Just how prevalent were these rumors? Paul Bedard wrote about them last night at the Washington Examiner, but he apparently heard about contingency plans for a national lockdown from his sources on Capitol Hill. Earlier today, Donald Trump replied “I don’t think so” when asked if a national lockdown was getting any consideration. “Essentially you’ve done that in California, you’ve done that in New York. Those are really two hotbeds”:
A national lockdown would necessarily require the Department of Homeland Security to manage, and Acting Secretary Chad Wolf says nothing of the sort is being planned at all. In fact, Wolf called it “disinformation” in a tweet later in the day:
Hearing a lot about texts from “friends at DHS” or “friends with connections at DHS” that say DHS is planning a national lock down.
THIS IS NOT TRUE.
Do not believe the disinformation campaigns. Please do not pass it along. Use trusted local and federal government sources.
— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) March 20, 2020
Wolf’s allegation of an active disinformation campaign is new, but he’s not the only official complaining about the rumor mill. Illinois governor J.B Pritzker and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer complained about unfounded rumors of martial law being declared in their states, as John wrote earlier. This sounds like a little more than just people spending too much time on social media, especially since governors have no need to resort to martial law in order to issue these shelter-in-place orders. They already have that authority under civil law, and plenty of resources to facilitate it.
The “national lockdown” idea always appeared a little fanciful. As I wrote earlier today, the federal government has no authority to impose a national shelter-in-place order, not even under the Stafford Act. All that does is allow the federal government to assist governors in enforcing state-level executive orders. Trump could order a national grounding of all aircraft, as air travel falls under federal authority via the FAA, and he can close national borders and presumably federal highways, although that would be the opposite of what’s needed in this crisis, where distribution has already been disrupted. What happens within states is the business of the state, although Trump could put considerable political pressure on governors to act.
Notably, though, Trump appeared uninterested in even doing that much. He declined to outright endorse lockdown orders and left that to Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo to defend. He’s staying out of the food fight in Pennsylvania between Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s Republicans, for instance, over Wolf’s less-than-detailed shutdown order to businesses in the commonwealth. And wisely so; Trump has enough problems on his hands without getting ensnared in partisan disputes on that level.
Whether these rumors of a national lockdown are part of a disinformation campaign or just evidence of speculation run amok, it’s a good reminder to take a deep breath and consider the source before reaching conclusions. It’s not easy to do, especially in a crisis that is producing unprecedented actions on nearly an hourly basis, but it’s the best way to remain calm and get through the day.