President Donald Trump emerged from his White House bubble Tuesday after weeks of sheltering-in-place, breaking a lengthy self-isolation for a cross-country trip to Arizona that he hoped would signal to the rest of the country a return to normal is imminent.
“The people of our country should think of themselves as warriors,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One for the first time since the end of March. “Our country has to open.”
In reality, many states have re-upped their restrictions and only a few states have seen the prolonged decline in cases the federal government says is necessary before phasing out social distancing.
Even Trump appeared to acknowledge that a rise in cases or even deaths might accompany any reopening efforts.
“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open,” he said during a roundtable discussion inside the Phoenix plant.
Nevertheless, Trump is eager to demonstrate that life is slowing resuming – starting with his own.
The day trip to Arizona highlighted a Honeywell facility that manufactures N95 masks, though the state is also a critical battleground Trump hopes to win in November’s general election. He began an address at the factory by recalling his 2016 election win.
Even though Trump was touring a facility that produces the face coverings used by health care workers and others to avoid spreading the virus, Trump himself did not wear a mask as he toured the factory floor or spoke with workers. A White House official said they were advised masks weren’t necessary, though a sign at the facility instructed workers to wear them.
Trump has openly pined for a return to his beloved campaign rallies, which were made impossible by social distancing. He didn’t hold a rally on Tuesday but did deliver remarks and tour the mask-making facility.
He also held a roundtable on supporting Native Americans, who have been badly hit by the virus, and signed an executive action related to the killing or disappearance of Native American women, a persistent crisis the federal government has been working to address.
He was not scheduled to visit with coronavirus patients or families of those who have died from the disease. He said last week he’s only spoken to a few Americans who have lost loved ones to the virus.
Instead, Trump said he would “pay my respects” to Honeywell, the multinational Fortune 100 conglomerate.
“I’m going to pay my respects to a great company and a great state, the state of Arizona,” Trump said.
Speaking before he departed the White House, Trump said he was unconcerned about traveling in close quarters aboard Air Force One since every passenger had been tested for coronavirus.
“Literally they’ve been tested over the last hour,” Trump said, though some people traveling with him had been tested a day earlier. “It’s a very strong group of people that want to make sure they are tested, including Secret Service.”
The White House has taken extensive steps to prevent Trump from contracting the virus, including imposing rapid testing for anyone who comes into contact with him or Vice President Mike Pence.
But Trump isn’t the only person traveling as part of his trip, and Air Force One isn’t the only aircraft bringing officials to Arizona. When any president travels, large contingents of advance staffers and military and Secret Service personnel journey ahead of him.
White House officials have said they are taking precautions to prevent staff from getting ill. When Pence has traveled over the past weeks to manufacturing facilities in Minnesota and Indiana, aides said his advance team altered their practices, including taking military aircraft instead of commercial flights.
When Pence visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he was widely criticized for ignoring the facility’s mandate that all visitors wear face masks. Later, he said he should have worn one, and did don a face covering when visiting a GE plant in Indiana.
The Mayo Clinic episode reverberated for some White House officials, who realized the President would face similar criticism if he ignored mask guidelines when he eventually began traveling.
Trump, who said in unveiling federal mask recommendations he couldn’t picture himself wearing one, suggested Tuesday he might.
“I think it’s a mask facility, right? If it’s a mask facility I will, yeah. I don’t know if it’s a mask facility. We’re going to see Honeywell,” he said.
Yet when he stepped onto the factory floor on Tuesday, Trump’s face was bare.
The federal guidelines Trump unveiled last month on restarting the economy state non-essential travel should remain on hold until the second phase of reopening. But like other aspects of those guidelines, Trump has given wide leeway in how they are applied.
Asked Tuesday why he thought governors were ignoring some of the criteria he laid out – such as having two weeks of declining cases in their states before reopening – Trump acknowledged It was a “fair question.”
“I have given them great discretion. I respect the governors. And I’ve given them great discretion,” he said. “If, however, somebody is doing something that is egregious or wrong I will stop it in two seconds.”
Still, Trump acknowledged he was ready to see Americans returning to their pre-coronavirus lives.
“We did it the right way,” he said. “We did everything right, but now it’s time to go back to work.”