Coronavirus: Trump declares he has 'total’ authority to reopen economy after rebuff by some state governors

Nine states on the US East and West coasts said on Monday they had begun planning for the slow reopening of their economies, but President Trump said earlier in the day that any decision on restarting the economy was his to make.
President Donald Trump noted that the number of coronavirus deaths in the US had begun to plateau.
President Donald Trump noted that the number of coronavirus deaths in the US had begun to plateau.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump declared he has “total” authority to order states to relax social distancing to combat the coronavirus outbreak and reopen their economies, and warned that governors who refuse would face political consequences.  

“When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Mr Trump said at a White House news conference on Monday (April 13).

Challenged to substantiate his claim, the president said that “numerous provisions” support him and offered reporters a legal briefing, though he provided no specifics.  

Legal experts and some governors disputed Mr Trump’s claim. The 10th amendment to the Constitution reserves for states all powers that aren’t specifically granted to the federal government.  

Mr Trump said his administration would issue guidance within days for governors who want to begin relaxing social-distancing practices, and said he hopes to reopen the country “ahead of schedule".

He didn’t say that he would order governors to remove limits against their wishes, but when asked what would happen if they refused to comply,

Mr Trump said that “if some states refuse to open, I would like to see that person run for election.”

The president’s remarks followed his assertion earlier Monday on Twitter that it will be up to him – not governors – to decide whether parts of the country can relent on social distancing, which has collapsed the US economy.

Later Monday, six states in the US Northeast, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said they would jointly develop a plan to reopen schools and businesses after the outbreak subsides, while California, Washington and Oregon said they would join together on their own framework.  

Mr Trump declined to say whether those states had informed him of their plans before they were announced.  

“The governors need us, one way or the other,” he said. “I feel very certain that there won’t be a problem. They will cooperate perfectly. Watch.”

Some of Mr Trump’s top economic advisers are intensifying their efforts to persuade the president and other members of his coronavirus task force to give more weight to the emotional, health and financial toll of the economic shutdown.

The virus has killed more than 22,000 people in the United States and shut down all but essential travel and businesses.