A coalition of six Democratic governors in the northeast announced a working group Monday to craft plans on eventually loosening social distancing measures and reopening businesses in their states, putting them on a collision course with President Trump, who said it’s his decision when to reopen states.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said each state would name a public health official and an economic development official as representatives. Those officials, plus the governors’ chiefs of staff, would form a working group that will begin work immediately on designing a reopening plan.
“To the extent we can do that together, that is the best course - there’s no doubt about that,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Let’s be smart and let’s be cooperative and let’s learn from one another.”
Mr. Cuomo said other states can join the coalition as well, but he acknowledged that the eventual rules of the road are unlikely to work exactly the same everywhere.
“We’re a little bit different down here, a little bit behind I think those of you in northern New Jersey and New York City,” said Delaware Gov. John Carney. “Our message here at home is still be safe, stay at home.”
The other state leaders involved in the coalition are New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.
SEE ALSO: Trump asserts control over decision to open up country
“The house is still on fire, we still have to put the fire out, but we do have to begin putting in place the pieces of the puzzle that we know we’re going to need,” Mr. Murphy said.
New York and New Jersey are first and second in the country, respectively, in terms of coronavirus cases and coronavirus-related deaths, both in terms of raw numbers and adjusted for population.
All six leaders had previously announced “stay at home” orders putting severe restrictions on their residents’ “non-essential” activities.
Earlier Monday, Mr. Trump said that it’s his decision alone on when to “open up” states but that he was working in concert with the nation’s governors on a plan.
Mr. Wolf pushed back on that notion.
“Seeing as how we had the responsibility for closing the state down, we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up,” the Pennsylvania governor said.
Mr. Cuomo said he’s all ears if the president wants to issue dictates from Washington, D.C. but that Mr. Trump has generally left things up to the states to this point.
“I just want clarity,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It is an interesting construct that it wasn’t the federal responsibility to close the economy, but it is the federal government’s responsibility to open the economy. If it’s your authority to open, why [wasn’t] it your authority to close?”
Ms. Raimondo said it’s been governors who have been showing great leadership throughout the crisis.
“And so I think it’s only appropriate that we do the same thing now by coming together and showing regional leadership to reopen the economy,” she said.
Mr. Lamont said he doesn’t want to see things done prematurely.
“There’s nothing worse than a false start,” the Connecticut governor said.
Mr. Cuomo had said earlier in the day that reopening parts of the country, when the time comes, wasn’t going to be an all-or-nothing approach.
“It’s not going to be we flip a switch and everybody comes out of their house and gets in their car and waves and hugs each other and the economy all starts up,” the New York governor said. “I would love to say that’s going to happen. It’s not going to happen that way. It can’t happen that way.”
Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Lamont had jointly announced last month that they were shuttering casinos, gyms, theaters, bars, and restaurants in their respective states in one of their earlier responses to the outbreak.
That announcement came on March 16, the same day that Mr. Trump announced federal guidelines that urged people to stay home if they could and avoid large public gatherings.
Mr. Wolf later added Pennsylvania to that regional coalition of states.
It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for the partnership between governors since the start of the outbreak.
Ms. Raimondo had also issued an executive order last month saying that people returning to Rhode Island from New York had to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Mr. Cuomo had threatened to sue, and Ms. Raimondo issued a modified order saying that anyone entering Rhode Island “from another state” for non-work-related purposes had to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.