Yesterday, President Trump released federal guidelines regarding the reopening of the economy. Trump did not suggest a date by which the economy of the U.S. or of any state should be reopened. The guidelines call on state and local officials to make these decisions.
Trump was wise to say these decisions should be made locally. First, he lacks the power to make them. ( The Washington Post says that Trump’s “plan effectively reverses [his] claim that he had ‘total authority’ to declare the nation reopened.” But Trump hasn’t agreed that he lacks this power. He’s merely declining to attempt to exercise it.)
Second, in theory state and local officials are better able than the feds to decide when and how to reopen things in their jurisdiction. I say “in theory,” because some state and local officials, despite their closeness to the situation, have made highly questionable decisions.
However, Trump deals with governors on something like a daily basis. He has said that the vast majority of governors, whether Democrat or Republican, are doing a good job. If Trump is sincere, and he probably is, then it makes sense for him to defer to governors.
Finally, Trump’s deference makes political sense. If things go horribly wrong in a state, whether in terms of public health or the economy, its governor will have to take the blame. Trump can always say the governor made the wrong call.
After insisting that governors should be making these calls, and accusing Trump of playing “king” for denying their power to make them, the president’s critics are now accusing him of passing the buck. The Post asserts that “Trump’s the-buck-stops-with-the-states posture is largely designed to shield himself from blame should there be new outbreaks or for other problems. . .”
From the man who would be king to buck passer in chief in less than 24 hours. One can only be impressed by the mainstream media’s ability to shift its anti-Trump narrative on a dime.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo has matched Trump’s media critics in this regard. He says Trump is “passing the buck without passing the bucks.” “Don’t ask the states to do this without the funding,” Cuomo moaned.
Cuomo, though, led the charge to brand Trump a king for claiming the power to make reopening decisions for states. Is Cuomo now saying that, absent the funding he desires, he doesn’t want to make such decisions?
Trump’s power (or lack thereof) to make reopening decisions isn’t contingent on federal funding decisions. If Cuomo doesn’t get the funding he wants, it’s still his call on when to reopen. If things go badly, he can blame the feds for not giving New York money. Voters can decide whether he made the right call under the circumstances.
As for Trump, I think he made the right call by deferring to state and local officials. As for his guidelines, they seem sensible, but I haven’t analyzed them carefully.