Trump cedes control in battle with governors for reopening

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In the battle to reopen their states, the governors clashed with US President Donald Trump with law and public opinion, and in the end, Trump differed.

Trump said on Thursday that governors can “do their own thing” on when to reopen businesses and schools, and has issued new guidelines allowing states to reopen, saying some states are in a better position than d ‘others and could start immediately.

“Governors will be empowered to adapt an approach that responds to the diverse circumstances of their own state. If they are to remain closed, we will allow them to do so, “said Trump, who started the week saying that he had full power to force states to reopen.

Critics say the announcement changes little since the governors already have this power under the constitution.

“His directive today will be greeted with eyes in governors’ offices across the country, I think,” said Democratic strategist Ian Russell.

“For many people … there has never been any question that they would actually be the ones in control. “

A step ahead

Before Trump’s linchpin, states were already far ahead in the discussion of what would follow. Earlier Thursday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, said that he would begin reopening slowly on May 1, when existing closure orders expire. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extended his state’s residence orders until May 15.

Trump has encouraged states to work together, although many have already formed alliances to coordinate their efforts on a regional basis. Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky have said they will work “closely” to reopen the economy in the Midwest.

California, Oregon and Washington said on Monday that they had formed a Western States Pact for a “shared vision” on how and when to open their reports. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware also announced a partnership on Monday.

People want to be reassured

In addition to having legal authority, governors have also built trust and credibility to reassure a nervous audience, said Jai Chabria, who was senior counsel to former Ohio governor John Kasich.

” Because [Gov. DeWine] has been transparent all the time, he will be a credible voice on this effort, “said Chabria, who notes that the governor’s daily briefings are now known as” Wine with DeWine “.

The polls reflect the important place that governors took in the public eye during the crisis. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found that 74% of respondents approved their governor’s response to the pandemic, compared to 46% for the president.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said his state will have a $ 10 billion to $ 15 billion budget hole due to the pandemic. (Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images)

The apparently erratic response from the White House has further contributed to the increase in popularity and credibility of governors, said law professor Dick Howard.

“The president’s policies seem to change from day to day,” said Howard, who teaches at the University of Virginia. “So when you look at this performance in Washington compared to a much firmer hand from at least some of the governors, it’s not surprising that the governors end up looking pretty good. “

Howard says the governors’ daily briefings are reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside conversations” which comforted during the troubling times of the 1930s and 1940s.

“People want that kind of comfort – and frankly, they don’t get it from the president. “

Managing what comes next also comes down to experience and preparation, said Raymond Scheppach, former executive director of the National Governors Association. He said the association holds orientation sessions for new governors and that the first session is still devoted to emergency management.

“We always told them that the very first person you put forward was your emergency person, before your chief of staff,” said Scheppach, noting that the increasing prevalence of natural disasters has given many governors a lot of training in crisis situation on the job. .

Scheppach said governors are also more likely to work together, across parties.

“The governors are the governors first and the Republicans and Democrats second,” said Scheppach.

Politics at stake

With Trump taking a more deferential tone on Thursday, it may only be a matter of time before he clashes with the governors again. Previous battles have included problems on everything from testing to supplies.

“Democratic governors may well think they will win politically by asserting themselves,” said Howard. “We notice that the Republican governors in places like Texas and Florida are much more respectful of the president. Their political calculation is that they tend to be on the losing side if they differ with the president. “

Russell says that Trump’s real power lies in the bully’s pulpit, which will only work in certain states.

“The only weight he really has is on the Republican governors of the Republican states. They are afraid to do anything that would anger the White House, “said Russell.

The exception was Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Republican and current president of the National Governors Association. He wrote a bipartisan editorial with Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer listing ways in which Washington has failed to assist states during the pandemic.

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to the hospital ship USNS Mercy in the port of Los Angeles on March 27. (Carolyn Cole / Getty Images))

Imminent budget crisis

There is, however, an imminent threat that could exhaust all the political capital and goodwill rulers accumulated during the crisis and put Trump back in the spotlight. Closing businesses also means that the state’s tax revenues will be hit hard.

“They have to put their thumbs in the dam right now. But it will come out and it will cause headaches, ”said Chabria.

Cuomo says his state will have a $ 10-15 billion budget hole due to the pandemic and that the federal government will need to step up its funding.

“How do you pretend that you are tackling this crisis when you are starving state and local governments?” Cuomo said Thursday before Trump’s announcement.

Howard said the looming budget crisis adds to the tough dynamic that governors have with the Trump administration, which they will have to rely on for billions of dollars in bailouts.

“All governors face this dilemma,” he said. “Even if they are not very fond of the president, they realize that there is federal aid that they would like to see happen. “

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