There is an active debate within the White House – and among senior advisers on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force — about loosening his guidelines for the public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, multiple sources told ABC News Monday.
Some in the president’s inner circle are advocating for the guidelines on social distancing to be significantly scaled back with hopes of reviving the economy while others have warned that approach could quickly overload hospital systems around the country.
In a White House tasked with handling a pandemic crippling the nation, the factions are only growing. While Vice President Mike Pence’s team is leading the coronavirus task force, there is a also a pseudo-operation being led by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. A source familiar with the matter said that Kushner’s team is largely focused on the supply-side elements of the crisis, working to coordinate with companies, manufactures, and FEMA on sourcing and supplying masks to states. It’s unclear exactly which members are taking the different positions in the economic debate.
The president and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have both publicly acknowledged they disagree on some aspects of the government response, with Fauci often contradicting Trump and clarifying his comments.
Fauci said in an interview over the weekend that even though they disagree, Trump does listen to what he says.
“Well, that’s pretty interesting because to [Trump’s] credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens,” Fauci said when asked by Science Magazine how he’s managing to not get fired. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
“Well, I don’t disagree in the substance. It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject,” he said.
A senior administration official in favor of loosening guidelines, who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, counters that it’s the president’s job is to weigh all the factors. While doctors and public health officials are not wrong to raise the public health concerns, the president has to weigh those concerns against the economic crisis that is resulting from major sectors of the economy grinding to a halt amid the spreading pandemic, the official said.
This official pointed out that the overwhelming majority of people who get COVID-19 will fully recover and that the majority of deaths are among the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
The president’s guidance, which he unveiled a week ago and called for the public to follow for a 15-day period, advises people to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, not to dine in restaurants or bars, and to work from home whenever possible.
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The internal debate spilled into the public view with a tweet from President Trump just before midnight on Sunday night, warning that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
The president went on to send a number of retweets Monday morning supportive of the argument that the economic cost of extending strict social distancing guidance beyond the 15-day period is unaffordable.
The president’s top economic adviser took to FOX News later in the day to echo the same message, declaring that “we can’t shutter the economy.”
“The president was right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs,” Kudlow said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams – a top member of the president’s task force – went on NBC Monday morning to argue the opposing sentiment, warning that things are “going to get bad” this week and called it a “somber” occasion in America.
“I want America to understand, this week, it’s going to get bad. And we really need to come together as a nation,” Adams said in the interview. “Everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now and that means stay at home.”
The Trump administration has said the CDC plans to update its guidelines on Monday, but the latest revision isn’t likely to apply to the general public but rather health care workers and others in “critical infrastructure” jobs.
Vice President Pence announced in Sunday’s briefing that the CDC rules for people working critical infrastructure jobs would “make it possible for people that have been exposed to return to work more quickly with, by wearing a mask for a certain period of time.”
Contacted by ABC News, the CDC did not provide any additional information.