I sincerely believed I would not live long enough to hear a president of the United States declare he has the absolute power to tell the individual states what they could and could not do.
Q: What provision in the constitution gives the president the power to open or close state economies, and then —
Trump: Numerous provisions. We’ll give you a legal brief, if you want.
Q: What happens if you say, ‘We want states to reopen’ but California or New York do not open?
Trump: Well, I think everyone wants to open. I guess, you know, that could happen, but I don’t think that would happen.
Q: It’s been states that have ordered schools to close, it’s been state that have ordered businesses like restaurants —
Trump: That’s because I let that happen, because I would have preferred that. I let that happen. But, if I wanted to, I could have closed it up. But I let that happen. And I like the way they’ve done it. And the seven that remained in a sort of semi-lockdown, if you look at those states, they’ve really done a very good job. They’re very much different from a New York, or from other places where they’ve been hit very hard.
Q: There are two consortiums of states today – California, Oregon, Washington on the west coast, northeastern states – in total representing one-hundred million people, who’ve said they’re going to cooperate and decide when to reopen —
Trump: Well, they can decide —
Q: Does that underminee what you’re trying to do?
Trump: No, not at all. Let me just tell you very simply, I’m going to put it very simply: The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots. If we weren’t here for the states, you would’ve had a problem in this country like you’ve never seen before. We were here to back them up, and we more than backed them up. We did a job that nobody ever thought was possible. It’s a decision for the president of the United States. Now, with that being said, we’re going to work with the states, because it’s very important. You have local governments, they’re pinpointed; it’s really, you talk about, it’s like a microchip, they’re pinpointed. We have local government that hopefully will do a good job, and if they don’t do a good job I would step in so fast but, no, they can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.
Q: Just to clarify your understanding of your authority, vis-a-vis governors, just to be very specific, for instance, if a governor issued a stay-at-home order —
Trump: When you say, ‘my authority’ – the president’s authority, not mine; because it’s not me. This is, when somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total.
Q: Your authority’s total?
Trump: It’s total. And the governors know that. You have a couple of bands —
Q: If a governor issues a stay-at-home order, could you rescind that order?
Trump: You have a couple of bands of ‘democrat’ governors, but they will agree to it. They will agree to it. But the authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total.
Q: You said, when someone is president of the United States, their authority is total. That is not true. Who told you that is true?
Trump: Okay, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to write up papers on this. It’s not going to be necessary, because the governors need us, one way or the other, because, ultimately, it comes with the federal government. That being said, we’re getting along very well with the governors, and I feel very certain that there won’t be a problem.
Q: Has any governor agreed that you have the authority to decide when their state opens back up?
Trump: I haven’t asked anybody, because I don’t — you know why? Because I don’t have to.
Q: But who told you that the president has the president has total authority?
Q: On this question of constitutionality, I’m just wondering what changed your view, because —
Trump: No, nothing changed it. I know exactly what you’re going to say. Nothing changed it. The fact that I want to rely on states, or maybe will, or maybe have, and the fact that we’ve got — that’s one thing. The fact that I don’t want to use the power, that’s another thing.
Q: But you said, from the standpoint of the constitution, you thought it should to be up to the governors —
Trump: Yes, constitutionally, constitutionally, you can look at constitutionally, you can look at federalism, you could look at it any different way. John, the fact that I don’t want to exert my power is much different. We have the power. You asked, ‘Does the federal government have the power?’ The federal government has absolute power. It has the power. As to whether or not I’ll use that power, we’ll see. I would rather, John, I would rather work with the states because I like going down to a local government. That’s why with, I guess it’s now seven states, not eight, because South Carolina did you know they went away from what we discussed the last time, so that’s why I looked at the individual states. They’re doing a very good job, they’re really doing a very good job. I’d rather have them make the decision. Now, the fact that I’d rather have, that’s fine. But I have the absolute right to do, if I want to. I may not want to.
And just to put the icing on the cake, the vice president agrees with the president:
Q: It sounds like you think his power is a little more circumscribed than ‘total?’
Pence: In the long history of this country, the authority of the president of the United States during national emergencies is unquestionably plenary [complete power; without limitations; absolute].
I will not sleep well tonight. I’m not sure I will ever again.