EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Clark is host and producer of New York Now at PBS station WMHT in Albany.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo railed on President Donald Trump during a press conference in New York Monday, saying the president should “start telling the people of this country the truth” and sign an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public nationwide.
Republicans, meanwhile, called on Democrats in the state Legislature to strip Cuomo of emergency law-making powers, saying the time has come to limit that authority.
Cuomo, speaking in New York City, warned of a potential uptick of the coronavirus, particularly in the five boroughs, posed by people traveling from states with higher infection rates, and said the introduction of indoor dining could make things worse.
New York City is scheduled to begin Phase Three of reopening its economy next week, which includes indoor dining, but Cuomo says the state is consulting with health experts to determine how restaurants in the five boroughs can continue to contain the disease moving forward.
"There are issues we have to think through,” Cuomo said. “If other states have a high infection rate, probability is they're going to wind up increasing the spread in New York."
New York City is still on schedule to enter Phase Three next week, Cuomo said, it might just not look the same as it has in other regions of the state, all of which are currently allowed to offer indoor dining.
But there’s also been a persistent problem in New York City, Cuomo said, of people not following rules for social distancing and mass gatherings. That, coupled with other factors, are being considered by health experts, he said.
“It’s indoor dining, and you have the congregation problem, and you have the viral spread across the nation, which I think is really problematic for us,” Cuomo said.
He continued his campaign against the federal government’s handling of the disease Monday, saying the White House didn’t take the virus seriously at the beginning of the pandemic, and still isn’t taking the appropriate steps to contain it.
"They never believed it was a problem, so they never believed they needed to solve it," Cuomo said.
He called on Trump to double down on the federal government’s response to the disease, but also made an unlikely request: that the first-term president issue an executive order requiring individuals across the country to wear masks in public.
Cuomo has required individuals in New York to wear masks in public for the last two months, but there’s been no national effort to mandate the precaution. Trump has not indicated that he plans to take federal action requiring individuals to wear masks.
Cuomo was able to set the requirement for masks through power given to him in March by the state Legislature, which granted the governor authority to suspend and create laws as a way to fast-track the state’s response to COVID-19.
But Republicans, in recent weeks, have called on Democrats, who control the state Legislature, to strip Cuomo of those powers.
State Republican Chair Nick Langworthy, on Monday, held a press conference outside the state capitol, calling on the Legislature to return to Albany, take exclusive control of the state’s response to COVID-19, and strip Cuomo of his emergency powers.
“I think they’re perfectly capable of helping govern this state,” Langworthy said. “He’s not a king. We need to have a Legislature that gets back to work and does its job.”
Those calls have largely been ignored by Democrats in the state Legislature, who are planning to reconvene in Albany at some point this summer, but have not announced any plans to remove Cuomo’s emergency powers, which don’t expire until April 2021.
Langworthy said that’s problematic because, if Cuomo has total control over the state’s laws, members of the Legislature may not have input on his decisions. The Legislature has power to strike down any of Cuomo’s directives, but hasn’t done so since the pandemic began.
“There’s no one fighting for those local governments, and those local governments are suffering very badly,” Langworthy said.
Cuomo responded to Langworthy during a radio interview Monday, calling the Republican chairman a “mouthpiece for Trump,” and said the rising infection rate in other states is evidence for him to hold onto the emergency powers.
“What they’re saying is, ‘stop the emergency powers the governor has because there's no emergency. There’s no emergency because there's no coronavirus, everything’s fine.’” Cuomo said.
“We tried that, President Trump. We tried that, Republican chairman. Call up Florida, call up Texas, call up Arizona, and ask them how that went.”
Hospitalizations in New York state dropped to 853 Sunday, with 136 of those people intubated. An additional seven people died, bringing the state’s total confirmed death toll to 24,842.