Trump’s Partisan Spin on Reopening States

As President Donald Trump tells it, state COVID-19 restrictions are a partisan ploy, with Democratic governors purposely keeping their stated closed, while Republican governors are opening.

In campaign speeches in states with Democratic governors, he implores them to open up, while either praising or making no mention of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts in Republican-led states, even though the restrictions are often similar. Such was the case with Trump’s comments in Bullhead City, Arizona, just across the border from Nevada, as he wrongly contrasted the reopening actions of both state.

“The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Trump said in that speech on Oct. 28. “And Arizona you’re opened up, but Nevada, get your governor to open up your state please. Get them to open up your state. Nevada, get them to open. Get them to open it up.”

So by Trump’s telling, Arizona, which is run by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, is “opened up.” But Nevada, run by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, is not.

But the reality is both states currently have very similar restrictions. For example, in both Arizona and Nevada, bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms are all open, but use is capped at 50% of capacity.

“We can confirm that Arizona and Nevada are in fairly similar places in terms of reopening,” said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking policy actions taken by states in response to the pandemic.

In fact, Arizona has slightly tighter restrictions in some areas. For example, large gatherings are limited to 50 in Arizona, but it is 250 in Nevada.

(Trump has held rallies in both those states in defiance of state regulations. At his rally in Bullhead City, Arizona, Trump said he gets around those regulations by calling them protests. “We don’t call them rallies anymore, we call them friendly protests because you’re allowed to protest,” Trump said.)

Nevada is stricter than Arizona in one respect, Nevada has a statewide face mask mandate, requiring people to wear them in public spaces when they come into close contact with others, such as on public transportation or in a business. Arizona does not have a such a mandate, and leaves it up to local governments to impose them, if they want. (Several states with Republican governors, however, do now have statewide mask mandates, as an AARP state-by-state guide shows.)

In his stump speeches, Trump often singles out Democratic-led states that he says are “closed” and need to reopen. His most frequent target is Michigan and its Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who Trump has likened to “a prison warden.” But as we have written, Whitmer lifted the state’s stay-at-home order, on June 1, and despite Trump’s claim that “the whole state is closed,” the vast majority of Michigan’s businesses are open with some restrictions, as are churches and schools, although some of the latter are teaching remotely.

Trump also has falsely claimed Pennsylvania is closed, as he did Oct. 31 in Newtown, Pennsylvania, saying “open up this state, governor, open up this state.”

But, as we have written, Pennsylvania has been largely open since July 3, when all counties in the state entered the green phase of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan. There are some restrictions: For example, as is the case in Nevada and Arizona, indoor dining at restaurants is limited to 50% of capacity.

It is true, Tolbert told us in a phone interview, that some states with Republican governors were quick to reopen in April and May. But to that point, those states had not seen the same surge in the virus that states in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and West Coast had experienced.

As the president encouraged and prodded states to lift restrictions on business closures in the late spring and early summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, faulted some of those states for opening too quickly, in contradiction of federal guidelines.

“There are some times when despite the guidelines and the recommendations to open up carefully and prudently, some states skipped over those and just opened up too quickly,” Fauci said in July.

Fauci singled out Florida, run by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, as an example, saying, “Certainly Florida I know, you know, I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints.”

Trump repeatedly praised states, such as Florida, that opened early even when some failed to meet the federal guidelines for reopening safely.

Since then, though, Tolbert said, “We have seen a number of Republican governors re-imposing new restrictions,” closing or restricting some businesses and restaurants and banning large gatherings.

“Now that we are seeing a third surge, we are starting to see some states take action,” she said, including in both Democrat- and Republican-led states.

For example, in late October, as COVID-19 cases surged, Idaho, led by Republican Gov. Brad Little, retreated from Stage 4 to Stage 3, returning the limit for indoor gatherings back to 50 people or less and outdoor gatherings to 25% of capacity.

There are some notable exceptions, Tolbert said, such as North Dakota and South Dakota where the Republican governors are “not taking action despite rising caseloads.”

But as he did in Arizona, Trump often draws a false distinction between the reopening efforts of states with Democratic and Republican governors.

For the record, no states are truly “closed.” Both Arizona and Nevada lifted stay-at-home orders in May. Both states have amended their reopening plans in response to spread of the virus in their states, and both are currently in similar stages of being “reopened.”

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