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Newsom promises reopening plan for churches as Trump demands immediate action

Phil Willon and Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to provide plans Monday for reopening California churches amid mounting pressure to allow in-person religious services both from protesters and President Donald Trump, who is demanding that governors take action immediately.

Newsom's comment comes just days after he said opening churches to congregants was "a few weeks away." The governor said he has been meeting with religious leaders for weeks to craft a plan for the safe reopening of churches for services, including efforts to sanitize pews, ensure safe distancing and other safety protocols.

"We look forward to churches reopening in a safe and responsible manner, and we have guidelines that we anticipated completing on Monday and we're on track to do just that," Newsom said during a COVID-19 briefing held at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville on Friday.

Newsom's comments came hours after Trump made an unexpected appearance in the White House briefing room to declare that he was designating churches "essential" businesses so that they can immediately reopen.

Trump, who has said he would leave decisions about easing public health guidance to states but has often criticized decisions by individual governors, threatened that he would "override" states that didn't heed his directive. It was not clear what authority he was referring to.

His comments, in tenor and tone, made clear that the announcement was largely about signaling that he continues to fight for religious conservatives, a core element of his political base where Trump's support has eroded somewhat in recent weeks amid broader questions about his response to the pandemic.

 

"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship," Trump said. "It's not right. So, I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."

Speaking to the possibility that some governors might not immediately adhere to his instructions, he suggested they reach out to him directly even though the matter, he asserted, would not be open to discussion.

"If there's any question, they're going to have to call me -- but they are not going to be successful in that call," he said. "The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend."

When asked about Trump's comments, Newsom sidestepped the issue, saying his administration has been working with faith leaders to allow services to resume as quickly as can be done while protecting the public health.

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