Hot Air

Cuomo: Some northeastern and mid-Atlantic states will be announcing a regional re-opening plan this afternoon; Update: Its official

Coordination among neighboring states is smart, the next best thing to a national policy. It’s foolish to have a hard-hit state on lockdown while a neighboring state is opening up. People from the former will visit the latter to enjoy its newly reopened facilities and spread the virus, incubating an outbreak. Then, as it spreads, people from the latter will visit the former, reseeding a new outbreak just as the hard-hit state is beginning to recover. If they’re on some sort of joint timetable about when to reopen, that risk is reduced.

“The larger geographic area, the better.” This is probably as direct a rebuke to Trump as he’s willing to offer under the circumstances:

New York seems to be past the peak, per today’s numbers, but it’s still admitting more people to hospitals than it’s discharging. ICU admissions and intubations are net negative, though:

It’ll be a long, slow slide down the rightward side of that epidemic bell curve. Meanwhile, I wonder if more states will join Cuomo’s multistate coalition once it’s announced. Mike DeWine’s Ohio is a natural candidate, as he shares Cuomo’s belief that data should dictate when they reopen, not arbitrarily timed decrees from the king:

The worst thing about Trump’s petulant, ignorant “I’m the decider” anti-federalist tweets this morning is how inconsistent his position is on state authority. There are four positions he could potentially have here:

1. The feds take charge of supplying states with medical equipment but also get to decide when states reopen.
2. The feds take charge of supplying states with medical equipment but the states get to decide when they reopen.
3. The states supply their own equipment but also get to decide when they reopen.
4. The states supply their own equipment but the feds get to decide when they reopen.

Option one is the big-government option. Uncle Sam spearheads everything, a true national command-and-control strategy. Option two is the lend-a-hand option. States get to set their own strategy but Uncle Sam rushes PPE and ventilators as needed to support them. Option three is the hardcore federalist option. Option four? That’s incoherent, and pure Trump. Maximum authority for the president, minimum responsibility for him to do anything productive.

Ed made a good point earlier when he said that Trump’s tweets this morning undermine his ability to scapegoat America’s governors for the state of the economy. If he wants to blame Cuomo for 25 percent unemployment instead of taking responsibility himself, the obvious move is for him to say, “Unfortunately I lack the constitutional authority to order New York to reopen. Andrew Cuomo is sabotaging our economy!” Instead he’s insisting, wrongly, that he does have the authority and just hasn’t exercised it yet, which leaves unemployment squarely on him. My guess is that he’s acting out of ego: As he moves closer to encouraging some states to reopen on May 1, he’s realizing that many governors (and doctors) intend to tell him no. That’ll make it easy for him to scapegoat them for the economy — but it’ll also make him look weak and ineffectual, something he finds intolerable. Faced with the prospect of “lesser” government officials defying him, instinctively he insists that they can’t do that. But they can. And he won’t like it.

This won’t reach peak dysfunction until he starts threatening to withhold federal funds — or maybe even life-saving equipment like ventilators — from states whose governors refuse to comply with his demands to reopen by a certain date. Is he crazy enough to tell Michigan, a state he has to win this fall, that they can’t have any more masks until Gretchen Whitmer agrees to let rural parts of the state go back to work? I wouldn’t bet against him.

The Times got under Trump’s skin this weekend with a big feature on what the president and his health experts knew early on about the threat posed by the virus. It’s worth your time but a lot of it is well known: He was sanguine and denialist about the threat even after it was obvious to everyone; he was worried about talking down the stock market when he should have been worried about containing the disease; his administration is a nest of “rivalries and factionalism” which, “along with the president’s impulsiveness, undercut decision making and policy development.” This WaPo story about the states having to scramble to fill the vacuum in federal leadership is more damaging, I think, because it suggests that the feds didn’t actually get off to a “slow start” or whatever in managing this crisis. Trump’s administration simply isn’t equal to the task, then or now. Reading it, you can see why Cuomo and other regional governors are scrambling to form their own next-stage response as a group of, ahem, united states:

A national plan to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and return Americans to jobs and classrooms is emerging — but not from the White House

[A] collection of governors, former government officials, disease specialists and nonprofits are pursuing a strategy that relies on the three pillars of disease control: Ramp up testing to identify people who are infected. Find everyone they interact with by deploying contact tracing on a scale America has never attempted before. And focus restrictions more narrowly on the infected and their contacts so the rest of society doesn’t have to stay in permanent lockdown…

Instead, the president and his top advisers have fixated almost exclusively on plans to reopen the U.S. economy by the end of the month, though they haven’t detailed how they will do so without triggering another outbreak. President Trump has been especially focused on creating a second coronavirus task force aimed at combating the economic ramifications of the virus…

“It’s mind-boggling, actually, the degree of disorganization,” said Tom Frieden, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director. The federal government has already squandered February and March, he noted, committing “epic failures” on testing kits, ventilator supply, protective equipment for health workers and contradictory public health communication. The next failure is already on its way, Frieden said, because “we’re not doing the things we need to be doing in April.”

States like Massachusetts are now rushing to build their own teams to conduct contact tracing after they reopen for business, realizing that the feds either won’t or can’t do much to guide them. The White House currently has four different task forces devoted to coronavirus (Pence’s, Jared’s, the economic task force, and the doctors’ group), with no clear lines of authority, and yet it still has no plans on what the next steps in containing the disease should be or how the economy should reopen, the object of Trump’s fixation. “Like the majority of policy decisions within this White House, the nascent moves to restart the economy have been plagued by different factions of staffers vying for power — or simply not communicating with one another,” says Politico of the slow going. It’s chaotic:

“The whole response has been lagging the curve of the epidemic, and what ought to be happening is the designation of key strategic goals, key accomplishments that can happen within a specified timeline,” Chow said. “It sounds like they’re groping for that. There isn’t any clear direction as to what the strategic goals are in each different line of effort, and what the prospective timeline could be given the assets they have to deploy.”

One of the biggest obstacles to the virus response is Trump himself. Even the most dutiful plans and projects often get caught up in the chaos of the White House. Advisers spend significant time trying to manage the president and his whims — from successfully dissuading him from seeking to reopen the country at Easter to tempering his impulse to push unproven drugs as miracle elixirs.

If Trump threw up his hands, decided he was overmatched, and told the governors to take over the response piecemeal with the federal government doing whatever it can to lighten their load, that’d be pathetic but clarifying. The states would be in charge from now on. Instead, he’s placed them in that position but still wants to role-play as The Decider, holding daily two-hour press briefings *and* potentially ordering them back to work even though he lacks the authority, which will complicate their recovery efforts and further confuse people who aren’t sure where to look for guidance. Here’s Cuomo sketching out a path to reopening at today’s state briefing.

Update: Excited to be able to witness these new articles of confederation in the absence of any meaningful federal leadership.

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