WASHINGTON – Threatening to shut down Twitter for flagging false content. Claiming he can “override" governors who dare to keep churches closed to congregants. Asserting the “absolute authority” to force states to reopen, even when local leaders say it's too soon.
As he battles the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has been claiming extraordinarily sweeping powers that legal scholars say the president simply doesn't have. And he has repeatedly refused to spell out the legal basis for those powers.
“It's not that the president doesn't have a remarkable amount of power to respond to a public health crisis. It’s that these are not the powers he has," said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas School of Law professor who specializes in constitutional and national security law.
First it was Trump's assertion that he could force governors to reopen their economies before they felt ready. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he claimed.
Trump soon dropped the threat, saying he would instead leave such decisions to the states. But he has revived the idea in recent days as he has tried to pressure governors to allow churches and other places of worship to hold in-person services, even where stay-at-home orders and other limits on large gatherings remain in effect.
Asked Tuesday what authority he had to enforce such a mandate, Trump was cagey.
“I can absolutely do it if I want to," he said. "We have many different ways where I can override them and if I have to, I’ll do that.”
The White House declined to spell out any specific statute, but White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that “every decision the president has made throughout this pandemic has been to protect the health and safety of the American people.”