WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is asserting that he, not the states, has “the ultimate authority” to decide when to lift stay-at-home directives and reopen the country’s economy.
The president “calls the shots,” Trump said in a reply to a question from VOA about whether consortiums of states developing their own reopening plans pose a challenge to his authority to declare a national reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States,” Trump declared.
Trump insisted there are numerous provisions of the Constitution backing him up on this, asserting “when somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total.”
Under the U.S. Constitution, what powers are not defined in that framework for the federal government are left to the states.
When a reporter pointed this out to the president that what he was claiming is not true, he responded, “Enough.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, calling into CNN just after Trump’s remarks, said that in the United States, “the president doesn’t have total authority. We have a Constitution. We don’t have a king.”
If the president puts forward a reopening plan that “I believe is irresponsible and jeopardizes public health, I would oppose it legally,” Cuomo added.
The governor noted Trump has helped New York and other states with the coronavirus response. And in view of that, Cuomo said, he does not understand why the president “would pivot at this point to this aggressive, hostile suggestion of a total authority of the federal government and abandon the partnership cooperation.”
Trump says he will soon decide whether to reopen the United States to commerce at a time when 42 of the 50 state governors have imposed stay-at-home edicts because of the viral pandemic.
The president recommended physical distancing between Americans through the end of April but is considering whether to reopen the country fully or partly May 1.
Cuomo and five other governors of northeastern states had a joint telephone call to announce they are to begin deliberations Tuesday on a regional plan to reopen their economies.
It should be state governors who make these decisions as they have been the ones “showing great leadership,” which has kept people safe, Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo told her fellow governors.
The governors of three Western states, California, Oregon and Washington, also announced Monday they are similarly taking a unified approach.
The East and West Coast consortiums, in states led by opposition Democratic Party governors, together represent about 100 million people, nearly a third of the country’s population.
New York City is the epicenter of the global pandemic and the state where more than 7,300 of the total 23,000 U.S. deaths have been recorded.
Hospitals in the state, according to Cuomo, are still receiving 2,000 new COVID-19 patients per day, but the curve continues to flatten for the total number of New York cases.
“I’m not confident the worst is over,” the governor said during a nationally televised briefing, warning the number could rise again “if we do something stupid.”
The United States has more than 577,000 reported COVID-19 cases, the most of any country.
Trump denied during Monday’s briefing he plans to remove Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
Trump on Sunday had reposted a tweet that contained the phrase “Time to #FireFauci.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said of the tweet and expressed support for the respected physician before noting that “not everybody is happy with Anthony.”
Trump referred to Fauci as a “wonderful guy.”
Fauci, appearing Sunday on CNN, said earlier mitigation would have saved more lives, a statement he attempted to clean up during Monday’s briefing, explaining that he was responding to a hypothetical question that was taken out of context and he used “a poor choice of words.”
Fauci’s credibility, according to public opinion polls, is much higher than any politician, including the president.
Trump also is facing criticism for using Monday’s briefing, which ran nearly 2½ hours, to play what his critics quickly labeled a “propaganda” video to counter reports he ignored early warning about the coronavirus.
“Because we have fake news, I like to document things,” Trump said of the video that he explained was produced by his social media director, Dan Scavino, and other White House staff.
The screening of the video prompted some U.S. networks, such as CNN and MSNBC, to cut away from what live coverage of the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing.
"Everything we did was right," Trump told reporters, after playing the campaign style video.
A former executive editor of the New York Times, Howell Raines, called the video “one of the most astonishing acts of disinformation from the White House since the Vietnam (War) era.”