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Gov. Cuomo on why he isn’t sure Biden’s position is ‘as strong as the polls’

New York is one of 37 states seeing a rise in coronavirus cases over the past week, with officials there trying to target "microclusters" of disease. The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, writes about New York’s COVID-19 battle in his new book, “American Crisis.” He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss President Trump’s pandemic response and what Cuomo thinks about Joe Biden's electoral position.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New York is one of 37 states seeing a rise in coronavirus cases over the past week, with officials there trying to contain microclusters popping up around the state.

    New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo writes about his state's battle against COVID-19 in his new book, "American Crisis."

    And he joins us now from Albany.

    Governor Cuomo, thank you very much for talking with us.

    I think my first question is, how in the world did you find time to write the book in the middle of a pandemic? You're overseeing 20 million people in your state, trying to make sure people stay as healthy as possible, in addition to all of your other responsibilities.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    Thank you, Judy.

    It was, in part, therapeutic for me, and, in part, it was what I was doing every day. I was doing daily briefings for the people of the state, which were televised. And the book is basically a compendium of those daily briefings, then with some context and retrospective.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You did get a lot of praise, Governor, early on. You were — you did hold those daily briefings. People noticed that.

    You go into a lot of detail in the book, and you also talk about the federal government, President Trump, his administration. How much responsibility does he, does his administration bear for where this country is today?

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

    Oh, Judy, I would say total responsibility.

    I was a former federal employee. I was a Cabinet secretary under the Clinton administration. I was secretary — secretary of housing and urban development.

    This was a national pandemic. This was a federal crisis. Normally, the federal government would take charge. This situation, where you have a national pandemic, but then you delegate to 50 states to do their own strategy, when it is a virus that goes from border to border, all 50 states have to find their own PPE, all 50 states have to find their own testing, all 50 states have to organize their own emergency operations.

    That is not how that — this should have been done. It should have been done on a nationwide level.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Plenty of criticism to be directed towards Washington, Governor.

    But, as you know, you have received criticism as well, including about the handling of nursing homes. We know that there was a point in March when you directed individuals who — elderly who had been diagnosed with COVID or showed symptoms to go to nursing homes. Later, we know that some 6,600 people died in New York nursing homes. That makes up about a quarter of all deaths in the state.

    I know that studies show that there are multiple factors at work here, but how much responsibility do you think you bear for what happened in the nursing homes?

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

    Well, first, I take total responsibility for everything that happened in the state of New York, whether it is in a nursing home or it is the essential workers.

    I believe, if you're in charge, you're in charge, Judy.

    But we have to separate the political propaganda from the facts, right? The White House has been very good at blaming Democratic governors for deaths in nursing homes. And it is not just New York. It is New Jersey It's all across the country.

    And people, tragically, did die in nursing homes.

    But, remember, this is a virus that attacked the elderly and the weak. We were introduced to this virus in the state of Washington, where there were nursing home deaths. We never directed any COVID person to go to a nursing home. That never happened.

    We followed federal guidance that said you can't discriminate against a COVID person. But we never directed a nursing home to take anyone. As a matter of fact, it is the exact opposite. In the state of New York, by law, a nursing home cannot accept someone unless they can properly care for that person within their facility.

    And the fact is, of the deaths in New York, we are number 46 out of 50 states in the percentage of deaths in nursing homes, 46 out of 50. So, we did not have a disproportionate number of deaths in nursing homes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know — as I said, we — there are studies that show there were multiple factors, but one of them was the way that it was read by people who run the nursing homes and people who make decisions about where people would go, that they should go into nursing homes, based on what you and your administration said.

    Governor, just today, it is reported that you are telling local governments in these hard-hit so-called COVID cluster zones that they're going to lose state money unless they strictly enforce COVID rules around schools and whether they're open or not, size of gatherings.

    Are you serious about withholding money if these local governments don't do as you're saying they should?

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

    Yes, I am serious about protecting the people of New York, Judy.

    We have now — New York state does more testing than any state in the nation. Our statewide numbers are very good. We're at about 1 percent infection rate, which is still the lowest in the country.

    But we do so much testing that we can target what we call microclusters, which are very small aggregate number of cases. And we can target the geographic areas that are only about one or two square miles.

    In those areas, we have taken additional restrictions. One of them is, we have closed schools in those areas, those — quote, unquote — "microclusters."

    Some are the schools are still open, even though they have been ordered closed. And this has been going on for a number of days. I don't want to risk any child's health in going to a school in an area we know that has a high infection rate.

    The local governments are supposed to be doing the enforcement. Politically, it is not really popular for a local government to insist that the schools be closed. But that is the state law. It does protect children. It does protect parents. And the local governments need to do it.

    And what we have said is, if the local governments won't enforce the law, then there be monetary sanctions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, let's turn quickly to election — the election. It is coming up in just a little over two weeks.

    You're somebody who has watched American politics for a long time. Do you think Joe Biden is in as strong shape as most of these national polls are showing he is?

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo:


    No, this is a different type of election year. I wouldn't believe the polls. I do believe Joe Biden is in a strong position. I don't know that it is as strong as the polls would suggest.

    And I think President Trump is, frankly, in a weaker position than most people would guess, because the American people have watched the president. They have watched all the antics. They have watched how he has handled this COVID situation for seven months. They have watched how he has handled it now.

    But the president is treacherous in his own way. And do I think there could be a situation where he actually loses the election, claims that there is fraud, which he has been claiming for weeks now, and pushes the matter to the courts, and tries to get the matter to the Supreme Court, and is successful in confirming his nominee?

    I could see that situation. So, I don't think it is time to relax for those people who are Joe Biden supporters, such as myself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

    The book is "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic."

    Governor, thank you.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one more perspective on that election coming up in two-and-a-half weeks.

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