President Donald Trump intensified his pressure campaign to reopen schools, attacking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over guidelines he said were too onerous, costly, and impractical.
Trump's White House is preparing its own, less-restrictive guidelines for school reopening in response to concerns about the CDC plan, NBC News reports.
Trump, in tweets Wednesday, said he’d be meeting with the CDC about the guidance, and threatened to withhold federal funding to schools that didn’t fully reopen, as he urged schools to begin again this fall with in-person classes despite a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
Opening schools would enable parents to return to work -- a key piece of Trump’s push to accelerate the reopening of the U.S. economy even as the nation sees record numbers of new daily coronavirus cases, including 58,000 on Tuesday.
In one of the tweets Wednesday, Trump threatened federal funding for schools that didn’t reopen, saying: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but it is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
The remark prompted a quick backlash on Capitol Hill. Evan Hollander, spokesman for the Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that Congress funds federal education programs.
“President Trump is repeating the same mistakes that have made America’s coronavirus pandemic the worst in the world, attempting to override science in search of political advantage,” Hollander said. “The president has no authority to cut off funding for these students, and threatening to do so to prop up his flailing campaign is offensive.”
Trump’s threat also ran contrary to the traditional Republican stance of giving more control over schools to localities, rather than the federal government. On Tuesday, administration officials said in a briefing with reporters that the decision on reopening would ultimately be up to local leaders. But later that day at a White House event, Trump said his administration is “very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open.”
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Wednesday that Trump doesn’t have the legal authority to force schools to open. New York schools will open if it’s determined to be safe, he said. The state will start deciding about individual districts in August, Cuomo said.
States and cities across the country are grappling with how to proceed. New York City schools will likely reopen with in-person learning two or three days a week. Florida is requiring schools to reopen next month, despite rising cases totals there.
Also on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence held a briefing with health officials at the Department of Education, saying: “It’s time for us to get our kids back to school.” Pence, though, stopped short of offering a detailed plan of how to do so as the pandemic worsens.
At the same event, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos cited plans in Fairfax County, Virginia, for bringing students back for either no days or two days a week at the briefing as an example of “false paradigms” she said were being created.
“In the end it’s not a matter of if schools will open, but how,” DeVos said. “They must fully open.”
The CDC plans additional recommendations for next week, the officials said. CDC Director Robert Redfield emphasized at the briefing that the current guidance contained only recommendations, and weren’t intended “to be used as a rationale to leave these schools closed.”
Trump has routinely been at odds with health officials during the pandemic, including in May when he criticized Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for saying schools may not be able to reopen. Fauci was once a mainstay of the U.S. coronavirus response but has said he now speaks with Trump far less frequently. Fauci hasn’t spoken publicly at the White House since April.
The CDC isn’t the only health agency to find itself at odds with the president over the pandemic. Trump has also resumed touting hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning that it could cause “serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure.”
This report contains material from Bloomberg News.
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