Updated Apr 26, 2020 - Health

White House to shift to economic message on coronavirus

Illustration of White House twitter account with cash emojis

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The White House plans to shift its coronavirus messaging toward boosting the economy and highlighting "success stories" of businesses, reducing its public emphasis on health statistics, according to two officials familiar with the planning.

Driving the news: The Coronavirus Task Force — and the doctors who've become household names, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci — "will continue but take a back seat to the forward-looking, 'what's next' message," a White House official told Axios.

  • President Trump is expected to make fewer, shorter appearances at press conferences, as we reported on Friday.
  • Nothing's ever set with Trump, and these decisions will be made day by day. But on Saturday, for the first day in weeks, the White House didn't hold a press briefing and the president made no public appearances.

What we're hearing: "Expect to see a pivot from the White House in the days ahead, focusing on the economy and a more hopeful, forward-looking message," one of these officials said.

  • Trump will host businesses who've been harmed by the coronavirus, and he'll highlight the governors who are reopening their economies in line with the Trump administration's guidelines.
  • That group pointedly does not include Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. (More on that below.)

The big picture: The U.S. has now passed 54,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. New York City alone has suffered vastly more death than other dense global cities of similar size and even more death from the virus than most countries. Some cities and states in the U.S. have flattened the curve, but that hasn't happened nationally yet.

  • Some governors are gingerly trying to reopen their states as public health experts warn of a second wave of infections.

What's next: The White House briefings will eventually scale back and come to an end. But in the meantime, Trump's team plans to build his calendar around events that highlight a "safe" reopening of the economy.

  • The team for weeks has deliberated what a plan to stimulate an economic rebound should look like, one official said, concluding that "POTUS is strongest when he's focusing on things we can win — like bringing back the economy — rather than giving updates on the virus."

Behind the scenes: A number of Trump's most trusted advisers, inside and outside of the White House, grew increasingly alarmed at his marathon daily briefings and some told him they could harm his re-election chances.

  • Some officials blame the briefings for Trump's soft performance among senior citizens and for his recent spate of weak head-to-head polling numbers against Joe Biden.
  • "For the first time, I feel like he gets it that these aren't helping him," said one source who spoke to Trump on Friday.
  • But two others who spoke to Trump the same day about his press conferences said he was still insisting his performances were helping him, as evidenced by the ratings. This is why White House staff are still skittish about saying Trump will definitely wind down his appearances.
  • A source close to the deliberations captured a prevailing view in our Friday story when he said Trump's appearances were dragging on so long he was running out of new things to talk about. The source wondered aloud: "I mean, you wonder how we got to the point where you're talking about injecting disinfectant."
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