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New York Lawmakers Strip Cuomo's Power To Issue New Emergency Orders During Pandemic


New York state lawmakers have voted to curb Governor Andrew Cuomo's power to issue new emergency orders during the pandemic. The governor is currently beset by scandals. His high approval ratings have suffered. But he is able to keep many of the sweeping powers he already holds. NPR's Brian Mann has been following developments and joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Brian.


SIMON: Why did the lawmakers decide to rein in the governor's powers now after all the heavy lifting that he did several months ago?

MANN: Yeah. Things have changed. His team now acknowledges withholding data on thousands of nursing home deaths linked to the coronavirus. In a statement yesterday, Cuomo's team said they were clear all along about the fact that they wanted to fact-check that information before making it public. But a lot of lawmakers, like Republican Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, are accusing Cuomo of a cover-up.


MARY BETH WALSH: They hid it. They went to great lengths to control the narrative for the governor.

MANN: And Cuomo's political troubles go further. They also include accusations from three women, including two who worked for him. They say he touched them inappropriately or made improper sexual advances. Cuomo denies wrongdoing, but the state attorney general is investigating.

SIMON: That's a lot of political flak, personal flak all at the same time. But still, the Democrats who control New York's legislature left most of Cuomo's emergency powers in place, didn't they?

MANN: Yeah, they did. And Democrats made it clear - leaving Cuomo with all these huge powers to manage the pandemic is not a ringing endorsement of his leadership. It reflects the fact that scientists and doctors believe scrapping these emergency orders on things like mask-wearing and restaurant capacity, that could mean a lot more people getting sick. Here's Democratic Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.


KEN ZEBROWSKI: That could turn us into Texas. I heard earlier that the virus is over. Mr. Speaker, to those people that will lose their lives today, the virus is not over.

MANN: And in fact, more than 100 people are still dying every day in New York. But on the other side, a lot of Republicans, including Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, argued yesterday that public health rules and all the pandemic authority held by Cuomo should just be scrapped right now. They say it's time for life and business to get back to normal. Manktelow said these rules are taking away people's freedom.


BRIAN MANKTELOW: When the people fear government, that's tyranny. And that's what we have going on in New York state right now.

MANN: So really, this part of the debate was less about Andrew Cuomo and more about how the pandemic should be managed going forward, kind of reflecting the debate we're seeing across the country.

SIMON: With all the scandals that Governor Cuomo faces, what does yesterday's vote say about his political standing now?

MANN: You know, Cuomo is clearly back on his heels in a way we just haven't seen before. He's in his third term. He's been one of the most popular governors in the country. But even some Democrats yesterday, Scott, called for him to resign or be impeached. But so far, a majority of Democratic lawmakers appear to be sticking with him. Here's Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. She's the Democratic majority leader.


CRYSTAL PEOPLES-STOKES: I know that people have issues with the governor, his personal conduct, things that he's been accused of doing. But when I listen to my constituencies, they're still not thinking that this governor has done a bad job.

MANN: So that's a huge comedown from the kind of high praise Cuomo was used to from fellow Democrats just a few weeks ago. But it's a sign, along with yesterday's vote, that his political base seems to be holding up, at least for now.

SIMON: NPR's Brian Mann in upstate New York. Thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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