President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he believes some states will be able to "reopen" their economies before the end of April by lifting the social distancing restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Trump's announcement came a day after he claimed "total" authority over when to lift the state-imposed measures. Legal experts say that despite Trump's claims about his presidential powers, he cannot override the public-health measures that were implemented by states.
Still, Trump said during a White House press briefing on the virus that "the plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized."
"I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly," Trump said, "And I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate."
"The day will be very close because certain states as you know are in a much different condition and are in a much different place than other states. It's going to be very very close. Maybe even before the date of May 1st," he said.
As he left the briefing in the Rose Garden, Trump said that if the governors "don't do a good job, we're going to come down on them very hard."
On Monday, governors from six northeastern states, including New York and New Jersey, announced they would form their own working group to monitor the outbreak and coordinate plans to eventually reopen parts of the economy. Three west-coast states formed their own pact later Monday.
Those groups were announced a day before Trump said he would be "authorizing" some governors to produce plans to reopen their states.
The coronavirus, which first appeared near the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei province, has killed at least 123,000 people worldwide and infected nearly 2 million, data from Johns Hopkins University show. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 than any other country in the world, according to Johns Hopkins: more than 584,000 cases and at least 24,485 deaths.
The federal government has not imposed a nationwide lockdown, ceding responsibility to state leaders to implement their own plans to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Rather, the White House has issued non-binding social-distancing guidelines. That guidance was recently extended through the end of April, despite Trump's previously announced goal of reopening the economy by Easter Sunday.
But Trump maintained that he, not the governors, was in charge of lifting states' draconian social distancing measures, which include statewide stay-at-home orders and forced closures of nonessential businesses.
"We'll be announcing a date" very shortly, Trump said. "Frankly, it will be at a time that will be earlier than the deadline that we imposed, the end of April."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on MSNBC on Tuesday morning that Trump "basically declared himself king" by disregarding the separation of powers between states and the federal government cemented in the Constitution.
Hours before the White House presser, Trump tweeted an apparent rebuke of governors' recent comments and actions: "Tell the Democrat Governors that 'Mutiny On The Bounty' was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!"