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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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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