President Donald Trump today falsely claimed he has “total” authority to override governors and force states to reopen their economies despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Trump faced numerous questions from reporters about his views on federal authority hours after he tweeted that the president, not governors, gets to make the “decision to open up the states.”
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total, and the governors know that,” Trump said in response to one of the questions at a press briefing.
“You have a couple of bands of Democrat governors but they will agree to it,” Trump continued. “The authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about [reopening state economies], is total.”
When one reporter pointed out that it was states, not Trump, that made the decisions to close schools and businesses, Trump said, “that’s because I let that happen.”
Several fact-checks pointed out that Trump’s claim of such authority over the states is false. Here’s one from CNBC:
“State and local governments have strong police power to protect their citizens and so I’m unaware of any way in which the federal government could basically try to override anything the states and cities have been doing to protect the public health of their citizens,” said William Buzbee, a professor at Georgetown University Law School and an expert in federalism.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “States have police-power functions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of persons within their borders.” Isolation and quarantine orders are among those police-power functions, which are “derived from the right of the state to take action affecting individuals for the benefit of society,” the CDC page on the topic says.
One reporter asked Trump which provision in the Constitution gives the president the power to open or close state economies. Trump answered, “numerous provisions. We’ll give you a legal brief if you want,” but didn’t point to any specific sources of authority.
States follow science, not politics
Today, coalitions of governors on both US coasts announced pacts to follow science, not politics, in decisions on when to reopen economies.
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Rhode Island announced a council that will include health experts and economic experts from each of the states. The states “will work together to develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay-at-home orders while minimizing the risk of increased spread of the virus,” they said.
The states will use tools “including testing, contact tracing, treatment, and social distancing” and “rely on the best available scientific, statistical, social and economic information” to evaluate progress, they said.
Similarly, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington State today announced an agreement that the “region will move toward reopening based on health outcomes.”
“Health outcomes and science—not politics—will guide these decisions,” the governors said in their announcement. They continued:
Modifications to our states’ stay-at-home orders must be made based off our understanding of the total health impacts of COVID-19, including: the direct impact of the disease on our communities; the health impact of measures introduced to control the spread in communities—particularly felt by those already experiencing social disadvantage prior to COVID-19; and our health care systems’ ability to ensure care for those who may become sick with COVID-19 and other conditions. This effort will be guided by data. We need to see a decline in the rate of spread of the virus before large-scale reopening, and we will be working in coordination to identify the best metrics to guide this.
Trump, meanwhile, is forming an “Opening Our Country Council,” which Politico reports is “devoted to reopening the economy as soon as possible.” Trump is expected to announce the council’s members Tuesday, but on Monday, “the White House was still scrambling to fortify its membership, identify its leadership, and even outline the precise purpose of the group,” Politico wrote.
“My administration’s plan and corresponding guidelines will give the American people the confidence they need to begin returning to normal life,” Trump said. “That’s what we want. We want to have our country open, we want to return to normal life. Our country is going to be opened, and it’s going to be successfully opened.”