Coronavirus government response updates: White House task force to take 'a different form,' Trump confirms in Arizona

Trump visited a Phoenix facility making masks, but didn't wear one on his tour.

May 5, 2020, 7:09 PM

President Donald Trump on Tuesday visited the battleground state of Arizona, which is still under a stay-at-home order, to promote his effort to reopen the country and tour a Honeywell facility producing masks -- though he did not wear one himself.

"If it's a masked facility, I will," he said as he left Washington Tuesday morning, before the White House said that Honeywell had granted their officials an exception to wearing masks.

The president also downplayed the significance of a key forecasting model used by the White House that now shows the U.S. death toll doubling as states ease restrictions from roughly 70,000 lives in early August to nearly 135,000 by that time.

He inaccurately claimed that the model doesn't take into account mitigation measures.

President Donald Trump participates in a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment in Phoenix, May 5, 2020.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday, the president revised his predicted death toll from 60,000 Americans as the "minimum number" to the death toll "hopefully" remaining under 100,000. The country is on track to hit the president's prior prediction by the weekend, as more states ease restrictions.

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The government's top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, acknowledged to CNN Monday night that some people may "violently" disagree with his warnings about reopening too quickly but said he has a "moral obligation ... based on evidence and experience" to help make safe decisions.

"How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later," Fauci asked. "There are people that are going to be disagreeing with me. Some of them, rather violently in many respects, you know, telling me that I'm crazy you know fire Fauci, do this, do that. That's part of the game."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, arrives to speak about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Here are Tuesday's most significant developments in Washington:

  • WH task force is winding down around 'Memorial Day window, early June' says Pence, Trump and WH officials confirm
  • Trump, traveling to Arizona, downplays model with higher death toll
  • Trump tours a Honeywell N95 mask production facility without a mask, WH says Honeywell made an exception
  • Trump participated in a roundtable discussion on supporting Native Americans, Treasury releasing $4.8B of the $8B to tribes allocated in CARES Act
  • Lawmakers return to Washington, some wearing masks as virus divides Congress

Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi is seen during a ceremonial swearing-in for Rep. Kweisi Mfume at the U.S. Capitol, May 5, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Trump completes trip to Arizona without donning a mask, confirms task force may take 'a different form'

Speaking with reporters ahead of a tour of the Honeywell N95 mask production facility in Phoenix, Trump defended the decision to wind down the coronavirus task force, even as the rate of new cases continues to climb in parts of the country, saying the United States is moving into a new phase of the fight against the virus and "we'll have something in another form."

"I think we are looking at phase two, and we're looking at other phases. The country is starting to open up," the president said. "Mike and the task force have done a great job, but we're looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening, and we'll have a different group, probably, set up for that," Trump said.

The president did not elaborate on what the "different group" may look like but said top experts will continue to be involved in White House decision-making.

President Donald Trump (L) participates in a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment in Phoenix, May 5, 2020.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

"They will be and so will other doctors and so will other experts in the field," the president said. "We are bringing our country back."

Asked why now is the time to wind down the task force, even as the virus persists, Trump emphasized the economic interests demand a reopening of the country and expressed optimism in the ability to keep the virus under control moving forward.

"We can't keep our country closed for the next five years. You can say there will be a recurrence and there might be, you know, some doctors, most doctors will say that will happen, and it'll be a flame and we're going to put out the flame," Trump said.

While in Phoenix, the president also sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC "World News Tonight" Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir.

President Donald Trump speaks with ABC News' David Muir in Phoenix on May 5, 2020.
ABC News

He told Muir that "it's possible there will be some" live lost as states roll back restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, acknowledging that it was the choice the country faces to reopen and jumpstart the economy.

"It's possible there will be some because you won't be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is," Trump said. "But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing, we're going to be washing hands, we're going to be doing a lot of the things that we've learned to do over the last period of time."

"We can't sit in the house for the next three years," the president added.

Criticized for showing a lack of empathy during the crisis, the president also shared a new message for Americans who have lost a loved one to the coronavirus that has killed more than 70,000 people in the United States: "I love you."

While in Phoenix, the president also participated in a roundtable discussion on "supporting Native Americans," on the same day the Treasury Department confirmed it will start releasing $4.8 billion of the $8 billion allocated in the CARES Act to tribes starting Tuesday.

In later remarks at the Honeywell plant, Trump noted he's had "good moments" in the state of Arizona -- "especially on Election Day" -- and lauded the employees' efforts in making masks as part of a larger national effort against "the invisible enemy."

The president notably did not wear a mask on Tuesday -- though he did sport goggles at one point. A White House official later said that Honeywell had granted them an exception.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable on supporting Native Americans, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix.
Evan Vucci/AP

White House task force winding down in weeks ahead, Pence points to 'Memorial Day window, early June'

The White House coronavirus task force is set to wind down in the weeks ahead as the administration looks to shift focus from the day-to-day public health response toward an economic reopening of the country, multiple senior officials tell ABC News.

The news was first reported by the New York Times.

Pence confirmed that there are discussions underway about disbanding the coronavirus task force as soon as Memorial Day.

"We're having conversations about that," Pence told a group of reporters off camera. "We're starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window as a time when we could begin to transition back to having our agencies begin to manage -- begin to manage our national response in a more traditional manner."

A senior White House official says the doctors will continue to play an important advisory role.

Trump has shown an eagerness in recent weeks for the country to get back to work, expressing optimism that the virus can be successfully contained even as the country begins to return to normal functions.

The move comes as the rate of new infections continues to rise in much of the country, even as some early U.S. hotspots have begun to bring the virus under control.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders and Jordyn Phelps

President Donald Trump participates in the daily briefing of the coronavirus task force in the Rose Garden of the White House, on April 27, 2020, in Washington.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

Hassett predicts unemployment rate will be worst since Great Depression, says model showing lower death rate never used by Trump to make decisions

White House economist Kevin Hassett on CNN Tuesday gave a dire prediction for the U.S. jobs report expected Friday, saying unemployment may be as high as 20% -- a number he previously predicted the country wouldn't hit until June.

"My guess right now is going to be north of 16%, maybe as high as 19 or 20% -- so we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression," he said.

Hassett also pushed back on Washington Post reporting and said that his own modeling projections suggesting a lower rate of death from the coronavirus than other models were never used by Trump or the task force to make decisions in pushing for an economic reopening.

"I was in the Oval with Drs. Fauci and Birx and always agreed with their forecasts. I've had plenty of opportunities to say, 'No, it's going to be lower,' -- I never once did," Hassett insisted. "I even asked chief Meadows this morning," he said, referring to new White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. "I said, 'Did you ever see anyone take this chart to the president and say, hey you know it says that things are going to be better than they say,' and he said no."

"The thing that was incorrect, I think, was to assert that this was relevant for decision making," Hassett continued on CNN, which displayed an up-to-date version of Hassett's modeling. "This is a very standard statistician's tool kit kind of thing to visualize how the model is performing relative to the data."

Hassett said that his modeling is "not a prediction" but intended to compare actual data to the various forecasts. By comparison to the popular IHME projection, for instance, Hassett's modeling indicates a rosier future and much steeper downward trend in deaths.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps

Trump, traveling to Arizona, downplays model with higher death toll

As he left the White House for his first major trip in two months, Trump said he was not concerned about a new University of Washington IHME model forecasting 134,000 deaths by August -- taking into account states easing restrictions.

"That's without mitigation, and we will have mitigation," Trump said, although the model is based on current behaviors in the U.S. "The fact that we are letting people go and go to their jobs, they have to do it. You know, if they held people any longer with the shutdown, you are going to lose people that way, and you already have, I'm sure. But between drug abuse and they say suicide, a lot of different things, there is no win."

President Donald Trump talks to journalists as he departs the White House, May 5, 2020.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

He continued to shift his message to reopening the country.

"We have to open our country," Trump said. "Models have been very inaccurate. ... We did everything right but now, it's time to go back to work -- so I'm going to Arizona."

When asked if he would wear a mask on his visit Tuesday to the Honeywell N95 mask production plant, Trump said he will, "if it's a masked facility."

Trump also confirmed that Dr. Anthony Fauci will testify before the Senate next week -- not the House -- he specified, calling House Democrats "a bunch of Trump haters."

"Dr. Fauci will be testifying in front of the Senate and he looks forward to doing that. But the House, I will tell you, the House should be ashamed of themselves, and frankly the Democrats should be ashamed because they don't want us to succeed. They want us to fail so they can win an election which they are not going to win," the president said, before heading to the battleground state of Arizona.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wears a mask to protect himself and others from COVID-19 as he speaks to the press as the Senate returns into session at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 4, 2020.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

NY Post: Trump maintains coronavirus briefings will be back but not daily, says he doesn't support

In a multi-part interview with the NY Post conducted Monday, President Donald Trump said the coronavirus briefings will continue, once or twice a week, and that new White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, is "going to be able to do them."

Comparing the task force briefings to rallies, Trump said "everybody" enjoyed watching them and that they generated excitement.

"We get a lot of people watching, and it's the way that you get around fake news. In other words, I have a much bigger audience than anybody's ever had," the president said.

As the country battles the novel coronavirus pandemic, Trump said he thinks the American people are "starting to feel good now. The country's opening again. We saved millions of lives, I think," he added.

Shifting to his campaign rallies, Trump said it's a "big disadvantage" if he can't keep them back before the election but repeated his hope to do so.

"I hope we're going to be able to get the rallies back before the election," Trump said. "I actually think it's very important. I think that would be a big -- a big disadvantage to me if we didn't, if we couldn't have the rallies back."

President Donald Trump listens during an event with Gilead Sciences on their work on HIV and Hepatitis C, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 1, 2020.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump also echoed recent remarks by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who suggested last month states declare bankruptcy as opposed to taking a federal bailout, a comment the leader later walked back, but the president doubled down on, noting most cases with outbreaks are run by Democrats.

"I think Congress is inclined to do a lot of things, but I don't think they're inclined to do bailouts. A bailout is different than, you know, reimbursing for the plague," the president said. "It's not fair to the Republicans because all the states that need help -- they're run by Democrats in every case. Florida is doing phenomenal, Texas is doing phenomenal, the Midwest is, you know, fantastic -- very little debt."

ABC News' Ben Gittleson

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