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Trump Claims ‘Total Authority’ as States Band Together

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, meets with patients Tuesday, April 14, 2020, who have recovered from the COVID-19 Coronavirus, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead) Date: 14 April 2020, 12:07 Source: President Trump meets with Patients who have Recovered from COVID-19 Author: The White House from Washington, DC

“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total.”

President Donald Trump alone has the power to reopen the US economy, he declared at his Monday evening briefing, according to the New York Times.

“The president of he United States calls the shots. [Governors] can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

Trump has been anxious to see life return to normal; a few weeks ago he even said the target date for a nationwide reopening was Easter weekend. Yet Easter Sunday came to pass and the COVID-19 death toll has surpassed 25,000 people in the US. Everyone — from Trump to doctors and unemployed Americans — desires a return to the status quo ante bellum, but no one can predict when that will happen, nor when the tide will turn. 

The desire to reopen the US must also be balanced with the risk of a second wave of infections, like China experienced. Trump formed advisory committees on Monday to put forward proposals on when and how the US can safely move forward. However, Trump’s ambitions and desire to control the process is running at odds with some governors.

On both coasts, 10 states have banded together by forming pacts to reopen together. On the West Coast, California, Washington, and Oregon created the Western States Pact. On the opposite side of America, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey created a similar alliance for the same purpose: limiting the spread of the coronavirus and safely reopening their economies, according to Foreign Policy.

‘Decision by Me’

Leaving the decision to reopen up to individual governors hasn’t set well with Trump.

“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect….” Trump tweeted Monday. “….It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”

However, governors were the power behind the economic shutdown in America. As Trump waited to declare a national emergency, Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California took the first gambles and decided to shutter businesses and schools.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump has at various stages left handling the crisis up to individual governors and recently tweeted that they should “get your states testing programs & apparatus perfected. Be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!” 

“You want to now say the federal government is in charge?” Cuomo said on MSNBC. “Which by the way is a shift because the federal government didn’t close down the economy, right? They left it to the states. It was state by state, it was a whole hodgepodge, the governors had to close the economy, which was not politically easy to do, but now the federal government says it can open it? Well then, why didn’t you close it if you can open it?”

Cuomo also rejected the idea that Trump has total authority. 

“I don’t know what the president is talking about. We have a constitution…we don’t have a king…the president doesn’t have total authority,” Cuomo said in an NBC interview.

For Cuomo, the reopening process must be phased and should start with the states. Most critically, testing levels have to be increased, something that is not happening at the present time, he said according to The Guardian.

Unfounded Power

Trump’s idea that he has total authority and that the governors cannot act without his approval, is unfounded in the Constitution and Supreme Court precedents. Legal scholars wasted no time to weigh in on the issue, USA Today reported.

“It’s so plain and obvious it’s not even debatable,” said Kathleen Bergin, a law professor at Cornell University. “Trump has no authority to ease social distancing, or to open schools or private businesses. These are matters for states to decide under their power to promote public health and welfare, a power guaranteed by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.”

The 10th amendment reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Charles Fried, professor at Harvard Law School, disputed that the 10th amendment is at play in the issue, but still argued that “The president can’t just say, ‘I am the boss.’”

Finally, without any powers imbued by the Constitution or through Congress, a president could try to make a case based on past Supreme Court rulings, which often shape the powers vested in the office. However, as Fried noted, former President Harry Truman lost a court challenge when he unsuccessfully attempted to force steel mills to open amid a labor strike in 1952.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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