As Trump Administration Debated Travel Restrictions, Thousands Streamed In From China

(Reuters) - In defending his strategy against the deadly coronavirus, President Donald Trump repeatedly has said he slowed its spread into the United States by acting decisively to bar travelers from China on Jan. 31.

“I was criticized by the Democrats when I closed the Country down to China many weeks ahead of what almost everyone recommended. Saved many lives,” he tweeted, for instance, on March 2.

But Reuters has found that the administration took a month from the time it learned of the outbreak in late December to impose the initial travel restrictions amid furious infighting.

During that time, the National Security Council staff, the state department and other federal agencies argued about everything from how best to screen for sick travelers to the economic impact of any restrictions, according to two government officials familiar with the deliberations.

The NSC staff ultimately proposed aggressive travel restrictions to high-level administration officials - but it took at least a week more for the president to adopt them, one of the government officials said.

In meetings, Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security adviser and a China expert, met opposition from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, said two former NSC officials and one of the government officials involved in the deliberations. The two top aides were concerned about economic fallout from barring travelers from China, the sources said.

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