WASHINGTON — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Tuesday that President Donald Trump should not try to reopen the state against his wishes, saying it would create “a constitutional crisis like you haven’t seen in decades” and could result in a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases.
“The only ways this situation gets worse is if the president creates a constitutional crisis,” Cuomo said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be — it’s total,” Trump said. “And the governors know that.”
Cuomo said that Trump’s comments were “not a bending of the Constitution” but “it was a breaking of the Constitution.”
Trump fired back at Cuomo later in the morning, saying the governor “seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!”
Cuomo’s been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility, such as new hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc. I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2020
When asked in an earlier interview on NBC’s “TODAY” show Tuesday what would happen if Trump tried to overrule Cuomo, the governor said, “If he pushed it to that absurd point, then we would have a problem.”
“If he thinks he’s going to force this state, or any state for that matter, to do something that is reckless or irresponsible, that could endanger human life, literally, because we don’t reopen correctly, you will see those virus numbers go up again, and more people will die,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said Trump’s statement was “wrong,” according to the Constitution. The authority to require businesses to close in a public health crisis is a “police power,” and it is reserved by the Constitution for the states, not the federal government, experts told NBC News.
“We don’t have a king — we have a president, and that was a big decision,” Cuomo said. “We ran away from having a king, and George Washington was president, not King Washington so the president doesn’t have total authority. The Constitution is there, the 10th Amendment is there. … It’s very clear states have power by the 10th amendment.”
The coronavirus outbreak is “not over,” Cuomo said, because while New York is experiencing a plateau in the rate of cases, or a flattening of the increase, it’s not yet seeing a decline. The governor reiterated that testing will be key in the reopening of the economy, which he said should be gradual.
Cuomo and some other Northeast governors announced Monday that they will coordinate a reopening of their states with one another to prevent a rapid increase in cases again.
Trump has been eyeing reopening the economy at the beginning of May, though at Monday’s press briefing, he refused to say whether he plans to do so.
Trump claims ‘total’ authority, over govs, to reopen economy
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump claimed the “total” authority Monday to decide how and when to reopen the economy after weeks of tough social distancing guidelines aimed at fighting the new coronavirus. But governors from both parties were quick to push back, noting they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states and would decide when it’s safe to begin a return to normal operations.
Trump would not offer specifics about the source of his asserted power, which he claimed, despite constitutional limitations, was absolute.
“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said at the White House. “The governors know that.”
Anxious to put the crisis behind him, Trump has been discussing with senior aides how to roll back federal social distancing recommendations that expire at the end of the month.
While Trump has issued national recommendations advising people stay home, it has been governors and local leaders who have instituted mandatory restrictions, including shuttering schools and closing non-essential businesses. Some of those orders carry fines or other penalties, and in some jurisdictions extend into the early summer.
And governors made clear Monday they wouldn’t tolerate pressure to act before they deem it safe.
“All of these executive orders are state executive orders and so therefore it would be up to the state and the governor to undo a lot of that,” New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said on CNN.
“The government doesn’t get opened up via Twitter. It gets opened up at the state level,” said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, governors were banding together, with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island agreeing to coordinate their actions. The governors of California, Oregon and Washington announced a similar pact. While each state is building its own plan, the three West Coast states have agreed to a framework saying they will work together, put their residents’ health first and let science guide their decisions.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, stressed the efforts would take time.
“The house is still on fire,” Murphy said on a conference call with reporters. “We still have to put the fire out, but we do have to begin putting in the pieces of the puzzle that we know we’re going to need … to make sure this doesn’t reignite.”
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” he said, promising to release a paper outlining his legal argument.
Trump can use his bully pulpit to pressure states to act or threaten them with consequences, but the Constitution gives public health and safety responsibilities primarily to state and local officials.
Though Trump abandoned his goal of beginning to roll back social distancing guidelines by Easter, he has been itching to reboot an economy that has dramatically contracted as businesses have shuttered, leaving millions of people out of work and struggling to obtain basic commodities. The closure has also undermined Trump’s reelection message, which hinged on a booming economy.
Trump’s claim that he could force governors to reopen their states also represents a dramatic shift in tone. For weeks Trump has argued that states, not the federal government, should lead the response to the crisis. And he has refused to publicly pressure states to enact stay-at-home restrictions, citing his belief in local control of government.
While Trump can use his daily White House briefings and Twitter account to try to shape public opinion and pressure governors to bend to his will, “there are real limits on the president and the federal government when it comes to domestic affairs,” John Yoo, a University of California at Berkeley law school professor, said on a recent Federalist Society conference call.
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, a supporter of Trump, said the question of when to lift restrictions would be “a joint effort” between Washington and the states.
Talk about how and when to reboot the nation’s economy has come as Trump has bristled at criticism that he was slow to respond to the virus and that lives could have been saved had social distancing recommendations been put in place sooner.
That frustration was amplified by comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, who told CNN on Sunday that, “obviously,” had the country “started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.”
Trump responded by reposting a tweet that included the line, “Time to #FireFauci,” raising alarms that Trump might consider trying to oust the 79-year-old doctor. But at Monday’s briefing, Trump insisted Fauci’s job was safe after Fauci took the podium to try to explain his comments.
Trump has complained to aides and confidants about Fauci’s positive media attention and his willingness to contradict the president in interviews and from the briefing room stage, according to two Republicans close to the White House. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal conversations.
But Trump has told aides that he knows blowback to removing Fauci would be fierce and that — at least for now — he is stuck with the doctor. On more than one occasion, however, he has urged that Fauci be left out of task force briefings or have his speaking role curtailed, according to the Republicans.