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Cuomo to Congress: Do 'the right thing' and help New York recover

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, at a news conference in Washington, D.C., says Congress needs to do more for New Yorkers and Americans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  Credit: Facebook

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Matthew Chayes, Scott Eidler, Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged President Donald Trump in a meeting Wednesday at the White House to “supercharge the reopening” of the economy ravaged by the coronavirus by fast-tracking major infrastructure projects, including airport, subway and tunnel construction.

He made an impassioned plea to Congress for funding for New York and other states where the COVID-19 has left governments facing fiscal crises, and he went on a rant against D.C. politicians.

“We have major infrastructure projects in New York that are ready to go, that are desperately needed, that we desperately needed 30 years ago,” Cuomo told reporters at the National Press Club after the meeting with Trump.

“Build them now. … That's what we would do if we were smart. You're not going to have a supercharged economy, you're not going to see this nation get up and start running again unless we do it together,” he said.

Cuomo spent a good part of his daily coronavirus briefing scolding D.C. insiders for playing politics while states hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic face massive deficits. He lambasted Senate Republicans and conservative economists who have described proposals for federal aid to those states hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as a “blue state bailout.”

“How does that help a nation striving to recover?” Cuomo said, noting that the most affected states represent one-third of the nation’s economic output. “How can you tell one third of the country to go to heck, and then think you're going to see an economic rebound?”

“There is no nation without the states," he went on. "They tend to forget that in this town, but it’s the obvious fact and we’ve made this mistake before."

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He reminded members of Congress that New York, New Jersey, Massachusets and other states that need help contribute more to the federal government than they typically get back, and asked those elected officials to do "the right thing."

“Stop abusing New York, stop abusing New Jersey. Stop abusing Massachusetts and Illinois and Michigan and Pennsylvania. Stop abusing the states who bore the brunt of the COVID virus through no fault of their own,” Cuomo said.

He called the "blue state bailout" critique "really an ugly, ugly sentiment. It is an un-American response. We're still the United States of America."

Meeting Trump

Cuomo appeared to demur when asked whether Trump sided with Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others who have questioned whether states should receive the kind of relief that he seeks to shore up the state's budget.

“I think the president is focused on the reopening," Cuomo said. "I think he understands that these are projects that need to be done. … He’s a builder, he’s a developer. He gets it.”

Trump, who traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida, after his meeting with Cuomo, did not stop to answer questions from reporters at the White House.

Their meeting came on a day when the United States surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. That is by far the highest toll from the coronavirus of any country in the world. The next highest, the United Kingdom, has nearly 38,000. New York had lost 23,643 people to the virus as of Tuesday, with 3,972 dying on Long Island, the latest state figures showed. 

The governor said he renewed his pitch to Trump to throw his support behind funding or getting federal approval for key projects — the Gateway Tunnel project across the Hudson River, which would expand and renew Amtrak train tunnels; extending the Second Avenue subway line to Harlem; and providing an AirTrain link from LaGuardia Airport to Manhattan.

Cuomo said he and Trump had a “good conversation,” adding that the president as a native New Yorker “has a context for the things we’re talking about.”

“He understood what we were talking about, understood what we need, and he's going to be thinking about it, talk to this team, and he said we'll talk next week,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s plea to Trump came as congressional Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over the merits of a fifth coronavirus stimulus package.

House Democrats earlier this month passed a $3 trillion relief package that provides aid to states hard-hit by the COVID-19 virus, but Senate Republicans have so far balked at taking up the proposal, arguing that lawmakers should wait and assess the impact of the previous $2 trillion stimulus package that passed in April.

Cuomo said the United States has often come together to help areas facing disasters, and this time should be no different.

"What happened to that American spirit? What happened to that concept of mutuality? … There’s still a right thing in life. The right thing you feel inside you. The right thing is calibration of your principle and your belief and your soul, and your heart, and your spirit,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo said he was ready to start the infrastructure projects immediately.

“If he gives us the green light, this is not going to be years of discussion,” Cuomo said. “I have a shovel in the trunk of my car. We’ll start this afternoon.”

Reopening day on Long Island

Cuomo’s visit to Washington came as Long Island reopened “nonessential” parts of its economy for the first time in more than two months, when the governor shut down activity in large swaths of society due to the pandemic.

Long Island for the first time met all seven metrics required by the state to reopen in Phase One, according to data posted by the state on a daily "dashboard" tracking progress against the COVID-19 virus by regions.

That leaves New York City as the only part of the state that has not met all the metrics and started to reopen.

The first phase of reopening permits construction, manufacturing, curbside or pickup retail, wholesale trade and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting in Long Island's counties.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, "We can finally move forward and getting our people back to work. Shovels are once again in the ground. Our workers are working diligently.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said: “This is a big day for us on Long Island. This is a new beginning.”

Cuomo said the state continued to see progress in hospitalizations, intubations and deaths due to the coronavirus, with 74 people dying Tuesday of related causes.

Nassau reported 60 new cases Tuesday, for a total of 40,034 since the pandemic hit in March. Suffolk reported 59 new cases, for a total of 39,258. New York City reported 667 new cases, for a total of 199,968. New York State as a whole reported 1,129 new cases, for a total of 364,965.

The total COVID-19 death toll in Nassau reached 2,111, and in Suffolk 1,861. 

Northwell Health, which operates 11 Long Island hospitals, reported only one death on Long Island — at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore — over the past 24 hours.

Curran said the 44-day decline in coronavirus hospitalizations was "the longest streak of any region in New York State."

She said the county has put together an "army of contact tracers, so that we can be ready to deal with anything that this pandemic throws at us."

Bellone said he is hopeful the region will be able to move ahead of schedule to reopening plans for Phase Two, which would bring back business activity in professional services, retail, administrative support and real estate. He noted the county has been "one of the hardest hit places in the country" and said "we're learning new stuff every day."

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