Trump claim he has authority to ‘open up’ activity in states disputed

President Donald Trump said on Monday it was his decision when to reopen the U.S. economy — not that of state governors.

“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. A decision by me, in conjunction with the governors and input from others, will be made shortly!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. president accused news media of incorrectly saying it was the governors’ decision. Some 40 states have issued stay-at-home orders of varying lengths.

While federal health officials have issued anti-coronavirus guidelines, including physical distancing and wearing face coverings, Washington has not issued nationwide recommendations on school closings or shuttering public services and businesses.

Legal experts say a U.S. president has quite limited power to order citizens back to their places of employment, or cities to reopen government buildings, transportation or local businesses.

Medical workers take in patients at a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center on Sunday in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The state overall saw 671 deaths on Sunday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, state governments have power to police citizens and regulate public welfare.

Trump’s contention was quickly panned on social media.

“President Trump is flat-out wrong,” said Michigan congressman Justin Amash. “The president has no authority to ” ‘close down’ or ‘open up’ the states. He’s the one creating conflict and confusion. Put down the authoritarianism and read the constitution.”

Richard Stengel, a former official in the Barack Obama administration, also weighed in. “The man is constitutionally illiterate. Such a deep ignorance of how federalism works. Separation of powers is just that, separation of powers. Trump does not have the authority to overrule governors.”

Sweeping stay-at-home restrictions to curb the spread of the disease, in place for weeks in many areas of the United States, have taken a painful toll on the economy. With businesses closed and curbs on travel, officials and lawmakers are debating when it might be safe to begin reopening some sectors.

On Sunday, a Trump administration official indicated May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions while cautioning that it was still too early to say whether that goal would be met.

Gradual process needed: CDC chief

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) refused to give a time frame in an interview Monday for the reopening of the U.S. economy and praised social-distancing measures that he said helped curb the mortality rate.

“There’s no doubt we have to reopen correctly,” Redfield told NBC’s Today. “It’s going to be a step-by-step gradual process. It’s got to be data-driven.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cautioned that the country was not prepared to end the shutdown.

“We all desire an end to the shutdown orders so we can get Americans back to work and back to normal,” Pelosi said in a statement. “However, there is still not enough testing available to realistically allow that to happen.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his daily briefing it’s a “delicate balance” in deciding when to ramp up business activity, and that ramping up testing is critical in reaching that goal.

“You can’t start one gear with another gear stopped,” he said.

The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country, nearly 22,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The largest number of fatalities is still in and around New York City. Experts say official statistics have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to the respiratory disease, having excluded coronavirus-related deaths at home.

Fauci agrees earlier mitigation would have helped

Trump on Sunday retweeted a call to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci after the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases said lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Republican president in the past has repeated critical tweets of officials or enemies rather than make the criticism himself. The retweet fuelled speculation Trump was running out of patience with the popular scientist and could fire him.

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Friday in Washington. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The White House on Monday did not comment on Trump’s retweet. It’s not clear if the president read the entire tweet from former congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine, whose call to fire Fauci was in a hashtag at the end.

Fauci has assumed national prominence as a leader in the fight against the coronavirus. He has contradicted or corrected Trump on scientific matters during the public health crisis, including whether the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is effective against the virus.

Fauci was asked on CNN’s State of the Union about a New York Times report documenting early warnings issued to the White House about the novel coronavirus. The scientist acknowledged shutting the country down sooner could have saved lives.

“I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different,” he said.

Fauci, who has been provided with enhanced security, according to U.S. media reports, has been a target of far-right social media users for his contradictions of Trump.

Last week, during the daily White House coronavirus briefing, Trump stepped in and prevented Fauci from answering a question about hydroxychloroquine.

Fauci, 79, has led the federal infectious disease agency since 1984 under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Navy reports 1st death

Meanwhile, a U.S. navy sailor died on Monday in Guam after contracting the coronavirus, marking the first death of a sailor in the navy. He was assigned to the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.

So far, about 585 sailors aboard the nuclear-powered carrier have tested positive for the coronavirus. About 4,000 sailors have been moved from the carrier to facilities in Guam, where the ship has been docked after the number of cases started increasing.

Late last month, the captain of the aircraft carrier, Brett Crozier, called on the navy’s leadership in a blunt letter for stronger measures to save the lives of his sailors and stop the spread of the coronavirus aboard the huge ship.

That letter, which was obtained by a number of news outlets, set in motion a series of events that led to Crozier’s firing and the resignation last week of acting navy secretary Thomas Modly.