Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)
In his latest push to quickly reopen America despite all evidence suggesting that that’s a pretty dumb idea, President Donald Trump declared places of worship “essential” and called for reopenings nationwide this weekend, even as several areas remain under coronavirus lockdowns.
During an impromptu press conference Friday, Trump threatened to “override” any state leaders who defy him (without specifying any legal right he has to do so, of course), and added that “if there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me—but they are not going to be successful in that call.”
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” he continued. “It’s not right. So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
A person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press that Trump called today’s unscheduled press conference to cement his place as the face of church reopenings across the country, knowing full well that his support base would eat that kind of grandstanding gesture up regardless of how inadvisable it may be.
Trump has been gunning to return America to business as usual in the face of a nearly unprecedented economic free-fall just months before the 2020 presidential race. Meanwhile, public health officials warn that the U.S. coronavirus death toll is likely higher than the official tally of roughly 95,000, and that reopening the country too soon could backfire, risking future spikes in cases, more fatalities, and even further economic downturn.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for the country’s reopening after the administration rejected its previous draft earlier this month. Unlike the president, these guidelines don’t specify a timeline for church reopening, saying instead that places of worship should “be guided by what is feasible, practical, and acceptable, and tailored to the needs and traditions of each community of faith.” They go on to recommend limited gathering sizes, wearing cloth face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible, and holding services outdoors in well-ventilated areas.
When asked about Trump’s comments Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave the usual non-answer, saying that the administration would “leave it to faith communities to reopen” and that places of worship could turn to federal guidance “about the way you can clean your facility [and] promote social distancing.”
Unsurprisingly, several state and city leaders have already expressed that they’ll be abstaining from the president’s orders, so I guess we’ll see how he scrambles to justify that his threats weren’t just hot air. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said that churches would still reopen on May 30, as previously scheduled.
“It’s reckless to force them to reopen this weekend. They’re not ready,” she said at a press conference. “We’ve got a good plan. I’m going to stick with it.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city would ignore these demands as well. “By no means can the president order any locality, any state to do something that he doesn’t have the power to do,” Lightfoot said per the Chicago Tribune, “and he can’t do that here.”
As for why anyone would doubt Trump’s judgment and expertise about the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t the slightest idea.