The Republican president targeted three swing states critical to his re-election bid – Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia – where his conservative loyalists have mounted pressure campaigns challenging those governors’ stay-at-home orders.
Amplifying a theme that his supporters have trumpeted this week in street protests at the state capitals of Lansing, St. Paul, and Richmond, Trump issued a series of matching Twitter posts touting the slogans: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!”
Michigan has become a particular focus of agitation to relax social-distancing rules that rank among the strictest in the nation after Governor Gretchen Whitmer, widely seen as a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, extended them through the end of April.
Protesters defying the restrictions from the steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday shouted “lock her up,” a chant that was a staple of Trump’s campaign rallies and originally referred to his 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Whitmer said on Friday she was hopeful her state, which suffered one of the country’s fastest-growing coronavirus infection rates, can begin to restart parts of its economy on May 1. But she urged doing so cautiously to avoid reigniting the outbreak just as it was being brought to heel.
Responding to Trump’s critique later in the day, Whitmer said Michigan will re-engage its economy when it’s safe, adding: “The last thing I want to do is to have a second wave here.”
Trump also took renewed aim at one of his favorite political foils, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, suggesting on Twitter that his state, the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, had asked for too much assistance that was never fully used.
At his daily news briefing, Cuomo shot back saying Trump should “maybe get up and go to work” instead of watching TV, and accused the president of favoring the airline industry and business cronies in a recent bailout package that left little for the states.
The flare-up in political sparring came as the number of known coronavirus infections in the United States surpassed 700,000, the most of any country. At the same time, the tally of lives lost from COVID-19, the highly contagious lung disease caused by the virus, has soared to more than 35,000. New York state accounts for nearly half those deaths.
While the death toll continued to climb, the rate of hospitalizations and other indicators have been leveling off, a sign that drastic social-distancing restrictions imposed in 42 of the 50 U.S. states were working to curtail the outbreak.
Stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses have also strangled U.S. commerce, triggering millions of layoffs and forecasts that America is headed for its deepest recession since the economic collapse of the 1930s.
The result has been mounting pressure to ease the shutdowns, leading to clashes between Trump, who had touted the strength of the U.S. economy as the best case for his re-election in November, and governors in hard-hit states who warned against lifting restrictions too quickly.