WASHINGTON – Democratic and Republican governors pushed back Sunday on President Donald Trump’s tweets to “liberate” states where people protested social distancing measures enacted to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” the president exclaimed in one tweet. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” he cried in another. “LIBERATE VIRGINIA! and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” he wrote in a third.
Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. – who said Friday that Trump’s “unhinged rantings and calls for people to ‘liberate’ states could also lead to violence” – told ABC News’ “This Week” that Trump’s tweets were “dangerous” because some might take them as encouragement to ignore stay-at-home orders and other measures intended to stop the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 40,000 Americans.
“I don’t know any other way to characterize it,” Inslee said, expressing disbelief at seeing the “president of the United States basically encourage insubordination” against laws “designed to protect people’s health.”
“It is dangerous because it can inspire people to ignore things that actually can save their lives,” Inslee said.
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Protests flared up against the stay-at-home measures as angry residents in some states argued that restrictions were unnecessary or have gone on too long. Some reject the measures on ideological grounds; others decried their catastrophic economic consequences.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, where one such protest took place, told CNN he understood “the frustration among the people that want to get things open right away.”
“I’m frustrated also. I mean, I wish I had someone to protest to. But, look, we’re doing everything we possibly can to reopen in a safe manner,” Hogan said Sunday on “State of the Union.”
Hogan – who has been critical of the president on other issues and considered a primary challenge against him – said he did not think it was “helpful” for Trump “to encourage demonstrations and encourage people to go against the president’s own policy.”
Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said on “Meet the Press” that the only thing he asked of the protesters “is to observe social distancing.”
“We’re all big believers in the First Amendment. They were protesting against me yesterday, and that’s just fine. They have every right to do that,” DeWine said. “We are going to do what we think is right, what I think is right. And that is try to open this economy, but do it very, very carefully, so we don’t get a lot of people killed.”
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Gov. Ralph Northam, D-Va., criticized the president for choosing to “focus on protests” amid the pandemic.
“This is not the time for protest. This is not the time for divisiveness. This is time for leadership that will stand up and provide empathy,” Northam said on “State of the Union” Sunday. “It’s the time for truth. And it’s the time to bring people together.”
When asked about Trump’s Second Amendment remark, Northam said he signed “seven pieces of common-sense gun legislation” last week that were passed in response to voters’ concerns about gun violence.
He said his focus is on battling the pandemic.
Thursday, the White House put out guidelines for a three-phase approach to reopening states and areas based on two-week declines in COVID-19 cases and easing the strains facing hospitals.
When asked about the president’s “LIBERATE” tweets, Vice President Mike Pence told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, “No one wants to reopen America more than President Donald Trump.”
When asked why Trump appeared to “undermine” his administration’s guidance the day after it was announced, Pence told Todd, “I don’t accept your premise, and I don’t think most Americans do either.”
“The president’s made it clear he wants to reopen America,” Pence said. “And we laid out guidelines for every state in the country to safely and responsibly reopen their economy at the time and manner of their choosing.”
Inslee compared the administration’s position to “schizophrenia.”
“The president basically is asking people, ‘Please ignore Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. Please ignore my own guidelines that I set forth,’ ” Inslee said.
Hogan agreed and said Trump attacking states for implementing his own administration’s recommendations “just doesn’t make any sense.”
“The president’s policy says you can’t start to reopen under his plan until you have declining numbers for 14 days, which those states and my state do not have,” he said. “We’re sending completely conflicting messages out to the governors and to the people, as if we should ignore federal policy and federal recommendations.”
Only 3% of voters say the country is ready to reopen, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday, and 15% say it will be ready to in the next few weeks. The poll was conducted before the administration unveiled its guidelines.
Nearly 6 in 10 say they are more concerned that the government would loosen the social distancing restrictions too soon, compared with 3 in 10 who are more concerned about measures being in place too long.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., whose state was one of those Trump called on people to “liberate,” told CNN that “the vast majority of Michiganders understand” the need to leave the restrictions in place.
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“No one’s more anxious to reengage our economy than I am,” Whitmer said. “But I want to do it in a way that really does save life, that makes it safe, that mitigates risk and means that we can avoid a second wave, because as tough as this moment is, it would be devastating to have a second wave.”
When asked her response to Trump’s tweets, Whitmer said, “The only response is that Michigan right now has the third-highest death count in the country. We are the 10th-largest state.”
Because her state is getting hit disproportionately hard, Whitmer said, she had to take “uniquely aggressive action to protect people.”
“My stay-home order is one of the nation’s more conservative,” she said, “but the fact of the matter is, it’s working. We are seeing the curve start to flatten. And that means we’re saving lives.”