WASHINGTON, DC -- Prior to holding his daily task force briefing Friday afternoon, President Trump urged supporters to “liberate” several states, apparently encouraging protests against the stay-at-home restrictions aimed at stopping the coronavirus.
A day after laying out a road map to gradually reopen the crippled economy, Trump took to Twitter with the kind of rhetoric some of his supporters have used in demanding the lifting of the orders.
While Trump says his new three-phase road map to re-open the country amid the pandemic calls for “one careful step at a time,” many governors and public health officials say the plan lacks a critical component: widespread testing.
Responding to pleas from governors for help from Washington in ramping up testing for the virus, Trump on Friday put the burden back on them by tweeting: “The States have to step up their TESTING!"
Trump claimed at Friday's briefing that “very partisan voices” had spread “false and misleading information” about the nation's testing capacity. But he said "we’ll help New York and all of the other states get even better on their testing.”
His remarks came after frustration boiled over into anger about virus testing earlier Friday on a private call between senators and Vice President Mike Pence.
At one point, Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent and former governor, told Pence that the Trump administration's failure to develop an adequate national testing regime is a “dereliction of duty,” according to a source who joined the hour-long call.
“I have never been so mad about a phone call in my life,” King told Pence, the source said.
Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to see businesses re-open quickly and claimed earlier this week that he possesses total authority over the matter, even though the lockdowns and other social-distancing measures have been imposed by state and local leaders, not Washington.
“We may be opening but we're putting safety first,” Trump said at Friday's briefing.
In rolling out his plan, the president had continued to defend the lack of a nationwide testing strategy, saying it would be “ridiculous” for the federal government to be involved in administering tests.
“We’re going to be helping with testing. They're going to be doing the testing,” Trump said, referring to state and local governments. “It's got to be a localized thing, and it really has been since I've been involved. Because I came in and the federal government supposed to do testing of parking lots in the middle of a certain state that's 2,000 miles away. It's ridiculous.”
While the idea of testing every single American may not be feasible or necessary, what many business leaders, governors and experts have called for is testing a large enough portion of the population, on a frequent and rapid basis, to provide comprehensive monitoring as people go back to work, stores and other public places.
They say the United States is not yet there.
Even as the country has seen a significant expansion in testing capacity in recent weeks, shortages persist within the patchwork of state-by-state testing systems.
John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor, warns of the dangers of a patchwork of state-run programs where not all state officials place the same value on broad testing.
"By not talking about a national strategy in testing, you're sort of leaving it to the states to make decisions on their own about what the right testing capacity is," Brownstein said. "These are not individual countries. We need to have some sort of federal strategy that states can start to implement."