Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
Published 12:33 p.m. ET July 10, 2020 | Updated 4:47 p.m. ET July 10, 2020
Donald Trump’s push to reopen schools comes amid a nationwide debate over whether it’s safe for children to return to the classroom amid coronavirus.
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump descended on Florida Friday in his latest trip to a red state grappling with a dramatic uptick in coronavirus cases that have exhausted local hospitals and health resources.
Trump arrived in Doral, Florida, where he toured the U.S. Southern Command and attended a briefing on anti-drug trafficking in South America before hosting a roundtable discussion on Venezuela at the nearby Iglesia Doral Jesus Worship Center. The latter event is aimed at courting Hispanic voters ahead of the November election. Later he att a private political fundraiser in Hillsboro Beach, just outside Miami.
The president has sought to highlight his administration’s efforts to curb the flow of drugs from Central America into the U.S. as part of his re-election effort, but the event will likely be overshadowed by the state’s struggle with a new surge in coronavirus cases, making it the global epicenter of the pandemic following its reopening.
The Sunshine State reported 11,433 new coronavirus cases on Friday, falling just short of the state’s single-day record of 11,458 recorded last Saturday. The spike has also strained the state’s hospital system as nearly half of its intensive care units are at least 90% full, and more than 1 in 5 are completely full, state data shows. More than 17,100 Floridians have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and more than 4,000 have died since the start of the pandemic.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fierce defender of Trump, was among the first to ease coronavirus restrictions and allow bars and restaurants to reopen as the president pressured states to begin lifting lockdown measures that crippled the U.S. economy.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told people to “focus on facts” as coronavirus cases climb.
The Republican governor has also followed the president’s push to allow students to return to class in the fall, ordering K-12 schools to reopen in August despite the state’s rising infection rate and growing concerns among school administrators and teachers.
DeSantis said he “would not hesitate” to send his own kids to school when the academic year starts.
“I’m confident, if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools,” he said during a news conference.
The statewide spike also raises questions about whether the Republican party will be able to hold a full national convention in Jacksonville next month, packed with thousands of people, as the president has envisioned. Several Republican lawmakers announced they’ll skip the convention over coronavirus concerns while the city has mandated that masks be worn in public and at indoor locations.
Masks have become a political lightning rod since the pandemic unfolded as Trump has repeatedly shrugged off federal health guidelines that urge people to wear masks in public settings to contain the spread of the virus. The president, however, has signaled he’s more open to facial coverings in recent weeks, after several prominent Republicans publicly endorsed face masks.
Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in a phone interview Thursday night he plans to wear a mask while visiting Walter Reed Medical Center on Saturday.
“I expect to be wearing a mask when I go into Walter Reed. You’re in a hospital setting, I think it’s a very appropriate thing,” Trump said. “I have no problem with a mask.”
The president’s fundraising visit in Miami also comes after one of his White House aides stirred controversy earlier this week over comments attributed to her in a new book about the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The author, NBC reporter Jacob Soboroff, shared those excerpts on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
Katie Miller, communications director to Vice President Mike Pence, is quoted as saying that the Department of Homeland Security sent her to the border to make her “more compassionate” but “it didn’t work.”
Miller, a South Florida native who is married to Stephen Miller, one of the architects of Trump’s immigration policy, added that she believed immigrants should assimilate in the U.S.
“Why do we need to have a ‘Little Havana?'” she asked, referring to the predominantly Cuban area in Miami.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Miller told her “those quotes are not true as described in the book” and called the president an “ally of the Cuban community.”
The White House has ramped up the president’s travel schedule in recent weeks as the president’s sagging poll numbers show him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by an average of nearly 9 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.
Trump narrowly won Florida in 2016 and campaign officials see the state as crucial to his re-election path in November.
Trump has held election rallies in Oklahoma and Arizona, two states that have also seen dramatic surges in coronavirus cases. Tulsa’s top health official said Wednesday that the rally and the protests that accompanied it likely contributed to the city’s recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Contributing: Savannah Bermann, USA TODAY; Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press
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