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Trump says he’ll open houses of worship as ‘essential’ — but he can’t do that

In a surprise announcement Friday afternoon President Donald Trump said he was deeming houses of worship “essential,” and said he would “override” governors if they push back on the designation — echoing a prior claim about his “total authority” over states that he abandoned.

Trump can try to use political persuasion to sway the states, but according to the constitution, he doesn’t have the power, according to the Brookings Institute.

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference. “It’s not right. So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

The president presented no evidence that he has the authority to “override” governors on reopening state businesses or houses of worship.

Trump took no questions after the announcement.

The last time Trump claimed authority over states in reopening businesses, he faced strong pushback from some governors. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo sarcastically called Trump “king” in a strong rebuke of the comments.

On Thursday, Cuomo’s latest order allowing people to hold socially-distanced religious gatherings of 10 people or fewer went into effect, following lobbying from some Jewish groups, such as Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella organization. Orthodox leaders have pressed the governor for guidance on reopening yeshivas as more of them have begun to operate in secret.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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