- On Friday, the day after President Trump said the timeline for lifting coronavirus-related restrictions would be up to governors, he tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”
- Trump acknowledged at Thursday’s White House briefing that some of the people protesting the states’ orders were his supporters and would likely respect his opinion, which he claimed was the same as the governors.
- Trump can’t order states to lift their restrictions – that’s up to the governors who issued them – but he can use the bully pulpit and attempt to influence public opinion.
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On Friday, less than 24 hours after telling Americans that the decision to ease coronavirus-related restrictions was up to governors, President Donald Trump tweeted a call to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia.
In those three states, some residents have gathered in large groups – in defiance of state orders and medical expertise – to protest the stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines. The protests have raised serious safety concerns, as the coronavirus is believed to spread primarily through respiratory emissions, making it vital for people to follow the guidelines and avoid large groups.
At Thursday night’s coronavirus task force briefing, Trump and his team unveiled a road map for easing restrictions. The president repeatedly emphasised that governors had the power to decide how their states would progress through the plan. He did not give a specific date or deadline for implementing the plan but asserted that many states would be able to open soon.
On Friday morning, Trump’s Twitter sang a different tune.
“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” he said in one tweet. “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” he added in another.
“LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment,” the president added in a third tweet. “It is under siege!”
Trump later said that states “have to step up their TESTING!”
Some of the most dramatic protests have taken place in Michigan, where on Wednesday hundreds of angry protesters violated the state’s stay-at-home order to demonstrate outside the Capitol. They accused Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat with whom Trump has sparred during this crisis, of violating their rights by ordering them to stay inside.
Whitmer responded to a question about Trump’s tweet on Friday at a press briefing.
“I hope that its not encouraging more protest,” she said. She acknowledged that “people are feeling very anxious” about their financial futures, but said she would reopen the economy when it was considered safe.
“We are doing the right thing and what we are doing is saving lives,” she said.
In Minnesota, protesters brought signs and flags to a packed demonstration outside the governor’s mansion on Thursday.
In Virginia, a slightly more idyllic demonstration took place on Thursday as residents gathered in Richmond with picnic blankets – but few masks – to protest the state’s order.
On Thursday, Trump was asked about the protesters around the country and whether he thought they should comply with authorities’ instructions. He acknowledged that some were his supporters who would likely listen to his opinion.
“I think they’re listening,” Trump said. “I think they’d listened to me. They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion, and my opinion is the same as just about all of the governors.
“They all want to open. Nobody wants to stay shut, but they want to open safely. So do I, but we have large sections of the country right now that can start thinking about opening. There’ll be some mitigation, and they will keep it going for a period of time.”
He added: “So that will be a governor’s choice, and we’ll have no problem with it.”
The power to lift lockdown orders rests with individual governors, not the president. But Trump has made it clear he wants the US to move out of shutdown mode and people to return to work, alleviating the economic damage of the outbreak.
The White House did not immediately return a request for clarification on the intention of Trump’s tweets.
While he can’t lift the orders himself, the president could use the bully pulpit and attempt to persuade Americans to put pressure on their governors to ease the orders.
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