Trump heads to U.S. military’s Southern Command in Florida as coronavirus cases surge

A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team searches a suspected smuggling vessel interdicted in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, May 31, 2020.

U.S. Coast Guard photo

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will meet Friday with leaders of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, the combatant command on the front lines of America’s response to curbing drug trafficking, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

In April, the Trump administration announced expanded counter-narcotic operations near Central America in order to disrupt the flow of drugs into the United States. The anti-drug operations, a Trump campaign promise, have also led to efforts to outfit the U.S.-Mexico border with a wall.

“In cooperation with the 22 partner nations, U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption and seizures of drug shipments and provide additional support for eradication efforts which are going on right now at a record pace,” Trump said during an April 1 White House briefing.

“We’re deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft, and helicopters; Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region,” he added, flanked by national security officials.

U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions after announcing U.S. naval moves against Venezuela and narcotic traficking as National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper listen during the daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

During June alone, U.S. Southern Command reported the interception of more than 35,014 pounds of suspected cocaine with an estimated value of $546 million.

The trip to Doral, Florida comes as “The Sunshine State” reports a steady surge of coronavirus cases, a trend that challenges the Trump administration’s push to reopen the U.S. economy.

On Saturday, Florida reported 11,445 coronavirus cases, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began in December, according to the state health department. And while the state is dealing with an uptick in cases, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously said he will not close businesses again or issue a statewide mask mandate to slow the spread of the deadly virus. 

The president’s trip comes a week after Vice President Mike Pence met with and praised DeSantis for reopening the state and for implementing an “innovative” response to the unprecedented health pandemic.

“I want to thank you for your efforts to open up Florida again … Florida being an economic engine for the United States, played a key role,” Pence said during an event at the University of South Florida Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in Tampa, Florida.

“I also want to say, Governor, that we fully support your prudent steps in working to slow the spread and the rise in cases that are impacting Florida today,” Pence added.

The White House has repeatedly said that both Trump and Pence are tested on a daily basis for the coronavirus and have only produced negative results.

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