Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What Does The Push To Reopen The U.S. Economy Mean For Public Safety?


Some 40,000 dead here in the United States in less than two months from COVID-19. Some 740,000 people infected with coronavirus - the highest in the world. Still, despite warnings from public health experts, President Trump is anxious to ease restrictions and restart this economy. But what does that mean for public safety?

We have NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joining us now on the line. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi. So President Trump on Thursday introduced this phased plan for states to reopen. But he didn't mention any dates this time, as he had in the past. So I guess the question is, where does he actually stand on opening up this economy?

LIASSON: Well, he wants the economy open as fast as possible. But his guidelines were vague enough that they leave most of the big decisions to the states, to the governors. And that means that he can take a back seat, and he can blame the governors for anything that goes wrong, including a second spike in infections.

But the president has really made a 180-degree turn from saying in the beginning of the week that he had total authority over reopening, that governors couldn't do anything without his permission, to now, I'm the backup; you fix it. So I think politically, he wants to take credit for the good stuff, like people getting back to work, not get blamed for anything bad, like a second spike in infections. And what we've learned is, you know, President Trump is not a dictator. He just sometimes likes to play one on television.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To make things even more confusing, the president is aligning himself with people who are protesting against certain Democratic governors for doing exactly what he told them to do in his lockdown guidelines.

LIASSON: That's right. Just one day after he released the guidelines for what he called a careful step-at-a-time reopening, he is now encouraging right-wing protesters in states - some of them are swing states with Democratic governors, like Michigan. They're protesting against the restrictions. The president is trying to follow his North Star, which is his base - try to figure out where they are and make sure that he's with them at all costs.

He was asked about the protesters. He said, they seem to be protesters that like me. A lot of them were wearing MAGA hats and holding Trump signs. It's possible he feels this is even more urgent now because his approval rating has slipped six points in the Gallup poll from the middle of March. But the big question is, when he tweets liberate Michigan or liberate Minnesota - liberate from what? Michigan, for instance, doesn't yet meet his own criteria for the phase one and phase two opening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are the repercussions for tweets like these and rallying cries, if any? I mean, what does this mean? - because it is unprecedented.

LIASSON: Yeah. Well, politically, it's a double-edged sword. Clearly, the base likes it. I've talked to Republican strategists who say they don't like it. But beyond the politics, just on a practical level, it has implications because up until now, the president has more or less sided with his public health science advisers. But now it's not just creating political divisions. He could be creating practical problems for Republican governors who are now under tremendous pressure from the president to open up fast. What if they disagree with their local officials? What if there's a second spike 'cause they open too fast? Would it be possible to convince people to go back into self-quarantine if the president is encouraging these protests? That's pretty tough.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, speaking of testing, where are we with that?

LIASSON: Well, everyone tells us - CEOs, governors, public health officials say we don't have the number of tests that we need. We have about 150,000 a day. That's a third of the number that we need to know who is sick, who needs to still be in quarantine, who can go back to work or, maybe with a different kind of test, who's recovered and has some immunity to the virus. Without that kind of information, we can't really pinpoint a containment strategy. And we're stuck doing this massive blunt instrument mitigation, which is putting the whole chunks of the economy into a medically induced coma.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.