HARRISBURG, Pa, (WHTM) — After a weekend of discontent by local elected officials and businesses who vowed to re-open and defy Governor Tom Wolf’s shutdown orders, the governor came out swinging in a Monday afternoon press that was among the most aggressive in his five-year tenure.
“We Pennsylvanians are in a fight for our lives. The enemy is a deadly virus set on destroying us,” Wolf said.
In his five-minute opening remarks, Wolf frequently evoked the language of war. He matched the defiance of county commissioners, state lawmakers, district attorneys and sheriffs who said they are moving to the yellow phase of re-opening on Friday with or without the governor’s blessing. He called them deserters in the face of the enemy.
“To those politicians who decide to cave in to this Coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act,” Wolf said.
Wolf threatened to withhold discretionary state and federal dollars from counties that open before he gives them the official go-ahead. He also said businesses that require state licensing or certification could be in jeopardy if they defy his phased re-opening.
“They are engaging in behavior that is both selfish and unsafe,” Wolf said.
But the Pennsylvania governor didn’t just stare down local elected leaders. President Donald Trump, apparently aware of the seeds of rebellion strewn across the commonwealth, sent a tweet directly to PA citizens.
It read: “The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”
Wolf said he didn’t understand how he could move fast and be safe and insisted he’s moving deliberately.
“The irresponsible thing to do is just Willy Nilly go off and pretend that we can wave a magic wand and suspend the reality of the virus that is surrounding us,” Wolf said in response to a question about the president’s tweet.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) said his interpretation is that Wolf’s executive orders “have the full force and effect of law.” Both the US Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have sided with Wolf and his ability, during an emergency, to open and shut counties and issue stay-at-home orders.
What may not be in effect, the state reminded rogue counties and businesses, are insurance policies.
“There could be an issue when an insurance company says we’re not gonna cover you because you were operating in violation of the governor’s order,” said Jessica Altman, the state’s insurance commissioner.
Republican lawmakers showed no signs of backing down. They blasted Wolf’s threats as “heavy handed.” The senate is moving a bill that would give local officials, not the governor, the power to re-open their areas. A bill that, even if passed, would most certainly be vetoed by Wolf.
“In the end, the goal is to defeat the virus,” Wolf said. “If we don’t do that, nothing else matters.”