Hot Air

California dreaming? Trump now reportedly mulling over a national shutdown; Update: Stafford Act authorizes?

If so, maybe we can call it the Spring Breakers Shutdown. Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard hears from sources that the Trump administration has begun warning key figures that the social-distancing campaign may not be succeeding in flattening the coronavirus curve, thanks to people ignoring CDC warnings about gathering in large groups. If the administration doesn’t see improvement in the next few days, Donald Trump may order a national shutdown, with Americans limited to essential activities only:

The Trump administration, moving quickly to halt the spread of the coronavirus, is seriously considering grounding all passenger air traffic for up to 30 days, temporarily halting stock trading on Wall Street, and imposing a shelter-in-place rule, according to officials.

Key officials have begun alerting industry leaders, Capitol Hill, and agencies that the “radical” plan could come early next week if the warlike efforts to stop the spread of the virus fail. …

What’s more, so that stocks don’t tank further, the administration under the plan being discussed would stop trading on Wall Street when it grounds the U.S. passenger fleet. The Bush administration made similar moves after the 9/11 attacks.

Sources also said that the administration is seriously considering a shelter-in-place rule to keep the public from large gatherings. Some have continued to ignore previous warnings against gathering in groups of 10.

What would essential travel allow? Grocery stores, pharmacies, some limited business activities, and probably still take-out service from restaurants. Other than that, everything else would shut down, and police would intervene for anything else they see in public. Actually, we will get a preview of it from California’s new shelter-in-place order from Gavin Newsom, which is in place “indefinitely.”

Newsom may have been the first governor to order a statewide shutdown, but he’s not the only one considering one. Here in Minnesota, Tim Walz is also mulling it over:

First there was the state of emergency declaration canceling large gatherings. Then came public school closures, followed by bars, restaurants, movie theaters and other public spaces.

But there’s one tool Gov. Tim Walz says he’s not ready to use to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Minnesota — at least not yet.

The DFL governor said it’s not time to issue a “shelter in place” order, a dramatic measure already being deployed across all of California and being considered in New York City. It’s an extreme form of social distancing, slowing the virus by confining people to their homes except for essential business.

“I think what I would say to Minnesotans is: That toolbox that I told you I would open last Friday … that is one of them in there,” Walz said. “Last Friday we didn’t think there would be any need to close schools. Last Saturday we didn’t think there would be any need to close bars. So that’s the speed of this.”

Having made a grocery run yesterday in the suburbs of St. Paul, I can report that not too many people are out and about now anyway here. Most of the traffic that there was — way below normal — appeared headed for grocery or pharmacy stores, along with gas stations. Perhaps the situation is different in the Twin Cities, which has a large college population, but out here it’s tough to see how it could get much quieter, with everything else closing around us.

In New York, of course, Andrew Cuomo has pushed back hard against calls to impose a shutdown. Cuomo’s point — an excellent one — is that lockdowns will fuel “fear and panic,” and that those are worse than the coronavirus spread for community peace. After Newsom’s decision and with Trump apparently wavering, how long does Cuomo stay firm on that position? And how strange will it be when Trump ends up siding with Bill de Blasio over Cuomo on a lockdown?

Bedard reports that a decision on a national shutdown is “not imminent,” but that’s almost certainly not the case. The longer Trump waits to order it, the less useful it becomes. It doesn’t do a lot of good to have people locked in at home while they develop a symptomatic case of the Wuhan Flu and then start to flood hospitals. If Trump is inclined to issue this kind of order, it will have to come quickly, or not at all. If it does, get ready for a political firestorm over the constitutionality of a president shutting down local movement, even in an emergency. Governors likely have that authority, but on what basis would the executive branch of the federal government claim it?

Update: My friend Rob O’Donnell notes that the Stafford Act might provide an authorization for federal enforcement, but there’s a catch to that:

True enough, but that requires the state to take action first. It does not provide any authorization for a president to act on his own to impose a shutdown or lockdown. Once a governor gives that order, the Stafford Act allows the president to commit resources to its enforcement, but that’s it, I believe. Trump would have to convince fifty governors to issue identical orders first.

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