Larry Hogan saw what he saw — and he did not like it.
The Maryland governor watched over the weekend as cherry blossom oglers flooded Washington, DC, and beachgoers in Ocean City crowded the boardwalks, despite federal guidelines urging Americans to stay away from large gatherings.
“Let me repeat, once again, as strongly as I possibly can: If you are engaged in this kind of activity, you are breaking the law and you are literally endangering the lives of your family, your friends and your fellow citizens,” Hogan said at a press conference on Monday, when he announced an executive order that mandated the statewide closure of all non-essential businesses.
With large pieces of the federal response tied up on Capitol Hill and President Donald Trump shifting his tone with unnerving regularity, Americans are increasingly turning to their state executives for clear messages and decisive action in the fight against coronavirus. Hogan, the rare two-term Republican governor of a blue state, has been among the more aggressive, taking steps largely in line with the leaders of harder hit states, like Washington, California and New York.
And over the last 24 hours, he has also been frank in his response to suggestions from Trump, the leader of his party, that the time could be near to relax national social distancing guidelines in what both economic and health experts have called a misguided bid to rev up the economy.
“Some of the messaging is pretty confusing. It’s not just it doesn’t match with what we’re doing here in Maryland. Some of the messaging coming out of the administration doesn’t match,” Hogan said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.” “We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock.”
Avoiding partisan talking points
Only a few hours before Hogan began speaking on Monday, Trump declared in a tweet, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” The President’s growing concern that efforts to mitigate the disease will further decimate major industries, and his suggestion that he would reconsider steps experts say are crucial to saving lives in a bid to revive the stock market, clashed with leaders closer to the crisis, like Hogan, who are moving forward with increasingly forceful efforts to slow the virus’s spread.
At the press conference announcing his own new order, Hogan avoided any partisan talking points or jabs at Democrats, instead training his criticism on the “irresponsible and reckless behavior” of those who had continued to gather in large groups across Maryland and the capital region, which includes Washington, DC, and Virginia.
Hogan’s performance in Maryland has won him the praise of the Democrat he defeated in 2018 on his way to a second term in office.
“Gov. Hogan has shown great leadership in pulling our state together during this crisis, particularly given the absolute lack of direction from the White House,” Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president and Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2018, told CNN. “We shouldn’t be Democrats and Republicans during this crisis. We have to be one community. Gov. Hogan is setting the right tone to help save lives and for that, he deserves a great deal of credit.”
As of Tuesday morning, CNN Health had counted nearly 300 cases of coronavirus in the state of Maryland, including three deaths. While that number is small in comparison to a state like New York, which is closing in on 22,000 infections with more than 150 already dead, Hogan was quick to action earlier this month, declaring a state of emergency and then closing all schools, K-12, until at least the end of this week.
“He’s really built up a lot of bipartisan bona fides,”said Amelia Chassé Alcivar, the Republican Governors Association communications director and a former Hogan spokeswoman. “Through his general messaging, his approach to issues and to policy positions — he’s working with the Democratic leaders in the state of Maryland, which is basically all the leaders in the state of Maryland.”
Hogan is also the chair of the bipartisan National Governors Association, which has put him in close contact with both Republican and Democratic state executives, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who has been lauded for his transparency during the crisis.
Jared Leopold, the top spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association until joining Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign last year, has done political battle with Hogan. The Maryland governor, he said, has been deft in managing his relationship with the White House.
“There is a clear, visible difference between the seriousness with which Hogan takes (the coronavirus) and the callous disregard that Trump is approaching this with,” Leopold said. “Hogan has been very smart in not taking on Trump by name, but clearly distancing himself in terms of his approach to this crisis.
Governors in the spotlight
The push-and-pull between governors, who have seen the devastating effects of the virus up close and are in a fight against time to procure the necessary medical equipment ahead of a surge of new patients, and Trump, who has publicly wavered over the severity of the heath crisis, has made for some awkward political theater.
In New York, Cuomo has offered rare praise at times for Trump, as the governor tries to free up federal aid to the state. Hogan, too, and Maryland GOP leadership have mostly steered clear of any attempts to litigate Trump’s rollercoaster response.
“I agree with Gov. Hogan, who has also said multiple times (that) this is no time for trying to blame anyone for anything,” Maryland GOP chairman Dirk Haire told CNN. “The entire focus right now just needs to be on addressing the spread of the virus, containing it, eliminating it, and focusing on getting our economy back on back on firm ground.”
Haire favorably compared Hogan’s actions with Cuomo’s in New York, and other more proactive governors, like Ohio Republican Mike DeWine and New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy, arguing that Maryland’s order offered slightly more leeway for business to operate.
Asked if he believed Hogan would ramp up restrictions if Maryland’s case load spiked to New York levels, Haire suggested the governor would be “flexible.”
“I don’t mean to imply that he will never order a shelter-in-place,” Haire said. “I just know they’re working hard to try and support small businesses and workers and employees in making sure that, to the extent possible, they can continue to work and get a paycheck.”
That goal, to back small business first, is shared — at least publicly — by both state and federal officials from around the country. But for governors working on less elastic budgets than the federal government, securing financial aid to the hardest hit economically will rely on a resolution to Capitol Hill negotiations now entering a fifth day.
Hogan on CNN Tuesday morning described the fight in Washington, in which the fundamental structure of the government’s response to potentially the most damaging economic crisis since the Great Depression is in the balance, as “partisan bickering.”
“We’ve got to get the Republicans and Democrats working together to get this done for the American people,” Hogan said. “But in the meantime, in the states, we’re taking our own actions.