WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump claimed the “total” authority to decide how and when to reopen the economy after weeks of tough social distancing guidelines aimed at fighting the new coronavirus.
But governors from both parties were quick to push back, noting they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states and would decide when it’s safe to begin a return to normal operations.
President Trump would not offer specifics about the source of his asserted power, which he claimed, despite constitutional limitations, was absolute.
“When somebody is president, the authority is total,” Trump said on Monday at the White House. “The governors know that.”
The comments came not long after Democratic leaders in the Northeast and along the West Coast announced separate state compacts to coordinate their efforts to scale back stay-at-home orders or reopen businesses on their own timetables.
Anxious to put the crisis behind him, Trump has been discussing with senior aides how to roll back federal social distancing recommendations that expire at the end of the month.
While Trump has issued national recommendations advising people to stay at home, it has been governors and local leaders who have instituted mandatory restrictions, including shuttering schools and closing non-essential businesses. Some of those orders carry fines or other penalties, and in some jurisdictions extend into the early summer. And governors made clear on Monday they wouldn’t tolerate pressure to act before they deem it safe.
“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 Governor Chris Sununu said on CNN.
“The government doesn’t get opened up via Twitter. It gets opened up at the state level,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whit-mer, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, governors were banding together. 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.