By Aaron Blake / The Washington Post
As certain states have continued to lag behind others in issuing stay-at-home orders, the White House has also resisted a more drastic step: demanding that states get with the program.
Vice President Pence made it clear Wednesday that President Trump has decided he doesn’t want to tell states what to do. “At the president’s direction, the White House coronavirus task force will continue to take the posture that we will defer to state and local health authorities on any measures that they deem appropriate,” Pence said.
Pressed again on Thursday after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, finally got on board with a stay-at-home order, Trump again signaled that the task force won’t seek to compel states. “I think it’s about 85 percent of the states have got the stay at home,” Trump said. “Brian’s a great governor; it’s his decision.”
The thing is, though, Trump is wrong. Eighty-five percent of states are not on board. A New York Times compilation shows that 12 states still have not taken this step. Localities within some of those state have, and the vast majority of the United States is under such orders, population-wise, but this is still not a blanket policy being applied across the country.
And for the first time, Dr. Anthony Fauci is signaling his frustrating with that. After the White House had for days played off this question, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases appeared on CNN on Thursday night and for the first time made his position on that issue clear.
“If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” he told Anderson Cooper. “We really should be.”
The question was about a federal mandate and not whether states should take this step themselves, and Fauci was careful to recognize valid questions about states’ rights. But he was also clear that he thinks this should be a nationwide policy, one way or another.
“I think so, Anderson,” Fauci added at another point. “I don’t understand why that’s not happening.”
Part of the reason it’s not happening is that this request has not been enunciated by the president like it was by Fauci on Thursday night. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican, said earlier this week that he was waiting for Trump to tell him what to do. DeSantis eventually succumbed to the pressure himself, but in making his announcement, he cited Trump’s tone about the severity of the issue.
In other words, what the president says matters. And just like Florida and Georgia, all of the 12 remaining holdout states are run by Republican governors. Trump’s say-so would likely carry significant weight with them.
But Trump isn’t just declining to lean on them; he also continues to cling to the idea that certain areas of the country can treat the outbreak differently because they aren’t yet as hard-hit. Asked Wednesday why he wasn’t telling every state to do this, Trump said it was “because states are different.”
“There are some states that don’t have much of a problem,” Trump said. “There is some; well, they don’t have the problem. They don’t have thousands of people that are positive or thousands of people that even think they might have it, or hundreds of people in some cases.”
Trump added: “You have to give a little bit of flexibility. We have a state in the Midwest or if Alaska, as an example, doesn’t have a problem, it’s awfully tough to say close it down.”
About 24 hours later, Fauci offered a diametrically opposed view on this question, saying that every state should have a stay-at-home order. The statement both reinforced that there are certain disconnects between the president and his top health officials and added to pressure on everyone to fall in line.
Plenty of governors have resisted this step, only to succumb to the realities in their states. Fauci is essentially asking: Why are you waiting to be the next one?
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.