The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion If Andrew Cuomo doesn’t resign, he should be removed from office

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) attends a meeting with President Biden and a bipartisan group of mayors and governors in the Oval Office on Friday. (Evan Vucci/AP)
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Democrats have rightly been demanding that former president Donald Trump be held accountable for the words and deeds that led to the death of five people in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. There’s another politician who ought to be held accountable for the deaths of far more Americans: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, a Democrat, did not incite an insurrection, but his decision to send hospitalized covid-positive seniors back to their nursing homes and assisted-living facilities likely led to the deaths of thousands of people. More than 9,000 people who had tested positive for the coronavirus were sent back to these facilities under Cuomo’s orders. Given what was known even in the early days of the pandemic about covid-19’s transmissibility and the lethal threat it posed to the aged, this was a horrific decision. The state has said that more than 8,600 people died from the virus in nursing homes, many surely infected because of Cuomo’s order. New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a report last month that the true total is thousands higher. That alone should be grounds for his removal from office.

But it gets worse. The New York Post reported on Thursday that a top aide for the governor, Melissa DeRosa, said while speaking to a group of New York Democratic lawmakers that the Cuomo administration rebuffed earlier requests from the Justice Department and state legislature for updated figures for deaths in nursing homes because of fear of a potential federal investigation. If true, the Cuomo administration authorized a coverup of his activities to avoid potential political, and even legal, exposure.

DeRosa offered an apology in her talk with the lawmakers for exposing them to political attacks from Republicans. “So we do apologize,” she told her fellow Democrats. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.” The families of the thousands of people who died as a result of Cuomo’s inhumane order are still waiting for their apology.

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On Friday, DeRosa attempted to clarify her remarks to the New York Times, saying that she was trying to explain to lawmakers that “we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first.” She added that the administration was “comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the D.O.J., and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout.”

Nevertheless, the revelation has sparked justifiable outrage from across the political spectrum, but since Democrats hold all the levers of power in New York, their decisions will be decisive. They can let this matter rest where it is, where everyone can virtue signal on Twitter but no one is held accountable. Or they can show that they mean what they preach about accountability and go after one of their own.

At the very least, the state legislature should strip Cuomo of all emergency powers with respect to addressing the coronavirus, but that surely does not go far enough. It also justifies a thorough investigation by the legislature, and perhaps a criminal investigation by the state attorney general’s office.

In any case, so long as Cuomo is governor, he retains the ability to exert normal executive authority over how state government addresses the pandemic. Cuomo will not face Democratic primary voters until September 2022. Has he earned the right to govern New York’s response during the nearly two years until he can face the voters’ wrath?

A decent man would accept full responsibility for his poor decisions and resign. Democrats who want to be serious in their condemnations should shift from expressing their outrage to calling for him to do that. Perhaps even a man known to be as acutely ambitious as Cuomo would get the hint and step aside if he were to face a nearly unanimous blast from his peers.

Failing that, there’s always the ultimate remedy: impeachment. The New York state Constitution establishes how officers, including the governor, can be impeached and removed from office. Unlike the federal constitution, impeachment does not require finding a person has committed “high crimes or misdemeanors.” The last governor to be impeached, William Sulzer, was removed in 1913 for statements and acts he allegedly made more than 20 years before he was elected (the real cause was a political dispute between Sulzer and other Democrats loyal to the notorious political machine Tammany Hall). If a governor can be removed on trumped-up charges levied for political reasons, surely Cuomo can be impeached for his deadly decisions and potential political prevarications.

Senate Republicans are facing their day of reckoning in regard to Trump’s impeachment. New York Democrats should put their money where their mouth is and force Cuomo from office by whatever means necessary.

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