President Donald Trump's assertion on Monday evening that his "authority is total" to reopen the American economy in the wake of the peak of the coronavirus outbreak was pointed to by critics as another attempt by the White House to flout the advice of medical experts for economic gain even as the consequences could be lethal.
"Trump wants to reopen the economy so badly he thinks he can live with the resulting deaths, though there is no evidence he has grasped how enormous that tower of skulls could be," University of Michigan professor Juan Cole wrote Tuesday.
President Trump: "The authority of the President of the United States having to do with the subject we’re talking about is total."
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 13, 2020
The president's comments on the extent of his authority came in response to decisions by governors in the West and the Northeast to set up respective regional pacts on when and how to reopen their economies. The pacts are being formed in a direct rebuke to Trump, who is increasingly upset over the possibility that the economic damage of safely managing the pandemic could be politically damaging to his re-election bid and wants to relax restrictions in May.
As Cole pointed out, such a shortsighted move will likely have worse medium-term consequences.
"What Trump and the people around him don't understand is that if they open back up in May, they may anyway create a second wave of the virus that would hit in early autumn, causing the economy to ground to a halt again just before the presidential election," wrote Cole.
Questions on the agreements sent Trump into a rage in his coronavirus press briefing Monday, leading him to claim the governors "can't do anything without approval of the president of the United States" and that "when somebody's president of the United States, the authority is total."
Those remarks asserting dictatorial powers provoked immediate pushback from critics.
"Fact check," PBS Newshour reporter Yamiche Alcindor said on Twitter. "That is definitely not true."
Two possibilities here:
1) The states ignore him and he tries to enforce "total authority," triggering a constitutional crisis
2) The states ignore him and he does nothing, showcasing the hollowness of the federal government and the administration https://t.co/Vd8eyMZBEM
— Patrick Wyman (@Patrick_Wyman) April 13, 2020
CNN's Daniel Dale, in an analysis Tuesday, noted that "there is no legislation that explicitly gives the president the power to override states' public health measures" and if the president took the conflict to the courts, he would most likely lose.
"The president has no formal legal authority to categorically override local or state shelter-in-place orders or to reopen schools and small businesses," tweeted University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck. "No statute delegates to him such power; no constitutional provision invests him with such authority."