April 29, 2020 / 6:39 PM / a month ago

New York's Cuomo calls politics 'hammer into the middle' of U.S. during pandemic

(Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he was hearing the “music of a campaign season” in Washington’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, warning that partisanship could drive a “hammer into the middle of this country.”

Cuomo’s wide-ranging remarks also criticized what he called the “extraordinarily dangerous” politicization of the response to a pandemic that has killed more than 58,000 Americans and left millions jobless.

The Democratic governor, who has intermittently traded barbs with U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians during the crisis, made a thinly veiled reference to the upcoming national election in November.

“I’ve heard this music before. This is the music of a campaign season, this is the music of a rally, and balloons and ‘It’s us versus them’ and ‘We’re good and they’re bad’ and that is poison right now as to where we are,” Cuomo told a briefing.

Cuomo, who previously blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states like New York should be able to declare bankruptcy if financially crippled by the crisis, took fresh aim at Florida Senator Rick Scott.

Scott, also a Republican, on Monday was quoted as lamenting the idea that “we’re supposed to go bail them out”.

As part of his daily slide presentation Cuomo prepared one showing that Florida receives $30 billion more than it gives to the federal government on annual basis, while Kentucky, home to McConnell, is a net recipient of $37 billion in funds.

New York, in contrast, puts in $29 billion more annually than it gets back in federal assistance, Cuomo said.

“Who is we and who is them?” Cuomo asked rhetorically at the briefing. “New York state bails them out every year.”

Cuomo said that hospitalizations for COVID-19, the disease caused by the cornavirus, ticked lower on Tuesday, continuing a decline in its third week. But he disclosed 330 new deaths, a similar level to the past few days, and said the number of people newly admitted to the hospital actually increased slightly, a development that he noted was “not good”.

He suggested he would move cautiously to lift a stay-at-home order due to expire on May 15, noting that Germany had seen its infection rate - the rate at which the virus spreads - rise since it relaxed social distancing moves.

He called for a bipartisan approach to the pandemic.

“We have to be at our best. When you start to politicize this situation and you start to say ‘red’ and ‘blue’, and ‘this team’ and ‘that team’, you may as well take a wedge and hammer it right into the middle of this country.”

reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Maria Caspani in New York and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio

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