Governors defy Trump, who cries ‘mutiny’

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Cuomo even threatened legal action if Trump “ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health” of New Yorkers. “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,” the governor said in a separate interview on CNN’s “New Day.”

Those stern remarks came after the president argued Monday that he alone had the power to reopen wide swaths of the United States regardless of stay-at-home orders issued by the nation’s governors and other local officials to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said at the White House coronavirus task force’s daily news briefing. “And that’s the way it’s got to to be. It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that.”

The president’s sweeping claim of supremacy contradicted the basic tenets of the Constitution and the views of legal scholars who have laid out the limits of federal power with regard to the machinations of state governments.

Trump’s drive to reopen the economy was met Tuesday with words of caution from the federal government’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who warned in an interview with the Associated Press that the country was “not there yet.”

The president’s statements also represented a departure from the administration’s management of the outbreak thus far — which has encouraged governors to secure their own sorely needed medical equipment and enforce constraints on Americans’ movements.

“This is a much different federal model that the president was alluding to than the federal model that he actually employed,” Cuomo told CNN, adding that Trump’s latest approach “makes no sense. It’s schizophrenic.”

The president soon hit back at Cuomo, suggesting the governor was being ungrateful.

“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.,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!”

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut also accused Trump of sending a “mixed message” with his assertion of dominance over state-level decision-making.

“The governors are trying to speak with a unified voice and say, ‘This is the time to make sure the social distancing stays disciplined. This is no time to take our eye off the ball,’” Lamont, a Democrat, told CNN. “That would be dangerous.”

Despite Trump’s desire to dictate the terms of the country’s emergence from the outbreak, Cuomo and Lamont joined with the governors of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in announcing plans Monday to coordinate a regional reopening of the East Coast.

State executives on the West Coast — including the governors of California, Oregon and Washington — also detailed their own shared proposals to begin gradually easing restrictions.

The president mocked those arrangements Tuesday, comparing the situation to the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which he revealed “was one of my all time favorite movies.”

“A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain,” Trump tweeted. “Too easy!”

Pressed on whether he was indeed involved in a “mutiny” with his fellow governors, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts suggested it would be foolish not to coordinate reopening efforts with other states.

“I think for Massachusetts to forge ahead here without presuming that we’re going to have conversations with states that are around us about what they’re up to and what we’re up to, so that we make sure nobody does anything that creates harm unwittingly for somebody else, it’d just be a bad idea,” Baker, a Republican, said at a news briefing.

But the president also received some welcome news from the West Coast, where two Democratic governors — California’s Gavin Newsom and Oregon’s Kate Brown — unveiled a series of public health benchmarks they would apply to lift their states’ social-distancing measures.

Newsom did not specify Tuesday when California would halt its stay-at-home order, which has been in place for nearly four weeks. He has previously said residents should expect to remain in their residences through May, and his presentation showed a curve with a spike upward at the end of April should the state lift its current restrictions.

“This phase is one where science, where public health — not politics — must be the guide,” Newsom said.

Brown had rolled out a similar collection of benchmarks earlier Tuesday, warning that a lack of caution among government officials could “backfire” and “lead to a spike in cases.”

Appearing at a coronavirus task force briefing conducted from the White House Rose Garden later in the evening, the president appeared to implicitly concede defeat. Trump told reporters the White House would work with governors to “authorize” their plans to return to normalcy, while threatening that the federal government could intervene if he saw fit.

“I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly, and I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening, and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate,” Trump said, adding that he believed some states would be able to reopen before his administration’s social-distancing guidelines expire at the end of April.

In another new shift, the president also placed blame for a lack of widespread testing on local authorities after nearly a month of insisting that the U.S. was running a model testing operation.

“Washington shouldn’t be doing that. We can’t be thinking about a Walmart parking lot that’s 2,000 miles away, where we are doing testing. But a governor of a state can, a mayor can,” Trump said, referencing the kind of drive-through testing sites his administration boasted about standing up early in the outbreak.

During one contentious exchange, Trump appeared to resent that the administration had to step in to assist states in the first place, saying, “we’ve always wanted the states to do the testing” and complaining that the federal government “ended up going into the ventilator business, essentially” because of states’ lack of critical medical equipment.

Although the president maintained the administration would be watching governors to hold them accountable, Trump denied he would threaten to withhold federal funding from states that defied him.

“I don’t want to say that,” he said, adding: “They will listen. They will be fine. I think we are going to have a good relationship. They need the federal government.”

The president concluded the briefing with a thinly veiled warning to state leaders.

“The governors are going to do a good job, and if they don’t do a good job, we’re going to come down on them very hard. We’ll have no other choice,” he said, before thanking those in attendance, turning and walking back into the White House.

Stephanie Murray and Jeremy White contributed to this report.