WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is considering measures to reopen the U.S. economy, even as the highly contagious coronavirus is spreading rapidly and hospitals are bracing for a wave of virus-related deaths.
Over the last few days, some economic policy advisers have started to focus on how long lockdowns and other measures to contain the virus might last, one outside adviser said.
Newly returned economic adviser Kevin Hassett’s team has determined that if the shutdowns continue much longer, the United States could slip into depression, he said.
One source said Trump began talking privately late last week about reopening the country after the 15-day shutdown. Trump believes “we are strong and need a strong economy as we deal with this crisis,” the source said.
Stephen Moore, the economic commentator who Trump tried to tap for a vacant Federal Reserve seat last year, has been particularly influential, the economic adviser said. “He has the president’s ear on this issue,” he added.
Moore questioned California’s plan to shut down much of the economy last week. “We have to ask this question, is it worth trillions of dollars of losses?,” he said on Fox News. Moore didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Former Republican Senator Bob Corker, who frequently had disagreed with Trump, said he backs the president’s desire to resume some economic activity.
“We’re going to have, in my opinion, if it continues for long, because of the financial distress that people will have … a month from now, two months from now, three months from now when people are financially devastated, the domestic violence, suicides, deprivation that we’re inflicting upon ourselves,” he said.
“We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs”
Trump senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News on Monday: “The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease. We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”
The White House would look at “a number of things,” he said.
Trump issued guidelines a week ago that he said aimed to slow the spread of the disease over 15 days, including curbing unnecessary travel. Economic activity has ground to a halt in some states.
Late on Sunday, Trump tweeted: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” adding that at the end of the 15-day shutdown period, “we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
Trump, who had hoped to build his campaign for the Nov. 3 election on a booming U.S. economy, now is looking at the potential of millions of lost jobs. Many of his Republican allies fear the toll on the economy would make it harder for him to win another four-year term.
“This week, it’s going to get bad”
Cases of coronavirus have grown more than 15 times since last week’s guidelines. New York City hospitals are days from a crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday. “If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days, people will die who don’t have to die,” he said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant, cautioned against prematurely lifting containment rules because of concerns about the economy.
“My advice would be to follow medical advice to contain the virus,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “If we can take some pressure off the economy fine, but my primary focus is to make sure the virus is contained and defeated. And we’re just going to have to suffer through the economic consequences.”
The Trump administration has been pushing for aggressive monetary policy steps to stem the economic hit of the epidemic.
The Federal Reserve on Monday rolled out an extraordinary array of programs to backstop an economy reeling from sweeping restrictions on people and businesses that scientists say are needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
While Trump ponders ways to reopen at least parts of the economy, some advisers are warning the spread of the virus is worsening at the moment.
“This week, it’s going to get bad,” Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday. Americans aren’t taking stay-at-home guidelines seriously enough, he said.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Sunday the lockdown affecting large segments of the American public was likely to last 10 to 12 weeks, or until early June.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Diane Bartz and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler and Howard Goller)