Gone is the combative and antagonistic approach that previously defined his relationship with Trump, replaced by one marked by cooperation.
“He’s being very creative and very energetic, and I thank him for his partnership,” Cuomo said last week after Trump agreed to send a military hospital ship with about 1,000 beds to New York Harbor, although it later turned out the vessel would not arrive for a few weeks.
On Sunday, the governor thanked the Food and Drug Administration for shipping trial malaria drugs to New York — medicines that have become contentious among U.S. government officials because they are untested for the novel coronavirus. He couched a request for the president to secure more medical supplies with an implicit attaboy to Trump’s “style” and pleaded for him to use the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to push manufacturers to make needed medical supplies, instead of criticizing him for not using it, as many Democrats have done.
“The president can do this. Frankly it’s the president’s style to say, cut to the chase, this has to be done, and I am mandating it, and he should do that here,” Cuomo said Sunday.
The moves are a calculated bet from Cuomo that Trump — who cares deeply about his news coverage and his public image — will be more likely to assist his longtime home of New York if he receives praise and opportunities to secure positive coverage for his actions.
The governor, known by longtime observers as someone who is obsessively controlling and who often clashes with enemies and friends alike, has long lived by a slogan described by a former chief of staff: “We get along at two speeds here: Get along and kill.” For now, he is trying to get along. And it seems to be working.
“The relationship has really been amazing,” Trump said Sunday, repeatedly praising Cuomo and referencing how many times the two men have spoken.
People close to the governor said Cuomo is willing to praise Trump as long as he is getting attention from the federal government. So far, Cuomo advisers say their calls have been returned immediately.
“Unlike the mayor, the governor has guarded his rhetoric around the president — knowing that the only hope coming out of this is federal assistance,” said Kathryn Wylde, who runs the influential Partnership for New York City, a business group that calls the city’s major CEOs its members. “It’s necessary. It’s called the survival instinct. There is no way for New York or any place else to come out of this without enormous federal intervention.”
In some ways, the two men have intertwined political fortunes with the pandemic likely to be the defining moment of their political careers. New York has been hardest hit by the virus of any state so far. Of the more than 40,000 cases across the country, over 20,000 are in New York, the governor announced Monday, clustered largely in New York City. Hospitals are already out of supplies in many quarters. Economic losses from most of the state’s businesses closing down are likely to have a disproportionate impact on the country’s unemployment numbers. Officials say that they expect a bigger surge of cases in upcoming days as New York tests more than 16,000 people a day.
“I think that the scenes out of New York are going to be shocking. I think that the hospitals in the next two weeks are going to be at the brink of being overwhelmed,” Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner who is advising the administration, told CBS News.
Other Democratic governors and local leaders have taken a different tack toward the president’s response, which has been widely decried as too slow, particularly in the beginning.
In Illinois, for example, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said the president is “throwing tantrums” and should “get off Twitter and do your job,” while lambasting the administration for a lack of tests. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a frequent sparring partner of Trump, has eviscerated the president repeatedly. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday that “it would be nice to have a national strategy.”
“The president of the United States is from New York City, and he will not lift a finger to help his hometown,” de Blasio said last week, referring to Trump as the “Herbert Hoover of his generation.”
Trump has attacked Pritzker, called Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) a “snake” and said he simply does not want to deal with de Blasio, the mayor of the country’s largest city. None of the men is in close contact with Trump, although de Blasio said Sunday night that he spoke with the president and vice president that day.
Cuomo, who is from Queens like the president, has instead called him repeatedly, discussing specific problem areas in New York with Trump and even engaging in small talk with the president, who often goes on discursive soliloquies about the day’s news, according to people familiar with their calls who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations.
Because of the calls, Cuomo’s office said, they have secured the ship to be placed in New York Harbor, which would treat patients with health problems other than the coronavirus to free up beds in hospitals during the outbreak. State officials also said they receive calls back almost immediately from a range of agencies.
Additionally, Trump on Sunday said he would approve the construction of four emergency hospital sites in and around New York City. The four temporary sites would have 250 beds each to start, and Trump also said he has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ship mobile hospital centers to New York, as well as California and the state of Washington.
“This week, he saw there was real good to be done for his constituents if he or she were the first to spot the opening with Donald Trump,” said Stu Loeser, a prominent New York strategist and longtime press secretary to former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg. “There are 50 governors and 20 or 25 major mayors, and it’s no surprise that Andrew M. Cuomo struck first. It’s why he has long been successful in public life.”
A White House official said the vice president has spoken to Cuomo five times, along with calls with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. A New York state official said that Cuomo and the government are working under the assumption they will not get much help from the federal government, but that criticizing Trump could jeopardize any help they could receive. “The president hasn’t said no to us yet,” the official said.
Trump is closely watching the numbers across the country and has paid particular attention to New York. He has applauded Cuomo internally for not going along with a push from some Democrats — including de Blasio — to force the entire city to shelter in place.
Trump has told advisers that he appreciates Cuomo’s praise on TV, giving him the bipartisan kudos he loves, and that they should pay special attention to New York, White House officials said.
“[Joe] Biden has a Democratic problem. The Democratic governors of the two largest states have been collaborating with the White House and have been complimentary of the president’s decisive actions and responsiveness to their very enormous needs,” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, referring to Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
People close to Cuomo say he is not happy with all aspects of the federal response. For example, the state had to spend months setting up its own testing system without help from the federal government, pushing state labs to create a test after significant cajoling of the federal government, which was slow to grant approval.
There has been little given to New York, particularly much-needed ventilators, and hospitals across the state say nurses and doctors are going without protective gear they desperately need. Cuomo has called for the federal government to streamline bidding on protective gear like masks, saying the state is paying seven times more than it would otherwise because so many states are bidding on the products.
Trump said on Sunday that New York has received 186,416 N95 masks, 444,078 surgical masks 84,560 faceshields, 68,944 surgical gowns and 245,486 gloves.
And while Cuomo has avoided directly criticizing the Trump administration, he has consistently and publicly pushed for more to be done and more quickly.
Despite the current bonhomie, Cuomo and Trump could begin fighting any minute over the approach, people close to both men said, because of their previously topsy-turvy relationship while Trump has been in office.
At times, they have dined together, with the president even calling Cuomo “my governor.” But they have repeatedly clashed on policy issues — with Trump complaining that New York officials are seeking his tax returns and investigating him and his business while attacking his policies, such as on immigration and health care.
Along with Trump, Cuomo’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has won plaudits from other unexpected quarters, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, the city’s business community, liberal activists who usually clash with him and even some Republicans.
In a survey commissioned of 150 business leaders by the Partnership for New York City, 97 percent said they had confidence the state could effectively manage the pandemic, compared to 61 percent confidence for the federal government.
Cuomo’s daily news conferences have received praise from unlikely quarters, including former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, a potential Republican presidential nominee in 2024. He has toned down his usual invective against the press corps and has turned almost philosophical at times, sounding like his father, Mario, who also served as governor of New York and was known for his eloquence, urging people to love one another and complaining that he is tired of living alone with his dog.
“I’m getting calls from all over the country that Andrew has come off very impressive,” Sharpton said. Of being nice to Trump, he added: “Cuomo is doing what he thinks is best for the state.”