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Trump asserts his 'authority is total' on reopening economy



National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listen to US President Donald Trump speak during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, US, April 13, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Donald Trump on Monday said that he, not the governors, "calls the shots" when it comes to reopening the economy, and that he supported Dr Anthony Fauci a day after retweeting a post that called for firing the nation's top infectious diseases expert.

"When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total," Trump said at a White House coronavirus briefing. "The governors know that."

Trump has said it will be "the biggest and most difficult" decision he will make in his life: when to reopen the US economy. There are 43 states with some type of lockdown order in effect.

"For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government," Trump wrote in a pair of tweets on Monday morning.

"Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect. It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons," he said on Twitter.

He did not offer details about the reopening plan and was noncommittal on whether the economy would be open on May 1, saying that it would be announced soon.

"The president of the United States calls the shots," Trump said. "That being said, we're going to work with the states."

Monday marked one month since Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, when there were fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases, and 41 deaths from he COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Monday evening, the number of infections in the US surged past 570,000, while deaths topped 23,000.

To understand how much the pandemic has hurt the economy, 701,000 jobs were shed in March, the most lost since the 1930s Recession, according to official statistics.

Trump's eagerness to reopen the economy has brought both support and warnings from medical experts, business executives and politicians.

Peter Navarro, White House trade adviser, warned on Monday that a prolonged shutdown could be more detrimental to the US than the virus itself.  

"It's disappointing that so many of the medical experts and pundits pontificating in the press appear tone deaf to the very significant losses of life and blows to American families that may result from an extended economic shutdown," The New York Times on Monday quoted Navarro as saying.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci listens to US President Donald Trump speak during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, US, April 13, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that he expected a reopening to play out "community by community, county by county" but that the US would first need to "substantially augment our public health capacity to do early-case identification, isolation and contact tracing".

Monday's briefing also saw a dramatic twist in Trump's attitude toward Fauci.

"I like him," Trump said during the news briefing. "Today I walk in and I hear I'm going to fire him. I'm not firing. I think he's a wonderful guy."

He said he and Fauci had been on the same page "from the beginning" about the virus.

On Sunday, Trump retweeted a call to fire Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who in an interview with CNN said lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

At Monday's briefing, Fauci said that he was answering a "hypothetical question" in the interview and made clear that Trump had listened to him and other medical experts advising him, when they recommended mitigation efforts that included the ongoing social distancing measures, first issued in mid-March and then extended to the end of this month.

The White House also sought to downplay Trump's tweet on Sunday that had fueled speculation he would fire the scientist in the middle of the pandemic.

"This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr Fauci," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement on Monday.