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President Trump Declares Coronavirus Crisis A National Emergency


President Trump is intensifying the federal government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To unleash the full power of the federal government through (ph) this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency.

CHANG: The president said the declaration would help free up federal funds for medicine and medical care and supplies to the hardest hit states and cities across the U.S. Here to talk about all of this is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Hey, Franco.


CHANG: All right, so give us a little bit more detail about what the president laid out today.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we're entering a different phase of this situation, and that's practically exactly what the president said himself. The national emergency declaration would open up access to about $50 billion for states and cities to fight the virus. Trump said this will give the government broad authority to let doctors and hospitals respond and care for patients as needed. And I'll just note that this is something that hospitals, doctors and even some Democrats had been calling for.

CHANG: Yeah. What about the aid package that House Democrats have been working on? What's been happening with that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's a package that includes paid sick leave, unemployment assistance. But the big thing is it pays for testing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced, actually, that she reached a deal with the president today, but House Republicans are waiting for an official word from the White House before moving forward. The House, frankly, is not expected to vote on it until they hear specifically from the president.

CHANG: Got it, OK. Well, President Trump has been criticized over the lack of testing up until now. What is the administration going to do about making testing more available?

ORDOÑEZ: The White House has really been sensitive about that. The president said the federal government is going to work with the private sector to make it easier. Vice President Mike Pence addressed that today.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You can go to the website, as the president said. You'll type in your symptoms and be given direction whether or not a test is indicated. And then at the same website, you'll be directed to one of these incredible companies that are going to give a little bit of their parking lot so that people can come by and do a drive-by test.

ORDOÑEZ: Yet, tonight, it's not clear really how far along this plan is. The White House made it sound like Google was involved in this plan, but there is a statement out tonight from an associated company. It's called Verily, and they say that this is in the early stages and that they're going to be testing the tool just in the Bay Area. So we really have more details to find out, and we may learn more about that on Sunday, hopefully.

CHANG: Testing the testing, OK. So, I mean, when you were listening to President Trump's remarks today, did it feel like the administration was taking responsibility for the lack of access to testing up until this point?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, some people around him acknowledge it. Deborah Birx, who is part of the White House coronavirus task force, said testing had been inadequate, and they're trying to do better. But when President Trump was asked directly if he took responsibility, here's what he said.


TRUMP: I don't take responsibility at all because we were given a a set of circumstances, and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time. It wasn't meant for this kind of an event with the kind of numbers that we're talking about. And what we've done is redesigned it very quickly with the help of the people behind me, and we're now in very, very strong shape.

ORDOÑEZ: He was also asked about a decision to shut down a special office in the White House National Security Council. This office was designed to deal with the threat of pandemics. He said he didn't know anything about it.

CHANG: Well, what about how long this national emergency might last? Did the president give any indication of a timeframe?

ORDOÑEZ: He's still trying to say some of those rosy things he said before about the situation. Here's one of the things he said today at the press conference.


TRUMP: But these short-term sacrifices will produce long-term gain. And, again, I've said we're learning a lot for the future and future problems like this or worse - or worse; it could get worse. The next eight weeks are critical. We can learn, and we will turn a corner on this virus.

ORDOÑEZ: Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH was also there. He said, really, there is no way of knowing. One other thing I'd love to mention is that in terms of sacrifices, one of the announcements in the press conference was that there will be a ban on visits to nursing homes that are not medically necessary. Vice President Pence talked about how hard that's going to be. This has really, really been tough for nursing homes.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, there also have been a lot of questions about whether President Trump himself should be tested. What more did we learn today about that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. He had dinner over the weekend with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro and - who said that, you know - and one of his aides had become sick and tested positive since the dinner. Bolsonaro, today, said he is fine and that he tested negative, but President Trump has been questioned repeatedly about getting tested. Today - he has often said that he didn't need to get tested, but today he told a different story. And he said that it was possible that he would get tested; most likely, he would be tested. And, hopefully, we will be finding out very soon about when.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.