President Trump on Tuesday said he would authorize the country’s governors to reopen their individual economies as they see fit, easing off remarks from a day earlier when he asserted he had “total” authority to dictate when to lift social distancing guidelines.
Trump said he would speak in the coming days with all 50 governors to discuss how to reopen the economy, which has cratered due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“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 in a time and a manner as most appropriate,” Trump said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.
The president acknowledged some states will be able to lift restrictions and reopen businesses sooner than others, even suggesting some unspecified areas that have seen less spread of the virus could do so before May 1.
He sought to assert some measure of control over the process, saying the White House would stop states from opening too soon if they did not appear ready.
“The federal government will be watching them very closely, and we’ll be very there to help,” Trump said. “We will hold the governors accountable.”
The announcement amounted to a face-saving move for Trump, who was insistent a day earlier that he, not governors, would determine when Americans could go back to work, describing his authority as “total.”
“The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful,” Trump said at a news conference Monday evening. “The president of the United States calls the shots.”
Trump’s comments a day earlier put him in conflict with state leaders and were swiftly refuted by legal experts who say a president does not have the authority to reverse state and local advisories and orders.
Trump tangled with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) earlier Tuesday after Cuomo challenged his remarks in television interviews by saying that the country has a president and not a “king” and indicating he would pursue legal action if Trump tried to overrule him with an order to reopen his state.
While legal experts say Trump does not have ultimate authority to order governors to open their states, he does have other levers of power. The president, for instance, presides over federal assistance that he can dole out to states as they combat the pandemic.
Trump insisted Tuesday that he believed governors “would listen” to his recommendations and that he would maintain a good relationship with state leaders. Asked whether he would suspend funding to states if governors didn’t agree to him, Trump declined to answer.
“The governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency,” Trump said.
He later insisted he would not put pressure on governors to open up as the outbreak subsides.
Governors on the West and East coasts of the country have joined together to coordinate on plans to open up their regions of the country, frameworks that could come into conflict with Trump’s ultimate vision of reopening. Democratic governors in Oregon and California offered outlines of their respective plans in statements earlier Tuesday.
The president’s brief pivot Monday to asserting his authority over states marked a sharp break with years of Republican orthodoxy and his own public stance over the last several weeks. Trump has repeatedly states should work to acquire much-needed personal protective equipment and ventilators while the federal government served as a backup. And he frequently resisted urging any kind of nationwide lockdown, saying he would rather let governors make the call.
“I like to allow governors to make decisions without overruling them because from a constitutional standpoint, that's the way it should be done,” Trump said last Friday. “If I disagreed, I would overrule a governor, and I have that right to do it. But I'd rather have them ... make their decisions.”