Despite claims by both Democrats and Republicans that a global pandemic is no time for partisan bickering, tensions boiling under the surface have erupted into a political tug-of-war between President Donald Trump and the governors of ten—mostly blue—states.
The governors are resisting Trump’s assertion that, as president, he has “total” authority over the decision of how and when to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen the U.S. economy.
On April 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent out a joint statement with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declaring the three states had formed a West Coast pact to develop a regional plan for easing stay-at-home orders and reopening the economy.
Earlier in the day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his state had formed a similar East Coast pact with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
All but one of the ten governors, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, are Democrats.
On April 14, the tensions between the governors and the president were strongly represented in tweets and press briefings.
Trump tweeted on April 14: “Tell the Democrat Governors that ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!”
Cuomo said at his daily press briefing April 14 that Trump is over-stating the authority a president should have.
“The founding fathers understood and I remembered today that the balance between the state and the federal, that magnificent balance that is articulated in the constitution, is the essence of our democracy,” Cuomo said. “We don’t have a king in this country.”
Cuomo said he would refuse Trump’s orders if he feels they put people at risk; he would take Trump to court.
Trump tweeted about Cuomo on April 14, saying he has “been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility, such as new hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc. I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!”
Trump said at his daily press briefing that he could reopen the economy “very, very shortly,” possibly by May 1.
“Our country has to get open. And, it will get open,” Trump said.
Trump said he expects the governors will ultimately respect the office of the president.
“It’s not me. It’s the presidency,” he said.
Newsom Calls California a ‘Nation-State’
During the last few weeks, Newsom has repeatedly referred to California as a “nation-state.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a nation-state is “a sovereign state whose citizens or subjects are relatively homogeneous in factors such as language or common descent.”
Some have understood Newsom’s use of the term to imply California is “sovereign” or independent of the United States.
James P. Rudolph, a California attorney who worked for the Clinton and Obama Administrations, is among those who have criticized Newsom’s use of the term.
In an op-ed for the L.A. Times, Rudolph said that to call California a nation-state is “to play politics with cherished constitutional principles that have been with us for centuries.”
“California is not a nation-state, and Newsom, for the sake of clarity and constitutional deference, should stop using the term,” he said.
Newsom, in his daily press briefing on April 14, said he calls California a “nation-state” because of “geographic distances,” its “rural and urban construct,” population density, large landmass, and because different parts of the state are “so distinct and unique.”
He said people have been “a little literal” in their understanding of the term. “This nation-state frame which I’ve used for years has taken on a life of its own.”