For The Record

Trump continues criticism of Kemp’s plan to let businesses reopen

By: - April 24, 2020 4:15 pm

President Donald Trump said he is watching the situation in Georgia “closely.” For now, he said he would rather defer to Gov. Brian Kemp, even Georgia has not yet seen a two-week decline in cases as called for by the White House guidelines for reopening. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Imaages

If President Donald Trump ever gave his blessing to Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to let businesses reopen, he’s not owning up to it now.

The Associated Press is reporting that the president condoned Kemp’s plan before the governor’s surprising Monday announcement and then again afterwards. Trump has since publicly criticized the plan in back-to-back televised briefings – a shift the AP report attributes to the influence of wary health advisors.

Kemp’s order allowed businesses like tattoo parlors, gyms, hair and nail salons, and bowling alleys to reopen with limitations Friday. Restaurants and movie theaters can open their doors Monday.

“I want them to open and I want them to open as soon as possible,” Trump said Thursday evening, referring to the newly opening businesses. “And I want the state to open. But I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp. I will tell you that right now.”

Trump said he is watching the situation “closely.” For now, he said he would rather defer to Kemp, even Georgia has not yet seen a two-week decline in cases as called for by the White House guidelines for reopening.

“I said, ‘You’re not in the guidelines, but I’m letting you make your own decision,’” Trump said. “But I want people to be safe and I want the people in Georgia to be safe, and I don’t want this thing to flare up because you’re deciding to do something that is not in the guidelines.”

The governor has called his approach “measured” and said it’s important to protect livelihoods as well as lives, but the decision has been highly controversial and has thrust Georgia into the national spotlight.

Trump, who earlier encouraged states to reopen in hopes of jumpstarting the beleaguered economy, has said he disagrees “strongly” with Kemp’s plan and that it is “too soon” for these services to resume at this point in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Trump continued to distance himself from Kemp’s decision on Friday. He said on Twitter that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence “gave Governor Brian Kemp an OK on those few businesses outside of the Guidelines. FAKE NEWS! Spas, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, & barber shops should take a little slower path, but I told the Governor to do what is right for the great people of Georgia (& USA)!”

The Republican governor, who spent Friday touring areas of storm-damaged south Georgia, hasn’t directly pushed back on Trump’s criticism. He said on Twitter Thursday that his team has worked closely with the Trump administration and federal officials.

“Our decisions and direction are informed by data and public health recommendations,” Kemp said.

Noting that most businesses have remained open with limitations, Kemp said he believed it was time to let the formerly closed businesses operate under limitations. He issued more detailed guidelines for newly reopening businesses late Thursday.

This week’s surprising rift between Trump and Kemp is a first for the political allies, although the governor has shown he is not afraid to fall out of step with the president. Kemp did not tap the president’s preferred choice for the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat last year. Instead of picking Georgia Congressman Doug Collins, Kemp appointed business executive and multi-millionaire Kelly Loeffler.

As of midday Friday, more than 22,000 Georgians have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Nearly 900 people have died.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.