Donald Trump’s Monday press briefing was a sight to behold. The bulk of the ordeal was spent berating the press and complaining about coverage of the administration’s coronavirus response.
But buried between an awkward apology from Dr. Anthony Fauci and an explosive tirade over the way the pandemic has progressed was a thinly veiled threat for state lawmakers across the country— get in line.
During the briefing, one reporter asked Donald Trump whether he would force state lawmakers to lift their stay-at-home orders if they defied his wish to get the economy up and running again. His chilling response suggests the president is starting to worry about state-level officials turning against him.
They can decide but, I’m going to put it very simply […]The President of the United States calls the shots.
Then, in what appeared to be a taunt directed at any state lawmaker that didn’t push to reopen as soon as possible, Mr. Trump remarked “I’d like to see that person run for reelection. They’re going to open.”
Of his own ability to influence their state-level decisions, Donald Trump said:
When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total. The governors know that. You have a couple of bands of Democrat governors. But they will agree to it. They will agree to it.
The governors Donald Trump was referring to come from several different U.S. states. Virgina’s Democrat Governor Ralph Northam has extended his state’s stay at home orders until June 10, potentially putting him at odds with the administration. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat, has also questioned the viability of a May re-open.
Although Trump seemed to imply that only Democrats would dare defy his decision to lift the lockdowns, some Republicans have been uneasy about reopening too soon as well.
The battle over whether or not May is too soon to restart the U.S. economy is shaping up to be a showdown between state-level lawmakers and Donald Trump. Tension between Trump and governors around the country has been simmering in recent weeks as they pass the blame for the country’s coronavirus response to each other.
Last week, mayors, local leaders and response teams from over 300 American cities joined a Bloomberg teleconference held by Mike Bloomberg and former President Barack Obama to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Obama offered advice to the local lawmakers on how to lead through a crisis, emphasizing transparency and reliance on expert council. Obama’s advice was generously praised following the meeting, a slight that likely wasn’t lost on Donald Trump.
The pandemic has given Trump’s opponents an opportunity to expose his weaknesses on the world’s stage. California Governor Gavin Newsom did just that last week.
The Democrat Governor lashed out at the Federal Government’s failure to provide necessary medical supplies , saying the state would organize its own and may even consider exporting some. Notably, Newsom referred to California as a “nation-state,” likely a reminder to Trump that its tax-payers make up 15% of the U.S. Treasury’s individual contributions.
Trump’s outburst on Monday has been ill-received among governors on both sides of the aisle. A number of Democrat governors chided the president for saying he had the power to control state-level decisions. But it was Republican responses that were the most surprising.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, was firm about the fact that it would be his decision whether or not to re-open.
All of these executive orders are state executive orders and so therefore it would be up to the state and the governor to undo a lot of that.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo notably pointed out that Trump is a president, not a king.
But Trump did little to calm the chaos of his disastrous press briefing. Instead, he threw more fuel on the fire with a tweet effectively daring local governments to stand up to him.
In the coming weeks, Donald Trump has promised to shed some light on his plan to restart the economy. Its reception will be a telling sign of what’s to come. Since the pandemic began, the political divide has become impossibly deeper, emboldening those who oppose the president to take matters into their own hands.