(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday applauded a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision striking down a coronavirus lockdown order, as hundreds gathered at the statehouse in neighboring Michigan to protest the Democratic governor’s restrictions there.
The Republican Trump’s early morning tweet fueled a partisan nationwide debate over how soon to reopen states closed in March to fight a pandemic that a Reuters tally shows has infected more than 1.4 million Americans and killed nearly 85,000.
Having staked his Nov. 3 re-election hopes on a strong economy, Trump wants states to reopen despite warnings of health experts, including some on his White House task force, that a premature lifting of lockdowns could spark more virus outbreaks.
On Thursday, he took his rallying cry to Pennsylvania, where he toured a medical equipment distributor. It was his second major trip outside the White House since March, both to battleground states considered key to winning in 2020.
“They ought to start thinking about opening it up,” Trump told reporters as he left Washington, referring to Pennsylvania’s political leadership.
Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, accused Trump of making the trip to divide Americans, “casting Democrats as doomsayers hoping to keep America grounded and Republicans as freedom fighters trying to liberate the economy.”
In Wisconsin, residents flocked to bars on Wednesday evening after the court sided with Republican lawmakers who argued the state’s top public health official exceeded her authority by imposing restrictions on businesses and daily life.
“Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open,” Trump tweeted, referring to Governor Tony Evers. “The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”
Hitting back at the court ruling, Evers urged residents to stay home, practice social distancing and limit travel.
“Folks, deadly viruses don’t go away on their own and they don’t go away because the Supreme Court says so,” he said in a radio address.
Hundreds of people gathered on Thursday at the Michigan capital, Lansing, to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent decision to extend her stay-at-home order until at least May 28. Some carried signs in support of Trump.
Whitmer also gave the go-ahead to restart manufacturing from this week in her state, enabling U.S. automakers to plan reopenings across the country on Monday because so many parts suppliers are based in and around Detroit.
Witnesses said Thursday’s protest was peaceful, though a handful had guns, which state law permits. Police quickly broke up a scuffle. On April 30, hundreds of protesters, some armed, entered the Capitol and demanded to enter the House floor.
U.S. government data released on Thursday showed that initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 2.981 million for the week ended May 9. This lifted the number of people to file claims since mid-March to 36.5 million, more than one in five workers. [L1N2CV2CY]
Nearly all 50 U.S. states have begun to allow some businesses to reopen and residents to move more freely, even though only 14 states have met White House guidelines for when and how to do it, according to a Reuters analysis.
Nationally, new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, are down 11% in the past week, a Reuters analysis showed. The overall drop largely reflected declines of 33% each in New York and New Jersey – the epicenter of the outbreak – in the past week.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said five state regions would take first steps to reopen some businesses on Friday while a stay-at-home order remained in effect in New York City and other regions. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said beaches would open for the May 23-25 Memorial Day weekend.
Despite the Wisconsin court ruling, Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, said his stay-at-home order would remain intact. That meant bars and restaurants like Lakefront Brewery, employing about 170 full and part time employees, will stay closed for now.
Lakefront president Russ Klisch said he was not ready to open his doors to customers anyway, as he was still waiting on orders of plexiglass to put between tables and at the bar and needed to train staff to keep themselves and customers safe.
“We are going to have to learn to deal with this one way or another,” Klisch told Reuters in a phone interview. “But we are going to have to deal with it in a way that is safe.”
Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, and Michael Martina in Detroit; Additional reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey and Lucia Mutikani in Washington, Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Howard Goller