President Trump declared a national emergency Friday at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, a move aimed at stemming the growing outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States and calming economic turbulence.
“I am officially declaring a national emergency, two very big words,” Trump said.
In practical terms, Trump said the designation will free up as much as $50 billion in federal aid for states and municipalities affected by the pandemic. He also urged individual states to set up “emergency operations centers” and called for hospitals to activate their emergency preparedness plans to deal with an expected influx of coronavirus patients as the disease spreads across the country.
Asked how long the emergency would remain in place, he said “I hope not long, but whatever it takes.”
Trump said there will be up to 5 million test kits for the virus but also said: “I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that.”
Cognizant of the criticism his administration has faced over the lack of testing capacity to better understand the scope of the outbreak, Trump spent a large portion of his address on that subject.
“We want to make sure that those who need a test can get a test,” he said, adding, “We don’t want people to take a test if we don’t feel they should be doing it.”
The president said his administration would look to set up drive-through test sites to expedite further screening for the virus but also repeated his view that not every American should be tested for COVID-19.
“We don’t want everyone taking this test,” he said. “It’s totally unnecessary. This will pass.”
Asked if he took responsibility for the slow rate of testing in the United States, Trump was adamant: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
On the defensive, the president also went after the response to the H1N1 virus by the Obama administration, saying it had a “very big failure.” The CDC website’s page on the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 says “the United States mounted a complex, multi-faceted and long-term response to the pandemic.”
Asked whether he took any responsibility for dismantling the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018, Trump said he wasn’t aware it had happened.
He also announced that the federal government would partner with Google, which would build a website to help determine “whether a test is warranted.” At the same time, the president made sure to get in another partisan dig at the Obama administration over its initial problems with the rollout of the website used for enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past,” Trump said.
Shortly after the press conference, however, Google issued a statement clarifying that the website was far from being ready for use.
“We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort."
— Google Communications (@Google_Comms) March 13, 2020
In conjunction with the national emergency declaration, Trump announced two “emergency executive actions.” First, he said he was waiving interest on student loans held by the federal government until further notice. “That’s a big thing for many students left in the middle right now,” he said.
Second, the president said he had also “instructed the secretary of energy, at a very good price, to purchase large quantities of crude oil for storage in the strategic reserve. We’re going to fill it right to the top.”
While boasting throughout the speech about his administration’s response to the crisis, Trump also acknowledged he had “learned a lot” along the way.
The president was joined by corporate executives he said were aiding in the nation’s response to the outbreak, and as he spoke the stock market continued its daylong rise, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing up 1,985 points.
“This will pass, and we’ll be even stronger for it,” he said.
Yet Trump also said he himself had yet to be tested for the virus, despite exposure to people who have since tested positive for it. Pressed on whether he might be unwittingly transmitting the virus, he seemed to shift his answer.
“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to be tested,” Trump said.
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