GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy
Some Republican senators are calling to quickly reopen parts of the economy shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, but are warning that it won’t be an instantaneous return to normal.
The goalpost setting comes as President Trump has appeared eager for restrictions to be scaled back soon, initially claiming he had “total” authority to make the call. He has eased off those comments amid pushback from individual governors, though has named an economic task force to help come up with a strategy for reopening the country.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Wednesday warned that the country reopening would likely mirror how restrictions and stay-at-home orders went into place: By location and a piecemeal lifting of social distancing measures.
“I think what happens is we begin to open up the way we shut down, and that’s where our governors and our mayors and our county judges look at local conditions,” Cornyn told “The Mark Davis Show.”
“Now that hopefully we’ve hit the peak … we can think about in each of these circumstances, in each of these states, what the right set of protocols are to begin to open our economy and let people go back to work,” he added.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told a local TV station that it is “time for Texans to go back to work,” but he noted that the same guidelines for states like Texas did not make sense, for example, in New York City — the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.
“It needs to be dependent upon the particular facts and circumstances in the particular region. … It may be that when people go back to work that they wear a mask and gloves for some period of time to limit the spread of disease. We’ve seen that all the time,” he told KCBD.
Approximately 95 percent of the country is currently living under a stay-at-home order. Five states — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — do not have any stay-at-home orders.
Trump said Tuesday that he thought some state governments would be able to reopen their economies by May 1.
“The day will be very close because certain states as you know are in a much different condition and are in a much different place than other states. It’s going to be very very close. Maybe even before the date of May 1,” he said.
He added in a tweet on Wednesday that “we are having very productive calls with the leaders of every sector of the economy who are all-in on getting America back to work, and soon. More to come!”
Republicans acknowledge that the situation is in flux, but are pushing for governments to start planning for how to reopen shuttered sectors.
“Now is the time to begin the discussion on how we slowly, gradually reopen our economy, because we are doing enormous damage every week that goes by where people are not allowed to work,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told WPXI, a Pittsburgh TV station.
“I don’t think we can afford to wait and keep the economy closed until we have a massive scale of antibody testing capability,” he added.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) warned about the “human cost” of closing the country and noted that Trump called him over the weekend to discuss reopening the economy.
“We talked about what sectors could go back, what regions could go back,” he told Georgia radio station WDAK. “I believe you’re going to see the president and the administration beginning to talk about how we can do this gradually over the next few weeks.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told The Federalist, an online conservative publication, that the economy should be opened “as soon as we possibly can.” And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told a local Arkansas radio station that he hoped that there could be a return to “something like normal in the weeks ahead, not months but in the weeks ahead.”
Public health officials have warned against expecting an immediate return to norms before the virus broke out in the U.S.
“There’s not going to be a light switch that we say, OK, it is now June, July, or whatever — click — the light switch goes back on,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN earlier this month.
Fauci’s caution earned him a call out from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) — who are viewed as close to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — who questioned if his recommendations would be “more harmful than the disease in the long term.”
“Fauci is a respected healthcare professional, who has contributed a great deal to his country. But he can no longer be one of the primary voices in this crisis, especially not after his assertion that the economic effects and devastation from this shutdown are merely inconvenient,” they wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed.
How long the country stays closed has deep economic and political consequences. Roughly 17 million people have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks, leading to a surge in jobless claims just months before an election where Republicans had planned to make the strength of the economy a key selling point.
But lifting restrictions too soon could be equally devastating to Trump’s reelection campaign because experts warn that it could cause a second surge of cases later in the year. Public health experts have also called for widespread testing to be in place.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told the Columbus Dispatch that testing needed to be improved “dramatically” before the country reopens.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also told a Maine Fox station that “from all the epidemiologists that I’ve talked to and briefings I’ve attended, we have to wait until the number of new cases starts going down.”