Trump ‘declared himself king’ when he claimed ‘total’ authority in coronavirus response, Cuomo says

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

Tasos Katopodis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tore into President Donald Trump on Tuesday over his claim to have “total” authority over the restrictions that states have put in place to combat the coronavirus.

“This wasn’t a bending of the constitution. What the president said last night was a breaking of the constitution,” Cuomo said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“He basically declared himself King Trump,” Cuomo said, “And all that annoying federal-state back-and-forth that our founding fathers went through, he just disregarded that.”

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Cuomo’s remarks.

The Democratic governor, whose state is the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in the U.S., was responding to Trump’s recent claim that he has the power to lift the restrictions put in place by state leaders to try to slow the spread of the disease.

“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be,” Trump said Monday evening at a White House press briefing on the virus.

“The president of the United States calls the shots,” Trump said. “I have the ultimate authority.”

Trump has expressed impatience with the strict social distancing measures imposed by governors – such as closing nonessential businesses and ordering residents to stay at home –  that have helped contain the virus but have devastated the U.S. economy in the process.

The federal government never imposed a nationwide lockdown, and has so far only offered non-binding social distancing guidelines. That guidance was recently extended through the end of April, despite Trump previously saying he wanted to “reopen” the economy by Easter Sunday.

Legal experts say Trump is wrong to claim authority over measures imposed by state leaders to protect the health and safety of their constituents.

When a reporter at the Monday night press briefing noted that states, not the White House, ordered schools and nonessential businesses closed, Trump replied, “That’s because I let that happen.”

“Because I would have preferred that, I let that happen. But if I wanted to, I could have closed it up. But I let that happen, and I like the way they’ve done it,” Trump added.

The president had tweeted earlier that “it is the decision of the President” on whether to “open up” the states that have put themselves in lockdown, “and for many good reasons.”

Cuomo said Tuesday morning that Trump’s current stance “is a total 180 from where the president started.”

“When this started, he could have closed down the economy. He didn’t want to,” Cuomo said. “So he left it to the governors, and I have had to do this, and I’m in this position because the federal government, frankly, didn’t want to be in this position. So now the states are doing it.”

Cuomo has praised the Trump administration for its assistance to New York as the state grapples with the coronavirus crisis. Federal agencies have sent resources and equipment to the Empire State, and have helped set up temporary hospital space to deal with the surge in patients.

On Monday, Cuomo said that the strict social distancing measures are working, pointing to the flattening out in the rate of hospitalizations and a drop in the number of people on ventilators. “The worst is over … if we continue to be smart going forward,” Cuomo said.

The next phase will be the reopening of the economy, Cuomo said on MSNBC on Tuesday. “I understand the president wants to do it quickly. I understand the political environment. I get it. But I also know that if we do this wrong, you will see the number of infections increase dramatically.”

“We reopen too fast, you will see those numbers go up, and we’ll go right back to square one,” Cuomo said.

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