Wolf pushes back on counties threatening to defy shutdown order

In this Dec. 29, 2015 file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media at the state Capitol. Wolf threatened Monday to block aid to rebellious counties in an escalating political fight over his administration’s handling of the coronavirus.

YORK — Gov. Tom Wolf angrily pledged to appeal a federal court ruling that declared much of his mitigation strategy to limit the spread of coronavirus unconstitutional and blasted Republicans at the state and national level who’ve been critical of his actions and cheered the ruling.

“Yesterday Harrisburg Republicans celebrated while thousands and thousands in our state continue to suffer,” Wolf said. “The president could do nothing more than stare at his phone and tweet.”

U.S. District Court Judge Wlliam Stickman ruled Monday that Wolf’s limits on crowd sizes of 25 people indoors and 250 people outdoors violate the First Amendment, and that the state’s move to close non-essential business was a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Stickman noted that the state’s initial actions were aimed at “flattening the curve” but that as the months have dragged on, the state’s emergency actions have continued without any explanation for when they might end.

Wolf, speaking at a press conference in York, said that the judge’s decision failed to give the state credit for having taken actions that saved lives and prevented Pennsylvania from seeing as much loss of life as neighboring states like New Jersey and New York.

“What’s not up for debate is the early and decisive action that Secretary (Rachel) Levine, my administration and I took early in this pandemic saved lives,” Wolf said. “The federal government dithered” while Pennsylvania acted.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to pass legislation that would have forced Wolf to relax some of his restrictions, including most recently a bill that would allow school districts to determine how many spectators can attend scholastic sporting events, regardless of the state’s crowd-size limits.

Wolf has said he will veto that legislation. He added that his administration has asked for the federal court to issue a stay to keep the crowd-size limits in place while Stickman’s decision is being appealed.

Monday, Republican legislative leaders said Stickman’s ruling vindicated their efforts in pushing back against Wolf’s mitigation strategy.

“The federal court has upheld that the laws of this country do not provide for a Governor to create his ‘new normal,’ rather the law provides for three separate but equal branches of government who have sworn to uphold the Constitution,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County said.

Wolf said that members of both parties need to acknowledge that the pandemic requires a thoughtful response.

“I’m going to keep holding their feet to the fire to stop playing politics with this disease,” he said.

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