WASHINGTON, DC — President Donald Trump applauded Gov. Greg Abbott's handling of Texas' reopening during a White House visit on Thursday.
"Gov. Abbott, when you look at the job he's done in Texas, I rely on his judgment," Trump said.
“Texas is opening up and a lot of places are opening up. And we want to do it, and I’m not sure that we even have a choice,” Trump told reporters. “I think we have to do it. You know, this country can’t stay closed and locked down for years.”
Abbott joined a list of other Republican governors who have now met with Trump at the White House to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Abbott touted the state's ability to reopen while still responding to virus flare-ups in certain places.
Abbott repeatedly pointed to the state's new "surge response teams," which are tasked with addressing flare-ups locally going forward. Abbott noted most of the high concentrations of cases have been occurring at meatpacking plants, jails and senior centers, 'and if it weren't for those three categories, the people testing positive in Texas would be very minimal."
"It's like putting out a fire," Abbott said of the work that the surge response teams are doing.
The White House meeting came just days after Abbott expanded on his plan to reopen the Texas economy, most recently announcing that Texas gyms, salons and similar establishments can soon reopen.
Trump has been complimentary of Abbott's leadership throughout the pandemic. When Texas started its first phase of reopening businesses, the president had also tweeted praise toward Abbott.
During the visit, Trump inquired about Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther who was freed from jail on Thursday after being sentenced to seven days for violating a court order to close.
"She's free today," Abbott replied to the president's question. "We should not be taking these people and put them behind bars. That is wrong, and that is why I issued another executive order today saying that in the state of Texas, no one can be put behind bars because they're not following an executive order. It's common sense."
The Oval Office meeting also included Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, who Abbott regularly cites in defending his reopening efforts. Asked about Texas' plans, she said she has remained in touch with Abbott, and in one instance, they had a "long discussion" about not including nail salons in his first round of business reopenings, "because you can't really physical distance."
"We had that discussion, and he agreed, and we moved forward together," Birx said.
Asked if Texas was a role model for other states, Birx replied, "Every state is different, so I don't want to get in comparison with the governors because I talk to some incredible governors who are all doing quite a good job."
The meeting came as the number of coronavirus cases in Texas rose to at least 35,390, with 973 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Eight-five percent of Texas' 254 counties — 217 — are reporting cases.
There have been 455,162 tests conducted in the state as of the latest figures. While the daily number of tests has been on an upward trend, the tally is still not hitting Abbott's own target, which is at least 25,000 per day.
Democrats have argued Abbott is moving too quickly to reopen the economy, a point they reiterated ahead of his meeting with Trump.
"From a lack of testing at the federal and state level to reopening businesses before health experts say it is safe to open, Trump and Abbott have both mismanaged the coronavirus crisis," Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said in a statement. "Abbott is Donald Trump without the showmanship."