ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has ordered flags on federal buildings to be lowered to half-staff for the next three days to honor Americans who have died from COVID-19. This comes after he flew to the battleground state of Michigan today. He visited a Ford plant that switched gears to make ventilators. But his message was less about the coronavirus response and more about getting the economy reopened.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Americans who need and want to return to work should not be vilified. They should be supported.
SHAPIRO: White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was on the trip. He just returned to Washington and joins us now.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: First, let's talk about Michigan. Why did the president choose to go to that state right now?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, it's really difficult for the White House to pull off any kind of travel right now because of the coronavirus. So they're picking their spots very carefully, and Michigan is a really important state for the November election. President Trump was there to thank Ford and its workers for helping in the crisis. But, you know, it's also a chance to get out in a state that Democrats need to win back from him in November. And it's a time when his Democratic opponent isn't traveling. Here's how John Sellek, a Republican strategist in Lansing, explained it to me.
JOHN SELLEK: It's a state that the president won in 2016. And by all accounts, he needs and wants to win it again this election cycle. It's been a while since he's been able to get out and do things. Joe Biden has been limited to virtually visiting the state through some social media and some live videos that he's done and interviews. But that doesn't match up to an actual visit.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, so Trump can't hold rallies yet, but he did say today that he hopes to begin doing that this summer in some states that do reopen.
SHAPIRO: He'll be judged this November on how he handled the pandemic. How did he make his case there today?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, he made the case that he got the country ventilators when they needed them. And he says he wants to boost manufacturing of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals here in the United States. He talked about bringing jobs back from China, and he complained about trade deals. He even complained that unions have endorsed Joe Biden instead of him. But most of all, he said that the country needs to reopen. He says people need to get back to work, and things need to get back to normal.
SHAPIRO: Part of that fight over getting back to normal has become about masks. Did the president wear one today?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, that's interesting because in Michigan, it's mandatory to wear face coverings. And the state attorney general even warned Trump ahead of time. Everyone was wearing them. All the Ford officials were wearing them, and even most of the White House staff. But when we saw the president touring the plant, he didn't have one on. I actually asked him why not.
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TRUMP: I had one on before. I wore one in this back area, but I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it. But no, I had it in the back area. I did put a mask on.
ORDOÑEZ: Ford issued a statement afterwards saying that he had been encouraged to wear one, and Trump did, in fact, put one on during a private part of the tour. He also pulled a mask out of his pocket to show us that he had one, but he won't be seen with one on camera. And he insists it's a personal choice.
SHAPIRO: And the president also talked about churches today. What was his news there?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's also part of his push to get things back to normal. Evangelical Christians are an important part of his political base, and it's hard for people to gather in churches when there are restrictions for social distancing, restrictions for large groups. But the president said today that the CDC is going to come out with new guidance in the next day or two so that people can return to church.
SHAPIRO: And briefly, the president didn't visit the area that has been flooded through this terrible natural disaster. How unusual is that?
ORDOÑEZ: It's pretty unusual. Presidents usually go to tour disaster zones when things are stable and express compassion for victims. But he did say he spoke to the Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. And he promised that aid was on the way and that he would return at an appropriate time.
SHAPIRO: White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thank you.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.