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Trump backs off on forcing reopenings

By AI HEPING in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-04-15 10:20

US President Donald Trump. [Photo/Agencies]

US governors are telling President Donald Trump that he doesn't have authority over them to end their lockdowns and "reopen" their states.

Trump retreated Tuesday night from his strong position of the day before when he insisted such decisions were solely up to him.

"We don't have King Trump, we have President Trump," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a CNN interview Tuesday morning. "I know it's red versus blue. Not anymore. It's red, white and blue. I have 10,000 deaths in my state. This virus did not kill Democrats or Republicans, it killed Americans."

During Monday's White House press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, Trump said, "When somebody's president of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's got to be. It's total. It's total. And the governors know that."

Trump didn't offer specifics about the source of his asserted power, which he claimed was absolute.

"They will agree to it," Trump said of the governors. "But the authority of the president of the United States ... is total."

But on Tuesday night, the president said he's fine with governors making their own decisions on when and how to reopen.

Asked what he would do if Trump ordered him to reopen New York's economy, Cuomo, whose state is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, said:

"If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn't do it. And 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."

At his daily news conference later Tuesday morning, Cuomo again hit back at the president.

"We don't have a king in this country," the governor said. "We didn't want a king. So we have a constitution and elect a president."

And with that, he said he was finished with the argument.

"I put my hand out in total partnership and cooperation with the president," Cuomo said. "If he wants a fight, he's not going to get it from me, period. This is going to take us working together. We have a real challenge ahead."

"Well, seeing as we had the responsibility for closing the state down," said Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, "I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up."

Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, said that "respectfully, the president's claims are false. The states have the authority when it comes to stay-home orders."

"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," said New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, on CNN.

"The government doesn't get opened up via Twitter. It gets opened up at the state level," said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.

Forty-three states have some type of stay-at-home mandate that also requires "nonessential" businesses to close. On Monday, two groups of governors on each coast announced they were forming multistate compacts to coordinate reopening their states amid the global pandemic.

Cuomo and the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island agreed to create a committee of public health officials, economic development officials and their chiefs of staff.

On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington also announced a joint approach to reopening economies that they called a Western States Pact. "Our states will only be effective by working together," they said in a joint statement.

Legal scholars have noted that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserves for states all powers that aren't specifically granted to the federal government.

Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, quoted the 10th Amendment in a tweet: "The federal government does not have absolute power."

Josh Blackman, a conservative legal expert at South Texas College of Law Houston, said, "I don't know what it means for the president to 'open up the states.'"

"The president does make certain declarations about critical infrastructure and other guidelines that states generally follow. But the president cannot order the governors to do anything. I don't even think he could withhold funding from states, absent a congressional appropriation," Blackman added.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin, said on Twitter that "the president has no formal legal authority to categorically override local or state shelter-in-place orders or to reopen schools and small businesses".

"No statute delegates to him such power; no constitutional provision invests him with such authority," Vladeck said.

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