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“I’ll override any governor that wants to play games,” Trump said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. “We have many different ways to override them.”
The president has been keen on reopening many parts of the country shuttered amid the public health crisis, but churches and other religious establishments have become a focal point for him in recent days.
Last Friday, Trump announced that new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance will classify houses of worship as “essential” and called on governors to reopen churches, synagogues and mosques “right now.”
It's unclear under what authority Trump has to override governors. But Trump took issue with certain businesses being open, while churches are not. Attorney General William Barr already warned last month that coronavirus restrictions by state and local governments should be applied evenly and not single out religious organizations.
The CDC released interim guidelines Friday for communities of faith that acknowledge "millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life" but also warned that "gatherings present a risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19."
The guidelines encourage the use of cloth face coverings during services, limiting the size of gatherings, social distancing during services, and suspending or decreasing choirs and singing in church since "singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols," the CDC said.
Last week, the CDC released new guidelines that schools, businesses and other organizations can use as states reopen from coronavirus shutdowns. The document, however, excluded guidance for churches and faith-based groups because the White House raised concerns about the recommended restrictions, The Associated Press had reported.
Some states are easing into the reopening of houses of worship, including California. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom released guidelines for reopening houses of worship amid the coronavirus pandemic
Under the governor’s guidelines, churches and other houses of worship may reopen if they are given approval from county health officials but must limit attendance to 25 percent of capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.
In order to reopen, churches in California must set physical-distancing guidelines, establish new cleaning and disinfection protocols, encourage everyone to wear face masks and set parameters for singing and group recitations.
Despite Trump’s boast that he has “many different ways” to "override" state orders, his power to do so is actually fairly limited.
While Congress could theoretically override state laws, the president can only invoke existing laws that give the federal executive branch some power to help manage a public health crisis. Examples of this would be supporting state efforts to contain an outbreak or quarantining people entering the country.
Fox News’ Marisa Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.