Mnuchin defends Trump’s coronavirus response as officials ramp up efforts

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended President Donald Trump on Sunday against criticism of the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“People misinterpreted his comments,” Mnuchin said on ABC’s “This Week” after the president misstated several elements of a new policy restricting travel from Europe to combat the spread of the virus during an Oval Office speech. “And we immediately put out a statement to clarify that.”

“As is relates to the Oval Office address, the president was very clear,” Mnuchin said. “He wanted to address a very important point, which was he made the move to shut down travel to that, shut down more cases coming in. He wanted to reassure the American public. I don’t think, in an Oval Office address, you’re going to address every single issue as you’re discussing it.”

Mnuchin also said he does not believe a recession will take place. Already, widespread closings and cancellations have taken a toll on the economy. Meanwhile, the stock market entered bear territory amid the pandemic fears. Mnuchin said Trump has “instructed” him to do whatever is needed to combat the outbreak and deal with the economic impact.

The U.S. just surpassed 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, although the actual number of those infected could be much larger because testing isn’t yet widespread. At least 60 people have died in the U.S. because of complications from the virus.

Trump’s travel ban on many European visitors led to mass amounts of Americans returning from the continent in short order, leading to scenes of tightly packed airports as officials slowly processed people to re-enter the country.

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As viral photos of the logjam at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago circulated, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted that the lines were “unacceptable.”

“The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW,” Pritzker wrote.

Speaking Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Pritzker said that such a backup was predictable and that the federal government should have increased the number of Customs and Border Protection and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention workers at the airports.

Pritzker said the problem of people being tightly packed in airports would only get worse Sunday, saying the federal government seems “completely unprepared.”

Pritzker said that in response to his tweet, he got a call around 11 p.m. Saturday from a White House staffer “who yelled at me” about the post.

Later Sunday, Trump tweeted: “We are doing very precise Medical Screenings at our airports.”

“Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful,” he continued. “We must get it right. Safety first!”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the federal government will need to respond to the crisis as if it were a war. State leaders in New York have already barred large gatherings and asked that restaurants and bars limit capacity.

“Let me say it very bluntly,” de Blasio said. “Federal government, at least the last few days, has started to come alive and do something, but we are so far behind. … If the federal government doesn’t realize this is the equivalent of a war already, there is no way that states and localities can make all the adjustments we need to.

“The only hope is that the federal government actually wakes up and realizes we’re in a war and takes over the situation and determines how we can actually get through this,” he continued, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

He predicted that it would take “at least six months” to get through the outbreak.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said on “State of the Union” that it’s possible his state may close schools for the rest of the year.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Look, the projections — this may not peak until the latter part of April or May. So we have informed the superintendents, while we have closed schools for three weeks, that the odds are that this is going to go on a lot longer. And it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year.”

On NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” DeWine said he was “certainly” considering the widespread closing of bars and restaurants after having already shuttered schools. He mentioned the contrasting responses of Philadelphia and St. Louis during the 1918 outbreak of Spanish flu as a guideline. St. Louis was able to level the curve of new infections, while Philadelphia’s curve spiked because of a weaker response.

“Every day counts so much,” DeWine said. “You cannot wait. You have to move very, very quickly. These are tough decisions.”

“Everything we’re doing is to save lives,” he added.

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Sunday afternoon, DeWine announced that all restaurants and bars would be closed indefinitely starting at 9 p.m. Takeout and delivery services are still permitted to proceed.

Pritzker, meanwhile, said Illinois may “need to go on lockdown.”

On Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., expressed a much different sentiment, pushing for people to go out to local establishments to curb the economic hit that is likely to take place. His advice countered that of medical experts, who are suggesting that people stay at home as much as possible to contain the spread of the virus.

“There’s a lot of concerns with the economy here because people are afraid to go out,” he said. “But I will just say, one of the things you can do, if you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to go out and go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easy. Let’s not hurt the working people in this country that are reliant on wages and tips to keep their small business going, so don’t run to the grocery store and buy $4,000 of food. Go to your local pub.”

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