Coronavirus: Trump backs off 'total authority,' says he'll consult states to reopen the economy

President Trump said a teleconference with governors would likely be held on April 16.
President Trump said a teleconference with governors would likely be held on April 16.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG)- US President Donald Trump backed away from his claim that he had total authority to order states to reopen the economy after a backlash from governors who said he was overstepping his constitutional powers.

"They know when it's time to open, and we don't want to put pressure on anybody," Mr Trump said Tuesday (April 15) at a White House press briefing. "I'm not going to put any pressure on any governor to open."

Mr Trump's comments came a day after he said he had "the ultimate authority" to order states to comply with a federal plan to reopen the economy.

His remarks sparked broad criticism from legal scholars and governors, including New York's Andrew Cuomo, who warned of "a constitutional crisis like you haven't seen in decades" if the president sought to lift social-distancing requirements over states' objections.

Mr Trump said a teleconference with governors would likely be held on Thursday, and predicted they will be "very, very respectful of the presidency."

When asked if he would withhold federal aid from states that don't abide by his suggestions for a reopening strategy, Mr Trump said he wasn't making a threat and predicted state leaders "will listen" to his advice and requests.

"We're going to work with the governors. The governors are going to do a good job," Mr Trump said. "And if they don't do a good job, we're going to come down on them very hard. We'll have no other choice."

The president did say the federal government would block governors from ending social-distancing practices early if federal health officials determined it was unwise, adding that he wanted states like New York - the epicentre of the pandemic - to take their time coming back online.

Mr Trump's remarks appeared to be a reversal after legal experts and some governors disputed his claim that he had the authority to order states to comply with his wish to reopen businesses. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserves for states all powers that aren't specifically granted to the federal government.

 
 
 

Mr Cuomo, in an interview with NBC News earlier Tuesday, said: "If he thinks he's going to force this state, or any state for that matter, to do something that is reckless or irresponsible, that could endanger human life, literally, because we don't reopen correctly, you will see those virus numbers go up again, and more people will die."

At a news conference later in the day, Mr Cuomo said he didn't want to engage in a fight with Mr Trump, and announced a partnership with six other North-east states to plan for a gradual resumption of the regional economy.

Mr Cuomo's comments came as New York reported 778 new virus fatalities in 24 hours, pushing the total near 11,000. Total confirmed infections now exceed 200,000, taxing the capabilities of the city's health system.

Asked about the New York governor's comments, Mr Trump said: "We'll get along just fine."