Needing Budget Aid, Newsom, Cuomo Mute Trump Criticism
Governors of the two of the country’s most populous states are in a bind when it comes to joining the chorus of Democratic condemnation of President Trump’s “law and order” response to the nationwide eruption of riots, looting and violence in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last week at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo need Trump to sign off on their requests for billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid to avoid deep cuts in public services, and the president has been more open than many congressional GOP leaders to the idea of delivering funds to help states cope.
Before the pandemic hit, Newsom benefited from billions in state budget surpluses, thanks at least in part to the economic boon of the Trump economy and the windfall in tax revenues it produced.
Back then, the first-term governor had the luxury of attacking Trump, regularly clashing with the president on “Sanctuary City” policies, fuel emission standards, the state’s homeless crisis and the border wall, which Newsom last year lambasted as a “monument to stupidity.”
Since the coronavirus crisis emerged, however, and the state racked up a staggering $54 billion deficit, Newsom has stopped crossing swords with Trump – instead praising the president at times for his assistance amid the COVID-19 fight.
Cuomo’s hot-and-cold relationship with Trump, meanwhile, has been on public display for months as both held dueling daily coronavirus press briefings that often shifted radically between praise and criticism as the Empire State governor pushed hard for more federal aid and ventilators. Their complicated relationship over the course of the pandemic is now continuing into the new crisis of racial unrest in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Like Trump, the long-serving New York leader doesn’t usually back down from a fight, and that scrappiness earned him so much media praise during the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis that he was hailed as a possible replacement for Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee.
Such talk has subsided in recent weeks with criticism of a state directive that required nursing homes to take on new patients infected with the virus – an order credited with accelerating outbreaks that made New York the No. 1 state in nursing-home coronavirus deaths.
Now New York state faces a $13 billion budget deficit, and Cuomo is pressing the federal government to bail it out, with GOP critics pointing out that $6 billion of that amount was already projected before the pandemic hit. Republicans blame preexisting state pension problems for many budget shortfalls across the country, and it’s far from clear just how much the federal government will go to bail out the states.
A House Democratic bill would provide $3 trillion in aid with $875 billion of that going to state and local governments to help make up for tax revenues lost during the months-long economic shutdown. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to limit the next relief bill to $1 trillion and is prioritizing liability protections for businesses and others to help get people back to work and the economy humming again without the fear of crippling litigation. Despite that focus, McConnell recently conceded that there “probably will be another state and local funding bill.”
Senate Republicans don’t expect to move the next relief package until sometime in July, so until then the size of the package and how it will be distributed is up in the air.
With New York and Los Angeles likely needing additional money to help rebuild after the riots, Newsom and Cuomo are treading more carefully in their criticism of the president than many like-minded Democratic state leaders across the country. Over the last 48 hours, several Democratic governors have decried Trump’s depiction of them during a teleconference Monday as “weak” for failing to quell the looting and burning of businesses.
Trump followed up on that teleconference with a promise — delivered in the Rose Garden as sirens and flash-bang grenades popped in the background — to deploy the military if the states and localities can’t contain the unrest.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who traded some of the fiercest barbs with Trump during pandemic and who is under consideration to become Biden’s running mate, called Trump’s phone call “deeply disturbing” and accused his administration of being “determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division” instead of trying “to bring down the temperature at the protests.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a frequent Trump critic, didn’t wait until the call was over. Confronting the president, Pritzker said he did call out the state’s National Guard and didn’t appreciate Trump’s rhetoric, which he called “inflammatory” when what’s needed is for national leaders to urge “calm.”
But Newsom, who had clashed with Trump repeatedly in the past, on Monday twice sidestepped reporters’ questions about his thoughts on Trump’s response to the riots and dismissed Trump’s lecture to the governors as “noise.”
“I could be part of the daily back-and-forth in the news cycle,” he said at a news conference. Instead, he is focusing on the needs of Californians because, Newsom said, “I care more about them than some of the noise I hear on a morning phone call.”
Newsom explained that he is working with several California cities, letting them determine their own curfews and whether to call in military reinforcements to help gain control of the streets.
On Saturday he proclaimed a state of emergency and approved Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s request to deploy the National Guard after peaceful demonstrations turned violent, setting a police department kiosk and several vehicles on fire amid looting.
As of Tuesday, nearly 3,000 people had been arrested across Los Angeles County, most for failure to disperse or curfew violations.
Like Trump and other state and local leaders on both sides of the aisle, Newsom blamed the violence on extremist groups unaffiliated with many of the protesters, and cited some traveling from out of state for “creating havoc.”
Cuomo has been far less restrained than Newsom in pushing back at Trump for his handling of the riots across the country, though he been far harsher on a fellow Democrat -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio -- for failing to contain the looting and violence.
Over the last 24 hours, Cuomo twice tweeted criticism of Trump’s handling of the unrest, which became so unruly outside the White House on Friday that the Secret Service rushed the president to a White House underground bunker for protection and nearly 60 Secret Service officers were injured by flying debris.
Cuomo on Monday joined in the criticism of Trump’s decision to use U.S. Park Police and National Guard to clear LaFayette Square, across from the White House, so he could stand outside St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bible in hand, and pose for pictures. Rioters on Sunday had stripped the church of its flag, which they burned, and also set a small fire in the adjacent church building’s basement.
“The president is calling out the American military against American citizens,” Cuomo tweeted. “He used the military to push out a peaceful protest so he could have a photo op at a church. It’s all just a reality TV show for this president. Shameful.”
Trump shot back, ridiculing Cuomo for failing to stop Monday night’s aggressive looting and vandalism in New York City, and also hitting his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, for poor television ratings.
“Yesterday was a bad day for the Cuomo Brothers,” Trump tweeted. “New York was lost to looters, thugs, Radical Left, and all other forms of Lowlife & Scum. The governor refuses to accept my offer of a dominating National Guard. NYC was ripped to pieces. Likewise, Fredo’s ratings are down 50%!” (The president has nicknamed Chris Cuomo “Fredo” in reference to a disparaged character in “The Godfather” films.)
Cuomo on Tuesday decided not to hit back harder this time. He dismissed Trump for engaging in what he described as “political spin” and said the president would rather focus on the violence than discuss Floyd’s death and reforming police training and policies.
But Cuomo reserved his toughest condemnation for de Blasio for failing to rein in the looting and violence Monday night, echoing a similar condemnation from Trump that the police had not done enough to keep the situation in check.
“The NYPD and the mayor did not do their job last night,” he told a news conference Tuesday, calling the chaos caught on video “a disgrace.”
“I believe the mayor underestimates the scope of the problem. I believe he underestimates the duration of the problem,” Cuomo said of de Blasio. “I don’t think they’ve used enough police to address the situation because it’s inarguable that it was not addressed last night.”
Despite his anger over the chaos on the streets, Cuomo said he disagreed with Trump over the need for the National Guard to be deployed. Instead, he said the city’s 38,000-strong police department needs to show up in force with far better organization and direction.
“What happened in New York last night is inexcusable,” he added.