A top House Republican is pushing back against President Donald Trump’s apparent willingness to defy medical experts and prematurely urge businesses to reopen, even as the coronavirus pandemic escalates in the United States.
“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted Tuesday.
Trump spent much of Monday repeating that the country should not let the “cure be worse than the problem,” signaling that his concern for the economy may outweigh the health and safety of millions of Americans who have been told to practice social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“America will again and soon be open for business — very soon,” Trump said at the daily White House news conference on the virus, saying the country could both contain the disease and return to normal American life. Experts have warned anything approaching normalcy will be near-impossible for months.
Cheney, the House Republican Conference chair, is the third-ranking GOP member of the House. She’s in charge of House Republicans’ communication strategy, both internally and externally. So far, she’s been a staunch partisan in her messaging. But in the face of a global pandemic that’s quickly sweeping through the United States, Cheney appears to have separated from the president.
Her comments echoed concerns raised by Scott Gottlieb, a former Trump administration Food and Drug Administration commissioner who’s now a fellow with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.
“So long as Covid-19 spreads uncontrolled, older people will die in historic numbers, middle aged folks doomed to prolonged ICU stays to fight for their lives, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and most Americans terrified to leave homes, eat out, take the subway, or go to the park,” Gottlieb tweeted. “There are two ways to end this. Let a vast swath of people catch Covid which is unthinkable, or break the epidemic. We must choose the latter.”
Last week, the White House called on states to shut down bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and all indoor and outdoor community gathering places where there’s been a spread of the virus. The current guidance, part of a 15-day plan to slow the infection rate, says social gatherings should be limited to no more than 10 people, and Americans should practice social distancing — staying in their homes and keeping at least six feet from others.
But one week in, Trump ― staring at a sinking economy and the threat of record high unemployment ― appeared weary of the effort.
Trump tweeted Monday: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
Health experts and economists have warned against loosening restrictions too early. The idea behind the 15-day push was to lessen the stress on the health care system, which is short on critical medical supplies, including ICU beds, respiratory equipment and personal protective gear for health care workers.
The Washington Post reported that conservative economists like Stephen Moore and Art Laffer have been lobbying Trump to call for a return to normalcy — a position that has now been taken up by some of the president’s most ardent defenders.
On Monday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went on Fox News saying those over the age of 70, who are at the highest risk of dying if they contract the illness, would “take care of ourselves.” Patrick himself is 69.
However, Cheney’s message shows Trump may not have unified support among Republicans in Congress should he decide to scale back restrictions.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
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