Let’s hope Trump strikes the same notes on the virus going forward as he did tonight. He was sober and emphasized the challenges ahead, but Teleprompter Trump is always better than Twitter Trump or Press Availability Trump.
He emphasized best practices for personal hygiene and mentioned social distancing. He didn’t sugarcoat the threat to the elderly, urging them to avoid crowds. He also touted an agreement with the health-insurance industry to eliminate co-pays for treatment and to prevent surprise billing.
It was on the rest of the policy that it got fizzy. The headline item was a 30-day travel ban from Europe. That might make sense given the spiraling cases on the continent, although we are obviously beyond being able to keep the virus from our shores.
To cushion the economic impact of the disruptions from the virus, Trump said that the SBA would provide loans in affected areas and that tax payments would be deferred for affected business and individuals. These measures can’t hurt, but probably won’t help much, either. He also called on Congress to cut payroll taxes, a proposal that doesn’t have much support on Capitol Hill.
He mostly sidestepped the crucial questions that will affect how soon we get a handle on the virus. He didn’t address testing, the main substantive failure of the federal response so far, or the risk that hospitals might be overwhelmed as the virus continues to spread. How many people we can test, how soon we can get their results, what we do with them while they are waiting for the results, and where they will go if they are positive but don’t require immediate hospitalization are very important questions going forward.
In sum, the speech represents a marked, welcome improvement in the president’s rhetoric, but that won’t matter if he goes out and undercuts it tomorrow, and the ultimate verdict on his response will be rendered based on the results.
The White House is understandably catching hell over this — a couple of passages in the speech didn’t correctly relay policy.