Despite White House virus cases, top aides defend reopening

The White House has some of the most rigorous precautions of any US venue at the moment. The president, vice president, and many others are tested daily.

FILE: US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he meets with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto (not shown) in the Oval Office of the White House on 2 October 2019 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - Two top US economic advisers on Sunday defended the need for an expeditious reopening of the economy even as the coronavirus reached into the White House despite the extraordinary precautions taken there.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Larry Kudlow also again expressed optimism that the US economy would register a sharp recovery in the second half of the year, with Kudlow predicting "a tremendous snapback" in 2021.

But their comments on Sunday talk shows came just two days after the country recorded its steepest job losses in history, with 20.5 million jobs wiped out in April, for an overall unemployment rate of a historic 14.7%.

Kudlow was asked on ABC's This Week how US businesses could reopen with confidence when the White House - where virus protections are far more rigorous than most Americans enjoy - has recently seen at least two staff members infected.

Those cases, Kudlow said, represented a "small fraction" of the 500 or so staff members working in the White House complex.

He added that the combination of federal and state guidelines, coupled with private-sector innovation, should allow relatively safe reopening.

But he emphasised that the bottom-line responsibility would be not on government but on individual businesses.

"I think that businesses, large and small, are probably going to wind up leading this charge as we attempt to reopen the economy," he said.

Both Kudlow and Mnuchin stressed that undue delay in reopening would also come at a cost.

"I think there's a considerable risk of NOT reopening," the Treasury secretary said on Fox.

"You're talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public, and we're going to reopen in a very thoughtful way that gets people back to work safely."

Kudlow, pushing back on reports of growing partisan tensions over another tranche of emergency relief, said informal talks with Democrats were under way.

But both he and Mnuchin emphasized the need to move with caution.

"We just want to make sure that before we jump back in and spend another few trillion of taxpayers' money, that we do it carefully," Mnuchin said.

The White House has some of the most rigorous precautions of any US venue at the moment. The president, vice president, and many others are tested daily.

But President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have frequently defied the government's own guidance about wearing protective masks.

Three members of the White House's coronavirus task force - including top expert Anthony Fauci - are now self-isolating after potential exposure to the pathogen, US media reported Saturday.

Officials confirmed Friday that Pence's press secretary had tested positive for the virus.

Earlier in the week, a White House valet who served Trump tested positive.