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As Coronavirus Precautions Tighten, Trump Looks To Reopen America

NOEL KING, HOST:

The number of coronavirus cases in this country is rising - it's now more than 46,000. Health experts say social distancing is key, and President Trump has said the same thing. But last night, the president spoke and he had another message - with an eye on the economy, the president said he's eager to see businesses reopen.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America will again and soon be open for business, very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting - a lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We're not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.

KING: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is on the line with me. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So last Monday, President Trump advised people to socially distance themselves, but last night, he seemed to be saying something different, yeah?

RASCOE: Yeah. Now he's saying he thinks it will be weeks and not months before things start opening up again. He kept arguing that the U.S. can do two things at once, meaning the country can open up businesses and still contain the virus. Here's more from him.

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TRUMP: We want to take care of our workers, so we'll be doing something I think relatively quickly. But we've learned a lot during this period. This was a very necessary period. Tremendous information was gained. But we can do two things at one time.

RASCOE: I should say that Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the medical experts leading Trump's coronavirus task force, was at yesterday's briefing, and she would not say whether she agreed with Trump's assessment.

KING: It's worth noting that President Trump can say what he wants, but it is ultimately governors and local officials who are making the decisions - right? - about lockdowns, closing schools, closing public places.

RASCOE: Yeah, the federal government has not been driving these closures. It's states that are putting in place mandatory shutdowns for businesses and schools, and governors will still have that authority to make those decisions.

KING: OK. Ayesha, I want to ask you a last question about this huge stimulus package that the Senate is negotiating, somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion. It did not pass last night. What is happening right now?

RASCOE: So it didn't pass last night, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talked with reporters last night, and he said he's - he expects to reach an agreement today. He said there's still some small differences, but he thinks that they can get that done.

KING: OK, some optimistic news there. NPR's White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.