At the risk of ascribing too much in the way of empathy to an administration that’s famous for its credibility deficit, Donald Trump and Steve Mnuchin sounded some semblance of convincing during Tuesday’s coronavirus press briefing, during which the two men expressed what counts as “sympathy” for a nation in crisis.
Trump had a few predictable (and mostly forgivable) gaffes, but Mnuchin was emphatic.
Commenting on the possibility of injecting money directly into the US economy by simply handing people cash, Mnuchin said “We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately”.
Perhaps realizing the public has lost faith in the notion that the US government can get anything done “immediately”, Steve clarified: “And I mean now”, he said, gesticulating. “In the next two weeks”.
It was an exceedingly rare moment of pseudo-“leadership” from the administration and I would note that it comes on the heels of what, by almost all accounts, are tireless efforts by Mnuchin to work with lawmakers on virus relief efforts.
Steve was instrumental in helping Nancy Pelosi push Democrats’ package of measures, and on Tuesday morning, the market woke up to headlines that Mnuchin is pressing Congress for $850 billion as part of a “phase three” package.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Mnuchin said he personally approved the Fed’s reinstatement of the commercial paper funding facility. (I assume that’s just a procedural matter, and Treasury is backstopping the SPV associated with CPFF2020, but Mnuchin seemed pretty keen on ensuring the public is apprised of his role.)
Further, Mnuchin i) said tax payers can delay IRS payments for 90 days, ii) said the package he’s working on “may be bigger” than what’s been reported in the press, iii) said he’s determined to get money to Americans quickly, iv) insisted he’ll detail the whole package by the end of the day, v) said the current situation is “worse than 9/11” for the airlines, vi) promised banks would stay open and, finally, vii) physically moved Trump aside in order to step back to the podium to say that although hours could eventually be trimmed, the stock market is staying open.
Again, it’s never safe to assume the administration won’t ultimately fumble or otherwise disappoint. This could end up being just another example of the White House overpromising and underdelivering, which is what ultimately caused last Thursday’s market rout.
But however it turns out, I vote to replace the old Steve Mnuchin with whoever the guy is who dressed up like him and stole the show at Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing.