Coronavirus Updates: Trump Insists He Has ‘Total’ Authority to Supersede Governors

The Four Percent


Hours after two groups of governors announced that they were forming regional working groups to help plan when it would be safe to ease restrictions and reopen their economies, President Trump asserted in a White House news briefing that the authority to make such decisions rested with him.

“The president of the United States calls the shots,” Mr. Trump said. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

The announcements by the governors, who formed groups on both coasts, came hours after the president wrote on Twitter that such a decision lies with the president, not the states, and before he made the point more forcefully to reporters in Washington.

Asked what provisions of the Constitution gave him the power to override the states if they wanted to remain closed, he said, “Numerous provisions,” without naming any.

His daylong assertions of power appeared to have little effect on the governors.

“Well, seeing as we had the responsibility for closing the state down,” Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said, “I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up.”

Mr. Wolf and the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island agreed to create a committee of public health officials, economic development officials and their chiefs of staff.

On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington also announced Monday a joint approach to reopening economies that they called a Western States Pact. “Our states will only be effective by working together,” they said in a joint statement.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said he had been in discussions with the other governors to coordinate efforts on the West Coast. He said that on Tuesday he would outline the “California-based thinking” on reopening and promised it would be guided by “facts,” “evidence” and “science.”

The potential power struggle threatens widespread confusion if the president and governors end up at loggerheads over how and when to begin resuming some semblance of normal life in the country once the risk of the virus begins to fade sufficiently. Conflicting orders by Washington and state capitals would leave businesses and workers in the untenable position of trying to decide which level of government to listen to when it comes to reopening doors and returning to their jobs.

Several of the governors who spoke on Monday made it clear that they did not intend to let businesses in their states reopen until experts and data suggested it would be safe to do so. They noted that their fates were bound by geography. “The reality is this virus doesn’t care about state borders, and our response shouldn’t either,” Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island said.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said he was working closely with the White House on his plan to reopen the state’s businesses. He called for a staggered approach in which businesses that have a minimal impact on the spread of the virus would open up first.

“This is not going to be a rush-the-gates” situation, Mr. Abbott said.

President Trump turned Monday’s daily coronavirus task force briefing into an aggressive defense of his own halting response to the pandemic and used a campaign-style video to denounce criticism that he moved too slowly to limit the deadly spread of the virus.

“I am supposed to close down the greatest economy in the history of the world and we don’t have one case confirmed in the United States?” he said, his voice laced with sarcasm.

Begun as a regular update on the virus by Vice President Mike Pence and the nation’s top public health officials, the daily evening briefing has largely been turned into a lengthy infomercial starring Mr. Trump, who brags about his administration’s efforts, mocks his critics and berates reporters.

But even by those standards, Monday’s briefing stood out. Instead of beginning with his daily recitation of facts about the virus response, the president first introduced Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases specialist, and then delivered a prepared defense of his actions, and an attack on the news reports about them.

Lashing out at what he called “a fake newspaper” that writes “fake stories,” Mr. Trump lowered the lights in the White House briefing room to play a video showing several Fox News hosts playing down the threat from the virus and governors lauding his actions to help them deal with the crush of hospitalizations.

The video included clips of Mr. Trump taking action to confront the virus, and did not include any of the many instances when the president said the virus was “under control” and would “miraculously disappear” with little effort. It also largely skipped over February and early March, when public health experts say the administration failed to provide enough testing for the virus and did not act quickly enough to promote social distancing and prevent its spread.

Returning to the lectern, Mr. Trump then singled out individual reporters and news organizations — as well as the news media more generally — and declared that “everything we did was right.”

The evidence suggests it’s not just stay-at-home orders and other government restrictions that have chilled economic activity in the United States over the last month: It’s also a behavioral response from workers and consumers scared of contracting the virus.

Even in places without lockdown orders, business has suffered, and unemployment has increased because Americans are avoiding restaurants, airports and shopping centers on their own accord.

Even businesses that are in increased demand because of the pandemic are struggling. Quest Diagnostics announced on Monday that it has approved furloughs for more than 4,000 employees — about 9 percent of its work force.

Quest, one of the nation’s largest commercial laboratories for medical testing, said that its recent increase in coronavirus testing has not offset the significant drop in overall testing volume, which it attributed to social distancing guidelines that have led to a reduction in routine medical visits and elective procedures. Total test volume dropped more than 40 percent in the last two weeks of March, the company said.

“None of these changes will impact our ability to deliver critical Covid-19 testing,” Steve Rusckowski, the chief executive of Quest, wrote in an email to colleagues.

Quest said it has performed nearly 800,000 coronavirus tests, and is preparing to begin offering antibody blood tests to identify people who have been exposed to the virus and may have built immunity.

Top Democratic leaders on Monday doubled down on their insistence that any infusion of cash for a new loan program to help small businesses affected by the pandemic must include additional funds for state and local governments, hospitals, food assistance and rapid testing.

The demands, reiterated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, are likely to further prolong a stalemate between lawmakers over what was intended to be an interim emergency package before another broader stimulus package.

They came as Democratic leaders announced that the House was pushing back its date for returning to Washington by two weeks, to May 4.

The $2 trillion economic stimulus law enacted last month provided $350 billion for the loan initiative, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, and the administration has said it will soon run out of funds, even as businesses say they have yet to receive a majority of the slated billions.

As of early Monday afternoon, more than 4,600 lenders had been approved for more than $230 billion, according to Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who said there was concern that banks would stop issuing loans if there was not a guarantee that cash would be available from the federal government.

Last Monday, Anita Holmes-Perez felt so sick that she asked her husband to drive her to a testing site at 10:45 p.m. She spent the night constantly adjusting her reclining car seat, lying down until the congestion in her chest forced her to sit up again.

She was battling a fever, a cough, dizziness and a feeling of confusion. “Like you don’t know where you are,” she said.

When medical workers finally took a sample from her the next morning, it would be shipped across the country because the local lab was too full. Three vans would take it part of the way. A plane, sent on a detour by a storm, would take it further. It would be days before she got a result.

There are also concerns about potential outbreaks in North America and Europe, which do not have national inoculation programs. Because of Covid-19 fears, American pediatric practices are beginning to report significant drops in well-child visits, including those for routine vaccines.

“Even in resource-rich settings there is a danger of measles raising its ugly head in the not-too-distant future,” said Dr. Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In 2019, the United States reported 1,282 measles cases, its highest in more than 25 years.

Conceding that its effort to count the nation’s population has been hamstrung by the pandemic, the Census Bureau said it would ask Congress for a four-month delay in delivering the population data used to reapportion the House of Representatives and political districts across the country.

In a news release, the bureau said the new deadline would mean that state legislatures would get final figures for drawing new district maps as late as July 31, 2021. Delivery of that data normally begins in February.

The bureau also said it would extend the deadline for collecting census data, now Aug. 15, to Oct. 31, and would begin reopening its field offices — which have been shuttered since mid-March — sometime after June 1.

Democrats who oversee census operations on the House Oversight and Reform Committee reacted cautiously to the news, which they said was relayed to a handful of members of Congress in a telephone call with officials from the White House and the Commerce Department. The director of the census, Steven Dillingham, apparently did not participate in the call.

A small study of chloroquine, which is closely related to the hydroxychloroquine drug that Mr. Trump has promoted, was halted in Brazil after virus patients taking a higher dose developed irregular heart rates that increased their risk of a potentially fatal arrhythmia.

The study, which involved 81 hospitalized patients in the city of Manaus, was sponsored by the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Roughly half the participants were prescribed 450 milligrams of chloroquine twice daily for five days, while the rest were prescribed 600 milligrams for 10 days.

Within three days, researchers started noticing heart arrhythmias in patients taking the higher dose. By the sixth day of treatment, 11 patients had died, leading to an immediate end to the high-dose segment of the trial.

The researchers said the study did not have enough patients in the lower-dose trial to conclude whether chloroquine was effective in patients with severe cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

On Monday, President Trump doubled down on his support of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, claiming during his daily briefing that an unnamed friend had benefited from the drug. He said 28 million doses of hydroxychloroquine had been deployed to hospitals around the country.

Hydroxychloroquine is being tested in the treatment of people with the coronavirus, but there is little evidence it works, other than a handful of small, limited studies. Still, Mr. Trump has enthusiastically promoted it and chloroquine even as his own scientific experts have expressed concerns.

“Who knows,” he said, adding that it was being combined with other treatments such as an antibiotic — azithromycin — and zinc. “I think if anyone recommended it other than me, it would be used all over the place.”

As the pain of the coronavirus outbreak continued around the world, leaders in Europe sought to strike a delicate balance as they extended lockdowns and reported worsening conditions but also signaled life may start to return to normal in the coming months.

“The epidemic is not yet under control,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said Monday as he extended a nationwide lockdown until May 11. But, he added, “hope is reborn.”

Mr. Macron’s speech came as health authorities in France reported nearly 15,000 deaths. Warning the transition away from stay-at-home orders would only be possible if France continued to slow the epidemic, he vowed that by May 11, the authorities would be ready to test and quarantine anyone with symptoms and that “general public” masks would be available for all.

  • In Italy, officials reported fewer than 600 coronavirus-linked deaths for the fourth time in six days, a significant drop from the peak of the country’s crisis in late March and early April, when it was averaging about 800 fatalities per day. “The trend is now trustworthy,” Luca Richeldi, a pulmonologist on the scientific committee that is advising the government, said at a news conference.

  • The trajectory of the outbreak in Britain was increasingly worrisome, and the government was expected to extend restrictions well into next month. The number of known infections and fatalities is rising faster in Britain than anywhere else in Europe, putting it on track to surpass the death totals in Italy and Spain. Britain’s 88,621 confirmed cases already are more than the reported total in China, and the country has reported 11,329 deaths.

  • President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia offered his bleakest comments yet on his country’s handling of the pandemic, warning officials that the number of severely ill patients was rising and that medical workers faced shortages of protective equipment.

  • In Libya’s capital, Tripoli, people are facing a dire decision: whether to stay inside to slow the spread of the coronavirus or flee from the violence of a civil war that has not paused for the pandemic. “I sometimes wonder, you know, which death is going to be worse: catching corona or being instantly attacked by a missile,” said one woman, who asked to remain anonymous for her safety.

The Supreme Court on Monday outlined its plan for meeting during the pandemic, announcing that it would hear arguments by telephone over six days in May, including cases on subpoenas from prosecutors and Congress seeking the president’s financial records.

“In keeping with public health guidance in response to Covid-19,” a news release from the court said, “the justices and counsel will all participate remotely. The court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media. Details will be shared as they become available.”

The court said arguments would be heard on May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, and it listed the 10 sets of arguments it would hear. But it did not say which cases would be heard when. That would depend, the court said, on “the availability of counsel.”

The court said it would also hear arguments over whether members of the Electoral College must cast their votes as they had pledged to do.

The virus contingency plans came as the court was asked to reconsider a decision in light of the pandemic. Three states asked the court to revisit a January ruling that allowed the Trump administration to move forward with plans to deny green cards to immigrants who make even occasional and minor use of public benefits like Medicaid.

New York, Connecticut and Vermont, along with New York City, asked the justices to temporarily suspend the new program in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow,” said Letitia James, New York’s attorney general. “Immigrants provide us with health care, care for our elderly, prepare and deliver our food, clean our hospitals and public spaces, and take on so many other essential roles in our society, which is why we should all be working to make testing and health coverage available to every single person in this country, regardless of immigration status.”

The pandemic, the motion said, had changed the legal calculus and justified loosening the administration’s new requirements for the so-called public charge rule.

A devastating weather system that began Sunday and cut a path of destruction across southeastern states that left more than 30 people dead came as people have been ordered to stay home and away from one another.

Like most Americans, Mamie Harper and her husband had been huddled indoors in an effort to keep the coronavirus at bay. But then a tornado roared over their street in Bassfield, Miss., snapping trees and launching cars from their parking spots.

When it was over, debris temporarily kept emergency medical workers from reaching Ms. Harper’s block. Her daughter pulled her from the wreckage of her small, white house, and soon other neighbors, many of them relatives, also came to try to help.

Ms. Harper, 68, felt an odd mix of gratitude and wariness. “You don’t know,” she said on Monday, standing on the shoulder of her ruined street in a surgical mask. “Even though they’re coming out of the goodness of their heart, they may not know they’ve got it.”

Emergency agencies are now facing new realms of improvisation and creativity as they try to provide shelter and assistance during the pandemic. Officials are doing what they can to avoid housing evacuees in large shelters, which could prove as dangerous as any cruise ship for spreading the virus.

“This is a collision course of conflicting strategies to deal with the natural disasters and the pandemic simultaneously,” said Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

A sailor assigned to the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt has died of complications stemming from the coronavirus, according to Navy officials, marking the first death for the ship’s crew, which numbers more than 4,800.

The sailor was admitted into intensive care at the naval hospital in Guam, where the Roosevelt is currently docked, on April 9, after being found unconscious.

The sailor, according to two military officials, had earlier been hospitalized for respiratory issues and was discharged four days before being found unconscious.

“The Sailor tested positive for Covid-19 March 30, was removed from the ship and placed in an isolation house on Naval Base Guam with four other USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Sailors,” the Navy said in a statement. “Like other Sailors in isolation, he received medical checks twice daily from Navy medical teams.”

There are more than 580 coronavirus cases aboard the ship, including its commander, Capt. Brett E. Crozier, who was relieved earlier this month after submitting a letter to Navy officials requesting more help for his virus-stricken crew. Several other sailors with coronavirus symptoms are currently hospitalized.

In addition to heightened risk of contagion, close quarters can worsen a host of ills, from flared tempers to child abuse and domestic violence.

“The pandemic is a reminder that privacy is at a premium among the poor — hard to find and extremely valuable,” said Stefanie DeLuca, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. “Living in crowded conditions not only increases the risk of infection but can also impose serious emotional and mental health costs. The ability to retreat into one’s own space is a way to cope with conflict, tension and anxiety.”

As Americans hunker down during the pandemic, free fitness workouts, many of them delightfully low-tech, have multiplied on social media platforms.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Mike Baker, Peter Baker, Alan Blinder, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Jason DeParle, Richard Fausset, Ellen Ann Fentress, Sandra E. Garcia, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Maggie Haberman, Christine Hauser, Jack Healy, Jan Hoffman, John Ismay, Sheila Kaplan, Annie Karni, Clifford Krauss, Adam Liptak, Jeffery C. Mays, Jesse McKinley, Aimee Ortiz, Alan Rappeport, Dagny Salas, Marc Santora, Karen Schwartz, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Knvul Sheikh, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas and Michael Wines.


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