Mar 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Behind the scenes: Why Trump changed his mind about Easter

President Trump shows off a COVID-19 test kit by Abbott in the Rose Garden yesterday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Scenes out of New York, including bleak hospital images played on Fox News, struck a nerve with President Trump and caused him to drop his aspiration of reopening America by Easter, senior administration officials tell Axios.

Between the lines: By the time the president's medical advisers showed him modeling on Sunday of predicted deaths, emotional and economic factors had been bearing on him for days.

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also played a key role, according to two sources familiar with the conversations.
  • Mnuchin told Trump the Fed's actions and the $2.2 trillion congressional rescue bill would sufficiently cushion the short-term blow once the money gets into people's hands.
  • Mnuchin's message, according to one of those sources: "If you’re going to put more than $5 trillion out in a quarter, you’re going to make up for enough of that activity."

The distancing extension became, in Trump's mind, less risky than rolling back the guidance, even though he remained fixated on the economy and the stock market, according to another source who spoke with Trump.

  • The source said Trump had already signaled to the market that he's willing to spend whatever it takes to keep the economy afloat. And he's already signaled strongly that he doesn’t like the idea of an extended shutdown.
  • "Better to overextend now and reopen sooner than people expect," the source said. "The fact he’s already signaled he doesn’t like it and [the stimulus] act passed seems enough for the market."

Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, his top medical advisers on the virus, made presentations in the Oval Office on Sunday.

  • Birx showed a few slides and shared with Trump the modeling of predicted deaths that he disclosed shortly thereafter in his Rose Garden press conference.
  • That meeting was set up as the official "decisional" meeting, aides said. And the stats left a dramatic impression on Trump.
  • But the New York scenes on TV had personalized the situation. And Mnuchin's input had convinced him the safer course was to give the shutdown more time.
  • So Trump's mind was already made up. It was a very short meeting.

Go deeper

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

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Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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