MR. COSTA: Good afternoon. I'm Bob Costa, national political reporter with The Washington Post. Thanks to everyone for tuning in. I'm pleased this afternoon to be speaking with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican. He was elected in 2018. Governor, thanks so much for being with us during these difficult times.

MR. DEWINE: No problem. Thank you.

MR. COSTA: Let's start with the news, Governor. You're there in Ohio, but in Washington, President Trump tweeted that it is, quote, "the decision of the President to reopen states," calling it incorrect to say otherwise. Do you agree?

MR. DEWINE: Well, it's interesting. I just got off a call with the Vice President. The Vice President does these calls, two, three times a week with different governors. I think most of the governors were on. And, you know, we share ideas, we share information. So, this has really been--it's not an either/or question, I don't think. You know, it's a sharing of information.

Ohio, like every other state, is unique. We are different. And I think that the plan that we will put forward, I think the people of the state will think is a good plan. I think the White House and the President and Vice President will think is a good plan, too.

You know, below the surface, there is a lot more sharing of information and ideas between the governors and the White House that I think sometimes gets reported. And I understand that. You know, the calls are not public, but sometimes those calls go on for two, two and a half hours. And so really a great exchange of ideas and information and, you know, what different needs are and what different problems. And I always get a lot out of it just because hearing what other governors are doing, as well, and that's always helpful, too.

MR. COSTA: But what about the constitutional aspect here? What is a state's right to decide its own fate and its own reopening, constitutionally, in your view?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I'm not going to play lawyer today. You know, I think historically that people have looked to the states and they've looked to the governors to be the ones who made decisions in regard to health issues, floods, you know, how you react to all kinds of crises. This one is certainly different because it's not only a national crisis but it's an international crisis, it's a worldwide crisis. So, you know, obviously you're going to have the President's involvement and the White House and Congress' involvement. The bill that they pass, for example, is going to be very, very helpful. The bills that they pass will be absolutely essential for us to come back.

I know, you know, we're asking the Congress to do one more bill, which will allow some money directly to the states, because we're going to be really hit very--or we are already seeing it. You know, two things happen when you're in a crisis like this and the economy goes down, and one is the social costs go up and that's your costs go up and of course your income at the state level and the local level goes dramatically down. So, anyway, it's a relationship with the federal government that I think is a lot closer than sometimes appears on the news.

MR. COSTA: What about the timeline in Ohio? You've been a little vague about exactly when you want to try to move to reopen. Could we see phases of Ohio reopened on May 1st?

MR. DEWINE: I don't know that it's going to be geographical phases. And we don't really know what date. I mean, we are tracking this of course every day. We issued our orders very early.

We had the Arnold Classic, which was probably the first thing that was shut down nationwide. We shut it down here in Ohio because it didn't make sense to have 60,000 people coming in from 80 countries and in close proximity to each other for four days. So, we made that decision early.

And we made our other decisions early as well, which I think has really helped. If you looked at the data we're looking at every single day, it would appear that the curve has kind of flattened out. We may have plateaued out. We don't know clearly yet. So, we don't know how long it is going to be until we, you know, are really dropping down. So, when we are able to start back is going to certainly depend a lot on the data that we're seeing every single day.

I mean, we had two objectives. One is to save lives. The other objective, related to that, is not to overwhelm our healthcare system. And it looks like certainly that we've achieved some of the saving of lives and it looks like we're not going to overwhelm our healthcare system. But again, we don't know until we see how this thing plays out.

But I think, you know, we are now doing what other governors I know are doing, and that is putting together a plan of how we come back. But I think it's not going to be coming back like some people think. And part of my job, I think, is to explain to the people of Ohio that we're really not going to be all the way back--I said this today at our press conference--we're not going to be all the way back until we have a vaccine that is available to everyone in the state, and we know that's going to be, we're told at least, it's going to be 12 to 18 months. So we're going to, during this period of time, still have this monster out there that is looming, and it's particularly dangerous to people with medical conditions, people over 60, over 65, 70, and people are going to have to be exceedingly careful. And some people are going to have to be more careful, frankly, than other people are.

MR. COSTA: If you wait for a vaccine, though, Governor, does that mean no sports in Ohio in 2020?

MR. DEWINE: No, not necessarily at all. All I'm saying is that we're not waiting to start back. We're going to start back. But I think there's some basic facts that we all have to recognize as we figure out how to do that. And just because, you know, we issue an order that says we roll back the previous order and you can have baseball for example, doesn't mean that it's a wise decision for everybody necessarily to go see baseball as much as--I picked a sport that I love--but as much as I hate to say that, that's going to be true. So people are going to be different because of their medical condition or their age.

The other thing that we have not talked about here but I know is on the minds of governors, and certainly on my mind, is testing, how extensive can we have testing, how extensive are we going to be able to do tracing, and do that maybe more--in a more sophisticated way. So, those are things that private employers are looking at. I talked to a person who has a large retail business today, a nationwide company, and these were the things that he was talking to me about that they're already looking at. Irrespective of what the state does, they're looking at these things: how are they going to protect their workers, how are they going to protect their customers, how are they going to assure their customers that when they enter their store, you know, they're going to be in a safe situation.

MR. COSTA: Is it Ohio alone? You saw the news a few hours ago. The governors in the Northeast have formed a taskforce to try to figure out decisions in a collective way. Do you envision Ohio making decisions about Ohio, and Ohio only, or could you see a Midwestern collection of governors in a taskforce in the coming days?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I don't know if it's going to be a formal task force or not, but I can tell you that I talk to the governors that surround Ohio quite frequently. I was on the phone, I guess it was Saturday night, or Friday night with the governors of Kentucky and Indiana. I talked to the Michigan governor quite a bit, and so West Virginia. So, we certainly share ideas, and we collaborate in that sense because our states are generally in pretty much the same shape. Michigan certainly has been harder hit with--in Detroit, but we're all kind of going through it in real time at about the same time period. So that consultation and sharing of ideas is going to continue and is very important.

MR. COSTA: Your health director, Amy Acton, she's been at your side since day one, was part of your decision to have an early response to the coronavirus pandemic. You've seen the retweet by President Trump. You've seen the news conferences. Dr. Fauci has been there. There's now this chatter among some of the President's allies, fire Fauci. Would you advise the President against considering that idea?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I don't give the President advice?

MR. COSTA: Why not? You're a governor in a major state.

MR. DEWINE: Look, I think the doctor's done a good job, and I think he has a relationship with the American people. You know, Dr. Acton in Ohio has established really a relationship with the people of the state. And when I picked her, you know, she was the last member of my cabinet to pick, and I was going to be very, very careful of who I picked for that position. I wanted someone who had a background in public health, who was a medical doctor, but I also wanted someone with a passion to do it and someone who had an ability really to communicate with the people. And I made that decision having absolutely no idea that we were going to be dealing with this horrible coronavirus.

But that is important, the ability to communicate and talk to people. And I kind of jokingly tell people that, you know, I figured since Dr. Acton could explain it to me, if she could explain it to me, then she will have no trouble explaining it to the people of the state. So, but she has been by my side, and I've relied on her and other medical advice, you know, as we've gone through this. As we look to come out, we've put together a business group also to go along with our medical advice to help us as we move forward.

MR. COSTA: You've been getting a lot of comments from readers of The Washington Post, and some of them are in Ohio. We have a national audience. And a few of them, such as Judy Irrestosa [phonetic] from Washington, in another area of Ohio, different people from Ohio have been talking about the unemployment crisis in your state. And they say it's been a nightmare for some people. What's being done to fix the unemployment system during this pandemic?

MR. DEWINE: Well, we've had the same problem I think other states have had. You know, we now have I think close to a thousand people who are answering these phones, and most of the people, you know, who have applied have been granted that, and we're in the process of getting the checks out to them. So, it's been difficult for some people. I apologize for that. I'm very sorry for that. This was just a massive wave that hit the state. The whole tech system was never built for this kind of a wave, and we certainly did not have the people. But we've ramped up, and we're working our way through it. But I certainly understand people's concerns. And let me just say, talking about--

MR. COSTA: Would you like to see more direct payments to Ohioans from the federal government in the next round of the stimulus?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I think the one thing that the governors have come together on is, you know, money coming back to us and local government that is not earmarked I think would be very, very helpful. Because I'm looking at our revenues, projected revenues. I've asked all the members of my cabinet to look at a 20 percent cut. And so, you know, we face a big question in regard to our schools, our K-12, as well as our other mental health and all the other things that we value very, very much, being able to provide these services. So that's, you know, a big concern that we have.

MR. COSTA: But what about those direct payments? You want money to shore up the state's budget. But direct payments from the federal government, this idea of universal basic income has come to the forefront of national politics. Would you like to see more direct payments to Ohioans or not?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I hadn't really about whether more. I mean, look, everybody would always like more. I mean, the federal government has the ability to print money. We don't have the ability to print money in Ohio. But, you know, there's always a price to be paid for that. I think we should see how this works with the bills that Congress has passed. They're pumping a lot of money or will be pumping money back into Ohio, into the hands of Ohio taxpayers and Ohio citizens. And so, we're very grateful for that.

You know, our two senators in our congressional delegation have done a very, very good job, Rob Portman, Sherrod Brown and the members of the House of Representatives, both Democrat and Republican. So, we work with them very closely just like we work with our local mayors. So that collaboration is important. We appreciate what they've done.

MR. COSTA: We got another note from Becky Watts [phonetic], who lives in your state. And she said--and this is an issue we heard a lot about ahead of this interview: prisons. Will you release more people from prisons to slow the spread of the virus?

MR. DEWINE: Well, we are releasing people and we are going to continue to look and see who we frankly feel safe in releasing. You know, these are not easy calls. They're not easy calls because, you know, we don't want to really turn back the sex offenders and murderers and others. But there are other people there.

For example, we just made a decision to--there's an Ohio law provision which says that the director of prisons, if there is overcrowding, can release people within 120 days of their sentence ending. In other words, people who would have gotten out anyway within the next 120 days. We came with a whole group that we have recommended to be released. The legislative committee will look at that tomorrow, and I expect that, you know, they will be released. But we are continuing to look at that. We're doing very significant testing in the prisons that have COVID-19, Marion Prison and our Circleville Prison. So, we are very, very focused on it.

And, you know, if you ask me of the things we worry about, at this stage of this epidemic, it's any kind of congregation. Our nursing homes, we have put together a strike force to work with our nursing homes. But we're very concerned about them. We're concerned about our prisons. And any time that we've got people, a lot of people--a lot of people together where distancing is difficult, we have to worry about and should.

MR. COSTA: Ohio's upcoming primary, thanks to your decision, is going to be mail-in vote only. Do you support national vote by mail this November?

MR. DEWINE: I think it's much too early to make a determination if that's going to be necessary or not necessary. I mean, in Ohio we have I think 28 days of voting prior to any election. People have the right to vote absentee. They don't have to give a reason. They just ask to vote absentee, and they can do that. They can also go into the Board of Elections for the four weeks leading up to that. So, we have a long experience in Ohio with absentee, very liberal, very open absentee balloting. So, we're not afraid of it. In fact, the election that we have going on right now is absentee balloting. But I think it's much too early to make a determination if that's what we want to do, you know, nationwide, or even in Ohio.

MR. COSTA: But you said there may not be a vaccine for a year, so this is not going to end any time soon, likely before November. So why not get behind national mail-in voting? What's your hesitancy to embrace it?

MR. DEWINE: Well, what I said was, again, Ohio has--we have four weeks of absentee.

MR. COSTA: Right, with absentee.

MR. DEWINE: We have four weeks of absentee. We have--people can--anybody in the state of Ohio today--not today, but when we get close to the November election--

has the right with no qualifications. Anybody can get an absentee ballot. So, I would certainly expect in Ohio that we will have robust, at a minimum robust absentee ballot to participation as we look into the November election. What other states do, you know I think is up to them. But I can tell you, in Ohio absentee ballot works, and it works well. And, you know, we still allow people to obviously go vote in person. Whether that's going to be possible this November, I don't think anybody really knows at this point. It's much too early to tell.

MR. COSTA: Do you share President Trump's view that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud and corruption?

MR. DEWINE: The only thing I can tell you is we have not had a problem in Ohio. We've done it for a long time. It's very established. My lieutenant governor, who used to be the last secretary of state--in Ohio law, the secretary of state runs it--you know, he did not have problems for eight years. Frank LaRose, who's there now, does not have problems with it. So, look, I think in Ohio we have ample evidence that for us at least it works very well. We know what we're doing. We know how to run the elections.

MR. COSTA: What about the economic pressure in your state? You said you talked to a business leader today. How much is that weighing on you, the unemployment, businesses collapsing? You say you're listening to your health officials all the time. You were one of the governors who took early, early action. But how much is the business pressure becoming part of your daily life in a way it wasn't maybe a few weeks ago?

MR. DEWINE: I don't know that I would call it pressure. I mean, you know, if you look at--it's not--everybody wants to get back to normal. Everybody wants to get back to work. Everybody wants to be able to do what they want to do. So that's not unique to the business community at all.

I think one of the things that we have to always weigh is when we start back, we know that we have to do it rationally, we have to do it in a logical way. But we also know that it's not without risk. I mean, there's going to be some risk to individuals. So, we have an obligation to inform individuals of what that risk is. I think they certainly are understanding the gravity of this.

But we also have a concern if you don't start back and you literally allow the economy to totally collapse, which means that you're not going to be able to do early childhood education, for example, that we have really pushed in Ohio since I became governor, what we call wraparound services in schools where you have children that are given mental health assistance that we really did not have much of before I became governor. These are all good things. And if you don't have an economy to support it, you're not going to be able to do those. So this is the balancing that has to take place. So, it's not just the business community that says, hey, we got to get back. It's people who are concerned about the fabric of society. It's people who understand that when you have high unemployment for a long period of time and there's not hope, that many times you will see other social problems emerge. And those are things we have to worry about as well.

MR. COSTA: Final question, Governor. Really appreciate your time. I know you're busy. There is a big issue here in Washington. Speaker Pelosi wants 250 billion on top of the 250 billion wanted by Senate Republicans for small business expansion of that loan program that was part of phase three legislation. Where do you come down on how urgent it is to get a deal done in Washington? What specifically would you like to see in that agreement if it does come to be this week in Washington?

MR. DEWINE: Well, look, I've not looked at everything that's in those respective bills. What I mentioned earlier on is important. It's important that local government have the money that they can actually run local government. It's important that the state be able to supply money for education. I mean, if you ask me what I'm worried about at the state level, I'm worried about that we're not going to have enough money to provide K-12, our local schools, 630-some schools district in the state of Ohio with money. So, you know, I'm concerned about that. And so the federal government being able to help in that area would certainly be very, very, very helpful and very important to us.

MR. COSTA: That's all the time we have. Governor DeWine, thank you so much for joining us. We hope you can come back again at some point. Thank you.

MR. DEWINE: Thank you very much.

MR. COSTA: And thank you for joining us, Washington Post Live’s Leadership During Crisis Series on the Coronavirus will continue this Thursday, this week at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. Our guest will be U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO and founder of the nonprofit USAFacts. Register at washingtonpost.com/postlive.

Thank you all for joining us. Stay safe.

[End recorded session]