President Trump told reporters "the markets are gonna be just fine" as he welcomed Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to the White House Thursday to celebrate ties between the U.S. and Ireland. Stocks plunged 7% after the opening bell Thursday morning, halting trading for 15 minutes as fears and fallout over coronavirus.
The visit comes in the wake of Mr. Trump's Wednesday night announcement to impose travel restrictions on Europe due to the global spread of the deadly coronavirus. The new travel restrictions Mr. Trump announced Wednesday night don't apply to Ireland, or to the United Kingdom.
In the Oval Office Thursday, Mr. Trump addressed criticism that he decided to restrict travel from Europe without consulting European leaders. Mr. Trump explained it takes a long time to make individual calls to world leaders, and claimed Europe doesn't alert the U.S. when it raises taxes on the U.S. Mr. Trump insisted his announcement was "clear," even though his own White House had to clarify the announcement.
"Well, we get along very well with the European leaders, but we had to make a decision, and I didn't want to take time and -- you know, it takes a long time to make the individual calls," Mr. Trump told reporters Thursday. "And we are calling, and we have spoken to some of them prior to -- some of the majors, prior to. But we had to move quickly."
Mr. Trump said his team hasn't discussed travel restrictions within the United States, but he didn't rule it out, as the National Guard moves into a New York suburb to establish the country's first containment zone. The president insisted that he has more authority than most people know, and hinted that he's been reading up on the Stafford Act, the federal law outlining the means of deploying federal natural disaster assistance to state and local governments.
"We need a little separation until such time as this goes away. It's gonna go away, it's gonna go away. I was watching Scott, I was watching Scott this morning, and he was saying within two months," Mr. Trump said, seemingly referring to former Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb. "But in the meantime, we want to lose as few people as possible, so important."
The president's meeting with the Irish prime minister is one of the few events that is charging ahead as the U.S. grapples with the spread of the coronavirus. There are more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the illness in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University.
As of Thursday there were 43 confirmed cases in Ireland.
Varadkar is set to attend the annual "Friends of Ireland" luncheon hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill on Thursday. While Mr. Trump went to the luncheon in the first three years of his presidency, he is skipping this year's event, citing the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats last year. Mr. Trump told reporters Thursday he's too busy.
"Since the speaker has chosen to tear this nation apart with her actions and her rhetoric, the president will not participate in moments where she so often chooses to drive discord and disunity," White House spokesman Judd Deere said earlier this week.
Officials in Washington, D.C., and around the nation have begun to cancel large events due to the coronavirus, which has spread to more than 100 countries. At the White House, public tours have been halted and in the U.S. Capitol, congressional leaders are nearing a pause on tours.
Mr. Trump also canceled upcoming events in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin "out of an abundance of caution from the coronavirus outbreak," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said late Wednesday.
The White House and Congress are weighing a legislative package to provide economic relief to businesses and people impacted by the virus. Mr. Trump said he wants paid sick leave to be a part of that.