President Donald Trump wrongly claimed during a press briefing on Monday that the president’s “authority is total” after reporters pressed him to explain how he would force governors to restart state economies during the coronavirus pandemic.
“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that is the way it’s gonna be,” Trump told reporters. “It’s total. And the governors know that.”
Soon afterward, CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins let Trump know that his assertion was not true and asked him to explain himself. The president responded: “We’re going to write up papers on this. It’s not gonna be necessary. Because the governors need us one way or the other.”
Pressed to say whether any governor had actually agreed that Trump had the authority to decide when their state would reopen, the president said, “I haven’t asked anybody, because I don’t have to,” and refused to answer further questions about his claim.
It’s unclear what authority the president is referring to. He cited “numerous provisions” in the Constitution. However, the Constitution gives states, not the federal government, “police power” capacities to enforce order and regulate public behavior during a public health crisis.
The president had tweeted earlier Monday that he, not governors, had the ultimate power to loosen social distancing restrictions, contradicting the advice of numerous legal experts.
Democratic leaders on the West Coast and in the Northeast have announced separate state efforts in their respective regions to scale back stay-at-home orders on their own timelines. Governors in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island will coordinate efforts to reopen when it’s safe to do so, and the governors of Washington, Oregon and California announced a similar pact.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that any economic restart should be a regional issue.
“The optimum is to have as coordinated a regional plan as you can,” Cuomo said. “It is smarter for everyone, for people of their state and for the people of my state and this is a time for smart, competent, effective government. Nothing else matters.”
In an interview on CNN following Trump’s press briefing, the governor disagreed with the president’s legal analysis.
“We don’t have a king, we have an elected president. That’s what our founding fathers did when they wrote the Constitution,” he said.
“And the Constitution clearly says that powers that are not specifically listed for the federal government are reserved to the states.”