Donald Trump's Plan to Reopen the Economy Will Begin With 'Authorizing' Each Governor to Reopen State and Decide Timetable

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said his administration is taking steps to prepare for the expiration of the Centers for Disease Control's "30 days to stop the spread" guidelines which he, the Vice President, and other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force have been promoting since mid-March.

"The plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized, and we will soon be sharing details and new guidelines with everybody," Trump said during the White House Coronavirus Task Force's daily briefing.

Trump added that he would be speaking to the governors of each of the 50 states on Wednesday, and that he would be "authorizing each individual governor of each individual state" to develop and implement a plan to reopen their states' economies.

While the U.S. Constitution does not require a state's governor to obtain the president's authorization to regulate commerce within his or her state's borders, Trump appeared to be taking a more conciliatory tone than he had 24 hours before, when he claimed that he had "total authority" to tell governors when it was time to reopen their economies.

The question of when to begin lifting many of the social distancing measures meant to combat the spread of COVID-19 has been a bone of contention been Trump and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Medical experts on the task force have suggested that a move to reopen the U.S. economy and return to pre-pandemic operations would be unwise absent widespread availability of antibody testing, which determines whether a person has successfully fought off SARS-Cov-2.

Trump briefing 2
US President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. Mandel Ngan/Getty

In a Tuesday interview with the Associated Press, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said it would be "a bit overly optimistic" to attempt a restart of the economy by May 1 without a robust testing program.

"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," said Fauci, who said he would "guarantee" that pulling back on social distancing would result in new infections.

"It's how you deal with the infections that's going to count," Fauci continued, adding that the key to stopping COVID-19 outbreaks is "getting people out of circulation if they get infected, because once you start getting clusters, then you're really in trouble."

Yet Trump has been eager to begin restarting the economy quickly in order to recoup the economic losses suffered over the past month despite his own experts' warnings, administration officials who are familiar with the task force's deliberations said.

Trump has acknowledged that he'd like the economy to return to full strength with a "big bang," and has often complained that the social distancing measures required by the stay-at-home orders in place in nearly every state have erased the economic performance that he had been using to make a case for his re-election.

Although he may want to begin the process of returning the U.S. economy to the state it was in before the COVID-19 pandemic reached American shores, his authority to do so as president is limited by the U.S. Constitution, which limits the federal government's authority to regulate commerce within a single state's borders, and the Constitution's 10th Amendment's provision stating that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

As Americans across the country began living and working under gubernatorial stay-at-home orders in late March and early April, Trump frequently cited those limits on federal authority to explain why he had resisted calls for a nationwide stay-at-home recommendation or order, and to justify having the federal government to take a back seat to state governments in the search for needed medical equipment. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Trump has frequently described the federal government's role as maintainer of the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile as a "backup" to states, and he has accused states of not doing enough to prepare their own stockpiles for a pandemic.

But during Monday's Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump reversed himself by claiming "total authority" to "call the shots" by overriding state governors' stay-at-home orders if they conflict with his plan to reopen the country's economy. He later added that governors "can't do anything without the approval of the President of the United States."

Such a view directly contradicts the position of constitutional scholars such as Harvard's Laurence Tribe, who on Monday wrote on Twitter that Trump's position was "sheer nonsense."

Trump appeared to double down on the assertion of presidential authority on Tuesday when he tweeted that the "independence" governors such as New York's Andrew Cuomo were seeking by forming reopening plans with the governors of neighboring states "won't happen," and he called the governors' efforts "good old fashioned mutiny." He later appeared to back off of this position during a photo opportunity with a number of recovered COVID-19 patients, telling reporters that the federal government's efforts will take place "in conjunction" with those of states' governors.

But as he spoke from the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday, Trump appeared to admit that he does not have the power to order governors to reopen their economies.

"Governors are going to be running their individual states—some of them will say: 'No, I can't open now,' and some of them may last longer than we even would think," Trump said, with the caveat that the federal government would step in if a governor wanted to open early while his state still had a high number of COVID-19 cases.

"You can talk about federalism, you can talk about whatever you want, but the way I'm talking now from a managerial standpoint, is to let individual governors run individual states and come to us if they have difficulty and we will help them."

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