Trump says economy ready to go ‘like a rocketship’ as deaths climb

President makes claim as small businesses have difficulties accessing emergency funds

Voters wait in line in the Wisconsin presidential primary election. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Voters wait in line in the Wisconsin presidential primary election. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

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US president Donald Trump has said the US economy “will go like a rocketship” once it reopens, as he met with company chief executives at the White House on Tuesday.

Amid reports that small businesses were finding it difficult to access loans that were authorised as part of the $2.2 trillion package agreed by Congress in March, Mr Trump said $70 billion worth of lending had been processed.

He also confirmed that an extra $250 billion was now being sought from Congress for the business loan programme.

Mr Trump was speaking as the number of deaths from coronavirus in the United States continued to rise, with more than 340,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths now reported across the country.

Tuesday also saw a series of personnel changes in Washington, despite political activity slowing down in the city due to the pandemic.

Thomas Modly, acting secretary of the navy, submitted his resignation on Tuesday following the emergence of leaked audio of him addressing the crew of the HSS Theodore Roosevelt, which is docked in Guam.

In a 15-minute address to sailors aboard the aircraft carrier that was broadcast through the vessel’s radio system, Mr Modly criticised their former captain, Brett Crozier, who was fired after raising concerns over the spread of coronavirus onboard. Mr Crozier has since announced he has contracted the virus, in addition to more than 100 of the sailors on board.

Mr Modley’s departure came hours after it emerged that Mr Trump had fired the chairman of a new panel established to oversee the management of the $2.2 trillion financial package agreed by Congress last month. Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general for the department of defence, is a long-standing government official.

New press secretary

Also on Tuesday, Stephanie Grisham, who replaced Sarah Huckabee Sanders last year as the White House press secretary, was removed from her post. She will return to her position in the East Wing as chief of staff to Melania Trump and will be replaced by Kayleigh McEnany, the former spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, who currently works for the Trump re-election campaign.

Ms McEnany (31) is a frequent defender of the president on cable news channels. The personnel change was widely seen as a move by incoming chief of staff Mark Meadows, who replaced Mick Mulvaney last month after his appointment as Northern Ireland envoy.

Ms Grisham was the fourth person to hold the position of White House press secretary, but did not hold a single daily White House briefing during her eight-month tenure.

With more than 90 per cent of the country affected by some form of stay-at-home order, the US continued to see the highest number of coronavirus cases anywhere in the world.

New York registered its biggest single-day increase in deaths on Tuesday, with 731 people dying from the virus, bringing the total number of deaths in the hardest-hit state to just under 5,500.

Nonetheless, governor Andrew Cuomo pointed to a continuing fall in hospitalisations, underlining his view that the disease may be plateauing in the state. Mr Cuomo said plans were being made about how best to restart the economy, adding that he was consulting with governors in neighbouring states such as New Jersey.

“We have to start planning restarting life. We’re not there yet. This is not a light switch we can just flip one day and everything goes back to normal,” he said.

Wisconsin votes

In Wisconsin, the Democratic primary and state and local elections took place on Tuesday, after the state and US supreme court ruled that the April 7th date could not be postponed.

It followed a bitter debate between the Republican-controlled legislature in the state and the Democratic governor, who tried to postpone voting but was ultimately blocked by the courts.

There were reports of long queues at voting stations, particularly in urban parts of the state such as Milwaukee. Outlining why she had opposed the decision, supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she feared the order would “result in massive disenfranchisement”.

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