President Trump on Monday claimed “total authority” over when and how to ease restrictions aimed at fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump’s statement came hours after coalitions of governors on both coasts announced regional plans for reopening their states.
“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total. The governors know that,” Trump said during the White House coronavirus briefing, when asked about the governors’ plans.
“You have a couple bands of Democratic governors, but they will agree to it,” Trump continued. “They will agree to it. But the authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total.”
The assertion came after Trump in a pair of tweets said that reopening the country would be up to the federal government, not states.
The Constitution gives public health and safety responsibilities primarily to state and local officials.
Pushed on his claim at the briefing, Trump said: “We’re going to write up papers on this,” adding: “The governors need us one way or the other.”
“They can’t do anything without approval of the president of the United States,” Trump said, without providing any specific source for the claim.
Vice President Mike Pence backed up Trump’s assertion, saying that at times of emergency, the powers of president are “unquestionably plenary.”
Earlier on Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo teamed up with the leaders of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island to form a regional task force aimed at a gradual reopening of the economy beyond the coronavirus.
Shortly after, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was working with state leaders in Washington and Oregon on a similar framework for reopening as a region.
Governors have indicated they won’t be pressured into loosening guidelines before it is safe to do so.
In an interview on CNN after the briefing, Cuomo rejected Trump’s claim as “aggressive” and “hostile.”
“The constitution does not go out the window in an emergency,” he said, adding that if Trump wanted to be the one to restart the economy he needed to outline a plan on how to do so.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu also disagreed saying that since the responsibility to shut down had been up to state leaders, reopening should be up to them too.
At the briefing, Trump said his administration was “very close to completing a plan to reopen our country.”
“We will soon finalize new and very important guidelines to give governors the information they need to start safely opening their states,” he said. “My administration’s plan and corresponding guidelines will give the American people the confidence they need to begin returning to normal life.”