New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with WAMC's Alan Chartock on Northeast Report on April 17, 2020.
You first, governor. Thank you, James, appreciate it very much, governor. I heard the best radio I have heard, you know, in 25 years this morning. And it involved you. And I have to tell you, hats off to you, sir. I mean, it was incredible. You were doing your press conference. And then there was a tweet from the president. And did you know it was coming? Or did you just, did a reporter just read the tweet?
No, no, they read the tweet. I was doing the briefing and they read the tweet. Uh, and that's how I knew.
Well, the tweet was extraordinary, because the tweet basically said, and I don't have it in front of me. But the tweet basically said, Why don't you- "Why don't you get back to work and stop talking to people" the way that you are? And your response was as good as anything I've ever heard. You said well, "Mr. President, why are you watching television? Maybe you shouldn't be watching television." And... that was --that was one of the one of the finest moments I've heard in the Anti-Trumpian or the - No, I don't think Anti- Trumpian is fair to say. I just think you're- in the present tense this here -simply say- holding them to account. Did you just think it? Did you just think of those words as you were going?
Yeah, because the tweet went on, right? The tweet was a very nasty, uh, political tweet. And, look, the president was on a whole Twitter storm this morning, right? And it's clear what he was doing. Liberate Minnesota, Liberate Virginia, Liberate Michigan. He threw the Second Amendment in there, also. And this is just there's no place for this. There's no time for this. This is pure politics, this is trying to put pressure on governors who are trying to make a balanced decision between public health and reopening the economy. And it's just reckless. I'll tell you the truth. And it's pure politics and no, you're not going to bully New York and you're not going to bully during this sensitive time in this nation. And you're not going to politicize it and you're not going to stoke fear Alan. You know, don't inflame fear. You, you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Right? Because you'll incite fear. Well, you can't yell, "Liberate" in the middle of a global pandemic. And it's it's so obvious. And look, the president has said "The governors are in charge, the states are in charge". Okay, then let the governors make the informed decisions without trying to apply political pressure. You're talking about public health, you're talking about people's lives. You don't want rash decisions or politically motivated decisions. And what the states are saying is, "Look, we need help on testing, and we need funding". Two things. Just two things. Testing. By the way, every expert that surrounds the President says we need testing. Dr. Fauci, the CDC, the doctor from the Coronavirus Task Force, they all say we need testing to guide us between here and there. Testing, tracing, isolate, yes. And then the President stands up and says, "We're not doing testing, the testing is up to the States", which is what he said to me in that tweet again, "You do the, states do the testing". I've said for the past 10 days, the one thing we can't do is the testing. It involves International supply chains. I don't do supply chains from China. I don't have that authority. And the funding. They've passed three bills from-from Washington, "No unrestricted aid to the states", Alan. And the states are now supposed to be doing all this reopening. And they're the one entity that has not gotten funding. Airlines get funding, the small businesses need funding. This one needs funding, but the states who he wants to do the entire reopening, they don't need- no- need any funding. It makes no sense. It just makes no sense.
What do you think was on his mind? I mean, it's an extraordinary thing to interrupt your press conference, your report to the people of New York, and to say that kind of stuff. I mean, I have a feeling the reporters who were sitting there were kind of amazed at- what was happening. And did you do you have any interpretation of what he was up to?
Yeah. He did not like what I was saying. He didn't like that I'm saying we need funding. And he didn't like I'm saying "We need the federal government to help in testing". He has said, clearly, and we've had this exchange before. I've said in my briefing in the morning, "We need help on testing". He gets up in the afternoon. He says, "No, the states have to do testing". The federal government has nothing to do with testing. "We're building ventilators", which is from yesterday, and I understand that. He said repeatedly that I haven't shown enough gratitude for what the federal government has done in the crisis. And Alan, I have said, it was great that they helped on Javits, great that they helped on Comfort. I said the president did it expeditiously. I called in the morning, he did it in the afternoon. So, I have said that. But it's now about going for-forward and who's going to do what, and we do need help on testing. Every expert says it, Democrat, Republican. And we do need funding. And I did a statement with the National Governors Association, chaired by a Republican governor, I'm the Vice Chair, calling for $500 billion in funding for the states, so we can actually do the reopening. And they're trying to pass a bill without doing that. They want to pass their bill, has funding for small businesses, the PPE program, it would extend that, but it has no funding for state governments. At the same time, that he stands up saying the state governments have to take on this obligation state by state. So yeah, you know, when you- when you- I think what he was saying today is he's, he's running for election. It's a political year. There is a political, uh, maneuver here to inflame, fear, inflame anxiety. People are home. They're scared, they're nervous, they're frustrated. They're anxious. Yes, they all feeling all those things. Well, tell them Liberate Virginia, Liberate Michigan. Don't forget your Second Amendment. How does the Second Amendment have anything to do with Coronavirus? It's just a political chant. And it's- it's the last thing we should be doing now. I've bent over backwards to stay away from politics. Bent over backwards. They asked me about president, vice president, cabinet. Do this. No, no, no, no, no. Nice and clear. You know why? I don't want anyone to think that maybe I have a political agenda or an agenda of my own self interest. So I have said, unequivocally 100 times, just so I have the credibility that the people of this state know, my only agenda is theirs. That's my only agenda. And I've said to the President, "I won't get involved in a political fight". And I've turned the other cheek. But this is on substance. This does not work without testing. And it doesn't work without funding. And otherwise, we go forward without testing. You will see those numbers turn. I guarantee you. You'll see the deaths go up. And I am not here. And every New Yorker has not gone through this, to lose the progress we made. Alan, that's not what this is about.
Do you think- do you think we're at a point now, where he just keeps trying to find a way towards re-election. I mean, it sounds to me, when he says basically "liberate these states." He's encouraging those folks who are after, you know, who were basically saying, "We want to go to work and you can't stop us." And you know, people like Cuomo they're trying to tell us, we can't work. So that he thinks this is the latest. This is his latest charge into that foray.
Oh, yes, I think he's trying to generate political pressure on governors. There is a sure appeal in standing up right now and saying, you know, "I'm going to liberate you from your home!" " You've been locked up for 30 days, free yourself." "Flee the home, get back to work, get a paycheck." "Let's open this country back up."" Your freedom has been limited by government." "Liberate, liberate." That's why Liberate Virginia, Liberate Minnesota, Liberate Michigan. What is this liberate? These governors are in positions, the easiest thing to do is say, okay, we're open. You want to be open, everybody, we're open. Go back to doing what you were doing. Yeah, that's the easy thing to say. It's irresponsible. It's dangerous. It's reckless. It's negligent. You would totally disregard public health, people would die. But yes, it's a simple easy chant to join in. You'd be cheered immediately. You're free from your home. Have cabin fever? You are released. Go back to work. Yes, you'd have an immediate cheer, pop the champagne bottles, and seven days from today. You'd see that infection rate go through the roof. And you'd see the hospitals overwhelmed and you'd see the death toll go up. 600 dead New Yorkers yesterday. Every day for the past week, look how many lives we lost. And now you want to get political and get reckless, and bully me? Bully New York? You're not gonna bully New York. And you're not gonna bully these other governors, by the way, because Democrat and Republican, I talked to them, I work with them, Alan, they take the governmental responsibilities seriously. And they're not going to be pressured into making the wrong decision. And it is a balance between public health and getting back to the economy. And the states that have fewer cases, they can open and they should open sooner. And that's what leaving it up to every state and every governor. But, don't now try to politicize it and put pressure on them. Let them make the honest decision.
But, but he said in the beginning, he thought he had the "ultimate power." He was gonna open it up. And when you fought back and said, "Hey", you know, "What about the governors here?" And basically said, "OK, OK, the governors will do it all." But when the governors start to do it, then he does this tweet storm.
That's right. Well, he said he had the power. He was just wrong. OK. The Constitution is clear. The 10th amendment is clear. There's a whole list of cases, Prince case, the New York vs. U.S. case. There's a whole, clear legal history. He didn't have the authority. It was always up to the States. And he eventually came around to that position. And frankly, everybody left it alone, because "Fine, it's now up to the governors", that's what it always was, besides the gyrations. But now what he's doing is, he's trying to make it a political decision for the governor. And this is probably- the- one of the most important decisions a governor will ever make in his or her tenure. How do you balance public health and number of lives lost with fundamental economics and a body politic that wants out? They want out of the house, Alan. They want to get back to work. They want to get a haircut, they want out. And he senses that. Yes, the political will out there is, I want out tomorrow morning. And you have these governors that are trying to make an honest decision and an honest assessment. And now you're going to create political pressure on them? Why so they act irresponsibly, and more people die? No.
I have a lot of other questions to ask you, governor. Let me- let me ask you this, you now, told the state workers in New York, you haven't gotten any money and you've notified them that they are not going to get their plan 2% raises this year. You said a 90 day delay is a better option than layoffs. And what other options are you considering? Are layoffs possible after the 90 day period?
Look, anything is possible because you can't continue to operate the state. When you know you have a deficit, and we're spending money at- quite a rate here, Alan. Because you know, all these costs, we're incurring: tests, health care costs, etc. The responsible answer is the federal government has to provide financial support. They only have to do two things. Help with the testing and financial support. And financial support, they pass three bills. You are hard pressed to find an entity they didn't fund. And most of it, or a lot of it, is political pork. The numbers show that they've given states, some states, $200,000 per COVID case, New York, it's 12,000. Well, that's politics. Every senator wanted to go back and give their state money. But I thought it was supposed to be by COVID. And then you bail out the airlines, you bail out these businesses, and this business, and this business and you give money to hospitals and schools. But you don't give any funding to state governments, which are the responsible entity for this delicate balance of reopening, and this monumental task of reopening. How does that make any sense?
So let me ask you this. Are you looking at the possibility of early retirements or furloughs in New York State for state workers?
I'm not looking seriously at anything yet. Except looking to Washington, for them to do their job.
What if they don't?
Do your job.
What if they don't? I mean, let's- let's face it, this is a guy who doesn't like enemies. He doesn't like political pushback. You're saying "Do your job, give us the money," the Republican governor of Maryland and- then I and the rest of the governors are after this. What if he says "No the hell with you"?
Well then, we're going to have a more serious financial issue. And we're going to have to look at options, but I'm not going to go there yet. Alan, let's focus on the responsible solution, which is Washington pass a bill that is actually responsive to the situation. And our house delegation, and Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand. I spoke to them directly. I understand the pressures of Republican- the Republican Senate leadership, but this is a time when they have to stand up and it's not even political. Almost every governor, every governor wants it.
And have they- I mean, has Schumer disappointment to you or is Gillibrand a disappointment to you?
You know, it's not about disappointment. I understand they're in a tough position. But we had the first bill, and it didn't happen, and we had the second bill, and it didn't happen, then we had another bill and it didn't happen. Okay. But you know, at one point, it's going to be the last bill. And then they're all going to go home, and we're going to be in the political silly season. And everyone's gonna hunker down and just do politics, Alan. And it can't be that the piece that didn't get done was that the states didn't get the funding, especially at a time... Look where we are now. The president stands up and says, "It's all up to the governors." " It's all up to the governors." And by the way, testing, which is the only- the single activity that everyone points to, that has to be accomplished, the federal government won't help with. Even though it's another situation where all the states are going to compete, and the federal government is going to compete, all for these precious testing resources. It's the-the fight for the medical equipment that we just went through all over again. Gowns, masks. They were all made in China. Every state is trying to buy them. The federal government was buying them. We all competed against each other for masks, gowns and ventilators. And they were all made in China. And it was mayhem. And now we're going to repeat the same mistake again on testing? Which in some ways was just as vital as a mask and a gown. During the first chapter of this situation.
You've extended to put the- the you've extended the- our shutdown until May 15. Extended PAUSE through May 15. What does that mean? Does that mean- do you think that we're going to have the kind of serious cash flow problems that Tom DiNapoli has talked about? And if we do, what are you gonna do about it?
Well the, what we- what we've done with the extending the closings is you have- The first thing I have to do is coordinate the state, right? Second thing I have to do is then work with my neighboring states, New Jersey, Connecticut, etc. So that we're all on the same page. On coordinating the state within the state, we have 700 school districts, we have 50 county executives, we have hundreds of mayors. What I- what I'm saying to them is, we all have to be on the same page. No one locality can take action that might affect the other localities. This is not normal operating procedure. We're in an emergency. So all 700 school districts, we're going to act with- pursuant to one rule. And then I give them notice by saying, here are the rules, it goes through May 15. And these are the rules. Schools have closed down, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank. And that's the PAUSE New York PAUSE policy. And nobody can act in opposition to that. So Nassau can't open schools if it's going to affect Suffolk, etc. Once we do that, that's one month, then I can go coordinate with New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, etc., with the other states. So, we come up with a regional plan. I don't want to- I don't want to say what's going to happen more than a month out, Alan. Because I don't think anybody knows. And I've been doing this from day one. And all the projections, I got were incorrect. Luckily. And they were all based on Washington's projections, the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force. They did the projections, which were wildly off. The president now wants to blame states for over-anticipating the possible need here. It's his own administration that did the projections. But everybody's been off, thankfully. Because it was- it's been better than they projected. Much, much better. But, I don't think anyone can say today, what's going to happen a month down the road? So one month at a time, and then we'll see where we are. I- in- if we don't get federal assistance in that month. Specific to your question, yes, then we have very, very difficult financial questions to answer.
OK, I could ask you, how are you going to do that? But I won't. I'm going to ask you about Christopher. I know it's personal. I know that he is very, entirely, very depressed. His wife, Christine, now has it. Have you ever talked to him? What do you make of all of that?
Well, look, it's just like for so many. It brings it up close and personal, right. It's one thing to talk about the abstract and this is what it would be like. When you then, live with it, with a loved one, day in and day out. And look, if anyone has to deal with a virus. It's my brother Chris. The guy is strong as a bull. He's in great shape. He really takes care of his health. He, you know, vitamins and all sorts of tonics, that he, he takes. And he keeps himself in great shape, but he has had a terrible time with this. He's been as he says "locked in the basement". But then his wife got it. You don't know for sure that she got it from him. But that's- that's the odds on bet, right? She's been the caregiver, she's been bringing him food, etc. And you can wear gloves and the mask and the whole thing, but all you'd have to do is take back a plate and you know, touch the plate or forget that you take off a glove, or you- anything can happen when you-when you have that many transactions, interactions. So she has it. He's got three kids at home. Uh Christina, his wife is quarantined upstairs, he's quarantined downstairs. Their oldest is 17. She's trying to take care of the other two. So it's just practically difficult, and then he has insisted, to his credit, on doing his show at the same time, because he wants people to understand what this is like. And he thought it would be a journalistic contribution to communicate. You know, "I'm living through this, so you know what it's like". But that's a real pressure. You know, every night, he's got to get up for the show. And, as you know, you think about the show for hours before you're on. So he's just has a lot going on. And he is a very sensitive guy. And he feels he feels very bad about what's happening with his wife and his kids. And there is no easy answer, and I can't even go to help him, by the way, you know, it's such a confounding disease. You can't even have somebody come in the house to help, without worrying about- that they're going to get sick, right? So I can't even help, my sisters can't even help. Really, it's just a terrible situation.
So there's a lot of guilt that is built in. We haven't talked about that a lot, you know, people who pass it on people who may have passed it on people who have it even... That's something we don't think about an awful lot, do we?
Oh, but it's so true. I mean, this, Christine is going to be fine, too. You know, she's young. And she's- but, what, God forbid, you give it to an older person. And this virus kills. I mean, you look at what the virus does in a nursing home. I mean, it's just- it's fire to dry grass.
Let's just talk about that. Let's talk about that for a second. In your earlier press conference today, Governor, the reporters seemed the one and all to be really concerned about the nursing homes. One question after another about nursing homes. Is it- is it your impression that this is where we really are living right now?
Oh, yes. But this is where we were going to be living from first. That's why Seattle, Washington. The, the virus told you where it was going on the first day. That was Seattle, Washington, it was a nursing home. Older people, vulnerable people in a congregate setting. That is the target for this virus. We'll stop it from going in. Okay, no visitors, which we did, which frankly when we did this, I was sick to my stomach. All the health people who work for me all said "You have to do this". I said "I'm going to stop visitors to a nursing home? " I mean, it's the one thing that people in the nursing home look forward to right is the visit. "Yes, we have to stop visitors." We test the staff, thermometers with the staff, but all it takes is one person. Asymptomatic one person, one nurse, one plumber, one maintenance worker, one person. And then once it's there, it just jumps from one to one to one to one.
Yeah, I actually have a twin brother out there in Washington in a place like that. And he can't have any visitors either. It's really, it's really, as some of these people have Alzheimer's, they have diabetes, they have all kinds of problems and that makes them prime targets for all of this. It's really- it's really an extraordinarily tough time. How are you doing? Are you alright? Is your head okay?
Yeah, no, look, I feel good. It's it's, it's simple, but it's painful. I have one job, one agenda. So, clarity of purpose is always good. I'm here to do everything I can to protect the people of my state during this. I'm not going to let them be bullied, I'm not going to be- let them be taken advantage of. I am a lawyer by training, maybe by personality, maybe by growing up as Mario Cuomo, son. You don't let your people be attacked, you don't let them be bullied, and you fight for them. And we need help from Washington. We need the funding, and we need help with testing. And we'll take it from there. Look what we did on the first phase, if you will, Alan, if you told me we could Marshal a hospital system the way we did in this state - we could increase capacity of a hospital system by 50% in one month? Just think about that. We did it. That our-our first line workers would step up this way? That the police would keep showing up in the middle of this and the nurses would show up and the doctors would show up? New Yorkers did it. So we'll take it from here. But just- you have to give us the tools. I have no problem with the president, acknowledging the reality that it's up to the States. And I don't even have any problem with the fact that our situation as a state is worse than any other state. Right? Uh, that's, that had nothing to do with anyone. But I'm not going to be put in a position where they put us in a boat push us out in the ocean, they don't even give us paddles. You know, we need the testing, we need the funding.
Governor, I want to just say congratulations. I, I really was incredibly taken with what you did this morning, and how you just marshal your arguments and did it well, I so appreciate it. And I appreciate your coming on WAMC. It's a great vote for- for what we do here. And I so appreciate it. Again, thanks for being with us.
Liberate Democracy. Liberate Democracy. That's my chant. Thank you, Alan.