May 5, 2020 / 7:15 PM / 21 days ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-Citing no evidence, Trump accuses Democrats of wishing him failure in coronavirus response

(Corrects reference to Texas, showing governor began reopenings there last Friday, in paragraph 8)

* Trump goes to Arizona, one of the states partially lifting curbs

* Cuomo pushes back on Trump over funds for recovery of states

* Texas to allow hair salons, barber shops to reopen

By Steve Holland and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON, May 5 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused Democrats of wanting his administration to fail in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, fanning U.S. partisanship over the public health crisis without providing evidence to support his assertion.

Before departing the White House on a trip to visit a mask-making factory in Arizona, Trump was asked by a reporter why he would allow a top U.S. health official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to testify before a committee of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate but not the Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

"Because the House is a setup. The House is a bunch of Trump haters," the Republican president answered. "They, frankly, want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death, which means death, and our situation is going to be very successful."

Trump, who had staked his November re-election bid on a robust U.S. economy before the pandemic struck, said Democrats "want us to fail so they can win an election, which they're not going to win."

The president's comments reflected concern among Republicans that massive unemployment from the unprecedented economic lockdown designed to quell further spread of the virus has clouded Trump's re-election chances.

Debate over how and when to ease restrictions on commerce and social life have grown increasingly politicized, with Trump and his supporters agitating to relax social-distancing measures more swiftly than medical experts deem prudent.

Democratic governors of states hardest hit by the outbreak have taken a more cautious stance, abiding by public health officials - and guidelines from the White House itself - warning that vastly expanded coronavirus testing and other safeguards be put in place first.

Dozens of U.S. states, many led by Republicans in the South, Midwest and mountain West, have moved to ease stay-at-home orders in recent weeks. Texas, one of the largest, is set to expand an economic reopening it launched last Friday when it allowed restaurants, retail stores and shopping malls to resume business on a limited basis.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced that hair salons, barber shops and nail parlors may reopen on Friday, followed by fitness clubs and office buildings on May 18, subject to limits on occupancy and workplace social-distancing.

He also recommended individuals 65 and over, as well as people with chronic health conditions, largely remain at home.

Widespread relaxation of social-distancing measures was a key factor cited by an influential coronavirus mortality model on Monday in predicting nearly 135,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by early August, almost double previous projections.

The research model from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has become a closely watched data point often cited by the White House and public health authorities in gauging the coronavirus crisis.

The highly contagious virus already is known to have infected more than 1.2 million people in the United States, including at least 70,000 who have died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. death toll is the highest in the world. Democratic politicians and some Republicans have criticized Trump for playing down the threat of the virus.

Trump acknowledged reports, first surfacing in the New York Times, that the White House will be winding down its coronavirus task force, telling reporters in Arizona, "We'll have something in a different form," and adding, "we're looking at phase two."

PARTISAN POLITICS

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat whose state has been the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, pressed again on Tuesday for Congress to abandon partisan politics, singling out Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell over his resistance to providing more economic relief to states and cities.

"A national health crisis that is killing tens of thousands of Americans is a time to put politics aside," Cuomo said at his daily news briefing. "If we can't get past this now, when can we ever get past it?"

Trump said in an interview with the New York Post on Monday that it would be unfair to Republicans if Congress passed coronavirus "bailouts" for states, singling out New York, California and Illinois as those he believes are poorly managed by their Democratic governors.

Trump compared them unfavorably to several large Republican-led states. "Florida is doing phenomenal, Texas is doing phenomenal, the Midwest is, you know, fantastic - very little debt," Trump was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Cuomo, commenting on the notion that states led by Democratic governors have been mismanaged, said, "if anything," the federal government is responsible for mismanagement.

PROTECTIVE MASK

In Arizona, on his first trip in weeks beyond the greater Washington area, Trump visited a Honeywell International Inc aerospace facility in Phoenix that is making protective face masks.

But the president, who has consistently declined to wear a mask in public despite White House guidelines urging people to do so, showed up at the facility without any face covering. Most of the workers were wearing masks.

Arizona, a battleground state that could decide the election outcome, has also joined the ranks of partial economic reopenings, after protesters rallied in the capital Phoenix demanding Republican Governor Doug Ducey loosen restrictions.

Under White House guidelines issued in mid-April, states are supposed to register downward trajectories in coronavirus cases as a percentage of total diagnostic tests over 14 days before easing stay-at-home orders.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on Tuesday said he expected a jump in the unemployment rate from 16% to 20% when the U.S. government reports on Friday. "So we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression," he told CNN.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washington, Nathan Layne in Connecticut, Brendan O'Brien in Chicago, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Rajesh Kumar Singh; writing by Grant McCool; editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller

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