President Donald Trump said Friday he has the "absolute authority" to order a nationwide stay-at-home order as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic, but has thus far let governors make that call.
Now, he's now putting together a plan for when and how to get the country moving again.
During a press conference with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Trump said he is assembling a council that will help him decide when the U.S. can reopen governments and businesses so life can start to return to normal and the battered economy can regain vitality.
Asked why he has not ordered the entire country shut down to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide, Trump has this to say: "I have great authority if I want to use it. I would rather have the states use it."
He continued: "I have absolute authority to use it, but so far, our relationship with governors and the job they are doing, I haven't had to do it. Would I do it? If I saw a state that was out of control and they didn't have a stay-at-home policy? I would do it in a heartbeat."
All but a handful of states have issued stay-at-home orders for their residents.
As of Friday afternoon, the number of Americans infected with the virus was approaching 500,000. More than 18,000 Americans have died due to complications from it.
Regarding the reopening of U.S. businesses and the economy as a whole, Trump said the council will help him make what he called "the biggest decision I will ever make."
"We will be announcing that in a short while. Probably Tuesday," Trump said regarding when the council would be formally introduced.
The council is expected to include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow, among others, a senior administration official said earlier in the week. Both men have voiced some confidence that the economy can be restarted to a large extent next month, based on disease data.
On Newsmax TV on Thursday, Kudlow said it might well be possible to reopen the economy in four to eight weeks' time. “Our great hope is if the numbers continue to improve and you know I say it as much as a prayer as anything else, but if the data is improving, I know the president is very anxious to get the economy going.”
“All of America wants to return to normalcy so we will get there as fast as possible,” he added, saying the nation has to “be safe and secure.”
On Friday, Trump said the group will also include at least some governors and perhaps even mayors.
"I don't know about all the governors. But I would like to do that," Trump said. "So far, everyone has said yes. I think everyone would like to be on that council. It is a very important council."
When asked what metrics he would use to make the decision on when to reopen, Trump pointed to his head: "The metrics right here."
He noted that he would also listen to others on the task force and the council, but conceded that there could be disagreement.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.
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