Rep. Liz Cheney appeared to publicly split with President Donald Trump on his contention that he has the authority to unilaterally open the economy over the wishes of state governors and their health officers, who have taken most of the aggressive measures to limit public gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Trump’s plan — which was announced in a tweet Monday morning and alluded to in an afternoon news conference at the White House — proposed a pathway to lift a number of stay-at-home orders and business closures implemented by state leaders. The president, in disagreement with most legal scholars, asserted the decision was within his full authority to make.
The plan would be enacted by early May.
“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government,” the president wrote. “Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect.”
“It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons,” he added. “With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”
During the Monday afternoon press conference, reporters asked Trump how he would force governors to act if they didn’t want to reopen their states.
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump answered.
The one problem with that, Cheney pointed out in a tweet shortly after the press conference ended, was that the president doesn’t have ultimate authority.
“The federal government does not have absolute power,” Cheney wrote.
She then cited the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government — or prohibited from state control — are reserved for the states.
Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has publicly split with the president on several occasions over a premature reopening of businesses, which numerous public health officials have advised against and legislative experts have told the Star-Tribune can only be initiated — and ended — by governors themselves.
In March, Cheney actively pushed back against the president’s early plans to lift restrictions on business, saying there “would be no economy left” if the nation’s hospitals became overrun with patients suffering from the virus, which has no vaccine and has thus far been more lethal than viruses like influenza. To date, the virus has infected at least 600,000 people nationwide while killing nearly 26,000.
The sentiment behind the president wanting to reopen businesses is not an insular one, however. In Wyoming, several state legislators have urged Gov. Mark Gordon to consider picking a date to lift gathering restrictions in spite of the advice of medical officials, while in Casper a handful of citizens protested in a park with signs urging the end of the state’s orders.
Trump’s statements quickly attracted the ire of liberals as well as some in the conservative establishment, who saw the president’s comments as antithetical not only to a long-standing tradition of federalism and state’s rights, but of conservative values as well.
While New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo evoked Alexander Hamilton on Twitter, conservative outlets like the National Review published articles contradicting the president’s assessment, with editor Rich Lowry describing Trump’s statement as “one of the most flagrant misrepresentations of our system ever made by a president of the United States in public.”
Cheney, speaking to members of Wyoming’s business community on Tuesday, took a more subtle approach when asked about the administration’s plans to reopen the economy. She emphasized that any effort to lift social distancing measures would need to come from state and local leaders themselves.
“I don’t think it’s going to be one day,” she said. “I think you will see different parts of the country addressing this in ways that make sense for them. I think it’s one of the reasons why Gov. Gordon, for example, has not issued the types of stay-at-home orders you’ve seen in California and New York.”
“That’s why our system is set up the way it is,” she added. “Aside from the really important constitutional issues, it is really important to recognize different parts of the country are going to be able to address this in different ways.”
The advice appeared to be received: in a press conference Tuesday night, Trump abruptly reversed course, saying he would not pressure governors and that the country will be reopened in “beautiful little pieces.”
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