CNN  — 

President Donald Trump retreated Tuesday from his dubious claim of “absolute authority” to reopen the country, acknowledging that individual governors would make the call to lift their own stay-at-home orders as their states emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of declaring the country open for business, as he’d once hoped to do by May 1, Trump said each governor would submit plans to him on how and when they might return to normal.

He said he was “authorizing” states to begin developing the plans, though his sign-off isn’t necessary.

And while he indicated there were up to 20 states without major outbreaks that could ease restrictions even before May 1, Trump said he wouldn’t apply pressure to governors on reopening.

“The governors are going to be running their individual states,” the President said.

Only a day earlier, Trump insisted he had absolute authority to determine when states would be able to reopen their economies. He cited – but did not specify – “numerous provisions” in the US Constitution that granted him those powers, and even promised a legal report with details.

That position was itself a reversal from his earlier claims that it was up to each state to determine how best to mitigate the crisis – and to secure badly needed supplies like masks and ventilators.

His insistence Monday that he “calls the shots” on reopening was met with strong pushback from Republican and Democratic governors alike. Accordingly, his message Tuesday was entirely different.

Trump said he would be “authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state.”

He said he would soon speak to all 50 governors about the plans, and indicated his administration would work to hold governors accountable for them.

But he was unequivocal that it would be the states – and not he – that make the decision to reopen.

“The governors are in charge,” he said.

Trump remains hopeful that at least some of the country can reopen by May 1, and has focused intently on that date in meetings with top officials.

He and his team are working to develop guidelines for states as they emerge from the crisis that are focused on scaling up testing availability, increasing surveillance and contact tracing efforts, and ensuring hospitals are able to manage caseloads, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Task force

He’s eagerly sought the nation’s top business thinkers for a panel to guide the reopening of the country, though the rollout of the group he once called his “Opening the Country Council” appeared somewhat diminished by the time it came to fruition on Tuesday.

Trump spent several minutes at his afternoon briefing listing the names of executives from nearly every American business sector, saying he would be speaking with them on the phone to discuss reviving a flagging economy.

A list sent later by the White House contained almost 200 names, including prominent bankers, restaurateurs and hoteliers. It was divided by industry: agriculture, construction, defense, energy, real estate, retail and more.

It included American technologists such as Tim Cook of Apple and Jeff Bezos of Amazon – the latter a frequent target of Trump’s criticism.

The process of convening the group had become another scramble for a White House still working to confront the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down entire sectors and sent unemployment skyrocketing.

The details of the committee – which Trump first floated last week – changed several times in recent days, one official told CNN. Who would participate and what they would look to do remained fluid even after Trump had said he would formally announce the council Tuesday.

“It’s a mess right now,” someone in close contact with the White House said.

The new task force – or multiple task forces – isn’t to be confused with the existing coronavirus task force, the assemblage of administration officials and doctors assigned to combat the public health crisis.

Inside the West Wing, the new panel was once viewed as a counterbalance to the health-focused task force, particularly as Trump weighs whether to lift mitigation recommendations by May 1 – a move that he hopes will lead to a “reopening” of the country.

Officials tried to tamp down the formality of the second task force, hinting that it won’t meet regularly like the one focused on public health does.

And that seemed evident on Tuesday as Trump listed the dozens of names who he said he’d consult on reopening the economy.

How the groups would interface had been one of the lingering matters to be resolved.

Earlier, officials had suggested the new panel would include administration officials and act as a more formal economic advisory group. Several administration officials suggested it would be led by Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, who began his job late last month, and would likely include several Cabinet secretaries.

Trump told reporters on Monday that his senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump would not participate, a disclosure that caught some of his aides by surprise because the President’s son-in-law and daughter had been expected by some to be involved.

The President had described the task force members as “the best names in various businesses and professions and religions.”


Some outside figures have been hesitant to join such a precarious endeavor to reopen the country, though many business officials have told the White House they agree it should happen soon.

A source who regularly advises chief executives cast doubt on the notion that business leaders would formally join a new White House task force. Instead, if the administration begins to tout outside business leaders, it’s likely a result of officials calling them and asking if the administration could solicit their advice from time to time, said the source.

“They aren’t going to say ‘no,’ ” said the source.

Business leaders have been hesitant to formally tie themselves to the Trump administration in the past, and often prefer to keep their relationship with the President private. The business councils Trump formed at the onset of his administration disintegrated after he blamed “many sides” for white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Many of the corporate leaders fled the groups after the President’s remarks, though he later claimed he had dissolved them on his own.

This story has been updated with developments from Tuesday’s press briefing.

CNN’s Vivian Salama, Kaitlan Collins, Maegan Vazquez and Cristina Alesci contributed to this report.