President Trump on Tuesday suggested “the worst days” of the coronavirus pandemic are over as he welcomed a group of small business owners to the White House who have benefitted from an emergency loan program he signed into law last month.
Trump used his speech to express optimism about the country’s path to economic recovery amid the pandemic, which has forced businesses to close and caused millions of layoffs across the country due to stay-at-home orders issued by states.
“As our nation battles against this terrible scourge, we continue to pray for the victims as well as those Americans who are grieving their lost ones and their loved ones,” Trump said at the outset of his remarks in the East Room. “We suffer with one heart but we will prevail, we are coming back and we’re coming back strong.”
“Now that our experts believe that the worst days of the pandemic are behind us, Americans are looking forward to the safe and rapid reopening of our country,” the president continued.
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The White House is seeking to focus on efforts to revive the U.S. economy as the pandemic eases and states begin to relax coronavirus restrictions. A number of states have announced plans to slowly begin loosening restrictions in the coming weeks to reopen their economies, even as concerns persist over the U.S. ability to test for the virus, which has now sickened over 1 million Americans.
Tuesday’s event featured a parade of small business owners and employees who thanked the president and his administration for the Paycheck Projection Program, which was established by the CARES Act that Trump signed at the end of March. Trump signed new legislation just last week providing $310 billion in additional funding for the loan program after it ran out of funds in just weeks.
Amy Wright, the owner of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee and one of the guests at the event, said she received a PPP loan and was able to rehire 120 workers, all of whom have disabilities, whom she had been forced to lay off amid the coronavirus outbreak.
One of those employees, a young man named Michael, was invited to the podium to speak. He expressed gratitude for his job and thanked Trump for inviting him to the White House.
“You guys are family,” Michael said, gesturing to the president and saluting him. Trump called his remarks “beautiful.”
Their remarks were followed by those from a number of other small business owners who heaped praise on the president and other administration officials in attendance for the PPP loans provided by the Small Business Administration. The president’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, also delivered brief remarks at the event.
When Tisa Clark, president of a Maryland consulting company J.D. Clark Professional Services, delivered an impassioned statement about the resilience of small businesses — “We as small businesses are strong and we are resilient and we will bounce back,” Clark said — the president quipped that she should run for office.
“You are something,” Trump said. “That’s really a good job.”
Trump’s remarks reflect a growing effort by the president to focus on the nation’s economic recovery. They come as the White House explores a new communications strategy involving public appearances for the president that take a different shape than the daily coronavirus task force briefings, which have often resulted in the president engaging in spats with the media or repeating false statements.
Trump has come under fire for an appearance last Thursday during which he suggested disinfectant should be studied as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus, a remark he has since claimed was made in jest.
Trump still fielded questions from a smaller group of reporters on Tuesday for several minutes, defending his remark in early February that the number of coronavirus cases would soon be “close to zero.”
“It will go down to zero, ultimately,” Trump said in response to a question about his previous comment, suggesting the figure was a testament to the number of tests the U.S. is able to perform. “At the appropriate time, it will go down to zero at some time.”
Trump also insisted on the strength of the U.S. testing capacity, something that has come under scrutiny among health experts and governors who have pointed to a dearth in capacity.
Trump suggested that the U.S. would “very soon” have the capacity to test 5 million Americans each day, without providing an explanation about how the administration would achieve such a goal. The U.S. currently is testing roughly 200,000 Americans daily.
A top Trump administration official said Monday that the country would be able to easily test 8 million Americans during the month of May, as the White House released a blueprint laying out a strategy for testing nationwide that largely delegates responsibilities to states to ramp up testing with support from the federal government.