US President Donald Trump gestures at a meeting. File photo
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser’s cellphone rang earlier this week from an unfamiliar number: It was the White House calling to say President Donald Trump wanted to talk.
The president congratulated Washington's mayor on $876 million in federal coronavirus relief going to the Washington-area Metro system — money that was surely welcome but not under the mayor's jurisdiction, instead going to a regional transportation authority.
Bowser used the moment to remind Trump that the District - a city of 700,000 people that includes more than 150,000 federal workers- got $700 million less in coronavirus relief money than each of the 50 states because it was classified as a territory at Senate Republicans' insistence in the first round of federal relief passed by Congress.
As a candidate, Trump spoke warmly of the nation’s capital and said he wanted "whatever is best” for its residents. But over the course of his more than three years in office a disconnect between the president and District of Columbia has emerged. The public differences have only become more stark during the pandemic.
"It is very important that the District is made whole, and that the District gets what it’s owed,” Bowser said this week after her talk with Trump.
Aides to the mayor said Trump told Bowser her concerns were on his radar, but he made no commitments. Similarly, Trump told her the issue would be addressed when she initially complained about the matter during a White House conference call with governors in late March.
The White House declined to comment.
The pace of reopening after the coronavirus threat shut down activity around the nation also has been a point of contention between Washington and the White House.
While the Trump administration has been pushing state and local governments to speed up reopening, Bowser insisted until recently that local infection numbers didn’t justify any relaxation of her stay-home order.
The District is easing its stay-at-home order next week, one of the last jurisdictions to begin reopening. But city and public health officials warn that the nation’s capital will likely take months to fully come back to life.
City officials said it remains unclear if students will be able to return to a physical classrooms in the fall. The guarded approach stands in sharp contrast with comments from Trump, who on Friday demanded that state and local leaders allow houses of worship to reopen "right now.”
Eric Garcetti, the Democratic leader of the United States' second-largest city, was sent a letter earlier Friday by federal authorities that said long-term restrictions "may be both arbitrary and unlawful."
Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, another stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.
Trump, who flew back to Washington after a weekend golfing at his Florida resort and having dinner with Brazil's right-wing president, has spent weeks dismissing the seriousness of the threat.
Trump, in a rare Oval Office address to the nation on Wednesday night, said the month-long restriction on travel would begin late on Friday, at midnight. After days of playing down the coronavirus threat, he blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the "foreign virus” and claimed that US clusters were "seeded” by European travellers.
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