Coronavirus: Trump taunts four Democratic governors as states grapple with reopening

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President Donald Trump lashed out at four Democratic governors on Friday for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as tensions heightened between the Republican leader and states over how and when to ease restrictions put in place to contain the outbreak.

In a Twitter post, Trump taunted Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by tweeting “Liberate Michigan,” an apparent reference to sharp criticism that included street protests over her strict measures to tamp down the outbreak in her state.

Trump directed similar “Liberate” tweets at Minnesota and Virginia, where Democratic governors have been the targets of similar protests from Trump supporters opposed to tough stay-home measures designed to contain the coronavirus.

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At the same time, strains between Trump and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York erupted into quarreling and pointed sarcasm in an extraordinary real-time exchange between Trump on Twitter and Cuomo at a televised daily news briefing.

The governor, whose state is the US epicenter of the outbreak, unleashed a flurry of broadsides against Trump after a reporter’s question about the president's tweet suggesting New York had asked for too much aid that was never fully used.

Trump had tweeted Cuomo had asked for a "ridiculously" high number of ventilators at the height of the crisis in New York.

Read more: Coronavirus: NY Governor Cuomo attacks Trump's response to crisis

The governor said the president should “maybe get up and go to work” instead of watching TV and accused him of favoring the airline industry and other business cronies in a recent bailout package that left little for the states.

On Thursday, Trump unveiled guidelines for a staggered, three-stage process by states to lift restrictions on business and social life to curb the pandemic.

Trump, who is seeking a second term in a November 3 election against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, played down the threat posed by the coronavirus in the early stages and has sent contradictory messages about the responsibilities of states and the federal government in dealing with the crisis.

Passing the buck

Cuomo, who has mostly kept his criticism of Trump in check at his daily televised briefings, assailed the federal government on Friday for giving states the responsibility of reopening their economies without providing financial resources.

“Is there any funding so I can do these things that you want us to do? No. That is passing the buck without passing the bucks,” Cuomo said.

A man crosses the street in a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning, Monday, March 23, 2020 in New York. (AP)
A man crosses the street in a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning, Monday, March 23, 2020 in New York. (AP)

While Cuomo was still speaking to reporters in Albany, New York, Trump in Washington took to Twitter to criticize Cuomo, whose state has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths.

"Governor Cuomo should spend more time 'doing' and less time ‘complaining’. Get out there and get the job done. Stop talking!” Trump's post said.

“We built you thousands of hospital beds that you didn’t need or use, gave large numbers of Ventilators that you should have had, and helped you with ... testing that you should be doing.”

“How many times do you want me to say ‘thank you,’ but I'm saying ‘thank you’ for doing your job,” Cuomo said when a reporter at the briefing told him about Trump’s tweets. “This was your role as president.”

Testing needed

Cuomo, whose state accounts for nearly half of the country's 33,982 deaths, according to a Reuters tally, accused Trump of repeatedly refusing to help states with ramping up testing because it was “too difficult” and “too complicated.”

He said he needs federal funding to increase testing capacity and to fill a $10-$15 billion budget shortfall that is hampering the state's ability to fund such efforts on its own.

Public health experts and some other state governors have said that only a comprehensive testing program would help them to safely restart business.

Read more: New York coronavirus hospitalizations keep falling, shutdown extended

Trump has pushed back against governors calling for the federal government to play a bigger role in increasing and coordinating coronavirus testing, saying it was up to the states to “step up their testing.”

With more than 20 million Americans seeking unemployment benefits, states are under pressure to let non-essential businesses reopen despite a shortage of testing needed to prevent the outbreak from regaining traction.

The weeks of shutdown have affected about 97 percent of the US population. States meeting federal criteria can move into the first phase of re-opening on Friday.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued three executive orders on Friday aimed at opening his state’s economy, the second-largest in the country. Abbott said the opening would be slow andgradual and that it would be reversed if any outbreaks occurred.

Read more: If Trump ordered New York to reopen ‘I wouldn’t do it’: NY Governor Cuomo

In heavily industrial Michigan, Whitmer said she hoped to begin re-engaging parts of the economy on May 1, but she offered no specifics. Michigan, a state that Trump narrowly won in 2016, has faced one of the fastest growing infection rates, but residents have pressed to reopen the state's economy, some even taking to the streets in protest.

The United States has reported more coronavirus infections than any other country, with nearly 670,000 cases. The infections and casualties are spread unevenly across the country, with more densely populated places such as New York and New Jersey suffering the most.

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