Trump promises to unveil economic plan that doesn't yet exist

After Trump vowed to unveil an economic plan Tuesday, one official told CNBC, "That was news to everyone on the inside."
Image: President Donald Trump arrives for a rally in Charlotte, N.C., on March 2, 2020.
President Donald Trump arrives for a rally in Charlotte, N.C., on March 2, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

At a White House briefing yesterday on the coronavirus outbreak, Donald Trump started sketching out a vision for an economic package, intended to address the threat of an economic downturn. The president didn't go into a lot of details, but he touched on a variety of measures, including a payroll tax holiday, small-business tax breaks, and targeted aid to the hospitality industry.

Those seeking more information about the plan were effectively told they'd only have to wait a day for more information. After describing the economic package as "substantial" and "dramatic," Trump declared, "I think what we will be doing is having a news conference tomorrow to talk about various things that we're doing economically." He added the plan would be "very major."

The pitch sounded encouraging, and it likely contributed to this morning's Wall Street rally, but the plan Trump talked about unveiling today may not actually exist. CNBC reported this morning:

The White House is not ready to roll out specific economic proposals in its response to the widening impact of the coronavirus outbreak, administration officials told CNBC.... [I]nside the administration, some officials were stunned by Trump's claim Monday that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an economic plan.

Referring to the president's stated intention to unveil an economic plan, one official told CNBC, "That was news to everyone on the inside."

The report went on to quote an official who said actual details of any economic plan are unresolved. "It's not there right now," an official said. "A lot of details need to be worked out."

It's a familiar set of circumstances, isn't it? Trump makes a declaration that bewilders his own team; he makes a promise he can't keep; and he leaves everyone wondering why he's such an unreliable narrator about his own presidency.

Looking ahead, I suspect one of two things will happen later today: either the White House will quietly pretend the president never said anything about holding a press conference to discuss economic measures, or Trump's aides will scramble to throw together a vague outline of bullet points that will be presented as if it were an actual plan.