Fact Check: What Power Does the President Really Have Over State Governors?
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction, especially when the United States has had a complicated relationship with telling the truth. Lately, things are likely even more confusing given the back-and-forth between the current president and roster of state governors. As fake news spread across the country, the president has threatened to force states to reopen and exercise "total authority" during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, is he right? In the past, there have been many examples of presidents overruling states and misusing their power.
Facts can be stubborn things, but so can politicians, which is why we’re taking a look at who’s really in charge in times of crisis.
The President Decides When States Can Reopen or Close
Nope. Donald Trump recently made a statement, claiming, "They [governors] can't do anything without the approval of the President of the United States." He also wrote on Twitter, "For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect...."
When Somebody Is the President of the United States, Their Authority Is Total
False. It’s a common misconception that the U.S. president is the most powerful person in the country and the world. Even Trump stated that the president has "total authority," but this is fake news. Legal experts say Trump’s comment isn’t anywhere in the Constitution and there haven’t been any provisions to the supreme law to support it.
The President Has No Power Over State Governors
Incorrect. The commander in chief can send the military to control states and state governors if the president believes they are involved in a violent uprising or rebellion against the government. This power is granted by the Insurrection Act of 1807, most famously used by Dwight D. Eisenhower to protect the Little Rock Nine on their way to school.
The President’s Control Extends Beyond Laws
True. Despite having no authority to reopen or close states during today’s public health emergency, the president can still impact state governors in important ways. Whether a president’s remarks are true or false, they have powerful effects. For instance, those who trust Trump will look to him for information and guidance rather than to their state governor. However, Trump has a pattern of providing false information that has led to dangerous outcomes, such as suggesting the public inject themselves with disinfectants. These harmful claims can create problems that governors then have to overcome, especially during the pandemic.
During National Emergencies, the President Is Given Complete Control
Mostly Untrue. It’s actually not the president or state governors who are given control during national emergencies, but Congress.Although the National Emergencies Act, the Stafford Act and the Defense Production Act give the president more power during a crisis, Congress has the final say.