Trump is ‘spoiling for a fight’ says New York governor

Tensions between the president and state governors escalate as coronavirus deaths near 24,000 in US

Tensions between US president Donald Trump and state governors spilled into the open on Tuesday, as New York governor Andrew Cuomo said Mr Trump was "spoiling for a fight".

In a highly combative press conference on Monday evening in which the US president repeatedly attacked the media and defended his handling of the coronavirus, Mr Trump asserted that his presidential power was “total”.

“That’s the way it’s gotta be, and the governors know that,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed close to 24,000 lives in the United States, has also exposed tensions between states and the federal government, amid confusion about where certain power lies.


Despite Mr Trump’s claims of “ultimate authority”, constitutional experts have said only governors can make decisions concerning the lifting of state lockdowns. In a series of interviews on Monday, Mr Cuomo said that Mr Trump’s assertion was “factually wrong”.

“It is infuriating and offensive and frankly ignorant of the facts,” Mr Cuomo said, likening Mr Trump’s press conference on Monday to a “comedy skit”.

He later pointed out that the “the federal-state relationship has been central to our democracy” since the creation of the US in the late 18th century.

“We don’t have a king in this country. We didn’t want a king. So we have a constitution and we elect a president,” he said. He insisted, however, that he did not want to engage in a fight with Mr Trump. “The president will have no fight with me. I will not engage.”

‘A fake’

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Trump lashed out at the New York governor after Mr Cuomo had given a series of morning interviews to the media. In a tweet, the president said Mr Cuomo had been calling “daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility”. He also referred to the film Mutiny on the Bounty, apparently likening state governors to mutineers.

Mr Cuomo, a Democrat and son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, has seen his national profile rise since the outbreak of the coronavirus. His daily briefings from the state capital of Albany have been broadcast live by national TV channels, rivalling Mr Trump's evening press conferences.

In one of his most acrimonious news conferences to date, Mr Trump clashed with White House reporters on Monday, calling one CBS reporter "disgraceful" and "a fake". He also played a montage of flattering video and audio clips, some of which were edited selectively.

Mr Trump addressed growing speculation that he was considering firing Dr Anthony Fauci, inviting the infectious disease expert to the podium to clarify comments he had made on CNN which suggested that earlier intervention in the crisis could have saved lives.

‘Really draining’

Mr Fauci said he had been asked a hypothetical question “and hypothetical questions can sometimes get you into some difficulty”. But on Tuesday Mr Fauci said in a separate interview that the evening coronavirus briefings were becoming “really draining” and took up a lot of time.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths from coronavirus continued to rise in the United States, despite signs of some levelling-off in infection rates. The US has reported close to 600,000 cases with the death toll approaching 24,000.

New York continued to see an increase in deaths, with 778 new deaths reported on Monday, bringing the total death toll in America’s worst-affected state to 10,834. Some 1,600 new cases of the virus were also reported, Mr Cuomo said.

But the number of new hospitalisations decreased, suggesting that the state was beginning to flatten the curve. “We are changing the curve every day,” he said. “We have shown that we control the virus, the virus does not control us.”

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent