US President Donald Trump, in a tweet late on Monday, seized upon the coronavirus crisis gripping the country and announced a controversial step to suspend immigration.
Trump is also using the coronavirus crisis to launch a sweeping effort to repeal or suspend federal business regulations in a separate executive action, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing two unnamed people familiar with the planning.
The developments came as Trump planned to meet on Tuesday with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has clashed with the administration over its response to the crisis, emerging as a foil to the president with a calm and fact-based approach.
New York is at the epicenter of the crisis, accounting for nearly half of the deaths across the country, and has taken a cautious stance on reopening businesses and schools. On Monday, New York City said that concerts and other large events would be canceled through June, a contrast with some southern states like Georgia and South Carolina which are taking steps this week to relax their lockdowns.
Trump's tweet on immigration suggested it would prevent further contagion from outsiders while saving American jobs.
"In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States," he said in a tweet.
Trump has for weeks asserted the US outbreak would have been much worse had it not been for his earlier efforts to "ban" air travel from China — the origin of the pandemic — even though thousands of people, according to the New York Times, continued to arrive from China after restrictions took effect.
The White House declined to immediately offer further details on the reasoning behind the decision, its timing or its legal basis.
Democrats swiftly condemned the announcement,
"You cut off immigration, you crater our nation's already weakened economy," Julian Castro, a Cabinet secretary in the Obama administration and a former presidential candidate, said on Twitter. "What a dumb move."
At the same time the Trump administration will move to relax regulations affecting environmental, health care, workplace safety and labor polities, while also making permanent other temporary regulations put in place to respond to the coronavirus, the Washington Post reported.
Trump, who had staked his upcoming re-election on the strength of the US economy, had been pressing to swiftly end the shutdown, which has left at least 22 million people jobless nationwide, a level of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
By Susan Heavey/Reuters