WASHINGTON — Setting aside their differences for at least an afternoon, President Donald Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed in an Oval Office meeting to work to double coronavirus testing in the hard-hit state over the next few weeks.
“We will work together to help them secure additional tests,” Trump said after Tuesday’s meeting. “And we hope that this model will work with the other states as well.”
Flicking at the hot-and-cold relationship between the two politicians, Cuomo said of their meeting: “It ends the whole back-and-forth and the finger-pointing in a very fair and smart way.”
The meeting marked a sharp shift in rhetoric from just days earlier, when Trump had called on Cuomo to work harder to secure testing material for his state and the Democratic governor had pushed back that the Republican president should turn off his television and get back to work.
Cuomo, who described the meeting as “effective and functional,” said he told Trump a rapid increase in testing was a crucial “benchmark” that his state and others need before they can safely reopen their economies and help communities return to a semblance of normalcy.
Trump and Cuomo have parried through the media throughout the pandemic, a routine that has included insults, sharply contrasting views on the role of the federal government and some moments of mutual admiration.
The meeting Tuesday was their first face-to-face interaction since the global crisis began. New York, with more than 14,000 deaths, has been the hardest-hit state in the country.
Before their meeting, Cuomo told reporters that Trump was right in saying that “states should take the lead” on testing, but that the federal government needs to manage the flow of supplies from abroad while governors are “trying to put together their testing protocol in their state.”
“I think in many ways we’re talking past each other,” Cuomo said.
Despite well-documented shortages of testing supplies, Trump and White House aides have insisted that states have enough test capacity to move ahead with the first phase of efforts to reopen their economies.
For all the past drama, though, Trump said Tuesday that New York officials had “been terrific to work with.” He added that he and Cuomo agreed that the 1,000-bed U.S. naval hospital ship that had been dispatched to alleviate stress on the city’s hospitals was no longer needed in New York.
“We have a very good understanding,” Trump said.
Cuomo suggested they put aside past hard feelings.
“The president is communicative of his feelings, and I’m communicative of what I think,” Cuomo told MSNBC shortly after his meeting with Trump. “But, look, I think for the president and for myself, this is not about anyone’s emotions about anyone else. I mean, who cares, right, what I feel, what he feels. We have a tremendous job we have to get done.”
Through daily briefings and scores of media appearances, Cuomo has in many ways emerged as the Democratic face of the response to the pandemic. With the party’s likely presidential nominee, Joe Biden, largely sidelined at his Delaware home, Cuomo has become one of several governors thrust into the spotlight as the pandemic has forced a reordering of American life.
As Cuomo conducts briefings from New York, he has vacillated between being Trump’s foil and his unlikely ally. The two Queens natives — they grew up just a few neighborhoods apart — have traded barbs on Twitter but have also consulted in late-night phone calls.
Asked if he’s had to walk a “fine line” in dealing with the president, Cuomo said: “Life is a fine line.”
“He has no problem telling me when he disagrees,” Cuomo told reporters Tuesday before departing for Washington. “And he tells me when he agrees. I have no problem telling him when I disagree and when I agree.”
Cuomo, according to aides, has deliberately used both the carrot and the stick in dealing with a president who is extremely sensitive about his media image and how governors respond to him.
At times, he has made a point of thanking Trump — resulting in video clips that the president has eagerly showed off in the White House briefing room in recent days.
But at other moments, Cuomo has shown no hesitation to lace into the president, including during a recent monologue in which he urged Trump to stop watching television and to “get back to work” safeguarding American lives during the pandemic.
Trump often catches at least some of Cuomo’s daily briefings and has expressed annoyance to aides at the positive press that the governor has received, according to advisers. He has reveled in the bits of praise he has received from Cuomo — and other Democratic governors.
Cuomo and other governors are also pushing for $500 billion in unrestricted aid from the federal government for states to offset revenue shortfalls resulting from the outbreak.
The Senate on Tuesday approved a nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid package for small businesses, including additional help for hospitals and virus testing. Cuomo said that he was disappointed it didn’t include direct aid for states but that Trump seemed “very open and understanding” on the need to include more aid for states in the next round of assistance.