At a time when his own administration is pledging to work with state and local officials to fight the spread of coronavirus, President Donald Trump is publicly fighting with some of those same officials he perceives as political enemies.
Most recently, that’s been New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. After the two term Democrat from the President’s home state criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for delays in allowing private labs to test for the rapidly spreading virus, Trump shot back.
“There are no mixed messages, only political weaponization by people like you and your brother, Fredo!” Trump tweeted, a reference to Cuomo’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.
This is familiar territory for Trump. From California wildfires to political unrest in Puerto Rico, the President has made a habit of going after public officials he doesn’t like during moments of crisis. The latest such event, a global public health crisis, seems to have stoked his instincts for combativeness, rather than prompting a demonstration of positive leadership.
Specifically, the President’s antagonism comes at a crucial time for the governmental response to the virus, which has required a nationwide coordination among states as well as the federal government.
Cuomo and New York have been at the forefront of the response, with the Empire State notching 146 confirmed cases of coronavirus by Monday. On Saturday, Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York, giving the state government access to funds and powers to more swiftly address the outbreak.
Despite marshaling his state’s resources, Cuomo is the latest governor to find himself the target of the President’s invective — but he’s not the first.
While visiting CDC headquarters in Atlanta last Friday with a more friendly governor, Republican Brian Kemp of Georgia, Trump called Washington Gov. Jay Inslee a “snake” and said he had warned Pence of working closely with the Democratic governor.
Washington has been the epicenter of the virus’ outbreak in the US. As of Monday, the state had reported at least 136 cases and 18 deaths, largely from the Seattle area. Last month, following a call with Pence, Inslee had taken a shot at Trump on Twitter.
“I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth,” Inslee tweeted.
Pence and Inslee appear to have maintained a good working relationship despite their different party identifications. The vice president visited Washington last week, where Inslee greeted him on the tarmac with a sanitary elbow-bump rather than the customary handshake. In public remarks, Pence and Inslee praised each other — a gesture that seems to have irked Trump.
“I told Mike not to be complimentary of that governor because that governor is a snake,” Trump said at the CDC. “Just let me tell you, we have a lot of problems with the governor and the governor of Washington, that’s where you have many of your problems, OK? So Mike may be happy with him but I’m not, OK?”
Trump’s characteristic bombast has not abated even at this precarious time for his presidency — and even with his reelection on the line.
The full extent of the outbreak remains unknown as states and localities work to test citizens for infection and issue warnings to the public about ways to avoid spreading the disease. The global disruptions have contributed greatly to a precipitous fall in financial markets over the last month. General uncertainty about whether the virus can be contained remains high.
And while there remain ongoing concerns about the administration’s own preparedness and response to the outbreak, Pence has received perfunctory praise for his coordination. Even California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has not shied away from sharp criticism of Trump, has been quietly commending the administration’s efforts. And unlike Cuomo and Inslee, Newsom has not said much that was negative about the federal government’s work.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican and the chairman of the National Governors Association who joined Pence in person for last week’s videoconference, praised Pence Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” while taking a veiled shot at Trump.
“He’s a former governor,” Hogan said of Pence. “He knows the governors are on the front lines. And he is doing, I think, a good job of coordinating everybody and communicating with us.”
But Hogan, who has been a rare Republican voice to criticize the President in past years, mildly rebuked Trump for his “communication” throughout the outbreak.
“Has the President been perfect in his communication? I would say he hasn’t communicated the way I would and the way I might like him to,” Hogan said. “But I think the rest of the team has been doing a pretty good job.”