(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo traded blows in real time during Cuomo’s daily virus briefing, with the president tweeting that the governor should “Stop talking!” and Cuomo mockingly telling Trump to use his signature line from “The Apprentice” and fire his aides working on the pandemic response.
The exchange on Friday was the sharpest yet between the two Queens, N.Y., natives, who for weeks in the initial phase of the crisis had worked hard not to publicly criticize each other. New York is the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 13,000 fatalities so far.
Cuomo has previously praised Trump’s assistance and thanked him for aid. Even after Trump said that New York was asking for too much, Cuomo kept criticizing the federal response but didn’t attack Trump personally.
Cuomo’s broadside against Trump -- with one soliloquy lasting 17 minutes without interruption -- showcased a side of the governor’s personality that is talked about in political circles but rarely displayed in public: bristling, pugnacious, abrasive.
Minutes earlier, Cuomo had been delivering his standard daily assessment of the outbreak, in a routine that has been a balm of sorts for anxious New Yorkers. He reflected on the emotional toll of the pandemic, talking about how he was using the downtime to deepen family bonds.
Suddenly, here he was, lecturing Trump on live television about the Constitution and the founding fathers.
While it may have cheered New Yorkers to see their governor calling out Trump and the federal handling of the crisis, it also risked alienating a president who rarely hesitates to undermine and attack perceived enemies and critics. Clips of the diatribe have been carried on national television networks.
“You don’t want federal disaster response contingent upon whether the President likes you,” said Bob Griffin, a former U.S. Homeland Security official in the Obama and Trump administrations who is now dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at State University at Albany. “The frustration that you’re seeing from Governor Cuomo reflects a level of frustration, candidly, that most of the governors are feeling in the sense that Trump decides when he wants to get involved and take credit, and then deflects blame.”
Trump’s Twitter attack on Friday, posted about a half-hour into Cuomo’s briefing, came in response to Cuomo’s suggestion that the federal government was falling short on coronavirus testing.
“Governor Cuomo should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining,’” Trump tweeted. “Get out there and get the job done. Stop talking!”
He went on: “We have given New York far more money, help and equipment than any other state, by far, & these great men & women who did the job never hear you say thanks. Your numbers are not good. Less talk and more action!”
After a reporter read the president’s tweets aloud, Cuomo fired back with a thinly veiled dig at Trump’s TV-viewing, famously listed on his schedule as “executive time”: “First of all, if he’s sitting home watching TV, maybe he should get up and go to work.”
The governor delivered a stream of zingers, saying the president cared more about helping big businesses than states, and, responding to Trump’s comment about different states making their own policy, he said: “No, no, no, that’s called a map of the United States. It’s not a puzzle.”
The exchange overshadowed another day of encouraging evidence that the crisis is ebbing, with hospitalizations, intensive-care admissions, intubations and deaths all ticking down, though they remain at elevated levels.
Cuomo said 630 New Yorkers died in the prior 24-hour period. Fatalities have declined steadily in recent days from a peak of 799 on April 9.
Even after he had moved on to addressing other subjects, Cuomo returned to throw more insults at Trump, making fun of his TV career and asking that a data slide be shown on the screen “so the president can see what he said.”
Cuomo had been smart to go out of his way to nurture a productive relationship with Trump to maximize aid for the state, in the form of FEMA help with Javits, use of the navy ship, and in procuring ventilators, said Bruce Gyory, senior adviser of government and regulatory affairs at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.
But now there’s not much left to do outside of testing, said Gyory, a New York-based Democratic political consultant. Cuomo may still need the President but he needs him less -- and apparently could not let the taunts go unanswered.
“In effect, the governor had to join the argument,” Gyory said.
On the conflict between the president and some of the nation’s governors over the timing of reopening schools and businesses the states: “All he is doing is walking in front of the parade, he has nothing to do with the timing of the parade,” Cuomo said of Trump.
On Trump saying that some governors showed a lack of appreciation for federal help: “What am I supposed to do, send a bouquet of flowers?”
On federal projections about the scope of the pandemic: “Our only mistake then was believing your numbers and believing your projections,” he said, addressing Trump. “If that was a mistake, then I’m guilty. But I thought New York State relying on what you said would have been a safe assumption. I won’t make that mistake again. And it was your CDC and your White House Coronavirus Task Force that made those projections.”
And on the separation of powers between the federal government and the states: “What are you going to do? Grant me with what the Constitution granted me before you were born? It’s called the Tenth Amendment. I didn’t need the president of the United States to tell me that I’m governor.”
Cuomo said the president was wrong to insist on personal gratitude for federal assistance: “Thank you for Javits, thank you for the U.S. Navy Ship Comfort. By the way it’s just doing your job as president, it’s not thank you like you wrote a check yourself.”
(Adds outside analysis of dispute ramificaitons.)
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