As nearly all 50 states reopen in some measure this week despite a climbing U.S. death toll, some of President Donald Trump‘s advisers are publicly fighting over who's to blame inside the administration for problems in the government's response to COVID-19.
Tensions between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have risen to the surface, with one top Trump White House official blaming the agency, and a Cabinet official calling his comments' “inaccurate and inappropriate.”
Trump also said Monday he's been taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, unproven to treat COVID-19, for the last week-and-a-half, despite recent FDA warnings against its widespread use.
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Here are Monday's most significant developments in Washington:
Trump says he's been taking hydroxychloroquine for a week and a half: ‘What do you have to lose?'
Trump said in the last minutes of an event with restaurant executives he's been taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, unproven to treat COVID-19, saying that though he's had no symptoms, he asked the White House physician to prescribe it.
“I asked him, ‘What do you think? He said, ‘Well if you'd like it.' I said, ‘Yeah I'd like it. I'd like to take it.'
“A lot of people to take it a lot of frontline workers are taking hydroxychloroquine, a lot of front,” Trump claimed. “So I'm taking the zinc and the hydroxy. And all I can tell you is, so far I seem to be okay.”
Notably, though the FDA warns against its use outside of a hospital setting, the agency is allowing frontline workers to use hydroxychloroquine as part of controlled, clinical trials.
Dr. William W. O'Neill, leading one of the largest studies of the drug's use as a potential preventative medication, has said safe studies are necessary to determine the medication's potential.
The randomized, double-blinded study he's overseeing is a 3,000-subject look at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at whether hydroxychloroquine prevents front-line workers from contracting the COVID-19 virus.
The president said he's received “a lot of positive letters” offering good feedback of the drug and insisted Monday, even if it's not effective, “you're not going to get sick or die.”
“And it seems to have an impact — and maybe it does, maybe it doesn't — but if it doesn't, you're not going to get sick or die. This is a, a pill that's been used for a long time for 30, 40 years on the malaria and or lupus to, and even on arthritis I guess from what I understand, so it's been heavily tested in terms of,” Trump said.
The president told reporters that he was “just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,” adding he has been taking it for about a week and a half — “and I'm still here. I'm still here can you explain to you.”
“Every day I take a pill every day. At some point, I'll stop. What I’d like to do is I'd like to have the cure and/or the vaccine. And that will happen, I think, very soon,” he added.
The FDA last month specifically warned of serious side effects of taking hydroxychloroquine “outside of a hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems,” though touted by the White House.
Restaurant executives press Trump to extend deadline for spending PPP loans from current 8 to 24 weeks, Trump suggests areas not reopening like Los Angeles have ‘death wish'
At a meeting with restaurant executives Monday afternoon, representatives banded together to call on the Trump administration to extend the spending deadline of the loans from the paycheck protection program to 24 weeks, from the current eight weeks allowed.
President Trump seemed surprised to hear the owners were in agreement that an extension was more important to them than additional tax deductibility — a measure the president appeared to push.
“Mr. President, the payroll protection program would be a godsend, if we could make one change. If we could extend the time that we need that we have to spend the proceeds into many communities today. The eight week period is simply not enough time,” one restaurant owner said, before he was met largely with agreement.
“Deductibility is amazing, but it's almost like we need to build the house first,” another executive told the president.
Appearing to not realize that all of the executives were part on a coalition, Trump asked if they all discussed the 24-weeks goalpost beforehand.
“That is what is incredible about this independent restaurant coalition. This did not exist seven weeks ago. Restaurant owners didn't talk to each other. Ever. And we were bringing people together,” one owner said, as they nodded collectively.
Trump called the request “very reasonable” though the change would need congressional approval.
While extending the timeline to use PPP funds clearly was top priority for the restauranteurs, Trump kept pushing an idea to let businesses be able to fully deduct any money they spend with restaurants for catering, business meals, and other entertainment expenses.
As he continues his ramp to reopen, the president asked another representative if it was true that Los Angeles will be closed “til the end of August, is that a fact?”
He replied, “That's a good question. I'm in Napa Valley, but I'm not really sure about Los Angeles. I'm sorry.”
“Yeah. That's the mayor wants to do that,” Trump followed up quickly. “That's a death wish. Because you know there's death on both sides, you know, that is definitely not just a one way street.”
In the leaders' first public event together in over a week, since two White House staffers tested positive for coronavirus, Trump asked Vice President Mike Pence which two states have not released reopening plans — but Pence didn't name them.
“There's two that are we expect them to be releasing plans very soon. I'll get that to you before we talk to the governors,” Pence replied.
Asked what he thinks of the CDC's performance, amid disagreements in his own Cabinet on the issue, Trump said the agency has “worked really hard.”
“I will say, they originally, they had no test, and one of the tests had a problem. Very early on, but that was quickly remedied and now we have the best tests anywhere in the world. I think we give ourselves a lot of that credit,” Trump said. “We have the best testing in the world. We have the best ventilators and distribution and the most ventilators in the world. It's not even close.”
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the infighting more directly but blamed the “arcane testing system” the Trump administration has insisted they inherited.
“Let me say I think, I think Peter Navarro, his point was that the CDC and our public health labs at the state level were operating with an arcane testing system, and it was one of the reasons why early on we brought in all of the commercial labs around the country the president created a consortium of these commercial labs, Pence said. “And we reinvented testing in America.”
Ahead of their call with the nations' governors, Trump also said, touting testing at the afternoon event, “We made a lot of governors look good.”
Administration infighting over CDC's performance
The first shot was fired by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.
“The CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro said Sunday. “Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test and that set us back.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, has doubled down on his defense of the agency he oversees after initially, saying on Sunday, “I don't believe the CDC let this country down. I believe the CDC serves an important public health role.”
Asked about Navarro's comments on Fox News again Monday morning, Azar didn't mince words.
“Well the comments regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate. The CDC had had one error which was in scaling up the manufacturing of the test that they had developed. There was a contamination that didn't affect the the accuracy of the test, just led to inconclusive results. They fixed it within weeks and got it out,” Azar said. “That was never going to be the backbone of testing in the U.S.”
After ousted vaccine chief Rick Bright appeared on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” Sunday, repeating much of the claims he told Congress that delays by the federal government inhibited its response and that he was retaliated against for not pushing hydroxchloroquine, President Trump tweeted that “This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely.”
CDC releases stark funeral recommendations and detailed guidance on contact tracing
On the same day President Trump tweeted “REOPEN OUR COUNTRY,” the CDC is tweeting some stark advice on funerals.
The CDC warns the events have spread the virus in some cases and recommends families consider such steps as virtual services and rethinking cultural traditions that might involve touching the deceased or sharing food.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, consider expressing care in ways that do not involve personal interactions,” the CDC states.
Earlier Monday, the CDC issued 56-page guidance for contact tracing, which health experts say is key to slowing the spread.
ABC News' Anne Flaherty
Trump expresses support for Australia's effort for international probe of China on virus
As the Trump administration appears to close out others in its approach to reopen, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world to to rally behind the World Health Organization Monday, even announcing a $2 billion donation to globally fight coronavirus, speaking in the WHO's first virtual assembly amid the pandemic.
President Trump is expected to make an announcement on WHO funding at some point this week.
Monday morning, he expressed his support for an Australian-led effort calling for the World Health Organization to lead an independent review of the origins of the coronavirus, which also has the support of all the EU nations.
“We are with them!” the president tweeted in reply to a news article linking to the initiative.
It seems to be an expression of support and not an announcement that the U.S. is formally signing on to the proposal, given that Australia is calling for this international probe through the WHO.
The president has moved to cut off U.S. funding to the WHO and has sought to shift blame to the global health organization for covering up the virus in collusion with China.
ABC News' Jordyn Phelps
Pence's Monday includes a joint event with POTUS
President Trump and Vice President Pence have been keeping their distance from each other over ever since the vice president's press secretary tested positive for COVID-19 — 10 days ago now, though the CDC recommends 14 days in quarantine.
But Monday, according to the vice president's schedule, both are scheduled to attend a teleconference with governors from the Situation Room at 4 p.m.
Trump said last Thursday of Pence: “I miss him.”
ABC News' Jordyn Phelps
Trump to visit Ford plant in Michigan Thursday
President Trump plans to travel to Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Thursday to visit a Ford plant manufacturing ventilators, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere tweeted Sunday night.
The president plans to tour the plant that is making ventilators and PPE through a collaboration between Ford and General Electric, according to a White House official. He'll make remarks there, too, the official said.
The trip fits the mold of his recent trips to the political battleground states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, where he visited a facility producing masks and a medical equipment distribution center, respectively.
ABC News' Ben Gittleson
White House economist says they are in ‘wait-and-see' mode on whether more relief funding needed, Federal Reserve Chair says full recovery may not some until end of 2021
White House economist Kevin Hassett said Monday morning that the White House is in a “wait-and-see” mode as to whether additional stimulus packages will be needed in the months ahead, even as he said the administration stands ready to take “very strong action” down the line if needed.
“What would be the kind of thing that would take you out of wait-and-see mode? Well if the programs that are essential to get people to the other side without going bankrupt like the PPP, the mainstream lending program ran out of money, then of course we'd rush in right now,” he told reporters.
Hassett said at the present, the assessment of the administration is there is still enough money left in programs to support the economy. He was cautious not to offer a precise timeline of when it would be determined if more is needed but said they will be closely watching to see the progress the economy makes in the coming weeks into June.
“If the economy recovers slower than we expect, it's possible we'll have to put some more cash in there and we stand ready to talk about that with Congress but right now we think you should monitor the data and see what are the burn rates of those things,” he told CNBC, and adding that the administration is seeing positive signs as they monitor that incoming data.
Federal Reserve Chair Powell's told CBS Sunday that the uncertainty around the course of the virus could push a full recovery to the end of next year — but Hassett indicated this morning improved economic performance is to come as businesses start to reopen.
Even if White House agrees more stimulus funding is in order, he said he “doubt[s] that in the end the product is going to look much like what speaker Pelosi put out last week.”
While President Trump has suggested he'd like to see negative interest rates, Hassett was careful not to directly add his own advice but said, “probably the Fed won't have to do much more on interest rates” if the economy shows signs of a positive rebound in the months ahead.
When asked about Powell's assessment that the unemployment could dip to 25 percent, Hassett didn't negate the estimate.
Powell said Sunday that while he expected the U.S. economy to recover, the process would take time — potentially until the end of 2021.
“This economy will recover; it may take a while,” he told “60 Minutes.” “It may take a period of time, it could stretch through the end of next year, we don't really know.”
ABC News' Jordyn Phelps