Because his tenure as head of the National Governors Association happened to coincide with a historic pandemic, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has had numerous interactions with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence since the COVID-19 crisis flared last year.
Most of those interactions have come on conference calls with the White House coronavirus task force, with Hogan advocating on behalf of both Republican and Democratic governors.
In a video-streamed interview with Politico on Thursday, Hogan conceded that Trump has occasionally been irritated by his prodding. But he defended his approach, which he said is grounded in the need to “collect all of our concerns and issues and problems, and address them to the president and vice president.”
“I’ve tried to be as fair and direct as possible, but also I’m pretty blunt about — I say exactly what we think — and sometimes that doesn’t make the president happy,” Hogan told Politico Playbook writers Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman.
“But I don’t go out of my way to poke the bear or to criticize him unnecessarily. I just try to be helpful with suggestions about the things that we really need, and I try to push for the things that we need.”
Hogan said some of his fellow governors do seem focused on scoring political points, though he did not name names. “There certainly are people who are trying to be confrontational, and they just want to be critical.”
In a preview of the economic “recovery” plan he will unveil on Friday afternoon, Hogan said the state will allow businesses to reopen in phases, based on the amount of interaction employees have with customers.
“We’ll be able to get some quality of life things back, where people can get out of their homes, get outside, do things and still in a safe way,” Hogan said. “Perhaps some small businesses with limited numbers of people.”
But he cautioned that a full return to normal commercial activity is not imminent.
He said those businesses that are allowed to reopen will be required to adhere to masking, social distancing and other safeguards recommended by public health experts to slow the spread of the virus.
Companies will be encouraged to maintain high levels of telework for employees who can do their jobs from home, he said.
“We’re still not going to be ramping up some of those non-essential businesses with lots of folks,” he said. “It’s going to still be a while before we start to see anything involving people being close together.”
Hogan said again he has great sympathy for people who are struggling financially — and with those who are going “stir crazy” at home — but he insisted, as he has for several days, that he will not be pressured to ramp up economic activity until health experts give the go-ahead.
The Maryland Department of Labor reported Thursday that 47,545 people applied for unemployment benefits during the week that ended April 18 — meaning more than 344,000 Marylanders have lost their jobs in the past five weeks.
During a moment of light-hearted banter during the video chat, Hogan said “opening golf courses… will be one of the early things that we do in the first part of our reopening.”
“But I don’t see you being able to hang with your buddies in the clubhouse,” he told Sherman.
The governor pushed back forcefully against U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states struggling with budgetary problems should be allowed to go belly-up.
“The last thing we need in the middle of an economic crisis is to have the states all filing bankruptcy all across America and not provide services to people who desperately need them,” Hogan said.
McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested in an interview and a follow-up press release that some Democratic-led states have over-spent on social programs and public employee salaries — and that GOP senators will be in no mood to throw a rescue rope.
Hogan rejected such thinking and he predicted McConnell “will regret” making such a suggestion.
“I heard some comment about ‘this is just a bailout for blue states’ or something to that effect. That’s complete nonsense. These are well-run states. There are just as many Republicans as Democrats that strongly support” additional state aid.