In the coming days, Trump is heading toward a collision—and not just with the medical community and state and local officials worried that aggressive moves to limit the virus’s spread might all be undone.
He could also antagonize some of his strongest Republican allies, such as Graham, who are already sending him warnings. “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, tweeted today. She was responding to public comments made by Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former head of the Food and Drug Administration, who had warned that the economy can’t function amid “uncontrolled” spread of COVID-19 in large cities. Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who is also close to Trump, cited Gottlieb’s comments too, adding that the United States has to stop the coronavirus’s spread in order “to get the economy back on its feet.”
Advice is flooding into the White House from all directions—economists and medical professionals, struggling businesspeople and governors. A debate over how the federal government should proceed is still unfolding, but Trump’s predilection seems clear: He wants people back to work. “We all realize we have to get moving again,” said a senior White House official who, like others I talked with for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Just days ago at the White House, the voice of public-health experts seemed ascendant. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has advised six different presidents, told me that Trump has never overruled a recommendation he’s made. But there’s no guarantee that Fauci’s influence endures. One person close to Trump told me the president was never entirely comfortable with the broad-based stay-at-home recommendations that touched off the economic tailspin. Trump has always solicited advice widely, and economic conservatives have delivered a contrarian message to what the president is hearing from the medical community.
Stephen Moore, a former Trump-campaign adviser whom the president last year considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, told me he has spoken with White House officials about what he called the “cascading” economic costs of keeping much of the nation sequestered at home. “The public-health people, their view is that any cost is worth bearing. But even from a public-health standpoint, what about putting 35 million people out of their jobs?” Moore said. “It will cause death, more suicides, more drug overdoses, and depression and heart attacks.”
Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, was asked about the trade-off between an economic rebound and public health in a gaggle with reporters today. “I think that public health includes economic health,” Kudlow said. “That’s the key point: It’s not either/or.”