Trump says states have freedom to decide when to go through 3-phase reopening plan

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

(CNN)President Donald Trump unveiled new guidelines on Thursday meant to help states loosen their social distancing restrictions, but in a retreat from his onetime claim of "absolute authority" to restart the economy, he told governors on an afternoon telephone call it was their decision on when and how to reopen.

"You are going to call your own shots," Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation. "I've gotten to know almost all of you, most of you I've known and some very well. You are all very capable people, I think in all cases, very capable people. And you're going to be calling your shots."

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It was a turnabout from his Monday claim that "the President of the United States calls the shots" in how to ease restrictions that have kept most Americans indoors and forced closures of restaurants, gyms and other businesses. And it was an indication that even as he tries to ease the country out of its virtual shutdown, Trump will place responsibility elsewhere should cases spike again.

As business leaders, lawmakers and governors warn persistent testing shortfalls could hamper any effort to reopen the country, Trump is pushing ahead with attempts to revive an economy moribund by the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines, meant to speed Trump's goal of restarting the country, won't be mandatory. Many governors have already extended restrictions into May or banded into regional collectives that will determine their own reopening plans. The newest consortium was created in the Midwest on Thursday by Democratic and Republican governors.

But Trump, eager to see a return to normalcy for housebound Americans, wants to provide at least a framework for how places can reopen despite warnings from all corners that testing capacity for coronavirus is still too small.

New guidelines