Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took turns Tuesday defending himself against criticism from President Donald Trump and attempting to smooth things over with the combative president.
Hogan sent a letter to Trump Tuesday afternoon thanking the president for “the continued coordination” between the federal and state governments. And he noted appreciation of Trump’s “generous offer” to make federal labs available to use for processing coronavirus tests.
The letter came after the Republican governor did a series of national TV interviews in the morning, during which he defended the state’s purchase of 500,000 tests from a South Korean company.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Hogan said he was following Trump’s recommendation that states work to acquire tests for the virus.
“If there was an easier way, we certainly would’ve taken it,” Hogan said. “The president said that the governors are on their own and they should really focus on getting their own tests, and that’s exactly what we did. His message changed yesterday. I’m not sure why.
“The states have been competing on the open market, the domestic market and the international market throughout this entire crisis, competing with each other and with the federal government. I’m not sure it should’ve been that way, but that’s the way it is. That’s the way the president said it had to be, so that’s what we were operating under.”
During Monday’s federal coronavirus task force briefing, Trump criticized Hogan and the state’s purchase of the tests, citing the number of labs in Maryland to tout the available testing capacity. The criticism came after Hogan, on a call with Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s coronavirus response team and the nation’s governors, said many of the labs were federally owned and Maryland did not have access to them.
Hogan repeated that point later Monday evening and again Tuesday on national news programs. The governor added via Twitter that the federal government had opened the labs to the state, but reiterated that the issue was a lack of tests — not lab space.
“The president showed that in a press conference, basically said we didn’t have to go to Korea because look at all these things we have in our state,” Hogan said. “Well, they aren’t tests. They’re just labs that don’t have any tests."
“We now have the tests, they have the labs, and that should be a great solution," Hogan added. “We should be able to now start to get to work together.”
Hogan, the chair of the National Governors Association, said he and the nation’s governors had a “great conversation” Monday with Pence and Trump’s coronavirus response team, during which Hogan thanked and praised them for their efforts, he said. That left him surprised by the president’s remarks later in the day, which Hogan referred to as “biting attacks” on “The View.”
Hogan said he preferred not to “Monday-morning quarterback” decisions that Trump made in the past week, month and year that could have altered or prevented Maryland’s need to work with South Korea to acquire testing kits.
“At this point in the crisis, it’s hard to go back,” Hogan said.
“What I think most governors are doing is, we’re doing what we have to do, and this is exactly what the president has told us to do,” Hogan continued. "Just yesterday, he was saying that the governors are responsible for this, they’re on the front lines. We should just get it done, and then we did get it done, and then we got criticized, so I’m not sure how things could be different.”
Hogan added during an appearance Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” that he had yet to speak with Trump directly about the disagreement.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to talk," Hogan said. “I think the vice president corrected him yesterday in the press conference."
Hogan’s afternoon letter to Trump struck a conciliatory tone, but also nudged the administration to keep its promise to allow the state to use federally owned labs for testing.
“I was grateful to hear of your generous offer to allow the state of Maryland to access these federal labs for our testing,” Hogan wrote. “I am writing to personally thank you and the vice president and to request guidance on how we can immediately proceed on this important federal-state collaboration. I look forward to continuing to work with you and your great team.”
In addition to disagreeing with Trump’s promotion of nationwide protests to reopen the economy, Hogan also questioned Trump’s tweet announcing he would sign an executive order to ban immigration into the United States, though Hogan said he hadn’t seen the tweet because “I try not to pay any attention to the tweets from the president.”
The president announced late Monday what he described as a “temporary suspension of immigration into the United States." He said the executive order he planned to sign as soon as Wednesday would apply only to people seeking permanent residency.
“It’s just, I think, a distraction from what’s really going on,” Hogan said of the immigration issue on “The View."
“My wife is a first-generation immigrant from South Korea and just helped us through those relationships acquire half a million tests from the folks there in South Korea that’s gonna help save lives in our state, and that’s what we’re really focused on here," the governor said. "We have some terrific people from all around the world that are working in our hospitals, in our health care system, that are saving people’s lives, and we appreciate it.”