The ‘buck’ stops first at the desk of each state’s governor before proceeding onto the president’s desk

Vice President Mike Pence, right, and President Donald Trump watch a video of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, April 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

By Kathy Barnette – – Wednesday, April 22, 2020


In several press conferences, President Trump sternly reminded the media and the American people about this little-known concept we call the separation of powers between the federal government and the individual state government. Perhaps as a direct result of civic lessons not being taught in public school settings, most Americans don’t fully understand the proper role of government — be it at the local, state or federal level.

In this country, we don’t have kings and queens. We don’t bow down to dictators and totalitarian regimes. Our Founding Fathers’ original intent was that states would govern most matters themselves. They never intended the office of the president to swoop down and play God. The president was intended to be an executive, not a micro manager. 

The concerns of shortages in essential supplies needed to treat COVID-19 is real and must be resolved immediately. But as the president rightly stated, it’s “really for the local governments, governors, and people within the state …” to resolve the issue of shortages. It’s their responsibility first and foremost, not the federal government and specifically, not President Trump. This is the proper chain of command in a constitutional republic.

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Unfortunately, we’re living squarely in the age of abdication. Why take on personal responsibility for our actions when one can simply kick the can down the road to the next chump?  

Most of us don’t want to spend time debating whose responsibility it is to fix the problem, especially when lives are being lost. We just want the problem fixed and our way of life maintained. However, freedom is never a topic of convenience, especially in the midst of a crisis. Freedom isn’t a topic that can be picked up and discussed after it has been trampled over in order to fix the more pressing issue.

In our case, the more pressing issue is COVID-19. It’s not the federal government’s job to purchase, ship and manage the movement of necessary PPEs in every single hospital in every single state. Even during a devastating crisis such as the one we’re contending with, it’s not the federal government’s job to make sure every request for a ventilator is fulfilled.

That would be the responsibility of each state’s governor and legislature. For example, in 2007 New York state convened its first “Task Force on Life and Law” to address a wide range of issues that could arise in the event of a crisis. In 2015, the task force updated an earlier draft of its findings to include an expanded analysis titled “Allocation of Ventilators in an Influenza Pandemic.” The New York State Commissioner of Health wrote in his opening letter that “during flu season, we are reminded that pandemic influenza is a foreseeable threat, one that we cannot ignore.”  

The report went on to explain that “… during a severe 6-week outbreak, 89,610 influenza patients will require ventilators in New York State and there will not be enough ventilators in the State to meet the demand.” In fact, the study modeled that in the event of a flu-like pandemic on par with the historic 1918 outbreak, peak ventilator need could reach around 18,619 machines, leaving the state with an anticipated shortfall of 15,783 ventilators.

It was known in 2015 that “in the event of an overwhelming burden on the health care system, New York will not have sufficient ventilators to meet critical care needs despite its emergency stockpile.”

Armed with this information back in 2015, what did New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo choose to do? According to New York Post columnist Betsy McCaughey, leaders like Mr. Cuomo “chose not to prep for the pandemic.” According to Ms. McCaughey, “in 2015 the state could have purchased the additional 16,000 needed ventilators for $36,000 apiece, or a total of $576 million.” Notably, that’s a lot of money.  But, hindsight is 20/20. Spending half a percent of the budget to prepare for this pandemic would have been the right thing to do. Gov. Cuomo chose not to.

Granted, New York is not alone in being ill-prepared for COVID-19. To be fair, governments everywhere stockpiled a little too late. Most Americans would be content to say “lesson learned.” But there appears to be a concerted effort by liberal Democrats and a complicit media to cast the blame of not preparing adequately solely at the feet of President Trump. Or as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quipped on CNN, “What did [the president] know and when did he know it?” She went on to accuse the president of “fiddling around while people died of the new coronavirus.” Not only is this unfair, it’s also constitutionally inaccurate.

Similar to Mr. Trump holding the highest office in the land, governors hold the highest office in their respective states. The “buck” stops first at the desk of each state’s governor before proceeding onto the president’s desk. So the next time a media pundit, political avatar or your neighbor begins their rant on why President Trump wasn’t prepared with an adequate number of ventilators, PPE’s, staff and the like, remind them about the proper role of government. Specifically, discuss the topic of federalism with them.

To be sure, the federal government has a role to play. This is a crucial fact the president has not denied or skirted around. For that, most Americans are grateful that the federal government did not leave states to figure this unprecedented pandemic out on their own.

Setting the proper precedent matters. We would all do well to remember that hard-won freedoms must be preserved, even in the midst of a pandemic. Even when it’s unpopular to do so. COVID-19 has taught us many things, not least among those lessons is that elections have consequences. Be determined to choose well.

• Kathy Barnette, author of “Nothing to Lose Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America,” is running for U.S. Congress in the 4th District of Pennsylvania.