Coronavirus government response updates: Trump declares houses of worship 'essential,' threatens to override governors

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump said Friday he has declared that churches and other houses of worship provide “essential services” and he’s told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance allowing them to reopen.

“I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” he said making the announcement and leaving without taking questions after calling church closings an “injustice.”

He threatened to “override” governors if they weren’t allowed to reopen “this weekend.”

Earlier, he said doing so is critical to the nation’s “psyche” and accused Democratic governors of not treating churches with ‘respect.”

With the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 close to 95,000 as the Memorial Day weekend begins, Trump has ordered all flags on government buildings lowered to half-staff through Sunday “for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic.”

His order came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to him Thursday requesting flags be lowered when the death toll reaches reaches 100,000, as experts estimate will happen by the end of the month — what the Democratic congressional leaders called a “sad day of reckoning.”

— A new study of 96,000 patients hospitalized on six continents published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet finds that people treated with hyroxychloroquine — the unproven drug treatment Trump has touted as a “game changer” — had a higher risk of dying from an irregular heart rhythm than those who didn’t take the antimalarial medication, as reported in The Washington Post.

The president has said that he would finish his last dose of a two-week course of what he calls “the hyrdroxy” today.

Trump declares houses of worship provide ‘essential services’

President Trump, as part of his push to reopen the country, has declared houses of worship provide “essential services” and demanded governors allow them to reopen “this weekend,” threatening ti “override” them if they didn’t but not explaining what legal grounds he had to do so.

“At my direction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for communities of faith,” he said making a brief statement in the White House briefing room Friday afternoon without taking questions. “Today, I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogue, and mosques, as essential places that provide essential services,” he said.

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” he declared.

“I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now. If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they are not going to be successful in that call,” he continued.

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church, and synagogue, go to their mosque. Many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life,” he said.

After Trump left, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dodged answering when reporters asked what authority the president had to force governors to open churches.

She called it a “hypothetical question” — even though the president himself said that if governors do not allow churches to reopen he will intervene to “override” them.

In an exchange with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl, coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised a new Lancet study that shows a heightened mortality rate among COVID patients who took hydroxychloroquine — the antimalarial drug Trump has touted as a potential “game changer” treatment — as “one of our clearest studies” out there when it comes to comorbidities.

“It clearly shows that comorbidity that puts individuals at more risk and I think it’s one of our clearest studies because there was so many, tens of thousands it of individuals involved, and the doctors clearly annotated who had heart disease and who had obesity, and you can see dramatically the increase risks for that,” she said.

Birx’s praise for the study is notable considering its critical conclusions on hydroxychloroquine. The president has dismissed a prior study looking at VA patients that reached a similar conclusion as being a “Trump enemy statement.”

–ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps and Elizabeth Thomas


Trump says new reopening guidance will deem churches ‘essential’

President Trump continued to tease forthcoming CDC guidance to prioritize the reopening churches, suggesting he will speak more on the topic later today and that the new guidance will deem places of worship as “essential” to make it easier to open amid the ongoing pandemic.

“I just spoke to CDC, we want our churches and our places of faith and worship, we want them to open, and CDC is going to be — I believe today they will be issuing a very strong recommendation, and I’m going to be talking about that in a little while,” Trump said.

Though the president usually addresses the issue in speaking of “churches,” he made clear that the guidance will apply to all religious institutions.

“I consider them essential, and that’s one of the things we are saying. We are going to make them essential. You know, they have places essential, that aren’t essential, and they open and yet the churches aren’t allowed to open and the synagogues. Again, places of faith. Mosques. Places of faith. So, that’s going to see that and you’re going to see that,” he said.

The president made the comments during a South Lawn event with Rolling Thunder bikers to honor veterans that felt very much like a campaign event.

Rain fell as Guns n’ Roses blared from loudspeakers and the president spoke under the cover of the portico to a group of motorcyclists below.

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