‘That won’t happen!’ Trump & Cuomo clash over New York’s ‘independence’ post-coronavirus

14 Apr, 2020 15:47 / Updated 4 years ago

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he wouldn’t lift the economic shutdown of his state if ordered by President Trump, as long as public health was in danger. But Trump insists Cuomo’s vaunted “independence” is a pipe dream.

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,” Cuomo said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday. 

The interview came a day after Trump asserted his authority to lift lockdown measures and Cuomo banded together with five regional governors to affirm their right to reopen on their own terms. Much of the US economy has been in a state of near-total shutdown for three weeks, and Trump has reportedly said he plans to begin reversing this at the end of the month, when social distancing guidelines expire – or “even ahead of schedule,” as he hinted on Monday.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that the order to reopen is his alone to give, declaring on Monday that “it is the decision of the president, and for many good reasons.” Later that evening, he again flexed this power at a press conference, saying he has “total” authority to decide how and when to reboot the economy.

Cuomo disagreed, countering on Tuesday that he had the Constitution on his side. “It says the federal government does not have absolute power,” he said. “It says the exact opposite of what the president said. It says that would be a king.” 

Trump responded by skewering Cuomo on Twitter for supposedly being unprepared for the coronavirus epidemic, mocking the Democratic governor and his peers’ quest for “independence.”

Revealing that “Cuomo’s been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility,” Trump slammed his rival for allegedly failing to have the healthcare infrastructure in place to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want independence! That won’t happen!

Six weeks after recording its first case of Covid-19, New York is still the hardest-hit state in the country by the pandemic. Nearly 200,000 cases of the deadly virus have been recorded in the Empire State, and more than 10,000 people have died. New York accounts for around a third of all US cases, and nearly half of all Covid-19 deaths in the country.

Should Trump order Cuomo to reopen his state, the governor could challenge the order in court on Constitutional grounds. Under the Tenth Amendment, states reserve all powers not explicitly held by the federal government – for example, in deciding their own public safety and healthcare policies. A 2012 Supreme Court decision, for instance, ruled that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) violated states’ rights as it coerced the states into accepting an expansion of Medicaid coverage.

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Trump could, however, instruct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to withhold funding from New York if Cuomo were to follow through on his promise. When the president approved a major disaster declaration in New York last month, he granted Cuomo access to a $42-billion pot of federal disaster cash. Under the Stafford Act, which governs such declarations, the president “shall not ... delay or impede the rapid deployment, use and distribution of critical resources to victims of an emergency,” once a declaration has been made. 

Nevertheless, the Act requires governors to prove that their states are incapable of handling the disaster on their own. If Trump could prove that containing the crisis is not beyond the capabilities of Cuomo’s government, the flow of federal cash to New York could dry up.

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Ultimately, the American people would be the biggest losers in a prolonged political grudge match between Trump and a Cuomo-led pack of Democratic governors. With over 16 million new unemployment claims filed in just three weeks, the US faces a massive economic depression the likes of which most have never seen. 

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