Politics

White House plan for economic response to coronavirus is 'not there right now,' officials say

Key Points
  • The White House is far from ready to roll out specific economic proposals in its response to the widening impact of the coronavirus outbreak, administration officials said.
  • The revelation comes as U.S. stock futures pointed toward a rebound following President Trump's suggestion that a payroll tax cut and other stimulus measures may be in the works.
  • However, inside the administration, some officials were stunned by Trump's claim that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an economic plan as the actual details remain up in the air.
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WASHINGTON — The White House is not ready to roll out specific economic proposals in its response to the widening impact of the coronavirus outbreak, administration officials told CNBC.

The revelation comes as U.S. stock futures pointed toward a sharp rebound at the open Tuesday following the Dow's 2,013-point drop Monday and President Donald Trump's suggestion that a payroll tax cut and other stimulus measures may be in the works to mitigate economic damage from the virus' spread. Trump has also invited Wall Street executives to meet at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the response.

However, inside the administration, some officials were stunned by Trump's claim Monday that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an economic plan. "That was news to everyone on the inside," one official said.

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The actual details of any plan remain up in the air. "It's not there right now," an official said. "A lot of details need to be worked out."

The president's schedule for Tuesday includes a 5:30 p.m. ET media briefing for his coronavirus task force.

In addition to the potential payroll tax cut, which faces skepticism from Senate Republicans, Trump also said the administration would work with travel industry players, such as airlines and cruise lines, as travel restrictions and fears stemming from the outbreak take a toll on them. American Airlines on Tuesday, for instance, slashed international and domestic flights as demand craters.

Wage relief for hourly workers is also under discussion, but it would require big federal spending and there are no details about how such a policy would work, an official said.

The officials cited in this story declined to be named since plans were still being worked out.

Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion spending package aimed at supporting states and researchers.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic advisor, are slated to head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to brief Senate Republicans on some ideas and try to get a sense of what is possible. 

"The president has a strong point of view, and he's looking forward to Senate reaction to that perspective," a senior administration official said.

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Trump had said Monday that he would meet with Republican lawmakers Tuesday to discuss economic measures. However, a House Republican aide said there were no plans for members to go to the White House. A representative for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office said it had nothing to share regarding his schedule.

Another administration official making his views known in the coronavirus response is Peter Navarro, a key advisor to Trump on trade matters. Navarro is pushing the payroll tax cut as part of the coronavirus response, according to officials.

Navarro joined a meeting of the president's economic team Monday in the Oval Office, and later appeared at Trump's press briefing with the task force, which surprised some officials since he is not a member of the coronavirus team. 

"He just wanted to be in the picture," a senior administration official said.

Navarro emphatically pushed back on that characterization.

"That's a malicious leak and a lie. The president specifically asked during the Oval meeting that I, by name, and other members of the economic and trade team stand with him on the podium," Navarro said. "And I left when the president left. And leave is what the remaining leakers in this administration should do."

Navarro has been a divisive figure in the administration, due mainly to his outwardly hawkish views toward trade with China.

He has reacted to the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China, by seizing it as an opportunity to explore shifting U.S. supply chains away from that nation. "All we're doing here is seeing the chess board," Navarro told Politico late last month. "This is a case where, for our public health and economic and national security, we need to do just that."

— Eamon Javers reported from Washington, while Mike Calia contributed from Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Ylan Mui contributed reporting from Washington.

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