(CNN) President Donald Trump now knows the price of the haunting bargain required to reopen the country — tens of thousands more lives in a pandemic that is getting worse not better.
It’s one he now appears ready to pay, if not explain to the American people, at a moment of national trial that his administration has constantly underplayed.
Depressing new death toll projections and infection data on Monday dashed the optimism stirred by more than half the country taking various steps to reopen an economy that is vital to Trump’s reelection hopes and has shed more than 30 million jobs. Stay-at-home orders slowed the virus and flattened the curve in hotspots like New York and California, but they have so far failed to halt its broader advance, leaving the nation stuck on a grim plateau of about 30,000 new cases a day for nearly a month.
New evidence of the likely terrible future toll of Covid-19 came on a day when Trump stayed out of sight — his wild briefings that hurt his political prospects now paused — meaning he could not be questioned on his enthusiasm for state openings in the light of new evidence.
The White House also took new steps to limit testimony to the House from members of the President’s coronavirus task force, prompting Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi to warn on CNN that it was “afraid of the truth.”
Trump, who has consistently appeared to care most about his political prospects during three miserable months, mounted another victory lap on Monday — boasting on Twitter that he was finally getting “great reviews” for his virus management.
A new model from the University of Washington, previously used by the White House suggested that 134,000 Americans could now die by August — in a revised toll prompted by the likely impact of state openings. The total was more than double the same organization’s estimate last month.
A draft internal report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention obtained by The New York Times buckled the White House narrative that the worst of the pandemic is passed and it’s time to get going again. It found that the daily death toll will reach about 3,000 by June 1, nearly double the current number.
The data, combined with figures showing the pandemic getting worse in many states showed there is no real scientific case for reopening businesses, bars and restaurants. It underscored how governors — largely in the absence of a vast nationwide testing and tracing operation the administration has failed to build — are in many cases flying blind in reopening their states.
Trump’s top coronavirus task force adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he did not know the assumptions behind the new models but said they were probably not misleading in that easing restrictions would lead to spikes in infection.
“It’s the balance of something that’s a very difficult choice,” Fauci said on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” putting the bargain in the form of a question the American people must resolve.
“How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be, some form of normality, sooner rather than later?” he asked.
“I feel I have a moral obligation to give the kind of information that I’m giving. People are going to make their own choices.”
But the nearly 70,000 Americans who have already died are not the only victims of the worst public health threat in 100 years.
Thirty million Americans were thrown out of work by lockdowns — and their plight suggests that whatever the science dictates, there is no economic case for keeping businesses closed.
There is no doubt that Trump and state and local leaders are facing terrible choices after weeks of social isolation and economic damage.
But Trump has declined to initiate a national conversation about the hideous compromises ahead.
The callous undercurrent of Monday’s data is that with no vaccine in sight, the country faces an awful choice about the relative pain in disease and economic blight it is ready to endure.
One political figure who is broaching these issues is former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — though in retirement the Republican friend of Trump is spared the fateful decisions that serving politicians face.
“Of course, everybody wants to save every life they can — but the question is, towards what end, ultimately?” Christie told CNN’s Dana Bash on The Daily DC Podcast.
“We’ve got to let some of these folks get back to work, because if we don’t, we’re going to destroy the American way of life in these families — and it will be years and years before we can recover.”
Trump, however, prefers, as always, to dwell in the universe that is most conducive to his political hopes. He stepped up attacks on China for covering up a crisis he predicted would never be a problem for the US despite available evidence. He effectively accused the intelligence agencies and his own subordinates of not briefing him on the virus until late January. Even if that is true — and well sourced reports suggest it is not — there was ample news coverage about a possible new pandemic.
In a Fox News town hall on Sunday, the President, who has consistently said he sees “light at the end of the tunnel,” chided some states for not opening quickly enough and misrepresented the current national picture of the pandemic.
“There’s not too many states that I know of that are going up. Almost everybody is headed in the right direction,” the President said, adding, “I like the states opening. They will be opening. They’re going to open safely and quickly.”
Last week, on Fox News, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner insisted that the “data’s on our side and President Trump has created a pathway to safely reopen our country.”
But the fresh data on Monday revealed the price of opening and undercut the administration narrative that but for a few unfortunate hotspots the rest of the nation is safe.