Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could not have sounded more conciliatory toward President Trump Tuesday during his daily briefing on the state's Covid-19 response.
But that doesn't mean the two are not tangling over the proper role of the federal and state governments in dealing with the emergency, right down to Cuomo's invocation of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and Trump's comparison of Cuomo and other Democratic governors to characters out of "Mutiny on the Bounty."
It all points to an apparent end to the pair's period of mutual praise throughout the epidemic saga, now replaced by an intensifying conflict between two major coronavirus characters who harbor very different political views.
It began Monday evening during Trump's daily Covid-19 briefing when he said he would set the course of the nation's social and economic standdown to combat the virus.
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said of his role, referring to a tug-of-war between governors and him over their roles and responsibilities – which Trump initially assigned to the states.
That prompted Cuomo to begin a round of cable TV appearances beginning Monday evening on CNN, through Tuesday morning and into the afternoon. He told Tuesday's "Morning Joe" program on MSNBC that by asserting his authority to preside over the virus response, the president had proclaimed himself "King Trump." Cuomo made no secret of his agitation over the president's pronouncements, calling them "infuriating and offensive, and, frankly, ignorant of the facts."
— Willie Geist (@WillieGeist) April 14, 2020
"This wasn't a bending of the Constitution; what the president said last night, it was a breaking of the Constitution," Cuomo said. "All that annoying federal and state back and forth that our Founding Fathers went through, he just disregarded that and said total authority. Then we would have had King George Washington.
"If it wasn't so serious, it would be funny, it could be a comedy skit. It's frightening," he added. "And we really have the toughest governmental problem we've ever faced right in front of us, and we have to deal with this absurdity."
By Tuesday morning, Trump was firing back on Twitter.
"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. I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!" the president tweeted.
An hour later, Trump pounced again on Twitter:
"Tell the Democrat Governors that 'Mutiny On The Bounty' was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!!"
Tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2020
The governor, meanwhile, contended that throughout the response to Covid-19, the president has emphatically preferred that state governments lead the way in many aspects.
"This is a total 180 from where the president started. When this started he could have closed down the economy. He didn't want to, so he left it to the governors," Cuomo said on CNN. "And I have had to do this, and I’m in this position because the federal government, frankly, didn't want to be in this position."
The governor also fundamentally disagreed with the president's constitutional interpretation.
"The president doesn't have total authority," he told CNN. "The Constitution clearly says the powers that are not specifically listed for the federal government are reserved to the states and the balance between federal and state authority was central to the Constitution."
By early Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo was attempting to defuse the situation by telling Capitol reporters in Albany that the president's claim of having total authority was "not an accurate statement." He then led a brief history lesson that invoked Hamilton's writing on state and federal government roles.
But he said he was not going to "engage," before engaging in his own way.
"The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue," Cuomo said. "The worst thing we can do in all of this is start with political division and start with partisanship.
"I put my hand out in total partnership and cooperation with the president," he added. "If he wants a fight, he's not going to get it from me. Period."
The governor noted he has praised Trump for helping to set up hospital beds at the Javits Center and sending the hospital ship USNS Comfort to New York City, then reiterated his core assertion that the president's view of federal and state roles can not go "uncorrected."
And he left the door open to a possible forceful response.
"I'm not going to let anything bad happen to the people I represent," he said. "I will fight with all my might to protect New Yorkers. But I don't think it comes to that."
The recent developments represent a major departure from how the two leaders have approached each other. Almost since the dawn of the crisis, both have proved uncharacteristically complimentary.
"Fairness dictates that kudos where kudos are due, and here the vice president and the president responded very quickly. So, I want to thank them for that," Newsweek reported Cuomo as saying back in mid-March.
About the same time, the president was heaping praise on the governor of his home state, despite a history of political sparring between them. Cuomo responded to the virus outbreak "very diligently and very strong," Trump said then.