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Trump singles out Texas, Florida for help with coronavirus response

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing with reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 (CNN) — President Donald Trump agreed to continue paying for the full cost of National Guard troops deployed to help with the coronavirus response in just two states — Texas and Florida — after their Republican governors appealed directly to him.

Other states will now have to pay a quarter of the cost of National Guard deployments in their states, despite their governors also requesting the federal government continue to foot the entire bill. A White House official said Trump made an exception for Texas and Florida because their governors — who enjoy close relationships with Trump — made “special, direct cases to the President.”

The official said Trump “is open to speaking with any governor from any state.”

While Texas and Florida both have a large number of coronavirus cases — more than 466,000 and 502,000, respectively— other states with large numbers of cases, like California and Arizona, will only see three-quarters of the costs covered by the federal government.

Democrats immediately pushed back, accusing the President of showing favoritism.

“With American lives at risk, the President is continuing to manipulate our nation’s pandemic response to benefit his own political fortunes,” said Noam Lee, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, in a statement. “The National Guard deployments are the latest development in the partisan games the President has played with states seeking critical supplies and aid.”

Asked why Texas and Florida received special treatment, the White House official pointed only to the direct appeals from those states’ governors, not unique circumstances in those states.

“The governors of Texas and Florida made the case directly to the President that a continuation of the 100% cost share was necessary to support the Guard’s efforts in their states,” a White House official told CNN. “Florida and Texas were the only states to make special, direct cases to the President.”

The National Governors Association, however, said governors nationwide asked for the extension in calls with the White House, including with the President and Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump’s emphasis on a direct appeal from governors to secure full funding for the National Guard deployments is just the latest example of Trump and his aides requesting governors ask the President directly for help and — in some cases — make a public show of thanking him for coronavirus assistance.

Title 32 status provides federal funding for the National Guard deployments across the country while allowing those forces to remain under the control of state governors as they help with staffing community-based testing sites and building test kits, among other activities.

A Defense Department official told CNN last week an extension was under discussion and expected to happen.

But in a series of memos this week, the White House announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will “fund 75 percent of the emergency assistance activities associated with preventing, mitigating, and responding to the threat to public health and safety posed by the virus that these States and territories undertake using their National Guard forces,” leaving the other 25% to be covered by states.

“The President should be providing the full support of the federal government for this mission. The President is also playing politics by picking a few states to get special treatment over others and not adequately responding with the gravity necessary to address the crisis,” House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement.

For states, the cost share means millions more in spending.

“It will cost states millions (we don’t have a more precise number) to come up with their 25 percent match, during a time when state budgets already are under unprecedented strain,” said James Nash, press secretary for the National Governors Association, in an email.

Since March, the federal government has been footing the bill for National Guard units deployed across the country to help states with their coronavirus response.

In late May, Trump extended federal funding for National Guard deployments until mid-August, saying at the time the extension would help “states succeed in their response and recovery efforts.”

But in order to meet Covid safety requirements, Air and Army Guard supporting personnel needed to demobilize no later than August 7, according to a Defense official. That raised alarm among governors who prepared last weekend for the possibility that an extension wouldn’t be granted.

On Monday, the National Governors Association urged the administration to continue the National Guard mission. “Unnecessary delays in extending Title 32 create significant challenges for states and territories, which are amplified in the middle of a crisis,” the association said in a statement.

Texas and Florida, however, were the only two states that remain in the status quo with 100% of costs covered by the federal government.

“President @RealDonaldTrump has issued a memorandum providing Florida with full federal funding for the @FLGuard’s continued response to the #COVID19 pandemic. Thanks to @POTUS for his continued support of our state. Florida’s guardsmen and women are the best in the nation!” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Twitter.

The decision ultimately came down to Trump. Earlier this week, Pence said he expected that Title 32 would be extended in “some form or fashion,” enabling states to utilize their National Guard units while the federal government continues to foot the bill.

Pence, responding to a question from Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts during a call with governors Monday, said a decision could come in the “next couple days.”

“I know that he is carefully reviewing requests,” Pence said of Trump. “I’d say to any governor that has not formalized a request to send something directly to your regional representative before the end of the business day.”