Rebukes of Trump assertion of unlimited power coming from across GOP spectrum

Critics include Liz Cheney, highest ranking woman in Congress

House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., pushed back on President Donald Trump's assertion of total authority.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., pushed back on President Donald Trump's assertion of total authority. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 14, 2020 at 1:47pm

President Donald Trump’s assertion of virtually unlimited power to force state governments to reopen businesses is being met with opposition from across the Republican spectrum, from libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul to the highest ranking GOP woman in Congress, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney.

While Congress may be unwilling or unable to convene because of the coronavirus pandemic and serve as a check on his authority, the span of ideologies represented from his critics is notable.

Paul, a Kentucky Republican known for his critiques of the sweep of powers of the executive branch, joined in the opposition on Tuesday.

“The constitution doesn’t allow the federal gov’t to become the ultimate regulator of our lives because they wave a doctor’s note. Powers not delegated are RESERVED to states & the PEOPLE,” Paul tweeted. “If we dispense with constitutional restraints, we will have more to worry about than a virus.”

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Similar sentiment was espoused Monday evening by Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who asserted broad executive authority in his time in office.

The House Republican Conference chairwoman tweeted, “The federal government does not have absolute power,” and she quoted the 10th amendment to the Constitution.

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” Cheney included in her message Monday evening, which was posted near the end of a marathon press briefing by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the coronavirus task force.

“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be — it’s total,” Trump said Monday, an assertion of power that was directly criticized by reporters in the room.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, unveiled a short resolution Tuesday intending to express the sense of the House that there is direct opposition to the president’s claim.

“Resolved, That the House of Representatives affirms that when someone is the president of the United States, their authority is not total,” the Malinowski resolution reads.

On Twitter, Malinowski said he was joined by Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and Justin Amash, I-Mich., in introducing the straightforward statement.

“We can only pass things with unanimous consent these days, so I’m curious if anyone will object,” Malinowski tweeted.

Amash, meanwhile, said after Trump's power claim that he was “closely” looking into his own run for the White House.

Trump was asserting that he could overrule governors of states and order lifting of restrictions on commerce and other activity, though he did not offer any detailed justification. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department had not released any sort of memorandum to back up the president’s statement.

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned of a potential constitutional crisis if the president went down the road of trying to impose such mandates on states.

“We don’t have a king — we have a president,” Cuomo said in an MSNBC interview, prompting Trump to respond in a tweet.

“Cuomo’s been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility, such as new hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc,” the president tweeted. “I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!”

For his part, Pence suggested that it was the emergency declarations across the entire country that effectively granted the president such broad power.

“Make no mistake about it, in the long history of this country, the authority of the president of the United States during national emergencies is unquestionably plenary,” the vice president said Monday.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said in a TV interview Tuesday morning that he expected guidance from federal officials would prove influential.

"I think the White House and the federal government issues guidelines. Ultimately, it’s going to be the governors, since it’s the governors who instituted the different shutdowns in the different states,” Rubio said on CNBC. “It’s the governors that are going to make the decisions about when certain activities are allowed. Obviously, it’ll be tough for a governor to do that if the federal government and its experts at the CDC are advising against it.”