But Cuomo castigated congressional Republicans for not wanting to inject additional money into states where finances have been pummeled by the virus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dismissed appeals for aid to hard-hit areas such as New York, calling them “blue-state bailouts.”
“This is really an ugly sentiment,” Cuomo said at the National Press Club following his White House meeting. “It’s an un-American response. We’re still the United States of America.”
McConnell did not immediately respond Wednesday. But on Tuesday, he expressed continued reluctance to offer additional funding: “We’re not interested in borrowing money from future generations to send down to states to paper over preexisting problems.”
The visit to Washington by Cuomo, whose state has been hit harder than any other during the coronavirus outbreak, came as both he and Trump are anxiously eyeing the economy for signs of when, whether and how it can come back from the depths of joblessness and GDP drops not seen in decades.
Although infection rates in many areas of the country continue to rise or have stubbornly plateaued, Trump has long been anxious to turn the page on state-imposed stay-at-home orders, seeking an economic rebound.
Cuomo has increasingly pivoted to recovery questions as infection rates in New York continue to fall, following an alarming ascent in March and early April. New York accounts for nearly a third of all virus-related deaths across the United States, as that total nears 100,000. But new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in New York all have been declining, and nearly all of the state — with the exception of densely populated New York City — has begun to reopen.
“We’re on the other side of the mountain,” Cuomo said.
The governor showed up for his morning meeting at the White House wearing a blue surgical mask. He donned the mask again as he made his way to his news conference, taking it off to speak. Trump has pointedly refused to wear a mask in public, and he has mocked those who do.
But Cuomo was careful not to antagonize the president, saying the two had a “good conversation” and that Trump was instinctively attracted to the idea of large infrastructure investments of the type Cuomo is advocating. Among the projects that Cuomo pitched were ones that Trump knows well from a lifetime in Manhattan real estate: a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River to supplement two aging ones and an expansion of the Second Avenue subway line.
“He’s a builder. He’s a developer. He gets it,” Cuomo said. “He believes in construction and development. It’s been his career. That’s why he talked about it in the campaign.”
Trump during the 2016 election campaign frequently decried the decrepit state of American airports, roads and bridges, comparing them unfavorably to the marvels he saw during his travels in Asia, the Middle East and beyond. As president, he has made several sputtering attempts to prioritize infrastructure spending; nearly all have been abandoned amid congressional opposition and rifts within his administration.
Trump’ s single major infrastructure project — one of the biggest in the nation’s history and a consistent campaign promise — is the barrier system he is building with billions of taxpayer dollars at the southern U.S. border.
Cuomo said the timing for major projects has never been more opportune. Millions of Americans need jobs, Cuomo said, and just as it did during the Great Depression, the government could provide work that offers both a paycheck for them and a payoff for the country.
“There needs to be large-scale infrastructure,” he said. “When is there going to be a better moment in history to do it?”
Cuomo said he told the president that projects could ramp up quickly — a notion likely to appeal to Trump, who faces reelection in just over five months. “If he gives us the green light, this is not going to be years of discussion,” Cuomo said. “I have a shovel in the trunk of my car. We’ll start this afternoon.”
Of course, it is not that easy, given the resistance from congressional Republicans. McConnell and his GOP allies have been suspicious of such spending plans, arguing that they would have an unsustainable impact on the deficit. Congress already has passed trillions of dollars worth of coronavirus-related relief this spring.
The Senate majority leader also has been critical of proposals to provide direct assistance to states that would allow them to continue to offer essential services even as their balance sheets deteriorate in the face of falling tax receipts. States nationwide have projected extraordinary budget shortfalls, as have cities and counties, as revenue dwindles during lengthy shutdowns.
McConnell said during a radio interview in April that state governments should be allowed to seek bankruptcy protection before they are offered bailouts. Cuomo called that “one of the really dumb ideas of all time.”
Cuomo on Wednesday also took aim at McConnell’s suggestion that helping the areas hit hardest by the virus would amount to a transfer of federal dollars to blue states that were on unstable fiscal ground before the outbreak.
The top net contributors to the federal budget, Cuomo pointed out, are states such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which also have been some of the most affected by the coronavirus.
“Stop abusing New York. Stop abusing New Jersey. Stop abusing Massachusetts and Illinois and Michigan and Pennsylvania,” Cuomo said. “Stop abusing the states who bore the brunt of the covid virus, through no fault of their own.”
States such as McConnell’s Kentucky, Cuomo said, are net recipients of federal aid. “The great irony is: The conservatives want to argue against redistribution of wealth. Why should you take money from the rich and give it to the poor?” he said. “That’s exactly what you are doing.”
Trump had no immediate comment on his meeting with Cuomo, leaving the White House soon afterward for a flight to Florida to witness the SpaceX launch, which was aborted because of adverse weather and rescheduled for Saturday.
During the flight, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Cuomo had said the president was “doing a fantastic job” with his coronavirus response.
The two men have periodically sparred during the crisis, with each accusing the other of failing to rise to the moment. But Cuomo and Trump also have worked together, meeting last month to discuss ways to increase testing. Cuomo said the two men had put politics aside during their discussion about the recovery on Wednesday, and that they planned to follow up with each other next week.