- The Washington Times
Thursday, May 21, 2020

President Trump urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday to issue new guidelines to speed up the reopening of churches, saying religious institutions are “essential” to the nation’s recovery, as he criticized Democratic governors for deliberately stalling efforts to get back to work and worship.

During a visit to Michigan, which is ground zero for protests against extended stay-at-home orders, the president also gave his most vocal backing yet for Americans who are in some cases defying state restrictions and returning to their jobs after two months of lost income.

“Americans who need and want to return to work should not be vilified. They should be supported,” Mr. Trump said. “Unlike many politicians and journalists, for those who earn a living with their own two hands, working remotely is just not an option.”

The president disclosed that he had spoken with CDC officials moments earlier, specifically about loosening guidance against churches holding in-person worship services.

“I said ‘I want the churches to open, our people want to go back to church on Sundays,’” Mr. Trump told reporters of his conversation. “And our churches want to take care of their parishioners. I think you’ll have something come down very soon from CDC. We want to get our churches back. They’re so important in terms of the psyche of our country. I think churches are essential.”

At a Ford plant in Ypsilanti that is building medical ventilators instead of cars and trucks, Mr. Trump also announced a plan to focus on making America self-sufficient in vital medical supplies and medications.

“The global pandemic has proven once and for all that to be a strong nation, America must be a manufacturing nation,” the president said. “From Day One, I’ve been fighting to bring back from China and many other countries. Today I’m declaring a simple but vital national goal — the United States will be the world’s premiere pharmacy, drugstore and medical manufacturer, bringing our medicines back.”

It was the president’s third visit to a battleground state in three weeks, following trips to Arizona and Pennsylvania. He trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden in all three states in average of public polls.

But a CNBC poll released Thursday night showed Mr. Trump leading Mr. Biden by two percentage points, 48 to 46, in those three states plus Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Mr. Trump, who also spoke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier in the day, said he’s open to Congress providing “one more nice shot” of economic relief spending. He offered no specifics on a possible negotiation over the House-passed $3 trillion proposal; Axios reported that Mr. McConnell wants the next rescue package to be less than $1 trillion.

“We have a lot of ammunition left, unlimited ammunition if we need it. But we won’t need it,” the president said.

While all 50 states have lifted at least some restrictions from the coronavirus shutdown this week, the economic distress is still pervasive. Weekly unemployment claims came in at 2.43 million last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, down slightly from the previous week but still a sign of continued struggles from the pandemic.

The weekly filings brought the total number of workers filing unemployment claims to 38.6 million since the crisis began in March.

A flash point in the reopening of the country has been churches and other houses of worship.

Democratic governors such as Ralph Northam of Virginia, Gavin Newsom of California and Roy Cooper of North Carolina have come under fire for policies that have restricted gatherings at churches while allowing other aspects of civic life and some commercial businesses to reopen.

The CDC had issued a plan this week for reopening places such as restaurants, summer camps and child-care facilities, but churches weren’t included. The new guidance, after the president’s phone call, is expected to include recommendations such as social distancing and wearing gloves while giving Communion.

Mr. Trump said congregants being able to worship together again in church will lead the way back in the recovery.

“It’s time for our country to open again, and I think you’ll start with churches,” he said. “I think you’ll start with some other states that have been very resistant. You have a lot of, unfortunately in this case, Democrat governors — I think they think it’s good politics to keep it closed. They’re hurting themselves. I don’t think it is good politics. They’re hurting themselves, they’re hurting their state. I think they’re being forced to open, frankly. The people want to get out. You’ll break the country if you don’t.”

He said some Democratic governors “look at it as a possible November question,” suggesting a weak economy will bring about his defeat on Election Day.

“It’s not a November question. It happens to be very bad for them,” the president said.

More than 1,200 pastors across California say they’ll defy Mr. Newsom’s stay-at-home order and conduct in-person church services on May 31.

In North Carolina, a federal judge has ruled that religious leaders can open their doors to congregations despite Mr. Cooper’s warnings. The governor said he won’t appeal the decision.

The U.S. Justice Department issued a statement in support of a Virginia church that defied Mr. Northam’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors,” Mr. Trump said.

Some local outbreaks in the U.S. have been tied to church events.

One of Georgia’s earliest clusters of COVID-19 has been traced to a lengthy March 1 service for a retiring music minister in Cartersville. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that at least four people died who either attended the event or were close to someone who did.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report this week that traced 35 coronavirus cases, including three deaths, to events at a rural Arkansas church that held a three-day children’s event and a Bible study between March 6 and March 11.

The transmission was traced back to the pastor and his wife, making them the index cases in a county of 25,000 residents.

“Faith-based organizations that are operating or planning to resume in-person operations, including regular services, funerals, or other events, should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC wrote. “These organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. government’s guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities.”

At the Ford plant, Mr. Trump praised management and workers for taking part in the biggest industrial mobilization since World War II to help build medical devices to fight the pandemic. He said when the company was forced to stop production in March, “You did not despair.”

“Your company leadership called up the White House and asked the most American of all questions — ‘How can we help?’” the president said. The plant was reconfigured to build 50,000 ventilators.

The president did wear a mask while touring the plant — deliberately out of view of TV cameras.

“I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” the president told reporters after his tour.

He pulled out of his pocket a navy-blue mask that appeared to have the presidential seal on it, showing it to reporters without putting it on again.

Ford confirmed in a statement that the president did wear a mask during his tour on the plant floor, as per company policy.

“[Chairman] Bill Ford encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived,” the company said. “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.”

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