Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
The US on Sunday passed the grim milestone of 5m coronavirus cases, as Donald Trump’s executive orders seeking to break a political impasse over further economic relief were denounced by a Republican as “unconstitutional slop” and Joe Biden accused the president of issuing little more than “excuses and lies”.
Recriminations have been flying in Washington since talks on further aid for the unemployed and for states struggling with a public health crisis collapsed on Friday.
Trump intervened on Friday and Saturday, holding press conferences at his luxury golf club in New Jersey, cheered on by well-heeled members crowding close together, a jarring setting amid a pandemic and recession.
On Sunday, there was loud criticism of the president’s unilateral proposals on reduced federal enhanced unemployment benefits, payroll tax cuts and protection against evictions.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, dismissed Trump’s executive orders as “laughable” and another chapter in the federal government’s botched response to the pandemic.
Cuomo said Trump’s plan would likely cost New York state $4 billion: “The concept of saying to states, you pay 25%t of the insurance, is just laughable,” he said. “It’s just an impossibility. So none of this is real on the federal side. This is going to have to be resolved.”
The New York governor said he didn’t know if Trump was “genuine in thinking the executive order is a resolution or if this is just a tactic in the negotiation. But this is irreconcilable for the state. And I expect this is just a chapter in the book of Washington Covid mismanagement.”
Trump’s plan encroaches on Congress’s control of federal spending, drawing claims it is illegal, as well as accusations of his proposals being unworkable and failing to address the most pressing financial hardships facing American families.
“These are illusions,” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, told Fox News Sunday.
The row intensified as the US continued its unwelcome role as the nation with the highest number of Covid-19 cases, crossing the 5m threshold according to figures from the Johns Hopkins University data tracker.
The pandemic in the US is far from under control, according to repeated warnings in recent days and weeks by top federal public health experts.
The US also has the highest number of deaths in the world from the virus, at nearly 163,000, according to Johns Hopkins..
The Democrats have proposed a $3tn package of new economic measures to address the crisis. The Republicans so far have offered $1tn-worth of short-term measures. Talks in which Pelosi proposed they meet in the middle at $2tn broke down on Capitol Hill on Friday.
Trump then put forward measures including resuming the federal unemployment benefit enhancement that ran out last month, but cutting it from $600 a week to $400 – $100 of which would have to be supplied by the states themselves, via a new system.
He also talked about extending protections against eviction for renters, but it turned out to be a proposal to examine such a move.And a proposal for a tax cut would need the cooperation of America’s employers.
Pelosi on Sunday concurred with the assessment of Republican senator from Nebraska Ben Sasse, who tweeted that Trump’s unilateral economic relief measures amounted to “unconstitutional slop”.
#BREAKING: Senator Ben Sasse becomes the first Republican to criticize Trump’s illegal executive order, saying: “The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop.” #NotAKing pic.twitter.com/QlbcinINMT
— Republicans for Joe Biden (@RepsForBiden) August 9, 2020
The White House chief economics adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on CNN on Sunday that money had been allocated by the federal government already that would allow states to contribute $100 per person of the new $400 a week benefit on offer from the White House, with some 30 million Americans newly out of a job since the coronavirus pandemic cratered the US economy.
He acknowledged: “There is still a lot of hardship out there. There is a lot of heartbreak.” He also demurred on questions of whether the president’s proposals as presented were legal.
Pelosi said that what the president is putting forth “is not workable”.
Pelosi said: “What [Kudlow] said really shows the weakness and the meagerness of what the president proposed. First of all he’s saying the states have the money. No they don’t, they have expenses from the coronavirus. They have lost revenue, because of that they are firing health care workers, first responders, teachers, sanitation, transportation workers because they don’t have the money.”
She added: “Something’s wrong. Either the president doesn’t know what he’s talking about – clearly his aides don’t know what he is talking about – or something’s very wrong here about meeting the needs of the American people at this time.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Trump's executive actions: “Something's wrong. Either the President doesn't know what he's talking about. … Or something's very wrong here about meeting the needs of the American people at this time” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/Id401eeMdc
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 9, 2020
Peter Navarro, the trade adviser to the president, defended Trump to NBC’s Meet the Press, while taking a personal slant on Pelosi.
“It doesn’t help when Speaker Pelosi goes out … with her scarves flying and beats the heck out of us,” he said.
Host Chuck Todd asked why Trump spent the weekend at his golf club with the coronavirus pandemic raging alongside the economic crisis.
Navarro simply said Trump is “the hardest working president in history”.
Trump has been to golf clubs he owns in Virginia, New Jersey and Florida, repeatedly during the pandemic.
The Democratic Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, told ABC on Sunday: “The event at the country club is just what Trump does: a big show, but it doesn’t do anything.”
The Democrats’ presumptive presidential candidate, Joe Biden, published a statement on Medium late on Saturday night about the forthcoming milestone of cases.
“It’s a number that boggles the mind and breaks the heart,” he wrote. “Five million is more than the entire population of Alabama – or of more than half the states in our union, for that matter. Each time the number clicks up, it represents a life altered, a family stricken with anxiety, a community on edge. And for the families of the more than 160,000 souls who have died because of this virus, it is a pain that can never be undone.”
He added: “And yet, we continue to hear little more from President Trump than excuses and lies in an effort to cover for his repeated failures of leadership – failures that worsened the pandemic here at home, and in turn deepened our economic crisis.”