The White House on Wednesday denied pressuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into scrapping and revising guidelines for reopening schools in the fall even after Donald Trump made clear his opposition to the suggested rules in a morning tweet.
"No, not at all," Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told a reporter when asked if pressure to change them was applied. "We're all on the same page."
The president appeared to throw down the gauntlet on his own hand-picked CDC leaders about a set of guidelines it had crafted to help local and tribal school systems get children back in the classroom.
Mr Trump apparently believes the center's guidelines for re-opening schools are too rigorous and could lead some officials to decide to keep their students on an online-only curriculum come the fall term.
"I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!" he tweeted Wednesday morning.
But his top spokeswoman later described the tweet as more of a policy move than him clashing with his own CDC leaders.
"The CDC is very much on the same page as the president," she said, noting CDC chief Robert Redfield has said his agency's guidelines are not "prescriptive" and "not requirements."
The president and White House are pushing hard to reopen schools despite an ongoing second surge in coronavirus cases, especially in Sun Belt and Southern states.
There are now over 3m confirmed cases and more than 131,000 deaths in the country from the respiratory disease.
Meantime, Ms McEnany tried to defend another morning tweet from her boss – this time, one that threatened to deny federal assistance monies to school systems that opt against opening in the fall.
Senior administration officials on Tuesday notably opted against threatening school systems with possibly withholding $13b recently allocated by Congress to help them deal with the coronavirus outbreak. But the president did just that the next morning.
"In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS," he tweeted. "The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!"
That was a warning shot over the bow of any local and tribal school system officials who are hesitant about opening schools in just a few months – as Covid-19 cases spike in the Sun Belt, with states like Arizona, Florida and South Carolina outpacing entire countries in terms of new cases in the last several weeks.
"So, as part of the CARES Act, schools received more than $13 billion ... to help them respond to the COVID-19 situation. That funding was very flexible in its uses, whether it was allowed to support their, the provision of distance education and remote learning services, or whether it was allowed to use ... to support activities or activities that will actually maintain the continuity of services in the physical building itself," a senior administration said in a heavily veiled threat on a call with reporters.
But the White House press secretary said the president wants more funding for schools in the next coronavirus economic recovery measure. That is, if lawmakers in both parties and the White House can reach a deal when they return to Washington later this month.