Trump Is Itching For a Fight With Governors Over Lockdown Orders

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Bloomberg dryly reports on this morning’s presidential tweets:

President Donald Trump declared Monday that he has the power to “open up” states and relax social-distancing practices adopted to combat the coronavirus outbreak, not governors. He didn’t elaborate on how he reached his conclusion….“It is the decision of the president, for many good reasons,” Trump said in a subsequent tweet. He didn’t list any.

Hmmm. Short of martial law, I suppose Trump would have to invoke the commerce clause. Would that work? It might! Shutting down all the nonessential businesses in a state arguably affects interstate commerce, after all. The irony is that liberals like me believe the commerce clause is fairly broad—broad enough, for example, to allow the federal government to mandate that everyone buy health insurance. So I might support Trump’s authority here. Conservatives, by contrast, believe in a narrow reading of the commerce clause—no individual mandate for them! So they would presumably oppose Trump’s power grab.

In any case, Trump has a couple of problems here. First, the states with lockdowns in place would go to court immediately and almost certainly find someone to stay Trump’s order. Then we’d have to wait for the Supreme Court to eventually rule, which would take more than a few months. By then it would be moot.

Second, even if the Supreme Court issued a fast emergency ruling, who’s going to enforce it? What happens if the states ignore Trump? Is he going to send in the National Guard? Something tells me that a city full of guards toting M16s is not going to be open for business no matter what the president says.


UPDATE: A reader points out an obvious flaw in my reasoning (and Trump’s, assuming he has any reasoning to begin with):

Quite so. Martial law it is, then.

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"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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