The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump, the States, and COVID-19

A man in a surgical mask rides on the subway in the Brooklyn borough, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, in New York City, March 15, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Molly Jong-Fast of the Daily Beast has found President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak unsatisfactory. This is a sensible sentiment, one shared by many, including at National Review

Unfortunately, she seems to be letting her anger confuse her about how the American system of government ought to work. She has taken to complaining that states are acting proactively in a manner that suggests they are doing what the federal government and Trump have not: 


To be clear, there is a federal role for the response to coronavirus. And much evidence suggests that the government’s performance, and Trump’s as its chief executive, have been seriously flawed. But Jong-Fast seems to be arguing for the national government to do things that it simply does not have the power to do, and that states are empowered to do, as a function of the manner in which our constitutional system distributes political power. States would almost certainly be responding in something like this fashion regardless of who was president or how the president responded.

Does the federal government have the power to shut down schools, restaurants, and bars in individual states? In many states, governors actually do have that power, pertaining to health emergencies. Would she prefer that it be otherwise, and that the president be able to do such things unilaterally? 

Again, there is plenty to criticize in the federal response to COVID-19. But there was always going to be a role for states in responding to it as well, in a manner ideally coordinated with, but politically and legally distinct from, that of the federal government. And that’s true even if you think the federal government is not holding up its end of the bargain. 


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