Hogan, Harris Clash on Pace of Reopening

Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R) addresses the crowd at a ReOpen Maryland rally this spring. Facebook photo.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Sunday rejected as “crazy” a suggestion from Maryland’s lone Republican congressman that the state has adopted a totalitarian approach to fighting COVID-19.

His comments came one day after Rep. Andrew P. Harris, a physician who represents several counties on the Eastern Shore, harshly rejected the governor’s handling of the crisis at a #ReOpenMaryland rally on Saturday.

Speaking to a crowd of protesters in Salisbury, at the conclusion of a rally that began in Frederick, Harris said, “I didn’t wake up in communist China and I didn’t wake up in North Korea this morning. And tomorrow morning I should be able to go to the church of my choice and worship the way I chose.”

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Hogan fired back.

“I’m not sure where he woke up yesterday morning, but maybe he confused North Korea and South Korea,” the governor said of Harris. “South Korea’s doing a great job on testing and we just saved the lives of thousands of Marylanders by getting those half-million tests from Korea.”

“But I don’t really have any further comment,” Hogan added. “He’s obviously got the right the right to say whatever crazy things he wants to say, but I don’t really need to respond to ‘em.”

In an statement to Maryland Matters on Sunday night, Harris defended his comments at the rally.

“Defending freedom of religion is not crazy to many people,” Harris wrote. “There were hundreds of people in Salisbury yesterday … who want a common sense approach to re-opening our churches and businesses that so many other governors have taken.”

Hogan spoke dismissively of Saturday’s ReOpen Maryland rally, telling CNN that “a couple dozen people” attended the event. “Sadly, we had far more people die yesterday in Maryland than we had protesters.”

Harris said Hogan’s statement was factually false.

The Maryland Department of Health reported an additional 27 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday.

“[F]actually many more protested than those who died in Maryland yesterday, each of which, of course, is a tragedy,” the congressman said.

The Frederick News-Post reported that 250 cars gathered in the parking lot of Francis Scott Key Mall on Saturday to participate in the rally.

The Salisbury area, located in Harris’ district, is home to one of the highest per-capita infection rates in the country.

Hogan has come under increasing pressure to dial back restrictions on commerce and social interaction in recent weeks.

On April 17, Republicans in the House of Delegates urged him to adopt a “regional” approach to business reopening and recreational activity. The following week business groups pushed him to allow small retailers to do “curbside” deliveries.

The group ReOpen Maryland formed on Facebook and held a rally in Annapolis on April 18, demanding that the governor allow businesses to reopen on May 1.

Hogan has said that reopening the state too soon risks a sharp increase in coronavirus infection, which in turn could overwhelm hospitals.

Although they are GOP officeholders in a state dominated by Democrats, Hogan and Harris have little in common. The men are not close.

The congressman’s decision to serve as the keynote speaker at the ReOpen Maryland rally, and his harsh rhetoric, combined with Hogan’s barbed response on national television, represented a remarkable substantive and stylistic clash, observers said.

“When you’re criticizing Hogan’s response, you’re also criticizing the recommendations of scientists, public health experts and epidemiologists,” said Goucher College political science professor Mileah Kromer, director of the school’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center.

“Andy Harris has aligned himself with Donald Trump consistently and Hogan has not,” she added.

Kromer noted that Maryland residents have given Hogan high marks for his handling of the coronavirus epidemic.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.