I’m asking earnestly. There probably are a few who’ve sheepishly endorsed the idea and I missed the reports about it. Every one that I’ve seen comment, though, has sided with the states. I linked this Rand Paul tweet earlier:
The constitution doesn’t allow the federal gov’t to become the ultimate regulator of our lives because they wave a doctor’s note. Powers not delegated are RESERVED to states & the PEOPLE. If we dispense with constitutional restraints, we will have more to worry about than a virus
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 14, 2020
Liz Cheney kicked in with this last night, not long after Trump made his “total authority” comment:
The federal government does not have absolute power.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” United States Constitution, Amendment X
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) April 13, 2020
Now here’s Marco Rubio insisting that “the Constitution & common sense dictates these decisions be made at the state level.”
How & when to modify physical distancing orders should & will be made by Governors.
But the Constitution & common sense dictates these decisions be made at the state level. pic.twitter.com/6izVqInX9z
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 14, 2020
Trump’s expectation of blind loyalty from his party may explain why he thought he could get away with forcing a conflict with Cuomo and other governors over authority. Normally Republicans would back him in a squabble, especially a squabble with partisan overtones like a stand-off with blue-state governors. Not this time. My suspicion is that he didn’t grasp how devoted ideologically the party’s leadership is to federalism. Trump understands right-wing cultural sensitivities, like abortion and gun rights, and is careful not to cross those lines. But he has no interest in, and possibly no grasp of, conservative dogma about smaller government and decentralization. He may have started needling Cuomo about a “mutiny” believing that righties would view the issue of who gets to reopen the states the same way he does, as a simple test of authority between the president-king and a viceroy. Imagine his surprise to find normally dutiful servants in Congress insisting that no, in fact, it’s the states that enjoy most powers of governance. The feds only get what the Constitution has carved out for them.
The president’s on an island here. How does he get off without losing face? It’s one thing to force a showdown with governors that falls along partisan lines, it’s another to force one in which his own team will be out there in front of cameras insisting that the governors are right and he’s wrong.
It’s a bad sign when even Fox commentators are forced to resort to “okay, what he said was nonsense, but…” arguments:
He constantly blusters and threatens all sorts of things, most of which never come to pass. In this instance, he is claiming supreme executive authority, but there is no sign he will try to exercise it. Indeed, he actions so far have been highly deferential to governors & mayors.
— Brit Hume (@brithume) April 14, 2020
Maybe Trump is calculating that the people, in their eagerness to get back to work, will rush to his side if he demands that some states reopen for business even if he meets resistance from local leaders. He won’t care what the likes of Rubio have to say if his polls shoot upward anyway. But would they shoot upward? New from YouGov:
Majorities of all three parties support a national shutdown order to reduce the spread, not a promising sign for reopening soon. The good news for Trump is that pluralities of all three parties also believe that the federal government, not the states, should be leading the coronavirus relief efforts. That’s a peg he can use to try to assert his authority. On the other hand, a plurality of independents and a majority of Democrats believe that the states actually *are* leading the relief efforts, and majorities of both believe that Trump waited too long to act in handling the crisis. That’s a weak position politically from which to attempt a dubious power grab.
This data also suggests a “reopen now” order wouldn’t be well received by the public:
Americans remain hesitant about resuming their normal daily activities amid the COVID-19 outbreak according to a Gallup question first asked in late March and repeated in early April.
When asked how quickly they will return to their normal activities once the government lifts restrictions and businesses and schools start to reopen, the vast majority of Americans say they would wait and see what happens with the spread of the virus (71%) and another 10% would wait indefinitely. Just 20% say they would return to their normal activities immediately.
Even among Republicans, the share that says they’re ready to return to normal activities “immediately” is just 31 percent. Nearly twice as many, 61 percent, say they want to wait to see what happens with the virus. There’s enough fear out there that some low-wage workers like grocery staff who badly need their paychecks are weighing whether it’d be better to be unemployed right now so that they didn’t have to risk infection every day at work. Eventually the desperation a majority of Americans feel to get back on the job even at the risk of sickness will overcome the desperation they feel about the odds of contracting COVID-19 but there’s no reason to think we’re at that point yet.
But then, there’s also no reason to think that Trump believes we’re at that point either. He wants people back to work because he believes evidence of an economic recovery is essential to his reelection chances this fall. He’s not trying to put state governments on the timetable that the general public is on. He’s trying to put state governments *and* the general public on the political timetable *he’s* on.
Is Congress going to solve the stalemate between Trump and the states? So long as there’s a massive leadership void, each arm of government is going to think about ways to fill it:
With the U.S. caseload still growing in mid April, several senior House Democrats have called for Congress to come up with its own plan to reopen the nation, rather than relying on the White House…
The plan, pitched by [Rep. Jamie] Raskin and several other Democrats, would ask each state to submit a plan on how to reopen businesses and schools in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services — not just the president’s pulpit. And after the reopening, it would also require adequate testing and contact tracing to prevent a second outbreak.
“Our point is that we need a serious structure and process in place in order to institute a reopening that will be safe and enduring,” Raskin said, calling the president’s initial hopes to reopen the country on Easter “patently ridiculous.”
Senate Republicans aren’t going to want to sign on to a Democratic-led plan that would shift federal influence on reopening the states from royal decree to consultation with HHS. But maybe it’s safer for them politically to do that than to risk having Trump trying to withhold PPE from a state’s doctors because the local governor is giving him lip instead of bowing to his wishes. The more GOPers in Congress can act legislatively to cut Trump out of the process, the less damage he can do to them — and himself — this fall.