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President Donald Trump incorrectly claimed today that he had "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 of the federal agency after tweeting that the president, not the governors, must "make a decision to open up the states."
"If someone is the President of the United States, the authority is total and it has to be. It is total and the governors know that," Trump replied to one of the questions at a press conference.
"They have a few bands of democratic governors, but they'll agree," Trump continued. "The authority of the President of the United States dealing with the issue we are talking about [reopening state economies] is total."
When a reporter pointed out that it was states, not Trump, that made the decision to shut down schools and businesses, Trump said, "That's because I allowed it."
Several factual reviews have shown that Trump's assertion of such authority over the states is wrong. Here's one from CNBC:
"State and local governments have strong police powers to protect their citizens, so I don't know how the federal government could basically try to override everything that states and cities have done to improve public health to protect their citizens. " said William Buzbee, a professor at Georgetown University Law School and an expert on federalism.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said: "States have police functions to protect the health, safety, and well-being of people within their borders." Isolation and quarantine orders are among the police power functions that "derive from the law of the state to take measures that affect individuals for the benefit of society," the CDC said.
A reporter asked Trump what provision in the constitution gave the president the power to open or close state economies. Trump replied, "Numerous provisions. We'll give you a legal mandate if you want to," but didn't point to specific sources of authority.
States follow science, not politics
Coalitions of governors on both U.S. coasts today announced pacts to follow science, not politics, in decisions to reopen economies.
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island announced a council that will include health professionals and economists from each state. States "will work together to develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift States' stay-at-home" missions while minimizing the risk of the virus spreading, "they said.
States will use tools "including testing, contact tracking, treatment and social distancing" and "rely on the best available scientific, statistical, social and economic information" to assess progress.
Similarly, the governors of California, Oregon and the State of Washington today announced an agreement that "the region should be reopened based on health outcomes".
"Health outcomes and science – not politics – will guide these decisions," the governors said in their announcement. They continued:
Changes to our state home stay orders must be made based on our understanding of the overall health effects of COVID-19, including: the direct impact of the disease on our communities; the health effects of measures to curb the spread in communities, especially those who suffer from social disadvantage before COVID-19; and the ability of our health systems to provide care for those who may develop COVID-19 and other diseases. These efforts are driven by data. Before the virus can reopen on a large scale, the spread rate of the virus has to decrease and we will work in a coordinated way to determine the best metrics to control this.
Trump meanwhile forms an "Opening Our Country Council" which, according to Politico, "is dedicated to the early reopening of the economy". Trump is expected to announce the members of the council on Tuesday, but on Monday, "the White House was still trying to strengthen its membership, identify its leadership, and even outline the precise purpose of the group," Politico wrote.
"My government's plan and guidelines provide the American people with the confidence they need to get back to normal life," Trump said. "We want that. We want our country to be open, we want to return to normal life. Our country is opened and it is successfully opened."