New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would refuse and legally challenge a potential order from President Donald Trump to reopen the state’s economy if doing so would put its residents at risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, he said Tuesday.
Trump has falsely claimed that, as President, he has “total” authority to decide to lift restrictions governors have imposed to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately, the state and local officials who have been imposing restrictions for the last month are the ones who will decide when to lift those restrictions.
“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. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government and that would go into the courts,” Cuomo told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day.”
Trump reiterated his position on Twitter following Cuomo’s interview, saying the governor “seems to want Independence,” but vowing “That won’t happen.” The President also claimed Cuomo, who has frequently lobbied for greater federal assistance during the pandemic, has been “begging” him daily for critical medical supplies.
While it remains unclear how a legal battle over state restrictions would unfold, many legal scholars believe the President would lose if he tried to challenge them on some constitutional grounds he has not yet identified.
Trump does, however, have some clear, though limited, direct power. For example, he can order federal employees to return to their offices and reopen national parks and other federal property. And he can use his influence to try to persuade governors – and citizens – to do as he wishes.
It’s also possible that Trump could try to leverage the “major disaster declaration” he has issued for each state – for example, attempting to require governors to take certain steps in exchange for federal assistance.
Cuomo, whose state is currently seeing the effectiveness of its restrictions as the number of cases there begin to level off, said on CNN that a “dictatorial” and “partisan” order from Trump to reopen New York’s economy “would be the worst possible thing he could do at this moment.”
Asked by Camerota what the eventual reopening of New York’s economy would look like, Cuomo said it would be a “phased reopening” that will start with “an expansion of essential services.”
“Because it is not that the economy was closed down. You can get on a bus, you can get on a train, you can buy food. But expand that list of essential services. And that phase, that evolution of the economic reactivation, is what we’re talking about,” he said.
Prior to Trump’s press briefing on Monday where he claimed “total” authority, governors on the coasts announced that they had formed their own pacts to coordinate the steps they will take to reopen the economy in their states. Governors on each side of the country hammered out the notion that their decisions will be driven by facts, science and public health professionals, not politics.
Cuomo noted on Monday that health officials in his state believe they have reached a plateau in cases, but he cautioned that a regional approach was necessary to avoid a resurgence. He said it was important to do so step-by-step with a “smart plan,” evaluating data at each juncture and working in concert with states in the region.
Speaking at a press conference in Albany later Tuesday, Cuomo insisted he wasn’t looking to pick a fight with Trump but that he had to correct his view that he has “total authority” over the states.
“It’s just a factual statement that is factually wrong,” Cuomo said. “I mean there are many things you can debate in the Constitution because they’re ambiguous. This is not one of those things that is ambiguous.”
CNN’s Daniel Dale, Stephen Collinson and Maeve Reston contributed to this report.