WASHINGTON (AP) — Making himself Exhibit No. 1, President Donald Trump lifted off on Air Force One to visit a face mask factory in Arizona, demonstrating his determination to see the country move toward normal activity even as the coronavirus remains a threat.
"The people of our country should think of themselves as warriors. We have to open," he declared as he left Washington on a trip that was more about the journey than the destination,
Trump told reporters that he would be willing to wear a face mask during Tuesday's visit "if it's a mask environment."
After more than a month cooped up in Washington, Trump was to spend less than two and a half hours on the ground in Phoenix touring a Honeywell factory that makes N95 masks and holding a roundtable on Native American issues.
Aides said it would be worth the nearly eight hours of flight time as a symbolic show that the nation is beginning to reopen. The trip was expected to be a marker of Trump's return to a regular travel schedule, as he hopes the nation, too, will begin to emerge from seven weeks of virus-imposed isolation.
"The governors, it's in their hands, but our country wants to open," Trump said before leaving Washington, again pushing responsibility to the states for how to safely reopen even as the virus continues to spread.
Trump sees economic revival as a political imperative, as his allies have noted an erosion in support for the president in recent weeks. Republicans believe Trump's path to a second term depends on the public's perception of how quickly the economy rebounds from shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus.
That includes in Arizona, a key swing state, which Trump carried by less than four points in 2016.
"I love Arizona. I have a lot of friends in Arizona. I've had great success over the years in Arizona," Trump boasted as he left.
The trip comes as Trump seeks to pivot his focus away from the virus's spread and toward more familiar — and, aides hope, safer — ground: talking up the economy. As more states have begun to ease closure orders, despite warnings that that could lead to spikes in new cases, Trump has been trying to highlight his administration's work in helping businesses and employees rebound.
To that point, aides said the president would be holding more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future "phase four" recovery package.
Trump and his White House team have been operating in a virus-safe bubble, thanks to the rapid tests provided to senior staff and anyone who meets with the president.
The trip could be the first time Trump dons a face mask, which many companies are now requiring for employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks when they can't socially distance, such as in supermarkets and pharmacies, especially in places with high community transmission.
"I haven't decided because I don't know," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews. He'd said earlier that "if it was a mask environment, I would have no problem."
Trump has been repeatedly talking up his administration's response to the virus, despite persistent criticism that he dragged his feet and failed to adequately increase production of personal protective equipment and testing supplies.
"We did everything right. Now it's time to get back to work," he said. He added that the country has "the best testing," even as some experts say that millions more people must be tested every week for the country to safely reopen.
And Trump pledged to rebuild the county's economy, saying, "I view these last couple of days as a beginning."
Trump also defended his decision to block Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, from testifying in front of the Democratic-controlled House, though Fauci was given the OK to testify in front of the Republican-controlled Senate.
"The House is a bunch of Trump haters," Trump said. He claimed Democrats "frankly want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to respond.
"It's not worth getting into," she said.