How Trump Decided To Extend Social Distancing Guidelines After two weeks of wavering on guidelines that put normal American life on hold, President Trump extended until April 30 measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
NPR logo

How 15 Days Became 45: Trump Extends Guidelines To Slow Coronavirus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/822448199/823767152" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How 15 Days Became 45: Trump Extends Guidelines To Slow Coronavirus

How 15 Days Became 45: Trump Extends Guidelines To Slow Coronavirus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/822448199/823767152" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've reported, President Trump is asking Americans to continue the social distancing measures for the next 30 days. Public health experts say it has to happen in order to slow the exponential growth of the coronavirus in this country. But the president took a winding road to get to this new timetable. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When President Trump unveiled his 15-days campaign two weeks ago, he appeared resolute.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're getting rid of this virus. That's what we're doing. That's the best thing we can do, by the way - for the markets, for everything. It's very simple.

KEITH: But Trump later said in a Fox News Channel town hall, he'd been reluctant to shut down what had been a humming economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS CHANNEL BROADCAST)

TRUMP: I wasn't happy about it, and I also knew that I had to do it.

KEITH: Stocks were taking a beating, unemployment was up, and Trump was getting an earful from friends in the business community and conservative economists, including Stephen Moore, who served as an adviser to the 2016 campaign.

STEPHEN MOORE: Look; we have to make a very tough calculation here about how much - how long we can keep this economy from functioning because if we don't, the carnage to our economy and people's lives might be greater than, you know, the health risk of putting people back on the job.

KEITH: That line of thinking showed up Sunday, March 22, on the Fox News Channel program hosted by Steve Hilton.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE NEXT REVOLUTION")

STEVE HILTON: You know that famous phrase, the cure is worse than the disease? That is exactly the territory we are hurtling towards. You think it's just the coronavirus that kills people? This total economic shutdown will kill people.

KEITH: And within hours, President Trump was saying the very same thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We're not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.

KEITH: Last Tuesday, Trump put a date on it, saying he'd love to have the country reopened and churches packed by Easter Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: It would be a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline. It's a great day.

KEITH: Public health experts were alarmed, saying it would be too soon. And Trump was also hearing from political allies, who feared it would be a terrible mistake.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST "WAR ROOM")

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: War Room, pandemic. Here's your host, Stephen K. Bannon.

KEITH: Steve Bannon, who was a top White House adviser before his ouster in 2017, and Jason Miller, a 2016 campaign aide, used their podcast to push for a 30-day national lockdown they call 30 days to save America.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WAR ROOM")

JASON MILLER: I want to open America back to business.

STEVE BANNON: Exactly - we're all - we want to open America, 100%.

MILLER: Let me tell you my fear. My fear is that if we take this from a piecemeal fashion that two months from now, three months from now, four months from now, we're still doing the whack-a-mole game as far as a not sure how long we're going to have this lockdown and have the economy in jitters.

KEITH: The pitch - you can't fix the economy until you fix the virus. Numerous recent polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans understand that and support continued social distancing. Reached after Trump's press conference last night, Miller was thrilled.

MILLER: I think there's a collective sigh of relief and appreciation for the decision that was made tonight.

KEITH: So what moved Trump to make this decision? Miller says he responds to numbers.

MILLER: His decision ultimately is going to be made by whoever best makes the case. And it's very clear that Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and the rest of the coronavirus task force put a very compelling presentation in front of him that required the strongest course of action, as we've seen.

KEITH: As President Trump publicly wavered on the mitigation measures, the ground shifted beneath him. The number of diagnosed cases in the U.S. spiked to well over 100,000. Trump saw images on TV of a New York hospital, in the same Queens borough where he grew up, overwhelmed by patients, a refrigerator truck parked outside for the deceased.

A little more than a month ago, Trump predicted the number of cases would get down to near zero. Last night, he was saying 100,000 American deaths would be a success.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: If we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000 - it's a horrible number - maybe even less, but to 100,000 so we have between 100,000 and 200,000, we altogether have done a very good job.

KEITH: As for Easter, Trump claimed it had been aspirational all along and said deaths would likely peak around then.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all.

KEITH: Numerous Trump allies and advisers told NPR in recent days that Trump is keenly aware that his own political fortunes now hinge on how he handles the coronavirus.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.