Trump Vows to Stop ‘Mob Violence’ Protesting Floyd Death

President Donald Trump vowed his administration would end what he called “mob violence” in U.S. cities following the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of Minnesota police, blaming leftist groups for clashes with police and property damage around the nation.

“The mobs are devastating the life’s work of good people and destroying their dreams,” Trump said at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in remarks following the first launch of U.S. astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil since 2011.

“There will be no anarchy,” Trump said. “Civilization must be cherished, defended and protected. The voices of law-abiding citizens must be heard, and heard very loudly.”

Saturday’s successful rocket launch by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which will carry two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, had served as a chance for Trump to take a victory lap for an electoral promise to reestablish American dominance in space.

It’s also a symbolic step; the U.S. is resuming manned spaceflight just as most of the country begins to emerge from lockdowns from the coronavirus pandemic and is in a deep economic downturn. Trump touted the launch as part of his “America First” agenda.

Demonstrations All Over

Instead, the day was overshadowed by demonstrations in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and other cities, continuing the political strife and racial division that have accompanied Trump’s presidency. Protesters demanded justice for George Floyd, who died this week after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest for an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter. He is white.

“Radical left criminals, thugs and others, all throughout our country and throughout the world, will not be allowed to set communities ablaze,” Trump said. “We won’t let it happen.”

Trump didn’t specify how his administration would act against violent protesters.

“The leadership of the National Guard and the Department of Justice are now in close communication with state and city officials in Minnesota,” he said, “and we are coordinating our efforts with local law enforcement all across the nation.”

Friday’s Skirmishes

Even as Trump spoke in Florida, protesters were gathering again outside the White House. Demonstrators in Lafayette Park across from the White House skirmished with the Secret Service on Friday, leading to six arrests and “multiple” injuries among the agency’s personnel, it said in a statement.

Earlier Saturday, the president encouraged his supporters to rally outside his residence as well, inviting a potentially dangerous confrontation.

On his way to Florida, Trump threatened to unleash the “unlimited power” of the U.S. military on demonstrators, ignoring legal barriers to deploying the military within the nation’s borders for law-enforcement purposes. He has also repeatedly needled the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, expressing outrage that protesters in the city were able to enter and burn a police precinct station.

“Those making excuses or justifications for violence are not helping the downtrodden but delivering new anguish and pain,” Trump said at Cape Canaveral.

Bad Apples

Despite the outpouring of anger from protesters, who argue that Floyd’s death was the result of systemic police brutality and racism, Trump defended the “overwhelming majority” of police whom he said are “incredible in every way.”

“No one is more upset than fellow law enforcement officers by the small handful who fail to abide by their oath to serve and protect,” the president said.

In a series of tweets Saturday morning, Trump appeared to revel in the potential for violence outside the White House, warning that Friday’s protesters would have been met by “vicious dogs” and “most ominous weapons” had they dared to breach the fence around the property.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Saturday that the reference to attack dogs was “no subtle reminder to African-Americans of segregationists that let dogs out on women, children and innocent people in the South.” She called the comments “an attack on humanity.”

Trump depicted Secret Services agents as eager to battle the demonstrators, and later issued an appeal to his supporters to assemble: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”

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Americans Have Stopped Thinking the Economy Is Getting Worse

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President Donald Trump has seen his poll numbers slide during the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly every recent survey showing him losing to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. But even amid staggering job losses and mounting financial hardship for millions of Americans, those same polls consistently show that voters believe Trump will do a better job of handling the economy. How can that be, given record unemployment and reams of dismal economic data?

New survey data that Democracy Fund/UCLA Nationscape shared with Bloomberg Businessweek offers a rather surprising clue to how it is that Trump has maintained such resilience. Americans’ opinions about the state of the economy, which collapsed with the onset of the pandemic in March, stopped falling about a month ago and have now stabilized—a pattern that is evident across all political persuasions. 

This development was no sure thing. If we back up to late March, the Nationscape survey—which asks more than 6,000 people each week whether the economy is better, worse, or about the same as a year ago—found a steep drop among Democrats, independents, and Republicans who said it was getting better:

That drop coincided with the collapse of the stock market and the onset of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in most states across the country. While Republicans maintained a sunnier outlook than other groups, their darkening opinion about the economy shifted in the same direction.

“There can be partisan differences in interpreting reality,” says Rob Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, “but there’s hard limits to what that can look like in the face of overwhelming evidence.” 

Americans’ economic outlook continued to worsen until about mid-April. But then it stopped falling, even as job losses, furloughs, and bankruptcies continued to mount:

For now, sentiment about the economy appears to have stabilized among all groups. That’s keeping Trump’s numbers from falling further. If you squint at the most recent chart, you can begin to detect signs of the reemergence of the intense political polarization in attitudes toward the economy that prevailed before the virus struck: Republican sentiment appears to be inching up, while Democratic and independent sentiment looks to be drifting down. 

Barring a second wave of infections, I’d expect to see that disparity widen, as the two presidential campaigns push differing accounts of how the economy is faring now that Americans are tentatively (or not so tentatively) emerging from lockdown.

What effect Trump’s economic handling has on his reelection chances is anyone’s guess, though it’s clearly a bright spot in an otherwise grim period. But his ability to maintain a lead on the economy even during the current devastation may not reflect his response to the crisis—or anything specific to Trump at all.

“When you ask the American public about who’s best suited to handle the economy, Republicans have had a decades-long advantage, just as Democrats do on healthcare,” says Griffin. Trump’s lead over Biden “in the middle of an economic collapse, twelve years out from a different economic collapse under a different Republican president, shows just how deeply ingrained those preconceptions can be.”


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U.S. Ends Iran Sanction Waivers Allowing Work on Nuclear Sites

The U.S. has ended waivers that allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to work at sensitive Iranian nuclear sites as the Trump administration keeps up its “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime in Tehran.

The administration ended the waivers covering all remaining nuclear projects under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement that President Donald Trump quit in 2018, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday.

The waivers will end after 60 days to let companies and entities involved in the work on Iran’s civil nuclear program cease their operations, he said.

The Trump administration had extended the sanctions waivers in January. That move came after a disagreement between Pompeo, who had advocated ending the waivers, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who wanted them extended. It also avoided a confrontation with European nations, who argued that the nonproliferation work allows them and the U.S. to keep an eye on Iran’s nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities.” Pompeo said in the statement. “These escalatory actions are unacceptable and I cannot justify renewing the waiver for these JCPOA-related activities as a result. The regime’s nuclear extortion will lead to increased pressure on Iran and further isolate the regime from the international community.”

Yet the U.S. is providing a 90-day extension for a separate waiver covering international support to Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 to ensure safety of operations, Pompeo said. “We will continue to closely monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear program and can modify this waiver at any time,” he said.

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Trump to Visit Florida for SpaceX Launch With NASA Astronauts

President Donald Trump plans to travel to Florida on Wednesday to watch the launch of SpaceX’s manned test mission to the International Space Station, according to a U.S. official, as he seeks to project an image of normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The launch will mark the first time NASA astronauts have blasted off from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

Trump has resumed trips outside Washington and is urging a quick return to normal routines despite U.S. deaths from the coronavirus approaching 100,000. He has shown increasing exasperation with state social distancing regulations that have closed down the U.S. economy and threaten his re-election in November.

The event is significant in that two American companies will provide ferry service to the space station, and it will also be the first time SpaceX has flown humans.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to arrive at the space station on May 28 and stay for at least 30 days — and possibly as long as 110, according to NASA. The mission duration will be determined by the readiness of the next commercial crew launch.

In 2014, NASA awarded Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. contracts worth nearly $7 billion to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station. Russia has provided the sole crew transport since the space shuttle’s retirement.

The president’s re-election campaign has looked to capitalize on American space exploration — and his push to create the Space Force as a new branch of the military — in its merchandise and messaging.

In 2018, the campaign allowed supporters to vote on merchandise for the new military branch, and supporters can buy hats, T-shirts, and bumper stickers touting the Space Force on the re-election website today. Last week, Trump unveiled the official Space Force flag in the Oval Office.

To maintain a strong U.S. presence on the space station, and because of delays in Boeing’s and SpaceX’s development of their own commercial crew shuttles, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been negotiating with Russia’s space agency to take an additional seat on its Soyuz shuttle next year. NASA has only one crew member currently aboard the station.

Last month, Boeing said it would conduct a second test flight, without crew, of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle after the first attempt in December was cut short by software problems. That flight is planned for later this year.

— With assistance by Justin Bachman

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Trump Tours Ford Plant Without Mask But Wears One Out of View

President Donald Trump didn’t wear a face mask during most of his tour of Ford Motor Co.’s ventilator facility Thursday, defying the automaker’s policies and seeking to portray an image of normalcy even as American coronavirus deaths approach 100,000.

He told reporters he had put on a mask in the “back area” of the plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and didn’t want to give them the “pleasure” of seeing him with it.

“I was given a choice,” he said. “And I had one on in an area where they preferred it, so I put it on. And it was very nice. Look, very nice. But they said they’re not necessary.” He added that he had also worn goggles.

Trump held up a dark-colored mask bearing the presidential seal. He said he had been tested for the coronavirus earlier in the day and didn’t need to cover his face.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended wearing face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, and experts on the president’s coronavirus task force have said masks are useful in preventing the spread of the virus from those who are unaware they have it.

Many companies continuing operations during the pandemic have instituted requirements that workers wear protective gear, including masks, while on the job. Ford has released a 64-page return-to-work playbook that states: “Face masks are required to be worn by everyone, in all facilities, at all times.”

Although Ford shared details of its safety policies with the White House, it ultimately deferred to the president and his staff.

The company said Ford Chairman Bill Ford “encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived. He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years. The president later removed the mask for the remainder of the visit.”

The United Auto Workers union criticized Trump for not wearing a mask in public view.

“It is vitally important that our members continue to follow the protocols that have been put in place to safeguard them, their families and their communities,” the union said in a statement noting that 25 of its members had died of the virus. “These protocols are literally a matter of life and death.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said in an open letter Thursday that the president had a “social and moral responsibility” to take precautions to prevent further spread of the virus. Nessel subsequently told CNN that if Trump “fails to wear a mask, he’s going to be asked not to return to any unclosed facilities inside our state.”

“We are just asking that President Trump comply with the law of our state, just as we would make the same request of anyone else in those plants,” Nessel said.

Asked about his plans before he left the White House on Thursday, Trump was noncommittal, but said “I want to get our country back to normal.”

After a visit late last month to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for disregarding clinic rules requiring face masks. He has been spotted wearing a mask at some subsequent events, including a trip to a Florida nursing home on Wednesday.



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Polling shows a partisan divide over masks. Just over three-quarters of Democrats say wearing a face mask is a matter of public health, while 51% of Republicans agree, according to a survey released this week by YouGov and HuffPost. And while 11% of Republicans say there is no benefit to wearing a mask, just 3% of Democrats share that opinion.

— With assistance by Jordan Fabian, and Keith Naughton

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Trump Unveils Space Force Flag and ‘Super-Duper Missile’ Plan

President Donald Trump unveiled the official flag for his Space Force at the White House on Friday, touting American military might including the development of what he called “the super-duper missile.”

Trump said the U.S. is “building right now incredible military equipment,” including a missile that would travel faster than any other in the world “by a factor of almost three.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed his country has already developed and fielded a hypersonic nuclear missile ahead of the U.S. The Pentagon has been working on the technology.

Later Friday, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, tweeted that “the Department of Defense is working on developing a range of hypersonic missiles to counter our adversaries.”

Last December, Trump signed into law a measure to create the Space Force, saying the U.S. needed to expand its military presence in space. The Air Force previously oversaw offensive and defensive operations in space.

Trump’s enthusiasm for Space Force has drawn sporadic criticism and provided fodder for comedians. A satirical Netflix series, “Space Force,” debuts later this month, starring Steve Carell and John Malkovich.

The Pentagon’s budget allocated funding for the force, including “space-related weapons systems and operations.” The Space Force’s procurement budget is projected to reach $4.7 billion by fiscal year 2025.

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Flynn’s Path to Freedom Runs Through Judge Who May Balk at DOJ

After fighting to get the government’s case against him thrown out, former Trump aide Michael Flynn got his wish Thursday when U.S. prosecutors asked for the dismissal themselves. Now all he needs is for the judge to agree.

That isn’t guaranteed.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has a number of options. He could accept the government’s request to end its prosecution of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal officers during the Russia investigation and then sought to withdraw his plea. In fact, that’s the likeliest outcome, according to legal scholars and former prosecutors who aren’t involved in the case.

“Judges only very rarely reject a prosecution request to drop the charges,” said Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School.

But that doesn’t mean Sullivan will sign off on the about-face with the perfunctory stroke of a pen.

“At the very least, the judge may do some inquiring about what’s really going on here” to see if “there’s anything potentially unsavory about this,” Weisberg said.

And he could do a good deal more: Hold a full-blown hearing on the Justice Department’s decision to seek a dismissal. Appoint a lawyer as a “friend of the court” to help argue legal issues. Even, in an extraordinary act, refuse the dismissal request.

Sullivan is “not the type to accept what the government tells him so quickly,” said Joel Cohen, a lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP who interviewed the judge for a book.

“I think he’s going to hold a hearing,” said Cohen, a defense attorney in New York for 35 years. The purpose would be “to see if there’s any political influence or bad faith in the government looking to dismiss the case,” Cohen said. “He could ask what was the attorney general’s role in the matter and what was the president’s involvement.”

Read More: DOJ Drops Flynn Case, Sparing Trump the Risk of a Pardon

In moving to dismiss, the U.S. said an internal review found that Flynn’s false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation weren’t “material” to the probe into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election. “The government cannot explain, much less prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, how false statements are ‘material’ to an investigation that … seems to have been undertaken only to elicit those very false statements and thereby criminalize Mr. Flynn,” U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea said in a brief.

Sullivan may have a different view.

“There is still some judicial scrutiny, and it’s in the judge’s independent discretion whether to dismiss the case,” said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor. “The judge could say there’s not a basis to grant the motion.”

The Supreme Court has held that a trial judge can’t deny the government’s request to dismiss its own prosecution as long as the decision isn’t “tainted with impropriety” or motivated by considerations contrary to the public interest, according to Sandick. In its brief, the government said federal rules give prosecutors wide discretion to decide whether to dismiss pending charges.

“This is a demanding standard, but there is an argument that the president’s many public statements ‘taint with impropriety’ the decision to seek dismissal, rendering the decision contrary to manifest public interest,” Sandick said.

Read More: Barr Unleashes Justice Department Turmoil Over Stone Case

Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, scoffed at the government’s conclusion that Flynn’s lies weren’t material.

It doesn’t pass “the laugh test,” said Rocah, who is running as a Democrat for district attorney in Westchester County, New York. “Materiality is broadly defined, and lying about talking to the Russian government when the investigation was about coordination between the Russian government and the campaign or administration is material.”

If Sullivan, a Bill Clinton appointee, declines to dismiss the case, the U.S. would almost certainly appeal. In the meantime, the judge could continue to decide any pending defense motions. If he ruled against Flynn, who twice admitted his guilt in court, the judge would proceed to sentencing, according to Sandick. Trump may also short-circuit it all and pardon Flynn.

But first Sullivan may want to plumb the government’s reasoning in dropping the charges and see how closely it hews to Flynn’s claims of “egregious government misconduct,” including deep-state machinations by biased FBI officials, said Robert Sanders, a retired U.S. Navy judge and an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven. The judge may want to probe whether prosecutors really reversed themselves over materiality.

“Is that agreement or disagreement consistent or inconsistent with the government’s stated rationale for its own motion?” Sanders said. “If the judge feels he is being played with by the parties, particularly the government, a bigger pushback is likely.”

Read More: Prosecutors Attack Flynn’s ‘Extraordinary Reversal’ on His Guilt

The Justice Department points to new evidence it says shows that federal agents set Flynn up to lie. On Thursday, Trump called him a “great warrior.”

Stanford’s Weisberg said the FBI’s actions weren’t unusual.

“That this was really rough behavior by the FBI is perfectly plausible,” but “that applies to zillions of cases” in which agents play hardball in a way that’s “not illegally coercive,” he said. “Sure, you can complain about this kind of action by the FBI. But to suddenly single out Flynn as the most sympathetic victim of this sort of thing is ridiculous.”

The next move is Sullivan’s, and in the end he may decide he’s heard enough.

“The judge can still say: Based on the information I already have from the guilty plea and anything else that’s already in the record, I’ll just decide the sentence,” Weisberg said.

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Perdue Says U.S. Meatpacking Plants Should Reopen Within 10 Days

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he expects U.S. meatpacking plants to fully resume operations within a week to 10 days, during a meeting with President Donald Trump and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.

Trump said the U.S. has “plenty of supply” of meat. “Within a week and a half, we’ll be in great shape. Maybe sooner,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office.

Iowa is home to some of the nation’s largest meat plants. Trump last week signed an executive order that directs slaughterhouses and processing facilities to remain open, deeming them essential to the country’s meat supply. But the move set off a controversy with labor unions who say their workers face unsafe conditions in the plants.

More than half of workers at some American meat plants tested positive for coronavirus, which has slowed production even as some facilities reopen. Absenteeism is spiking at some plants as workers take leave — or quit — out of fear of being infected on the job.

“I’d say probably a week to 10 days before we’re fully back up,” Perdue said.

Prices for wholesale beef and pork have jumped more than 20% since Trump issued the order to keep meatpackers running during the pandemic.

Trump is prodding states to reopen their economies, even as cases and deaths continue to mount in the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, the world’s largest. Reynolds, a Republican, announced last week that certain businesses — including restaurants, malls and fitness centers in roughly three quarters of the state — could open with limited capacity. She also lifted restrictions on religious services statewide, as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.

Iowa is crucial to Trump’s re-election bid and the White House is paying close attention to the situation there.

Shortages caused by closures and slow-downs have forced grocers, such as Kroger Co. to Costco Wholesale Corp., to ration supplies. Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. on Tuesday became the latest grocery to put some limits on meat purchases.

Wendy’s Co. this week reported shortages of some menu items, including hamburgers, at some locations. Trump said he would call his friend and billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, who is the chairman of Wendy’s board, about the issue.

“They’re going to be OK,” Trump said when asked about Wendy’s. “Basically you’re saying in a week and a half, you think everything’s going to be good, or sooner.”

Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit Hy-Vee headquarters on Friday to discuss food supply as part of a trip to the state. He also plans to meet with faith leaders in order “to encourage houses of worship to responsibly reopen,” his office said.

Iowa has reported more than 1,600 cases of the virus at just four meatpacking plants. At a Tyson Foods Inc. plant in Perry, Iowa, nearly 58% of employees tested for the virus were infected, a state health official said Tuesday.

— With assistance by Mike Dorning, and Jennifer Jacobs

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China Ambassador to U.S. Urges End to ‘Blame Game’ Over Pandemic

China’s ambassador to Washington called for an end to the “blame game” over the coronavirus, in the country’s most high-profile response since U.S. President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of Beijing.

Ambassador Cui Tiankai said in a column published in the Washington Post that allegations blaming China for the outbreak’s spread risked “decoupling” the world’s two largest economies. Increased suspicions also threatened to hurt U.S.-China cooperation to fight the disease and restart the global economy.

“It is time to end the blame game,” Cui said. “It is time to focus on the disease and rebuild trust between our two countries.”

Trump and his top aides have increasingly faulted China for the coronavirus’s deadly expansion across the U.S. and around the world. The pathogen has killed more Americans than the Vietnam War, pushed the U.S. economy toward recession and clouded Trump’s re-election prospects.

‘Conspiracy Theories’

While Trump has accused China of a cover-up and trying to hurt him politically, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has gone further, claiming there is “enormous evidence” that the virus escaped from a high-security virology laboratory near the first known outbreak in Wuhan. Pompeo has advanced the theory despite Chinese denials and a lack of consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies examining the virus’s origins.

As Trump Blames China, Beijing Directs Fury at His Top Diplomat

Although Cui made no mention of the lab claim, he denounced “conspiracy theories” about China’s geopolitical intentions. He also rejected calls for China to pay reparations for the damage wrought by the virus, saying similar responsibility wasn’t laid on countries where H1N1 or AIDS originated.

“There is no denying that the first known case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan,” Cui said. “But this means only that Wuhan was the first victim of the virus. To ask a victim for compensation is simply ridiculous.”

Cui has been seeking to ratchet down tensions with the U.S. which have steadily escalated since he became ambassador in 2013. In March, Cui criticized a foreign ministry spokesman’s tweets about whether the virus was introduced to Wuhan by U.S. Army athletes. Last month, he urged cooperation in a similar column published in the New York Times.

Cui’s latest op-ed closed with a reference to the Republican Party’s first president, Abraham Lincoln, who Trump has been invoking as his re-election campaign heats up. “As President Abraham Lincoln called for ‘the better angels’ in his inauguration speech, I hope that the wisdom of preceding generations will guide us to choose the right side of history and work for our shared future together,” Cui said.

— With assistance by Peter Martin

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Trump Makes Crucial 2020 Bet on States Reopening With His Advice

President Donald Trump is facing a turning point in his bid for re-election, betting that a handful of Southern and Midwestern states can reopen their economies without triggering an even deeper public health crisis.

If it works out, Trump can claim he was right all along about quickly lifting stay-at-home restrictions that are damaging the economy. If it doesn’t and coronavirus cases spike, pollsters and political analysts say it’s Trump who will bear the blame — even after he tried to shield himself from fallout by putting governors in charge of the most critical decisions.

“It’s a gamble,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Florida-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. “If they start to do this and it comes back strong — in a way that everybody really sees it as coming back strong — in states like Florida, it’s much worse than it is right now, yeah, that’s going to be a big price to pay.”

The reopening gambit will play out over the coming weeks, as Texas, Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Missouri — all with Republican governors — prepare to ease restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the Trump administration said it’s trying to fast-track vaccine development, yet another high-risk move that — if it works — could pay political dividends.

Success — Americans back at work, dining in restaurants and a “packed house” at football stadiums, as he said Wednesday — would bolster his favorite case for re-election: economic growth.

That argument took a major hit on Wednesday after the Commerce Department reported that U.S. gross domestic product shrank at a 4.8% annualized pace, ending an 11-year economic expansion and signaling a recession has begun.

Trump promises a turnaround will take off in the second half of the year.

“We built the greatest economy anywhere in the world. We’re going to build it again,” he said on Tuesday.

Yet public health experts warn that some of the states’ decisions are ill-advised and risk wider spread of the disease, more American deaths and the reimposition of stay-at-home rules — all political poison for Trump’s aspirations for a second term.

“A major resurgence of cases is well within the realms of what is possible” if states lift social distancing measures too early, said Theo Vos, an epidemiologist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The institute’s projections are closely watched at the White House. IHME estimates that states risk a rebound of the outbreak if they ease social distancing measures before their rate of new infections falls to one in 1 million residents. Three states that have been most aggressive about reopening — Georgia, Texas and South Carolina — are not projected to hit that mark until mid-June at the earliest.

Trailing Biden

The president has already seen his approval ratings dive as the number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. climbed past 1 million and deaths surpassed 60,000. Another surge could cement perceptions that Trump — who has agitated since March to lift social-distancing measures that have pushed more than 26.5 million people out of their jobs — cares more for the economy and his re-election than the health of American citizens.

Trump trails presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in key battleground states, including Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, recent public polls show. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey taken April 13-15 showed registered voters believe Biden would do a better job of responding to the virus than Trump by a 9 percentage-point margin.

The Trump administration has begun an effort it calls “Operation Warp Speed” to hasten the development of a vaccine, seeking to cut months or even years from the process and have 300 million doses ready by January — enough for nearly every American.

The decision by some states to begin reopening reflects what they see as the growing risk to their economies if businesses remain closed. It’s a similar calculus for Trump campaign officials, who believe the election will hinge on how well the president manages the economic recovery.

“When the economy comes back, voters will know that it was Trump policies that did it,” Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, said in a statement.

The president’s critics say some of his policies are putting Americans in a position of choosing whether to risk their health for their jobs.

On Tuesday, for example, he ordered meatpacking plants to remain open after a spate of virus outbreaks had prompted closures and threatened a severe disruption in the food-supply chain. The move sparked an outcry from unions, as Trump moved to shield meat-processing companies from liability but offered no clear assurances for worker safety.

‘Put it Out’

But on Wednesday, Trump expressed confidence in the strategy.

“We’re going to be very careful as we open,” Trump said at the White House. “If there’s a fire, we’re going to put it out.”

One of the barriers to reopening safely has been persistent shortages of testing for the virus. The U.S. was slower than other countries to develop and manufacture a test and has taken weeks to build up a robust regime that would enable businesses to better mitigate the risk of reopening.

Trump has previously said he doesn’t take responsibility for testing shortcomings. The White House now says capacity is in place after releasing a strategy on Monday to help all 50 states screen at least 2% of their residents.

“President Trump has created a pathway to safely open up our country and make sure that we get our economy going and get America back to a place where it will be even stronger than it was before,” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said Wednesday on Fox News.

And despite the risks, the president has repeatedly lauded the states that have moved fastest to lift restrictions.

“Many States moving to SAFELY & QUICKLY reopen!” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

In a separate tweet, the president praised Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, for a “great job” with his plan, which will allow malls, restaurants and movie theaters to open again as soon as Friday.

The president has also taken aim at governors, typically Democrats, in the hardest-hit states who have been reluctant to lift restrictions. He urged residents in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “liberate” themselves in a series of tweets on April 17, fanning protests against the measures — a day after issuing guidelines for states to safely and slowly reopen.

‘Make-or Break’ Moment

Yet the president has appeared to acknowledge the political risks he faces. Last week, he criticized Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican and consistent political ally, saying it was “too soon” to open salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and gyms.

“I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he’s doing,” Trump said at an April 22 press conference at the White House.

IHME’s latest projections show the outbreak worsening nationwide, and Georgia is projected to be one of the harder-hit states. Modelers estimate the state would need an additional 189 hospital beds, 16 intensive-care beds and 22 ventilators than the last projection on April 22, according to an analysis by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

“Georgia is now one of the ones with a sort of finishing of the first wave that we predict is quite a bit longer than in other jurisdictions,” Vos said in an interview.

Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who ran against Kemp and is considered a possible Biden running mate, said Sunday that Trump deserves “no credit” for warning the Georgia governor about his re-opening plan.

“He actually caused this challenge by tweeting for weeks that we should liberate our economies. And when someone took him up on it, he did as he normally does, which is bend to what he thinks public opinion is,” Abrams said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

There have been more than 25,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Georgia and more than 1,000 people have died, according to state data.

Still, some Republicans remain optimistic about Trump’s political prospects. GOP pollster Whit Ayres said that voters largely view Trump’s handling of the virus through their pre-existing beliefs about the president and that the numbers roughly match his approval rating, which is now 43%, according to an average of polls compiled by 538.com.

“The way you handle natural disasters and major events has, at least for other politicians, been make-or-break moments for political careers,” Ayres said. “Views about Donald Trump are so baked in that you wonder if anything, even a pandemic, can change them.”

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