Now, there are efforts being made to ask foreign allies to do the same.
The president himself has stepped up his talks with foreign colleagues over the past three weeks, and has stepped up China with dozens of foreign leaders, one person familiar with the conversation said. While many traditional US allies remain vigilant to increase tensions with China, in speaking with Trump, several European leaders have expressed concern about how China handles the crisis, according to the person.
Among the retaliation options discussed at the White House were to impose additional tariffs on Chinese products, release Chinese sovereign immunity, and follow up on Chinese telecommunications companies, people said. Officials stressed that no immediate action was expected.
Among those who pushed the President to take a tougher line were Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor and son-in-law. According to three people who were familiar with his thoughts, Kushner believed that one way to energize the President’s political base was to blow China up for its failure to stem the spread of the disease early on.
“The more you put this in China, the less you can say that we are slow to mobilize,” said one person close to the White House.
Sources who spoke with CNN added that there had been joint efforts to isolate trade discussions from current political tensions so as not to undermine the work that had been done. Even personally, administrative officials have been careful not to slap China for not making agricultural purchases, which observers say are not at all close to the level of the top commitment they have agreed on, especially concerning soy.
China has taken several actions in connection with their trade agreement commitments on intellectual property, but overall it is an uneven record in Phase One, said these people, adding that neither side even touched on the issue of Phase Two trade talks.
Trump is still wary of Xi
“He still has a soft spot for Xi,” the source said.
A source close to the White House said in another way: “He was less afraid. Xi scared him.”
Just like at another turn in his trade war with China, some Trump business friends have warned him that taking action against China could damage the US stock market, two sources close to the White House told CNN.
The White House and the Ministry of Finance did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The State Department declined to comment.
On Sunday, Trump openly admitted that he believed the outbreak, while covered by China, was the result of “mistakes.”
“My opinion is they made a mistake. They tried to cover it up, they tried to put it out. It’s like fire,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “You know, it’s really like trying to put out a fire. They can’t put out a fire.”
The president added that his administration was compiling a report on an outbreak that would be “very conclusive.”
Trump referred to the clash of relations between the two countries last Thursday, when he told reporters at the White House that China did not want to see him reelected because the US “got billions” from the country thanks to their trade agreement, a comment that failed to overcome the negative impact of the trade agreement on farmers and the broader US economy because of higher tariffs.
When asked whether China is holding back information about coronaviruses related to weakening its re-election, Trump said that “China wants to see sleepy Joe Biden – they will take the country for a trip like you’ve never seen before.”
Pompeo offered a bit more definitive assessment on Sunday, telling ABC News that there was “substantial evidence” that the coronavirus originated from the laboratory, while agreeing with the intelligence community’s assessment that it did not appear to have been made man-made or genetically modified.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.