Nod to governors, Trump walks back total authority claim
In an abrupt reversal, Trump said he would leave it to governors to determine the right time and manner to revive activity in their states
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he’s open to some states “reopening” before federal social distancing guidelines expire at the end of month, as he appeared to back off his claim of absolute authority to decide when the time was right to act.
Hours after suggesting that the bipartisan concerns of governors about his assertion of power would amount to an insurrection, Trump abruptly reversed course April 14, saying he would leave it to governors to determine the right time and manner to revive activity in their states. He said he would be speaking with governors, probably on April 16, to discuss his plans.
“The governors are responsible,” Trump said. “They have to take charge.”
Still, he insisted, “The governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency.”
Democratic and Republican governors had sounded the alarm after Trump asserted April 13 that he and he alone would determine when and how to reopen the economy, despite clear constitutional limitations on federal powers.
Trump said April 14 he would be authorizing governors “of each individual state to implement a reopening – and a very powerful reopening – plan of their state at a time and in a matter as most appropriate.” Trump added that he would support moves by states that haven’t been hit hard by the outbreak to ease restrictions even before federal guidelines on social distancing expire April 30.
Trump said the country would open up “in beautiful little pieces,” adding that some states with low rates of infection ”have fewer people and they have lots of room.“
It’s unclear if any states are actively considering reopening their economies before May 1.
In a departure from recent tradition, Trump ended his daily briefing without turning the mic over to federal health experts, who have cautioned against moving too quickly to restart economic activity.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, told The Associated Press earlier April 14 that the country is “not there yet” when it comes to the kind of testing and contact tracing needed to begin reopening the economy. But Trump made clear he is intent on proceeding with his plans.
Trump outlined a vision in which workers would be tested, perhaps on a weekly basis, and governors would test travellers arriving at their states’ borders. But the US is nowhere near having that kind of infrastructure, with testing still largely reserved for those with serious symptoms and results taking days to learn.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working with other federal officials to develop detailed plans for how reopening should occur, including determining what measures will need to be tracked and what conditions met before such steps occur. The plans include separate steps for schools, businesses and other entities, the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat said. The proposals are currently under review, she added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Trump for trying to lift social distancing without adequate testing. “The failure to test is dangerous and deadly, and without testing, we cannot resume our lives,” she said in a letter to lawmakers.
In expressing an openness to states setting their own timelines, Trump was largely acknowledging the authority governors have already exercised.
While Trump has issued national recommendations advising people to stay home, it has been governors and local leaders who have instituted mandatory restrictions, including shuttering schools and closing nonessential businesses. Some of those orders carry fines or other penalties.
It was the latest twist in Trump’s dispute with governors over who has primary responsibility for preserving public health in their jurisdictions. After weeks of saying he would leave major decisions about imposing restrictions in the hands of states, Trump claimed his power to ease them was absolute.
“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said April 13 at the White House. “The governors know that.” He declined to offer specifics about the source of his asserted power, claiming he would provide a legal briefing at a later date.
But governors in both parties made clear they saw things differently, and said they would decide when it’s safe to begin a return to normal operations, just as they were the ones who closed things down.
“The president’s position is just absurd,” New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on “CBS This Morning.” “It’s not the law. It’s not the Constitution. We don’t have a king. We have a president.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said he, too, expected the call to remain with the states.
“I welcome national guidance and assistance,” he said. “But we will do what is needed in the best interest of Arkansans and I think that’s what the people expect.”
Anxious to put the crisis behind him, Trump launched a new advisory council that will hash out plans to reopen the American economy, which has dramatically contracted as businesses have shuttered, leaving millions of people out of work.