Trump Call To Governors Will Talk About Path To Reopening The U.S.

Apr 15, 2020
Originally published on April 15, 2020 6:33 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president says he will hold a call tomorrow with the nation's governors to talk about reopening the country.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate.

INSKEEP: Two big points here. First, the law suggests the governors did not need his authorization to do anything, which is what they have said. This also appears to be a near total reversal of what the president had said the day before. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump was defiant on Monday, insisting he was the one who would decide when and how to reopen the country.

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TRUMP: When somebody's the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that's the it's got to be.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: It's total?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Your authority is total?

TRUMP: It's total. It's total.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Your authority is total?

TRUMP: And the governors know that.

KEITH: Leading up to this, a big group of Eastern state governors had gotten together and formed a consortium, saying they would coordinate plans for reopening. California, Oregon and Washington did the same on the West Coast. President Trump was asked whether that would undermine his push to reopen.

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TRUMP: I'm going to put it very simply - the president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots.

SUSAN BLOCH: It's very clear that the president is wrong.

KEITH: Susan Bloch is a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown.

BLOCH: It is a government of divided powers. The national government and the states can work together, and that would be desirable. But no, he does not have total power.

KEITH: The White House didn't respond to a request for information about what legal authorities President Trump was claiming. And Bloch was far from the only one baffled by Trump's claims on Monday. Kathy Bergin used to teach constitutional law.

KATHY BERGIN: Just because he claims authority doesn't mean he actually has it under the Constitution.

KEITH: Now Bergin specializes in disaster law at Cornell University Law School.

BERGIN: States have the authority under the Constitution to protect the health and welfare, and this is the authority that all the states and municipalities are invoking when they're closing schools, when they're shutting private businesses. And there's nothing in the Constitution that would allow the president to override those orders.

KEITH: This was setting up to be another classic Trumpian feud, this time in the middle of a pandemic with well over a thousand Americans dying every day. But most governors just weren't taking the bait. New York's Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, came the closest, saying we don't have a king in this country. But then he said this.

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ANDREW CUOMO: The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue. The worst thing we can do in all of this is start with political division.

KEITH: I asked Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, if the consortium with California and Washington had anything to do with trying to counter President Trump.

KATE BROWN: No. No. No. That is - this is from my perspective - no (laughter). I texted my fellow governors last week to say we're considering a framework for reopening; are the two of you interested in aligning in that work?

KEITH: The thing is, individual states don't act in isolation, Brown says.

BROWN: We are literally all in this together. It is all of us. Like, actions taken in Florida and New York impact Oregon and that actions we take - like, we imposed very aggressive social distancing measures early on. That's why we were able to send ventilators to New York.

KEITH: They're setting benchmarks for the number of cases of the coronavirus, the availability of testing and contact tracing. Republican Mike DeWine is governor of Ohio. He says he's talking to governors in his region about how to keep people safe at this time when there's no vaccine. Reopening doesn't mean returning to life as we all knew it.

MIKE DEWINE: No matter what I order or the president orders or any governor orders, if people don't feel safe about going to a restaurant, they're not going to go. If they don't feel safe about going to a ballgame, they're not going to go.

KEITH: It's not clear what caused President Trump's posture to change over that 24-hour period. But he went from claiming total authority to saying it was up to the governors.

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TRUMP: We have one country, but we have lots of different pieces. It's a puzzle. We have beautiful pieces, beautiful states with capable governors. They know when it's time to open. And we don't want to put pressure on anybody. I'm not going to put any pressure on any governor to open.

KEITH: Maybe this was Trump accepting constitutional reality, or maybe it was a president looking to pass some of the responsibility for what he's described as the biggest decision he'll ever make to 50 governors.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.