“I will base my decision as governor of the state of Texas on what physicians say,” Abbott said. “If the goal is to get the economy going, the best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get covid-19 behind us.”
President Trump has leaned hard into the idea of reopening the economy in recent days, but as has been noted, he only has so much power to do so. It’s the governors who issue stay-at-home orders and decide what opens and what doesn’t in their states.
Few of them are echoing Trump right now, which suggests that even if Trump decides he wants to reopen things — on Tuesday, he set a target date of Easter, April 12 — he won’t be able to do it in any large measure.
Another Republican governor, Maryland’s Larry Hogan, had some choice words for Trump’s idea on Tuesday, referring to an “imaginary clock.”
“We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock,” Hogan said on CNN. “Most people think that we’re weeks away from the peak, if not months.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), whose state matches the description of less-affected areas that Trump has suggested could see reopenings in relatively short order, also indicated that she’s looking at a longer time frame.
“This situation is not going to be over in a week,” said Noem, whose state has just over two dozen cases. “… We have another eight weeks until we see our peak infection rate.”
She added, “Any changes we make for how we conduct our daily lives have to be sustained.”
Democrats had even more choice words for Trump’s proposal, with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker saying Trump was “not taking into account the true damage that this will do to our country if we see truly millions of people die.” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Trump’s “off-the-cuff statements are really going to undermine our ability to protect people.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he and Trump are “clearly operating under a different set of assumptions.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said: “If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life. Job one has to be save lives. That has to be the priority.”
But plenty of Republicans also made their differences rather clear.
“The truth is that protecting people and protecting the economy is not mutually exclusive,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R). “In fact, one depends upon the other. The fact is we save our economy by first saving lives, and we have to do it in that order.”
DeWine added, “When people are dying, when people don’t feel safe, this economy is not coming back.”
DeWine, though, maintained that he was generally “aligned” with Trump on coronavirus, and he wasn’t the only one declining to completely distance himself from the president. Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she felt she understood Trump’s inclination.
“I am not interested in unnecessarily closing down businesses and taking jobs if we don’t need to do that,” said Brown, who issued tough restrictions on Monday. “The goal of my executive order was to balance those competing demands. … While I don’t agree with what the president said and how he said it, I think that’s what he was trying to say.”
Brown added: “When I was on the phone with him earlier this week, he clearly said that these difficult decisions are in the hands of governors. So I would expect that it to stay that way.”
That’s the key takeaway. However much Trump wants to reopen the country, he’ll need governors to cooperate with that. The governors listed above represent five of the seven biggest states and more than 40 percent of the U.S. population, and they’re just the ones who have weighed in so far. Most of the other biggest states are also run by Democrats, who wouldn’t be as inclined to align themselves with Trump on a controversial proposal.
As president, Trump can change the federal guidance, but it’s just that: guidance. Experts say he doesn’t have many legal tools to override the precautions taken by state and local officials.
These governors also have to deal with problems on a more micro level and are more directly held responsible for what happens in their states. Any of them who would begin opening things up would put themselves in line for whatever criticism might follow from the fallout, and it would be much easier to readily quantify the effects of those decisions in their states — particularly if they can be compared with other states that took tougher stances.
If Trump truly wants to set the ball in motion on this, he’s got about 50 people he should be talking to about it. Right now, they seem pretty skeptical.