On Monday, President Trump held a press conference during which he claimed that the President, not state governors, has the ultimate authority when it comes to loosening restrictions on states as the coronavirus pandemic gradually slows, an assertion disputed by legal experts.
“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. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect,” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
“It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue,” Trump continued. “A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”
President Trump chose not to cite any particular legal authority if such an authorization exists.
Constitutional experts have said that, while Trump can issue federal regulations to prevent the spread of diseases, he can’t reverse a public health restriction put in place at the state or local level.
Pressed on his assertion at a briefing later Monday, Trump claimed that “numerous provisions” of the Constitution give him such authority, but he did not name them. He also described his influence as commander in chief as “total.”
“The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful,” Trump said. “The president of the United States calls the shots.”
VP Pence described the President’s authority during a national emergency as “unquestionably plenary.”
States across the country have implemented strict measures like shelter-in-place orders and closures of non-essential businesses as a way of preventing the spread of COVID-19, which had sickened over half a million people in the United States as of Monday.
The pandemic has sparked business closures and massive layoffs, with unemployment claims nearing a total of 17 million in just three weeks.
Eager to lessen the economic damage caused by the mass closures, Trump is currently considering whether and when to loosen the federal guidelines in areas of the country that haven’t seen a significant spread of the virus.
“Everything has to be safe,” Trump told reporters Monday. “We want safe.”
Trump, on Monday, dismissed the idea that states would decide not to ease restrictions when the federal government says they should be lifted.
“I think everybody wants to open,” the President said.