New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.
Good afternoon. How you doing?
"Gentlemen"? Who's he talking to? I thought I was going next.
It certainly isn't me. Haha.
How're we doing?
I'm good. Governor- President Trump- Let's get right into it- Tweeted today that he'll be leaving Walter Reed at 6:30 this evening, and says, "Don't be," quote, "Don't be afraid of COVID. Don't let it dominate your life." What's your reaction to that? And as my commentary would be: "Easy enough for him to say," Um, what do you, how- Do you react to this?
This has been his political line from day one, right? He lied about whether or not COVID was in the United States. He lied to New Yorkers calling it the "China Virus", making us all look to China when it was in Europe, and it came here from Europe. And that's where our explosion came from. His own CDC, and his Dr. Fauci admitted that. He said to Woodward, "I know it was bad, but I didn't want to tell the American people." He's denied it all along. Now he gets it. What, what do you say when you get it? You say "It's nothing." Yeah, "It's nothing." Tell that to the 210,000 families that lost someone to COVID. "It's nothing," when you're president of the United States, and you can fly to Walter Reed and receive million dollar care, when you get the experimental Regeneron drug that's not even available to the public. The new special cocktail that Regeneron came up with. And you have a whole team of doctors, when you can put other people's lives at risk, driving in a car with the virus, making them breathe in infected air. I mean, it's just- It's just his politics uh, at the expense of public health. He should have taken this as a moment to be intelligent and sober and, and reflective and said, "You know, if I can get it, anyone can get it. I have secret service people, everybody gets tested, I still got it. Be careful." There was such a moment to educate the public here, and he's, he is doing the exact opposite.
It's really unbelievable. So did- Let me ask you this, it's a personal question. Did Trump and his inner circle getting COVID change your approach to safety at all? You're getting tested regularly? Are you taking care of yourself?
Oh, it's funny you say that. It's made my staff paranoid, because I don't have any of the precaution, precautions that the President takes. And they think that I take unnecessary risks. But it's hard for me to do my job without meeting people, you know? And I've been, from day one, a model of, uh "Wear the mask." Our state is the first state in the nation that said mandatory masks. But the staff did get nervous and they put also some precautions in place. And you know, there's hand sanitizer wherever you go here, and everybody's got three masks on, you can't even recognize them.
Well, yeah, but, but it sounds to me like you're living a little dangerously. I mean, when you say, "You have to meet people"- That's how he got it.
No. I don't do gratuitous political events. I do governmental events that are required for me to do my job. You know, we had the, we had the worst situation in the nation here. I need to meet with people and talk to people and I need to move around to do my job. So I try to balance it. I'm not reckless, you know, I'm 62. So I have to be careful, I get it. But I have to do my job. And I'm not going to not do my job.
Well, okay, but I want you to be careful. Okay, for whatever it's worth. You are in New York City today to discuss the COVID spikes in certain quote "hotspots in Brooklyn and Queens", but you're not allowing New York City and Mayor de Blasio to shut down non-essential businesses there. Why not?
You read the Jesse McKinley story. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Uh oh. I like Jesse.
Yeah, I like him too. He's just wrong. You can- I can like you and you can be wrong. Look, you- A lot of people like me and I'm wrong a lot. "The hotspot clusters." This is nothing new. We had the first hotspot cluster in the United States with New Rochelle. But you have to be smart and you have to be quick and you have to be effective- And you can't be wrong. We have- Hotspot clusters is how this starts everywhere. It's never over- It's never a blanket that overcomes you. That only happened once. Because early on, we had COVID here, nobody knew it. So it circulated for two months. And that all of a sudden, by the time we had the first case, it was a raging inferno with thousands of cases. Normally, it starts with embers and you have to go stamp out the embers before they take off. That's what a hotspot is. So there are a few hotspots in New York City, there's one in Nassau, Rockland, Westchester. On the New York City ones, it works on a couple of levels. First, the schools, there are schools in hotspot zip codes that have had no testing whatsoever. I think it would be reckless to allow a student to go into that school building. You know it's in a hotspot. And you know you did no testing, how can you say to a parent in good faith, "It's safe"? And I said, very simple rule, Alan, "I'll never let a New Yorker send a child to a school that I wouldn't send my child to." I would not send my child to a school in hotspot zip code that has no testing. So I had the controller, and the speaker, and the mayor, and Michael Mulgrew of the teachers. I said, "We should close those down immediately." Which everybody agreed with, because I do think it's reckless. I also think the city's plan, as we talked it through, that says they're going to do random monthly testing. I think that's a mistake and that has to be refined. Monthly testing- In a month? A month is a long time, you give this virus a month between tests, it can become way out of control in a month. So we're going to talk to the city about changing that plan where they're at least weekly testing every school. You can't have that long an interval between tests. And you know, the principal's union in New York City came out against the plan. And pointed to that as one of the reasons. And I think they are right, frankly. Talking it through with the city and the controller and the speaker. And I- Look, it's- I think it puts teachers lives in jeopardy. And it puts students’ lives in jeopardy and allows the virus to increase. So we have to change that also. But that's schools. On the zip codes-
A zip code is not the best basis to make these decisions. A zip code is designed for Postal Service, it has no relevance to stopping a health pandemic. We have better data, we have data that goes down to the address level. So you, you can find out exactly where people live, who tested positive and draw the geographic template around that area. I just got off the phone with one of the real global health experts. He said "Map where the positive cases are by address and then do a buffer around it. Because maybe it's spread a little bit. 'A margin'." You know how they talk about cancer, God forbid? "We had to cut out the cancer and then we leave a margin. We, we take a margin around the edge, in case it's spread." So we have to come up with a more intelligent geographic template and then close the non-essential businesses in that template. I don't want to use an unsophisticated template. And I don't want to change. You know, I don't want to put out one plan. "You're closed on Monday. Tuesday, there's another plan, you're open." There's been enough confusion in New York City. Their plan one, "The schools are open. No, it's not open. It's plan two. They're gonna open No, I didn't open." I don't do that.
So what do you do? So I mean, what do you do? What do you do when you close the schools and the kids telecommute? I mean, what, what, what is it that we can expect to have happen to them? What about all those principals and teachers and everybody else who're working there?
The kids do remote learning and the teachers do remote learning and the principals assist. The non-essential businesses, we've closed them before, we'll close them again. I just want to make sure it's right. But in these clusters that we're specifically talking about
The real, the real issue are the religious institutions. Are the synagogues, temples, the churches, the mosques? There are pictures, Alan, of rampant, rampant violation. You know, the rule now, the law is no more than 50. I put up a picture of the briefing, there must have been 1000 people at this celebration: none of them had masks. And that's not just a rule. We had the rules. This is no enforcement, and a rule-
Can you enforce it? First Amendment, can you enforce it?
Yes, you can enforce it. Now, politically, it's hard. But legally, it's sound. And I don't do rules that I don't enforce. You make a mockery of government. And you make a mockery of the whole process. So I'm going to have the state take over the enforcement in these hotspot clusters. Because I've said for weeks, to the local governments, you're not doing the enforcement. And that's exactly what happened here. This was a lack of enforcement, not a lack of rules. The current rule is no more than 50% in a synagogue or a church or a mosque. No more than a gathering of 50. We've been seeing pictures of thousands of people in these communities, and it has to be enforcement. I told the local governments you have to assign bodies, person personnel to a state supervised run Task Force, and I'll do the enforcement because it's not really the rules. It's the enforcement. And people were nervous, politically afraid to go to religious communities and say you have to live with this. But this is what happens when you don't. And you can say, "Oh, that's Governor Cuomo. He's tough. He's tough. He's Italian. He's big. He looks like he has dark circles under his eyes. He's scary looking. Look at him, he's harsh, tough enforcing." No that's because I love people and I want to protect their lives. And weakness can hurt people, Alan. Weakness hurts people. "How did you let me get the virus?" "Well, I was afraid to enforce the rule. I was afraid. Yeah." Now people have the COVID virus, now people die.
Is de Blasio afraid? You think de Blasio is afraid? Mayor de Blasio?
I think, let's not personalize it.
I don't like to get personal.
He's the mayor. He's the mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world. I mean, why not?
I think local governments, local governments have- Many local governments- Some have done a great job, many local governments have failed to do the enforcement many. We went through this with the bars and the restaurants. Remember all the pictures with all the young people in front of the bars? Hanging out, drinking? And I sat there with the briefings. "This is illegal, you have to stop. Local governments-” I did it for weeks, nothing changed. I took over the enforcement of the bars and restaurants. We did 1200 enforcement actions against bars and restaurants. Now I can't walk into a bar or restaurant in the state- But it worked. And the enforcement went way up. You know why people don't speed? Because they think they'll get a ticket. If they knew they weren't gonna get a ticket- Besides you and myself- People would speed. You have to enforce the rule. And we're talking about the Jewish community, we're talking about black churches, Catholic churches. No one- Local politicians are not in the business of making people unhappy. And these communities are going to be unhappy, I can tell you that. But I'm not going to put out another rule without the enforcement ability to do it. New York City, we had told, "I need 400 enforcement people assigned to the state to do the enforcement and we'll change the rules. The city gives us 400 enforcement people, we can enforce the rule." I'm going to speak to the Orthodox community tomorrow. I'm going to say to them "Unless you agree to follow the rules, we're going to close religious institutions." And they have to say: "They will agree to follow the rules, and they will advocate and they'll cooperate." And then I have to have the enforcement capacity to make it happen.
What if they take you to court? What if they take you to court, “First Amendment”? You can't close a synagogue or church? Can you?
Yeah, they did that already, to me. Everybody's taking me to court. By the way, if I don't get sued five times, it's a slow day. They took me to court and they lost. I had, just have to apply the same rule to a church or religious institution that I apply to other organizations. So fine. The rule is no more than 50% capacity, and no more than 50 people in a gathering. Period. That's the rule.
Are they angry? Are the people you're talking to angry? You know, the rabbi's and the others?
And what are they saying to you?
They say to me- Well, first, everybody gets defensive. Except me. They say, in New York City. There's been no enforcement. See, New York City has only taken 26 enforcement actions. 26. So their point is there's only been 26 enforcement actions. How can you say there's been widespread failure to follow the rules? And in truth, New York City did not do a good job on the enforcement. They didn't do it with the bars and restaurants, they didn't do with the young people demonstrating. They didn't do it with the religious institutions. I said, "Okay, maybe the enforcement wasn't good. But you knew the rule. And you were supposed to be following it anyway". And yeah, they were speeding, but nobody was stopping them. I get it. Now they have to agree to the rules. And I want to have a health official in front of the synagogue, in front of the church, in front of the mosque, if they have more than 50% of the people, Alan, you close it down. More than 50 people in a gathering, you close it down. If they're upset, they're upset, and then they say, "We're upset with you." I say, "I believe that I save the lives and your community and lives in the broader community by controlling the spread." They say, "We didn't like it that you made us do this." I say, "I can sleep at night. Because New York's they went from the highest infection rate to the lowest." We have now New Jersey, which is about 2-3%, Connecticut, 1 1/2%. We're still about 1%, we're in the national outlier. We've done extraordinarily well. And that allows me to sleep. And yes, when the Trump protesters say: "You're closing my business, you're- Liberate New York." I say yeah, I helped save lives. And I feel good with that. And that's enough.
I was interviewing House Ways and Means Chair Ritchie Neal today and he said he agrees with you that states and localities require federal aid in the next Corona-Coronavirus relief package. But you have to work on a budget for next year while you wait for a federal bill. What kind of cuts- I've been asking you this for months. What kind of cuts is your administration considering right now? If the COVID package doesn't come through?
By the way, Massachusetts spiked. I think they're up to 3%, Massachusetts. But you can come to New York whenever you want. And you'll be safe here. We will keep you safe. Alan. I am not- I do not accept the premise that I should make cuts. My position is: it's not my liability. What- New Yorkers did not cause this issue. Federal negligence caused it. The CDC, NIH admitted that they failed to realize COVID was coming to New York. Fauci and Redfield testified before Congress, under oath. Everybody was looking at China and we missed it, that it came from Europe. Yeah, well, your 'miss' cost New Yorkers billions and lives. It's your liability, you're gonna pay it. And if this Congress doesn't come up with a transaction within agreement, which I think they might- I just spoke to Speaker Pelosi, I spoke to Secretary Mnuchin. I think they might. If they don't come up with an agreement, then I think President Joe Biden has promised he will, or Senator Schumer, as head of a Democratic Senate will, worst case scenario, and highly improbable, President Trump wins reelection, and it's a Republican Senate, then we have a terrible, economic few years terrible. The deficit is so high that we would have to do what I call 'all of the above': you'd have to raise taxes, cut expenses, and borrow. And you would see a degradation of service services and quality of life in places like New York City, which has already degraded, and these people who have moved out to the suburbs or summer homes would actually I think, become permanent residents. You know, the real estate market in the, in Suffolk and the Jersey Shore has gone crazy. The real estate market in Lake George has gone crazy. We have to get these people back into the cities
And we're doing that how?
Well, we're not doing that by raising taxes, cutting services and borrowing more money. We're doing that by saying to Washington, "It's your liability. You pick up the bill." And I believe it's going to be President Biden. And I believe it's going to be a Democratic Senate also, by the way.
So I believe there will be federal aid. And before you ask me to cut off my right arm and my left leg, I want to see if there are any options first, please.
Hey, do you pay taxes? I mean, we saw that the President paid $750 a couple of years in taxes. So- A guy who claims he's a billionaire. What do you make of that?
Well, it doesn't square. You can't pay 750 and be a billionaire. Trump is a marketing man. He marketed himself as a great businessman. He was a failure. He went bankrupt. It was all show. No Go. He marketed that. Remember, he put his name on all the planes? There's a plane at LaGuardia Airport that sits there with the name Trump on it. The plane never moves. It's the weirdest thing. I see it all the time, just sits there. Same spot, never moves. But it's a big banner, Trump Plane. Trump. So he pays the parking for the plane, even though it never moves. So everybody sees Trump has a plane. Trump in gold letters on an office building. He's a marketing man. He's marketing that he's a successful president. He's marketing, his perversion of the COVID story.
And yet he's behind in the polls.
Because people catch on. They catch on. Fool me once. They catch on, and they've caught on to his act. What he did it the debate was outrageous. It's all outrageous, what he did yesterday in the car. You, you know you're infected. You make Secret Service agents sit in the car with you and breathe the infected air? So you can have a photo opportunity? What makes your life so much more valuable than anyone else’s? That you would jeopardize their life for a photo opportunity?
If he loses the election, are you worried that he won't accept it and that we could, we could move into a sort of a totalitarian takeover?
I am desperately worried. And I believe he has told you what he's going to do. Because he always does, by the way. If you listen to him, he will tell you what he's going to do. He says the ballot is- "The election is rigged. Mail in ballots are fraudulent. They are illegal." He's been saying that for weeks. He wants the new Supreme Court person nominated. And is he wholly capable of losing, standing up and saying "I didn't lose, the election was rigged-"
What happens then?
Then he brings a lawsuit and he tries to get to the Supreme Court and he tries to have his Supreme Court make him the president like Bush v. Gore.
Your book, your new book is coming out "Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic"- And raises a question with me got to do it all over again, would you put New York on PAUSE rather than when you did it?
We went from the first case, to full closure in 19 days. No state moved faster than we did. Remember, the key with closure was not just putting forth a government policy: "You must now stay home, don't go to school, close your business, every school's closed." The key was getting people to follow it. It's like where we are now. "We need a new rule that tells synagogues and churches." No, we have the rule, nobody’s following it. The rule had to be followed, I had to convince the people of New York that take the most draconian measures have their life, government never told them to make such changes. I had to give them the information and bring them through it without petrifying them so that the essential workers didn't show up. And I had, I had 19 days to do it. And I did. "Well, I think you could convince them faster." I don't know how at that time, when you have a president saying "It's a hoax, it's a flu, it's gone by April. Don't worry about it. It's just politics." And I had to convince people to do the most dramatic action and turn their lives upside down. And we did it 19 days.
Okay, just to be clear, because I only got two minutes here. You think that this President has the ability to, to go to the Supreme Court and to upset an election result in this country? I want to make sure I got that right. I think you said yes.
Yes to if he went to the Supreme Court?
Yes. In other words: Will he, does he have the ability to steal this election?
Does he have the ability to challenge the election-?
To come up with a configuration of legal cases that gets him to the Supreme Court? And is the Supreme Court capable of being wholly political, and following party line? That is a possibility. I sleep at night because I think the Supreme Court judges are going to surprise him. And I think he's going to lose by a large margin. And he would be asking the Supreme Court judges to do something so egregiously illegal, that they're not going to do it, because they're going to be worried about their integrity and the integrity of the court. And they know that they will turn this nation into a turmoil, if they ever just thumb their nose at elections and democracy. So I think that's the President's plan. I don't think the Supreme Court is going to do it for him. And that may be my hope. But I think they're going to be more loyal to their integrity and the integrity of the court.
We are out of time governor, I so appreciate your coming on. We always love it when you do. And we've missed you in the past. And we hope you'll come on some more because I know how busy you've been with the book and everything else. So thanks for doing it.
Thank you, Alan. Thanks for having me.