Colorado Gov. Jared Polis met with President Donald Trump at the White House today, as the president urges states to open up.
Trump said Polis and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have done a “fantastic” job starting to lift social distancing measures and allow economic activity to ramp up.
“They want to get their states open,” Trump said.
The president added of the Democratic governor, “we’ve worked together and I think we’ve worked together very well.”
Taking off his Colorado flag mask to speak, Polis explained that much of Colorado is open, except for what he called “social businesses” like bars and clubs. He even showed off his recent haircut to the president. But he added they were open “in a safer way.”
“People are being responsible,” Polis said. “It’s that individual responsibility that’s going to make sure we can stay on this trajectory.”
Following a public discussion, the press left the room and the governors had a private conversation with the president and other state and federal officials. In a press conference following that, Polis told reporters he felt the need pursue all “possible options” for supplies for Colorado and it wasn't an opportunity he could pass up. Polis said he was asked to talk about Colorado's needs and update the president.
Polis said that he did not feel it was "a time to air differences on unrelated policies." He said both political leaders shared a single foe: the new coronavirus.
"Today was a very important discussion for the future of the supply chain of Colorado," Polis said. Earlier in the afternoon, Trump said he felt the two had a good working relationship, in spite of their ideological differences.
In the public portion of the discussion, Polis told the president he was hopeful that restaurants could open for dine-in at the end of the month and that skiing might reopen in June. But he added that local communities have a leeway to decide how and when to open.
“We're really respecting what the different communities decide,” Polis said. “I think there will be some folks that are coming back, spending money in stores. There’ll be other communities that say, you know what, we have to wait a little longer.”
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan joined Polis at the meeting, as did Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. This was Gardner’s second meeting with Trump this week to talk about coronavirus response. He joined other Republican senators on Tuesday to talk to the president about giving states flexibility in using federal coronavirus aid.
Ryan outlined the state’s testing plan, stressing the need for supplies.
“The more people we can test, and then we can force multiply that with contact tracing,” Ryan said, “That’s really the way we're going to contain the virus in Colorado.”
The White House provided figures for how much personal protective equipment it has helped Colorado procure, though Polis told reporters later in the day that not all of the supplies the White House listed actually came from the federal government; he said many were obtained from deals between Colorado and private companies, and it was important to read the fine print on the White House's announcement.
"That was not a number of equipment that was simply supplied by the federal government," Polis said. "In a way it was sort of taking credit, and that's something politicians do." He added that the federal government is nonetheless an important partner in getting protective equipment.
In particular, Polis told reporters this afternoon that he asked the president to continue a program to provide masks to nursing homes through the summer.
Polis said he asked Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus task force response coordinator, for advice on how frequently to test asymptomatic workers. The state has committed to testing all workers in the state's nursing homes, whether they present symptoms or not. Polis said Birx advised him to conduct testing once a week.
As Polis was speaking, the state released the latest numbers on COVID-19, showing that the total number of deaths has grown to 1,062. But the number of Coloradans hospitalized with the virus fell to 522 and the percentage of those tested who were found to have the disease fell to 6.33 percent over the last three days. That's the lowest point since the virus was first confirmed in Colorado.
In the public conversation between Trump and the governors, the president was critical of a new Democratic-led House coronavirus relief bill, one that contained $500 billion in state aid and $375 billion in local aid, something Polis has pushed for. Trump denounced it as a vehicle to allow more mail-in voting, which he argued would lead to voter fraud.
Colorado has had mail ballots for years, with no large scale fraud. Neither Polis nor Gardner pushed back on Trump’s criticism of the system and instead remained silent, despite their both having won statewide elections under the system.
Later in front of reporters, Polis faced questions about his decision not to press the president on those critiques, or other political differences. He said it wasn't a time for ideological beefs. But he did, on the call with reporters after he left the White House, defend the state's vote-by-mail system.
"We in Colorado have been voting by mail for years…it’s very popular. It’s how we vote," Polis said. "I wasn’t about to bring in a different topic into that meeting. I’m here to advocate around COVID-19...not to get into a debate or correct the president when he makes inaccurate statements around mail in voting."
Trump also hinted that he and Polis would also discuss the future of Space Command. Colorado is one of the states lobbying to be the permanent home of the new command. Afterwards, Polis said Trump spoke highly of Colorado's bid for Space Command and that he's "cautiously optimistic" about Colorado becoming the permanent home to the new military branch.
CPR's Kate Schimel contributed reporting.