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NY Democrat senators call for removal of Cuomo’s emergency powers following COVID-19 deaths cover-up

Gov. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a press briefing on COVID-19 in Albany, New York, on February 10, 2021. |

More than a dozen Democratic state senators in New York have urged the Senate to remove Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers, and the state Republican Party has called for his prosecution and possible impeachment, after reports that his administration allegedly covered up nursing home COVID-19 deaths.

“While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and state—and, early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgments—it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the Governor are no longer appropriate,” the Democratic lawmakers said in a joint statement Friday.

“While the executive’s authority to issue directives is due to expire on April 30, we urge the Senate to advance and adopt a repeal as expeditiously as possible,” they added.

On Thursday, New York Post reported that Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa had admitted that the administration withheld the state’s nursing home death toll.

Carrying an audio recording, the Post said DeRosa, secretary to the governor, admitted during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders that the administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August.

“We were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, and what we start saying, was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said. 

She added that they decided not to release the death toll numbers because of politics and concerns that then-President Donald Trump would “turn this into a giant political football” ahead of the presidential election. 

“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” she added. “He starts going after (New Jersey Gov. Phil) Murphy, starts going after (California Gov. Gavin) Newsom, starts going after (Michigan Gov.) Gretchen Whitmer.”

A report from the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, had earlier found that COVID-19-linked deaths in the state’s nursing homes were undercounted by 50%.

After the report was published, officials disclosed nearly 4,000 additional deaths among nursing home residents. During a press briefing in January, Cuomo derided the report. “Where this starts is frankly a political attack from the prior federal administration,” he charged at the time.

The new number released of COVID-19 nursing home deaths is nearly 15,000. The Associated Press also reported Thursday that 9,056 recovering patients were sent to hundreds of nursing homes. That number is a 40% increase from what the state health department previously released.

On Friday morning, DeRosa responded to the Post’s report, claiming her remarks were “explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time… As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the New York Republican Party has also called for “prosecution and impeachment discussions” to begin immediately.

“The second-most powerful person in state government and top aide to Governor Cuomo admitted on video to the premeditated and willful violation of state laws and what clearly amounts to federal obstruction of justice,” Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a statement Friday, according to The Washington Times. “Andrew Cuomo has abused his power and destroyed the trust placed in the office of governor. Prosecution and impeachment discussions must begin right away.”

In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal explained that “nursing home deaths are a sensitive issue for Mr. Cuomo because of a March 25 health department directive that barred these homes from rejecting people because they had Covid-19.”

It added: “Mr. Cuomo dominates New York state politics, and he dismisses critics and punishes opponents without challenge. Republicans are a rump minority in the Legislature in what has become a one-party state, like California and Illinois.”

The Journal's editorial board also asked, “whether Democrats in Albany have what it takes to do their jobs and hold hearings on the coverup, whether state and federal prosecutors will investigate and prosecute if called for, and whether the media that so cheered Mr. Cuomo through his Covid-19 press conferences will hold him to the same standard they held Mr. Trump?”

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