Once revered for his response and actions in dealing with the novel coronavirus, even earning an Emmy award, Governor Andrew Cuomo now faces a political firing squad for withholding the real nursing home death toll numbers. A New York Post report described the governor’s aide, Melissa DeRosa, apologizing for delaying COVID death rate data, and blaming the decision partly on the Trump administration. The secretary to the governor said:
“President Trump turns this into a giant political football. He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes. He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer. And basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, and what we start saying, was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation. That played a very large role into this.”
Both sides of the aisle were infuriated by this admission after the count of nursing home deaths reached nearly 15,000. On Feb. 11, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) demanded Cuomo, as well as his senior team, be “prosecuted immediately” at both state and federal levels. “This bombshell admission of a cover-up and the remarks by the secretary to the governor indicating intent to obstruct any federal investigation is a stunning and criminal abuse of power,” Stefanik said.
She wasn’t the only one to object. On Feb. 12, Republican state senators called a special session for the purpose of stripping the governor of the emergency powers he has enthusiastically wielded during the pandemic. They asked the Justice Department to “immediately open an obstruction of justice investigation” saying this was an “intentional and unconscionable coverup impacting thousands of our most vulnerable residents.”
According to a prominent Washington newspaper, Republican Steven F. McLaughlin, a Rensselaer County executive, said he refused Cuomo’s directive to accept elderly COVID patients who had been discharged from hospitals into Van Rensselaer Manor, unless the person tested negative for the virus. He likened Cuomo to “the head of a criminal conspiracy,” saying:
“They have lied to the people of New York repeatedly for months, for close to a year now, and he needs to resign and take his senior staff with him. They have lost all moral authority to lead the state.”
Republicans weren’t the only ones calling for the governor’s head on a political platter. More than a dozen Democratic state senators stepped up to the plate to demand action as well. On Friday, Jan. 12, the Dems sent a letter asking to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers while State Senator Jessica Ramos (D) submitted a separate statement encouraging rescinding the powers as well as a “full investigation” of the governor. “At a time when we need New Yorkers to trust their elected officials the most, the governor and his administration knowingly chose to lie and play politics with New Yorkers’ lives,” she said.
Another New York Democrat, Sen. Rachel Ray, said lawmakers were aware of what she referred to as “an attempt to massage the numbers” by officials. “We knew what was not in those numbers. It wasn’t like we were totally ignorant of what was going on.” She continued, “It was just that it was really frustrating that they were choosing this counting system that was clearly designed to make them look good.”
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D) said: “If he doesn’t apologize to the public, if he doesn’t come clean with data, why it was delayed, I think all of us – not just me – will continue to have issues with this administration.” The issue is also personal for Kim whose uncle is presumed to have died from the virus in a nursing home in 2020.
On Feb. 12, Cuomo joined President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other lawmakers in the Oval Office to discuss the national response to the pandemic. Taking a page from the president, Cuomo did not address the reporters who waited outside the White House after the meeting, even though Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) did field questions from the media.
Cuomo did, however, issue a joint statement with the Arkansas governor that said, in part: “The finish line of this pandemic is in sight, and this support will give states and territories the resources we need to reach it, while continuing to provide the essential services our constituents rely on.” Nothing was said regarding his withholding of vital COVID death statistics related to nursing homes.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.