Trump promises ‘total victory’ in ‘war’ as Pentagon increases role

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the military is 'leaning forward."

ABC News – President Donald Trump on Wednesday started his latest briefing to the nation on how the government is responding to the coronavirus crisis by saying, “I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus,” again casting the effort in military terms and referring to the disease with a term that has sparked backlash.

Trump called himself “in a sense, a wartime president.”

“We’ll be invoking the Defense Production Act, just in case we need it. In other words — I think you will know what it is — and it can do a lot of good things if we need it, and we will have it all completed, signing it in just a little while, right after I’m finished with this conference. I’ll be signing it,” he said, giving him the power to direct civilian businesses to help meet orders for products necessary for the national defense.

“We are sending, upon request, the two hospital ships. They are being prepared right now. They are massive ships. They’re the big white ships with the red cross on the sides. One is called the Mercy and the other is called the Comfort. And they are in tip-top shape,” he said.

“Today I can announce further steps expand testing capacity. We are working with several groups to determine if the self-swab, the much easier process than the current process that is not very nice to do. I can tell you, because I did it it,” Trump said. He said that it “would be administered also by a health official, but it would be a lot easier to do.”

“Now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together. It’s the invisible enemy. That’s always the toughest enemy,” Trump said. “But we are going to defeat the invisible enemy. I think we are going to do it even faster than we thought, and it’ll be a complete victory. It’ll be a total victory.”

Asked by ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Cecelia Vega if his use of the term “Chinese Virus” is racist, Trump said, “it’s not racist at all.”

“It comes from China, that’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate,” he continued. “China tried to say at one point that — maybe they’ve stopped now, that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen. It’s not going to happen. Not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”

Trump also told Vega that a potential 20 percent unemployment rate, as floated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as an argument to Senate Republicans to get a stimulus package passed quickly, is a “total worst case” scenario and that the U.S. is “nowhere near it.”

“Well, I don’t agree with that. No, I don’t agree, Trump said. “That’s an absolute, total worst-case scenario. No, we don’t look at that at all. We are nowhere near it.”

With regard to his proposal to send direct payments to Americans to stimulate the economy and help workers losing jobs — checks that an administration official said could be $1,000 or more — Trump said the amount is “to be determined.”

“We are looking at different numbers. We are looking at timing that would be different. Splitting the time, splitting the payments. We are looking at a lot of different things. It hasn’t been determined yet but it will surely be determined,” before repeating a phrase he used in Tuesday’s briefing, “Everybody seems to want to go big,” he said.

“We had the best economy we’ve ever had, and then one day you have to close it down in order to defeat this enemy. But we are doing it, and we are doing it well. I tell you, the American people have been incredible. For the most part they been really incredible.”

President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that by “mutual consent” the U.S. will be temporarily closing the northern border with Canada to non-essential traffic, adding that trade will not be affected, as the number of U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus jumped overnight to nearly 6,000 across all 50 states and as Americans enter the third day of a 15-day critical period meant to “flatten the curve” of the virus spread.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump said he would again hold a news conference, teasing “very important news from the FDA” and touting his response to the novel coronavirus — telling Americans, “money will soon be coming to you” — after the White House proposed a $1 trillion economic stimulus package, including a measure to send checks to directly to Americans.

The White House late Tuesday night also requested $45.8 billion more from Congress — in addition to the trillion-dollar package currently being negotiated — in order to cover unanticipated costs for an array of federal agencies fighting COVID-19.

Trump and Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin revealed new measures to deal with virus spread and economic harm earlier Tuesday including sending some Americans checks for $1000 or more by the end of April — a measure most Senate Republicans seem to support.

Mnuchin also said Tuesday during a meeting with GOP senators that the virus could also raise the U.S. jobless rate to 20% if the government did not intervene, ABC News confirmed.

Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, cautioned it will take “several weeks and maybe longer until we know we’re having an effect,” on slowing the spread of the virus but said if Americans follow the guidelines, young people especially, “we’re going to see a hump instead of a peak.”

Trump is expected in a Wednesday briefing to discuss steps the Food and Drug Administration is already taking to loosen regulation on food supply to ensure there aren’t disruptions.

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