Because he doesn’t want to admit he was wrong when he compared the coronavirus to the flu.

James Hohmann of the Washington Post wrote:

Democrats want Trump to declare the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency. He’s hesitating.

President Trump declared a national emergency last February to divert billions that had been appropriated for the military to fund construction of his wall along the southern border. White House lawyers told Trump he could reprogram that money without the declaration. But the president was determined to announce a national emergency, we reported at the time, for fear of looking weak if he didn’t.

Thirteen months later, Trump has appeared afraid of looking weak if he does declare a national emergency to respond to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. He’s resisted a growing chorus of pleas from local leaders, as well as congressional Democrats, to declare a national emergency. Under the 1988 Stafford Act, this would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take disaster-level action and free up billions in assistance for states and municipalities on the front lines of the pandemic.

Trump remained noncommittal when asked Thursday in the Oval Office whether he will declare a national emergency. “Well, we have things that I can do,” he replied. “We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act. … I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”

Trump added that he may invoke the Stafford Act “at some point” but suggested that things are not yet bad enough to do so. “It may be some of the more minor things at this point,” he said. “But, you know, look, we’re in great shape. Compared to other places, we are in really good shape, and we want to keep it that way. That’s why I did the ban with respect to Europe.”

Trump’s reluctance to claim executive power amid the gravest crisis of his presidency, when he’s had a penchant for doing so in less dire circumstances, is one of the more puzzling elements of what has been his administration’s muddled and confused response to the outbreak. There are now more than 1,600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and at least 41 deaths. The Dow plummeted 10 percent on Thursday, posting its largest one-day point loss in history. In percentage terms, it was the worst day for the markets since Black Monday in October 1987, despite the Federal Reserve – which Trump doesn’t control – announcing it would pump $1.5 trillion into the short-term lending markets.

This has made for a surreal reversal of roles. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used the word “emergency” 10 times during a 16-minute speech about the coronavirus. “We are dealing with a national emergency, and the president should declare one now,” said Sanders, who helped champion the unsuccessful effort in the Senate last year to overturn Trump’s border-wall emergency. “The number of casualties may actually be even higher than what the Armed Forces experienced in World War II.”

Three dozen Senate Democrats signed an open letter urging Trump to invoke the Stafford Act and declare a national disaster. “Why he hasn’t done it is a mystery,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a speech on the Senate floor. “We need him to do it and do it now.”

Part of Trump’s hesitation to declare a national emergency has seemed to be about saving face. Just last week, for example, he said it would be unnecessary. “I don’t think you’ll need that because I really think we’re in extremely good shape,” he said. Declaring an emergency after making comments like that would put in stark relief the flat-footed nature of his initial reaction.

“Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is pushing for the designation. But Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump tapped to lead the administration’s coronavirus response, is wary it could trigger an economic tailspin,” Politico’s Anita Kumar reported on Wednesday. “There’s no deadline for a decision, but one of the people familiar with the talks said Trump’s aides will not give the president a final verdict until Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, talks to relevant parties and presents his findings to the president.” The story quotes an unnamed “Republican who speaks to Trump” saying: “The president isn’t persuaded because [an emergency declaration] contradicts his message that this is the flu.”

CNN reported Thursday that Trump has decided he’s willing to invoke the Stafford Act, but the declaration is going through legal review at the White House “as officials navigate how broad it can be.”

There are consequences to the delay. The FEMA Disaster Relief Fund has $42.6 billion. Trump declaring a national emergency would give the administration access to that pool of money to help manage the fallout from the spread of the virus, including setting up mobile hospitals and transporting the infected. Perhaps more importantly, it would open a gusher of money to states, counties and cities that may soon be overwhelmed by a surge in cases. An emergency declaration means that the federal government picks up 75 percent of the cost of eligible protective measures so long as the state picks up the other 25 percent.

The New York Times’s editorial page, in urging Trump to declare a national emergency, acknowledges the irony: “This editorial board is not inclined to grant the president more executive power, given his track record. But this crisis demands such quick action in the interests of the American people that we can only hope he will set his more selfish impulses aside and rise to the moment.”

The internal debate about whether to declare an emergency highlights Kushner’s growing role in the White House’s response to the coronavirus. “Even Trump — a man practically allergic to admitting mistakes — knew he’d screwed up by declaring Wednesday night that his ban on travel from Europe would include cargo and trade, and acknowledged as much to aides in the Oval Office as soon as he’d finished speaking,” Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report. Kushner “reassured Trump that aides would correct his misstatement, four administration officials said, and they scrambled to do just that. … Trump — who believed that by giving the speech he would appear in command and that his remarks would reassure financial markets and the country — was in ‘an unusually foul mood’ and sounded at times ‘apoplectic’ on Thursday as he watched stocks tumble and digested widespread criticism of his speech …

“The speech was largely written by Kushner and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who were still making tweaks to the text until moments before Trump delivered it … Thirty minutes before Trump appeared live on camera, a final draft of his remarks still had not circulated widely within the White House … And senior health experts in the administration did not review a final draft of the remarks, according to a senior administration official. … ‘Everyone usually gets [Trump] where he needs to be within a couple of days,’ one official said. ‘The problem is we don’t have a couple of days.’”

“This was the most expensive speech in history,” Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management, told the Financial Times after the markets tanked because Trump’s Oval Office address make investors more jittery. “Investors are voting with their feet, and I can’t blame them.”

“After feeling besieged by enemies for three years, Mr. Trump and some of his advisers view so many issues through the lens of political warfare — assuming that criticism is all about point scoring — that it has become hard to see what is real and what is not,” Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report in the New York Times. “Even when others with Mr. Trump’s best interests at heart disagree, they find it hard to penetrate what they see as the bubble around him. Thomas P. Bossert, a former homeland security adviser to Mr. Trump, has tried repeatedly in recent days to be patched through to the president or [Pence] to warn them just how dire the coronavirus pandemic really is, only to be blocked by White House officials … Among the advisers who share the president’s more jaundiced view is [Kushner], who considers the problem more about public psychology than a health reality, according to people who have spoken with him.”