WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pushed Monday for Pennsylvania to reopen its economy faster, escalating a fight already roiling the state, as Republican lawmakers and some local officials pressure Gov. Tom Wolf to lift the coronavirus restrictions that have slowed the pandemic’s spread but left about a quarter of the state’s workforce without a job.
“The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails,” Trump said in a morning Twitter post. “The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”
At a Monday afternoon news conference, Trump again called on states such as Pennsylvania to move faster in lifting lockdown orders. While at least 80,000 people have died in the United States after contracting the virus, including more than 3,700 in Pennsylvania, Trump said isolation and economic desperation could also lead to deaths from drug addiction or suicide.
“If you look at Pennsylvania as an example, if you look at various other states, I won’t get into them, the people want to go back,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “The numbers are getting to a point where they can, and there just seems to be no effort on certain blue states to get back into gear, and the people aren’t going to stand for it. They want our country open, I want our country open, too, I want it open safely, but I want it open.”
And on Tuesday morning, Trump confirmed he will visit the state Thursday. He is scheduled to stop just outside Allentown at Owens and Minor, a medical equipment company.
Wolf rejected reopening too quickly Monday, accusing those who would rush to restart the economy of having “decided to surrender to this enemy.” He said local government officials authorizing businesses to resume activity in defiance of his administration and medical experts are being “selfish and unsafe.”
“These folks are choosing to desert in the face of the enemy, in the middle of a war that we Pennsylvanians are winning and that we must win,” Wolf said during an online news conference that he opened by removing a mask and spritzing sanitizer on his hands.
Asked about Trump’s tweet, Wolf said he would continue a “measured, staged” reopening.
“I don’t know how you stay safe and move quickly,” he said. “We’re trying to move deliberately.”
The back and forth between Harrisburg and Washington on Monday came amid reports that Trump — eager to get back to his travel schedule after months mostly spent in the White House — would visit Pennsylvania later this week. The Washington Post reported that a proposed visit to a Delaware County factory where workers lived for weeks to manufacture personal protective equipment was called off because of health risks.
In his remarks Monday, the president did not single out Wolf, who has generally avoided the criticism Trump has leveled at other Democratic governors. But the Twitter blast came as Pennsylvania Republicans and some county leaders and businesses ratcheted up pressure to ease the restrictions Wolf has imposed.
Commissioners in at least six counties have threatened to defy Wolf’s orders, and top Pennsylvania Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Turzai, have railed against the economic harm of the shutdown. In York County on Saturday, State Rep. Mike Jones (R., York) gathered more than 150 people, many without masks, for a meeting in which he was critical of Wolf and urged resistance.
“We got Wolf on the ropes,” Jones said, according to the York Daily Record. “It’s time to knock him out.”
That resistance isn’t limited to conservative areas of the state, even as polling shows Americans are generally more worried about lifting lockdown orders too early than too late. Bucks and Delaware Counties are pushing state officials to allow them to move out of the restrictive “red” reopening phase Wolf has laid out and into the next step.
Republicans say Wolf is moving too slowly and argue that the worst health risks have passed while the economic devastation continues mounting. In weekend Twitter posts, Turzai drew attention to the proportion of people who have died of coronavirus complications while also suffering from other conditions, or “comorbidities.”
Citing increased mobility by residents, the respected model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected Sunday that Pennsylvania would see 2,136 more deaths by the end of August than had been predicted one week earlier. The state’s growth in cases is slowing, however, data show.
The White House, meanwhile, faced fears of its own coronavirus outbreak, despite a more robust screening and testing program than any other workplace can offer.
Responding to Trump’s tweet, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat, wrote that “what people want is freedom FROM THE VIRUS.”
This story has been updated to include details of Trump’s planned visit to Pennsylvania.