reflect on the fact that there will be areas of the country that will require continued mitigation, strong efforts, and there will be other areas of the country that will be given guidance for greater flexibility," her said.
Pence also encouraged Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 to contact their local blood or plasma donors, since people who have recovered have antibodies in their bloodstream that can attack the coronavirus.
"We want to urge every American who has recovered from coronavirus for at least two and preferably four weeks to contact your local blood or plasma donation center and arrange to donate," Pence said. "It's one more way that the American people can do their part and step forward."
As the president looks to reopening, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force coordinator, explained the significance of the reduction in new cases across the nation.
"So, over the last five to six days, we've seen declines in cases across the country, and this has been very reassuring for us. At the same time, we know that mortality and the fatalities that we're facing across the United States continue."
"I wanted to let you know that we do have nine states that have less than a thousand cases and less than 30 new cases per day," Birx said.
Trump says he's not involved with name on checks, threatens to 'adjourn' Congress over court nominees
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked the president why his name will appear on relief checked provided to Americans, but the president said he did not know about it.
"I don't know too much about it but I understand my name is there, I don't know where they are going, how they are going, I understand it's not delaying anything and I'm satisfied with that," Trump said.
"I don't imagine it's a big deal, I'm sure people will be very happy to get a big, fat, beautiful check and my name is on it," he added.
The decision to add the president's name to the checks came in the last couple of days following private discussions between the president and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, an administration official told ABC News.
In a surprise twist, Trump lashed out at congressional Democrats, warning that if they don't start approving his judicial nominees, he will unilaterally adjourn Congress amid the pandemic so that he can confirm his nominees without Senate approval, although constitutional scholars said he does not have the power to do so for that reason under the circumstances.
"I would rather not use that power, but we have way over 100 people that we very badly need in this administration that should have been approved a long time ago," Trump said, adding a message to opponents.
"They are being warned right now if they don't approve it, we are going to go this route, and we will probably be challenged in court, and we will see who wins."
The Constitution does give the president the power to adjourn the House and Senate, but only when the two chambers disagree about when to adjourn, and that clause doesn't appear to have ever been invoked.
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at University of Texas School of Law, told ABC News that Trump's argument is ineffective, since the two chambers of Congress so far haven't disagreed on when to adjourn.
"Article II empowers the president to adjourn Congress if and only if the two houses can’t agree to a date of adjournment sine die. That hasn’t happened here, so a purported adjournment would be ineffective," Vladeck said.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at The George Washington University Law School, whom Republicans praised during the House impeachment hearings when he testified as their witness -- also disagreed with Trump's argument, tweeting during the president's briefing that "a pandemic should not be an invitation for pandemonium."
From earlier today:
Trump's name to appear on coronavirus stimulus checks
In a step experts call unprecedented, President Donald Trump's name will appear on the paper relief checks expected to start being issued via mail "early next week," a Treasury Department spokeswoman confirmed to ABC News Wednesday, while denying adding his name would delay checks from going out.
"President Donald J. Trump" will appear on the memo line in the bottom-left corner of the $1,200 checks sent out to 70 million Americans to help deal with the pandemic -- his name but not his signature.
While the Washington Post reports that adding his name to the checks -- under a line that says "Economic Impact Payment" -- will slow the pace of the disbursements, the Treasury spokeswoman told ABC News, "Economic Impact Payment checks are scheduled to go out on time and exactly as planned -- there is absolutely no delay whatsoever."
-- ABC News' Jack Arnholz
CDC director won't repeat Trump's fiery claims of World Health Organization failure in GMA interview
While President Trump used fiery language and accusations to blast the World Health Organization Tuesday evening as he announced a halt in U.S. funding, the director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield wouldn't echo those harsh pronouncements in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" this morning.
Instead, Redfield emphasized U.S. cooperation with the WHO and claimed they continue to have a "productive public health relationship" -- even as the president has just moved to slash funding.
"The CDC and WHO has had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks throughout the world as we continue to do in this one. And so we've had a very productive public health relationship. We continue to have that," Redfeild said when asked by ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos if the leading international health organization failed and whether it was wise to suspend funding.
"So they didn't fail?" Stephanopoulos followed up.
"Again, I think I'd like to do the postmortem on this outbreak once we get through it together," Redfield said.
Redfield's reluctance to criticize the WHO represents a striking contrast to the message coming from the White House, as the president justifies cutting off funds to the international organization at the forefront of battling the global pandemic.
Looking ahead to potential reopenings in parts of the country by May 1, Redfield said reopenings will be assessed on a state-by-state basis.
He also said "we have to assume" the virus will operate like other respiratory illnesses and come back on a seasonal basis and said he expects there will be another battle against the virus come winter.
He said assessing potential immunity after exposure is a "critical question" and are moving forward on a working assumption that that is the case but also admitted that they "can't ascertain it for certain" on a scientific basis at this time.
-- ABC News' Jordyn Phelps
US Chamber of Commerce: Cutting WHO funding during pandemic 'not in U.S. interests'
The pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce this morning said cutting WHO's funding would not be in U.S. interests, joining a growing chorus of people and organizations condemning the president's announcement.
"The Chamber supports a reformed but functional World Health Organization, and U.S. leadership and involvement are essential to ensuring its transparency and accountability going forward," said U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs Myron Brilliant in a statement.
"However, cutting the WHO's funding during the COVID-19 pandemic is not in U.S. interests given the organization's critical role assisting other countries -- particularly in the developing world -- in their response."
ABC News' Ben Gittleson contributed to this report
This report was featured in the Thursday, April 16, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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