New York legislature moves to strip Cuomo of emergency powers

In a largely symbolic move, the state senate in New York last night voted to repeal the emergency powers they granted to Governor Andrew Cuomo last year to respond to the pandemic. The Assembly is expected to take up the measure today. The real impact of this proposal will be basically next to nothing, as we’ll get to in a moment. Oddly enough, the measure was driven almost entirely by Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both chambers. Republicans panned the legislation, saying that it was too little, too late, and pushing for stronger measures such as impeachment. (NY Post)

New York state lawmakers moved Friday to rescind the emergency powers they granted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to handle the coronavirus pandemic as outrage over his sexual harassment and nursing home coverup scandals continues to mount.

The New York state Senate backed the new restrictions on Cuomo’s executive authority by a 43-20 vote on Friday afternoon. The state Assembly is scheduled to take up the measure later today and is widely expected to follow suit.

Both chambers are dominated by Democrats. The measure would then be signed by Cuomo.

The problem with this legislation, as noted by the Republicans who voted against it, is that all it really does is prevent Cuomo from issuing any new executive orders related to the pandemic unless the legislature signs off on them. It doesn’t repeal any of the existing mandates or even call for a legislative review of them. It also doesn’t prevent Cuomo from extending any of the existing mandates if they are “deemed critical to public health.” Since Andrew Cuomo would presumably be the one doing the “deeming” in this scenario, he’s obviously going to claim that they’re all critical.

As for the ban on new mandates, some Republicans in the assembly issued a statement calling out that nonsense for what it is. At this point, they asked, how much more could Governor Cuomo do to infringe on the rights and freedoms of New Yorkers? The time for legislative oversight would have been last summer when he really began rolling. At this point, they’re just closing the barn door long after the horses have hit the road.

This bit of window dressing was probably all that the Democrats in the legislature could come up with to give the impression that they’re taking Cuomo’s various scandals seriously. The levels of outrage over the nursing home coverup and the list of women accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment have spiked and spread far beyond the borders of New York by now. Continuing to stick their fingers in their ears and look the other way wasn’t going to cut it. But at the same time, they can’t muster the collective will to begin impeachment hearings. Whether that’s out of fear of Cuomo’s influence and wrath or worry over possibly giving the Republicans an opening is likely a matter of individual taste. But they clearly don’t have the stomach for a full-blown confrontation.

This deal still has to be signed by Cuomo himself in order to take effect. Would he really have the temerity to veto it? If he plans to continue sticking to his guns and saying that the nursing home numbers were simply “misunderstood” and the sexual harassment was just a case of him “joking around,” he might consider it. But the Democrats have enough votes to override and they could probably convince at least a few Republicans to go along with it if the numbers were close. For Cuomo, the only thing worse than the optics of starting a fight with his own party would be if he loses the fight.

It’s taken months of all of this outrageous behavior to sink in with the public, but Cuomo’s approval ratings have finally sunk underwater at 38/48. The linked Emerson poll also found that 64% are saying he shouldn’t be elected to another term next year, with only half of Democrats still supporting him. 45% of all voters think he should resign. With that in mind, there’s clearly enough public support to justify an impeachment hearing, but the Democrats remain too timid to pull the trigger.