New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday threatened to sue Donald Trump if the president orders states to lift their stay-at-home orders too early and rushes to reopen the economy before the COVID-19 pandemic safely subsides.
“If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it,” Cuomo said on CNN. “And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government, and that would go into the courts. And that would be the worst possible thing he could do at this moment, would be to act dictatorial and to act in a partisan, divisive way.”
At his daily press briefing Monday, Cuomo — who leads the state that has long been the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. — said he was cautiously optimistic “the worst is over,” but warned that lifting restrictions too early could set back any progress already made. While most indicators show a possible flattening of the curve of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations are still at about 2,000 per day. And on Monday, the state officially crossed 10,000 deaths — not including many deaths that have gone uncounted.
“I have 10,000 deaths in my state,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “This virus didn’t kill Democrats or Republicans — it killed Americans, and it killed New Yorkers, and I’m not going to go down a political road.”
Trump responded in a tweet Tuesday, accusing Cuomo of “begging for everything,” and falsely claiming “I got it all done for him, and everyone else.”
“Now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!” Trump tweeted.
In fact, Trump’s administration has consistently failed to send states their full requests for ventilators and other medical supplies, even sometimes interfering with their own purchasing. But it has sent the full request to Florida, a state led by Trump ally Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
After widespread evidence Trump and the federal government botched the U.S. response to the pandemic, governors have largely led the response, often in a collaborative way. That became more formalized Monday, when two groups of governors, in the Northeast and on the West Coast, announced joint task forces to develop a plan to reopen their states together.
Joining forces with the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Cuomo has frequently argued that their economies and travel are intertwined, as many people live and work among the neighboring states.
Later Monday, Trump falsely declared his “total” authority and lashed out when reporters pointed out that was not the case. When asked if he had asked the governors if they agreed he had the authority to order them to reopen their states, he said, “I haven’t asked anybody, because I don’t have to,” before refusing to answer any more questions about the issue.
Trump cited “numerous provisions” in the Constitution, claiming with no evidence whatsoever that “governors can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”
But the Constitution actually gives states, not the federal government, so-called police power capacities to enact policies to mitigate a public health crisis.
“Seeing as we had the responsibility for closing the state down, I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said in response to Trump on Monday.
On Tuesday, Cuomo also cited the Constitution’s provisions on balancing power between the federal government and the states.
“We had this argument. It was done a long time ago, people by the name of Hamilton and Jefferson and Madison and Washington, and they concluded this. They wrote a document that’s called the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “It says the federal government does not have absolute power. It says the exact opposite of what the president said. ... We would have had King George Washington. We didn’t have King George Washington, and we don’t have King Trump. We have President Trump.”
Addressing the dispute again during his daily press briefing Tuesday, Cuomo repeatedly insisted he does not want to get into a fight with Trump.
But he added: “Unless he suggested that we do something that would be reckless and would endanger the health and welfare of the people in the state, then I would have no choice.”
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