TRENTON — President Donald Trump, speaking with New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea on Friday morning, said New Jersey has a "good governor" who is "working hard" on the novel coronavirus crisis.

The brief praise in the 10-minute call from the sitting president came even as Trump pushed for much of the country to reopen its economy, something Gov. Phil Murphy has been reluctant to do completely in a state that has seen the second-most coronavirus cases and nearly 10,000 deaths.

Murphy, a Democrat, has shied away from criticisms of the Trump administration's response to the pandemic that some other governors of his party have made and has publicly thanked Trump and Vice President Mike Pence's cooperation with the state.

Later Monday, Murphy specifically thanked the president for his administration's grant of a $1.4B award to New Jersey Transit.

Spadea, New Jersey 101.5's morning show host, has been deeply critical of the New Jersey leadership's response, arguing for a faster reopening of the state and saying Murphy's administration has failed in its leadership through the pandemic.

"He's very liberal, and you're not there, and I'm not there, but he's trying, he is trying, very hard," Trump told Spadea.

Trump described New Jersey as a state with a mixed situation: "A lot of those areas are not very much affected, and certain areas are affected up north. New Jersey has seen the strongest concentration of its cases in northern counties closer to New York City, with more than 17,000 cases in Bergen County, according to state figures.

Spadea has cited other states that he said haven't seen surges as they've reopened, pointing on the call with Trump to examples in Florida and Georgia.

Trump gave the example of Wisconsin, saying "That was shut tight and now it's getting back — and safely getting back."

The president said critics of his administration's response and some states' leaders were using the pandemic for "political fodder."

"The worse the country does, the better they think it does for them in November," Trump said.

Trump and Spadea didn't engage much on Murphy's specific response, though they found common ground on issues of globalism — "you don't have power over your own country, especially with things like medicine, and pharmaceutical products, and other things," Trump said — and a broader reopening of the country.

Trump said he doesn't want to see a "new normal" with people distant from each other and needing to wear masks in public. "Who wants to do that?" he asked. He said he's optimistic for a vaccine by the end of the year.

When he next goes to a football game, he said, "I want to sit next to people."

The president's administration has given states guidelines for reopening in stages, urging that states with still-high numbers of new cases and deaths should take a slower path than those on downward trajectories.

New Jersey, though it continues to have one of the highest concentrations of cases overall, has seen its rate of growth and hospital usage decline in recent weeks. Even so, it continues to register hundreds of new deaths per day, and Murphy noted in his own daily press briefing Thursday it continues to lead the nation in deaths per capita.

Trump stressed his administration had helped New Jersey with ventilators and a hospital ship, and noted more than once some portions of the state had been harder-hit than others.

"There's a cost on the other side ... There's a cost of being almost incarcerated and locked up," Trump said. Among those costs, he said, were suicide and drug use.

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