Plan is for Trump to shift focus to prospects for economy

WASHINGTON (AP) – After two months of frantic response to the coronavirus, the White House is planning to shift United States (US) President Donald Trump’s public focus to the burgeoning efforts aimed at easing the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

Days after he publicly mused that scientists should explore the injection of toxic disinfectants as a potential virus cure, Trump has now rejected the utility of his daily task force briefings, where he has time and again clashed with scientific experts. Trump’s aides are aiming to move the president onto more familiar – and safer, they hope – ground: talking up the economy, in tighter controlled settings.

It’s a political imperative as allies have seen an erosion in support for the president. What had been his greatest asset in the reelection campaign, his ability to blanket news headlines with freewheeling performances, has become a daily liability. At the same time, new Republican Party polling shows Trump’s path to a second term depends on the public’s perception of how quickly the economy rebounds from the state-by-state shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Some states have started to ease closure orders, and Trump is expected to begin to highlight his administration’s work in helping businesses and employees. Aides said the president would hold more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future recovery package.

Trump last left the White House grounds a month ago, and plans are being drawn up for a limited schedule of travel within the next few weeks, aide said. It would be a symbolic show that the nation is beginning to reopen.

A woman holds a Donald Trump flag to protest the closing of businesses and stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus in Las Vegas. PHOTO: AP

The shift comes in conjunction with what the White House sees as encouraging signs across the country, with the pace of new infections stabilising and deaths declining.

Still, medical experts warn that the virus will remain until at least a vaccine is developed and that the risk of a severe second wave is high if social distancing is relaxed too quickly or if testing and contact tracing schemes aren’t developed before people return to normal behaviours.

The White House is deliberating whether to continue to hold news briefings in a modified form without Trump, potentially at a different location. Before Trump said in a tweet Saturday that they were, “Not worth the time and effort,” aides had been eager to use the briefings to highlight positive trends and to overwhelm Americans with statistics. It was an effort to restore confidence in the response so that the public would be comfortable resuming more normal activities.

“We know that’s important,” Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told Fox News Channel’s Sunday Morning Futures. “We understand those messages of science and policy need to be brought forward to the American people in a non-political way.”

Few Americans regularly look to or trust Trump as a source of information on the pandemic, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released last week.

Yesterday, the White House released a recap of what the federal government has done so far to improve the availability of COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment and ventilators.