President Donald Trump has what the White House is calling a formal “press briefing” on his schedule for the first time in two weeks Monday, pushing a theme of preparedness to reopen the country, as fears grow that the novel coronavirus has invaded the cramped offices of White House West Wing.
After dozens of states eased restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus over the weekend, Trump’s own economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CBS Sunday that although he has a mask and practices social distancing, “it is scary to go into work.”
Additional measures were being considered this week at the White House following positive tests from one of the president’s valets and the vice president’s press secretary for coronavirus. Meanwhile, critics of the administration question when widespread testing, contact tracing and protective equipment will become available to all everyday Americans returning to work, as they become integrated at the White House.
“If we did very little testing, [America] wouldn’t have the most cases,” Trump said last Wednesday. “So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”
On Capitol Hill, task force witnesses scheduled to testify before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday regarding the opening of the economy — including Drs. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and coronavirus testing coordinator Adm. Brett Giroir — will instead appear by videoconference in the historic hearing.
Fauci, Hahn and Redfield are in some form of quarantine this week following contact with at least one White House staffer who tested positive. Even the committee’s chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will preside over the hearing from his home state “out of an abundance of caution,” after one of his staff members, too, tested positive for the contagious pathogen.
The president continues his reopening push as more states lift restrictions, although a new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows most Americans resist reopening the country now, believing the risk to human life outweighs the economic toll.
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Here are Monday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Top WH trade adviser: Talk of the bad economy sounds like a ‘pity party’
The White House’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro said this morning that Sunday show talk of historically low economic numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic was “pity party stuff.”
“It was a pity party,” Navarro told “Fox and Friends” Monday. “This is not the Great Depression. Anybody who thinks this is the Great Depression doesn’t understand history or economics.”
He argued the current disruption was temporary and did not equate to the decade-long impact of the Great Depression.
“This Great Depression pity party stuff I saw yesterday, this ain’t that,” he said.
Navarro was also asked about a Washington Post article on the federal government in January turning down a Texas company’s offer to manufacture N-95 masks. He said the firm was “very difficult to work and communicate with” and that “they were having their own problems which were glorified in the Washington Post article.”
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
White House looks at potential new procedures after at least two West Wing staffers test positive
Additional measures are being considered for the West Wing after two aides on the White House campus tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Sources tell ABC News there will be more aides wearing masks in recent weeks, though it will not be required. Secret Service agents close to the president and in the vicinity of the Oval Office will also begin wearing masks.
One measure under consideration is that aides must maintain a six-foot social distance during meetings including ones with the president, one senior level source told ABC News.
There is a list of over a dozen people who work in the west wing who will be tested daily before reporting to work, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, multiple sources say.
“We are going to continue to conduct business but not run the risk of being potentially infected by a common source,” a personal familiar with the discussions of potential new procedures said.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Friday the White House “is probably the safest place you can come to,” despite confusion internally about what the White House was actually doing to keep the building and employees safe, given many do not follow social distancing measures.
Over the weekend, Meadows worked with its medical and security units to put additional protocols in place, sources say.
“Any meetings the president goes to people will maintain maximum social distancing measures,” one administration official said.
There were discussions also about separating the president and vice president, but at this point multiple officials say that is unlikely and that the two will still attend meetings together.
Pence did not quarantine over the weekend, although he was not in attendance for a Saturday meeting at the White House.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders and John Santucci
Trump falsely says COVID-19 ‘numbers’ are ‘going down almost everywhere’ as death toll nears 80K
President Trump said inaccurately in a tweet this morning that “coronavirus numbers are … going down almost everywhere.”
An ABC News analysis, based on New York Times data, found that, as of Sunday, in a majority of U.S. states cases are either increasing or mostly staying the same.
As Trump tweets “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better,” the number of total deaths domestically is nearing 80,000.
The University of Washington’s IHME model, a key forecasting tool used by the White House, is predicting more than 137,000 deaths from COVID-19 by early August, as of Monday morning.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson