Commentary: No, Trump Cannot Overrule DeWine On When To Reopen Ohio
Donald Trump, protestors on the Statehouse steps, and several Republican state legislators.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has had all of them on his back in recent days, with all of them pushing for a quick re-opening of the state in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The protestors are still banging on the Statehouse doors, so their chanting can be clearly heard seeping through on the daily briefings that DeWine, his lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, and Ohio Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton hold inside the state capitol in Columbus.
While the governor is calmly and clearly trying to explain the news of the day and where the fight to flatten the curve stands, the people outside are yelling that he is a tyrant.
DeWine has plenty of company. All governors are getting the same kind of pressure and the chorus is being led by the president of the United States.
Just a week or two ago, Trump seemed content to allow the governors to handle the situations in their states, which range in severity from extreme to nearly non-existent.
But this week, Trump has used his own daily briefing and his hyperactive Twitter thumbs to assert a power of the presidency that most people didn't know he had: the power to overrule governors, and that it is up to him – and him alone – to set a timeline for lifting restrictions and reopening the country for business.
For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2020
"The president of the United States has the authority,'' Trump said in his Monday briefing. "The president of the United States calls the shots.
"And the governors know that. They can't do anything without the approval of the president of the United States."
A quick check of the Constitution – we assume there is a copy somewhere in the West Wing of the White House – might have told Trump differently. It would have told him he is probably not so all-powerful as he thinks.
Here's what the 10th Amendment to the Constitution says on the subject:
The 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.
That's 28 words which pretty much sum it up. They can be debated, yes, but most scholars agree the intent was to give states power over their own affairs. States can set their own laws, as long as they are not in conflict with federal law.
Yet Trump blustered on Monday, saying governors would pay a political price if they failed to obey him.
"If some states refuse to open, I would like to see that person run for re-election,'' Trump said.
The group that has helped organize the protests at the Statehouse, which usually draw about 100 people – none of whom appear to be practicing social distancing – is known as Ohio Stands United, and it is clearly a very pro-Trump organization.
As of Tuesday, there were about 6,900 people who had liked the group's Facebook page – although Ohio Stands United took exception to news media reports saying they had 6,900 members. They say they have about 60,000 around the state, with numerous county chapters, including one in Hamilton County.
Intentionally or not, they keep up Trump's drumbeat of pressure on DeWine and other governors to "reopen" their states.
DeWine has been trying to steer a narrow course between Trump's pressure and the advice of Dr. Acton and other public health professionals. First of all, Trump is a fellow Republican, up for re-election. Secondly, DeWine is fully aware that Trump could make life difficult for governors trying to get much needed help from the federal government.
It was apparent in what he said Monday in his Statehouse briefing, as the protestors could be heard in the background outside.
"This is not a confrontational issue between us and the White House," DeWine said. "As we put together our plan, it is going to be an Ohio plan in the sense that we are different from every other state.
"I think people will think it is a rational plan,'' DeWine said. "I think the Trump administration will like it as well."
Earlier in the day, DeWine appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and said that any loosening of Ohio's March 22 stay-at-home order would depend on the state of coronavirus testing and other health data.
Or, as DeWine has said several times, it won't be "like flicking on a light switch."
In the end, every state is different. Some will need more time than others.
And Trump will find that his one-size-fits-all approach to reopening America for business is yet another blunder in the story of this extraordinary pandemic.