Virus Outbreak Trump

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about the coronavirus with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Right-wing radio icon Moon Griffon tried and tried again.

He was goading President Donald Trump, who phoned Thursday into Griffon’s program, hoping the popular president would join in bashing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend the “stay-at-home” coronavirus-related directive another two weeks.

It should have been an easy pitch as just five months ago, Trump took extraordinary interest, for a president, in Edwards’ reelection campaign by appearing at three rallies to ask voters to “fire” Edwards because he was a “horrible governor.”

Griffon first pointed out that Florida, which has a Republican governor, is reopening county by county while leaving the heavily hit Miami region under stay-at-home orders. Shouldn’t Louisiana?

“We have a great relationship,” Trump said about Edwards in reply.

Griffon noted that Louisiana hospital beds are plentiful and the key reason for the stay-at-home declaration was fear that hospitals would be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. “Why don’t we open it back up?” Griffon asked.

“We want to get going, I know your governor does,” Trump replied.

Griffon said many of the 350,000 workers unemployed by Edwards’ stay-at-home directive feared dying of poverty as much as they feared COVID-19, adding that businesses aren’t reopening as much as they should be.

“He wants to get you open safely, but he wants to get you open,” Trump said of Edwards. “He’s a good man.”

The curves Trump threw Griffon were a bit of a blow to Louisiana Republicans who came out in force to politicize Edwards’ decision to extend the stay-at-home order to May 15, instead lifting it on May 1, as many, including the governor, had wanted. Edwards argued that health officials said Louisiana hadn’t quite reached the White House’s minimum standards to launch Phase 1 of the three-phase reopening. Republicans countered that Edwards had cherry-picked the statistics.

A group of conservative House members circulated a draft petition that would terminate Edwards' public health emergency order.

Though a long shot of finding the necessary 53 votes in the House to approve the resolution, Shreveport Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh, lead author of the petition sent to colleagues Wednesday, said: “Doing nothing is not an option!”

Edwards replied Thursday: “Silly is not the right word.”

One issue is that an emergency order is necessary to access federal disaster monies and low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Terminating the order could also impact the federal $1.8 billion earmarked for repaying Louisiana for expenses combating the novel coronavirus.

For these reasons, neither Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, nor House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, could jump on board. But they’re Republicans too, so neither condemned the effort, noting in Schexnayder’s words, that it could be “another tool in the toolbox.”

Left-wing blogger Lamar White came across an internal memorandum written by Jay Connaughton, a GOP operative from Mandeville, advising Republicans on the best wording for a coordinated campaign to undermine Edwards emergency orders. That such a memo exists isn’t too surprising, but not often does one become public.

The missive recommended rallying behind a demand that the governor adopt a parish-by-parish approach to reopening the state, noting that some parishes were hot spots, others were not. But, do not say “New Orleans.” In fact, the memo recommended avoiding terms like Republican, Democrat and death. Focus instead of Louisiana’s resiliency.

Addressed to Slidell Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who was circulating a petition demanding that Edwards reopen the state on May 1, the memo was shared widely among GOP lawmakers — four House Republicans acknowledged receiving it.

Hewitt was too busy to come to the phone last week, according to her spokesman Jason Harbison, with People Who Think. After requesting and receiving topics of conversation neither he nor she responded. Interestingly, People Who Think is the political marketing firm of Connaughton, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and handled some anti-Edwards PAC advertising in the governor’s 2019 reelection campaign.

A bigger issue facing legislators when they reconvene Monday is the federal government’s rules on how to use stimulus money. The state’s operating budget must be passed and signed into law by July 1 or state government cannot spend any more money.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne pointed out under the federal rules, local governments will get about $800 million and state government would get about $1 billion to reimburse COVID-19 expenses. Neither may have enough expenses to tap all that money. What government, particularly on a local level, really needs is a way to fill up their coffers, which rely on taxes that have declined dramatically because of the "Stay at Home" order.

“Most big departments should be ready for some cuts. It’s just a fact of life,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Bodi White, R-Central.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.