WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the coronavirus fight continues, President Donald Trump is eager to ‘reopen’ the country, claiming Monday that he has “total” authority to do so.
By Tuesday, the president appeared to backtrack, saying he will be looking to the governors to take their own steps to restart economic activity.
In recent weeks, governors across the nation have implemented stay-at-home and other social distancing orders, aimed at reducing the spread of the virus. As a result, many businesses have been shuttered and the economy left in a standstill.
So, does the president have the authority to reopen things? Legal scholars say no, the president does not have the power to force states to reverse their stay-at-home orders.
“There is no clause or provision or principle in the Constitution that in cases of emergency or crisis, the president gets to do what the president thinks is best for the country,” said Neil Siegel, a professor at Duke University Law School.
However, Siegel says that while Mr. Trump cannot make the states reopen, he does have a different tool in his tool belt: public pressure.
“This president, like every one before him, possesses the most powerful megaphone in the country,” Siegel said.
That presidential bully pulpit could put some governors in a tough spot as they seek additional federal help. Stateside, Gov. Roy Cooper has warned that a wholesale lifting of social distancing orders in North Carolina could be catastrophic. Asked about Mr. Trump’s assertion of power, Cooper avoided throwing any punches, noting that he wants to continue working with the White House.
“Thus far, the president has been OK with the governors making these hard calls about protecting the public and issuing the stay-at-home orders. So, I would not expect that he would deviate from that,” Cooper said.
Siegel notes the president does have other powers he can use in light of the outbreak, including the Defense Production Act, which allows him to compel companies to produce needed supplies like masks and ventilators.
Mr. Trump has faced criticism for not acting on that power sooner.