US President Donald Trump says he has the authority to decide how and when to reopen the economy after weeks of tough restrictions aimed at fighting the new coronavirus.
But governors from both parties were quick to push back, noting they have the primary constitutional responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states and would decide when it’s safe to begin a return to normal operations.
“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said at Monday’s White House coronavirus briefing. “The governors know that.”
Trump can use his position 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.
Governors and local leaders have issued orders that carry fines or other penalties, and in some jurisdictions extend out into the early summer.
“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 Governor Chris Sununu said on CNN.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said, “Seeing how we had the responsibility for closing the state down, I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up.”
Wolf joined governors in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island in 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 Governor Phil Murphy stressed the efforts would take time.
“The house is still on fire,” he 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.”
While President Trump abandoned his goal of rolling back social distancing guidelines by Sunday, he has been itching to reopen 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.
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. Asked on CNN if acting earlier could have saved lives, Fauci said that, “obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.”
Trump responded by reposting a tweet that included the line, “Time to (hash)FireFauci,” raising alarms that Trump might consider trying to oust the 79-year-old doctor.
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.
But at Monday’s briefing, Trump said, “I’m not firing him. I think he’s a wonderful guy.