Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Why Joe Biden Won, Whether He’ll Be the Next Attorney General, and Dating in the Age of COVID-19
New York’s esteemed governor returns to the Stern Show following the release of his book “American Crisis”November 9, 2020
Plenty of big-name Democrats are jockeying right now for high-ranking positions in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, but on Monday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed he wasn’t one of them. The Empire State’s chief executive returned to the Stern Show following the release of his new book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic,” and sat down for a page-turner of an interview touching on topics both personal and political. He spoke to Howard about his love life, his relationship with his father, and even his clunker of an airplane as well as his ongoing clashes with President Donald Trump, who lost his re-election bid but remains in the Oval Office until Biden is sworn in on Jan. 21. But first Howard wanted to know if there was truth to the rumor the Governor was tapped to become Biden’s attorney general.
“Zero, nada, niente, zilch,” Gov. Cuomo told him. “What else do you need me to say?”
“You had absolutely no desire to run for President, is that accurate?” Howard continued.
“That is accurate,” Gov. Cuomo responded. “Sometimes you decide the best way to help the team is to play center field … play the position where you can help the team.”
He felt it important to diffuse talk of seeking higher office while the COVID crisis raged on. He wanted constituents to push their cynicism and skepticism aside and realize he had no agenda beyond serving them. “I think it gave me credibility in the COVID discussion,” he told Howard. “In truth, we still have a long way to go on COVID and then we have to get on to rebuilding this state and this nation—and that’s more than a full-time job.”
Howard asked Gov. Cuomo his thoughts on last week’s election.
“I always believed [Biden] was going to win. I was surprised it was as close as it was, to tell you the truth. I just didn’t believe the country would sign on for four more years of just the anger and the negativity and the COVID and the fights, every day, and the narcissism, every day. Give me a break,” he said. “And I think that’s what the country said, ‘Give me a break. I’ve just had enough of this.’”
President Trump may be a lame duck president, but with months until Biden’s inauguration Gov. Cuomo thought plenty could still go wrong.
“I’m one of those people who’s afraid, just so you know,” he said, adding, “The damage he can do in several months is tremendous.”
Early Monday morning, New York City-headquartered pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced a COVID-19 vaccine it’s working on appeared to, according to early test results, be 90 percent effective. Gov. Cuomo said the development was “great news,” but he worried how President Trump might mismanage the drug’s distribution. “Over the next two, three months, Trump is going to put together a vaccination plan. Trump is going to be responsible for rolling out how we now do the actual vaccinations,” he said. “[It’s] the most challenging government operation we have seen since World War II.”
Many politicians are fluent in doublespeak, but for better or worse it’s a language Cuomo never learned. Howard imagined his penchant for directness might prove tricky when dealing with President Trump, who has publicly attacked both the governor and his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.
“Did you have to hold back for the good of New York state?” Howard wondered.
“I bit my tongue so many times I have tongue scars,” he said. “Here’s the trick, Howard. I want to speak to the better angels. I want to lift people up and I want to show Trump for what he is by opposition.”
“I also had the practical situation: I needed him to help New York,” he continued. “That was my job. If I wasn’t Governor of New York, I would’ve decked him. Period. He was attacking me. He was attacking my family. He was anti-Italian. He was every nasty thing.”
One of the attacks on his family occurred when President Trump referred to Chris as “Fredo.” It was a racist reference to “The Godfather” which played on the stereotype of Italian Americans as mobsters.
“I’m from New York, right, so I’m very sensitive to all ethnic slights,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It’s not funny. First, the mafia stereotype has been such a stain for Italians for so long—and that’s where they go … when they want to get cheap and nasty.”
“He wasn’t attacking my bother to attack my brother. He was attacking him to hurt me,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I said to him, ‘You want to attack me? Attack me. I don’t have a problem with that, but why are you … bringing my brother into it? He’s just doing his job.’”
The details of Gov. Cuomo’s many clashes with the current administration could fill an entire book and, to some extent, it did. While reading “American Crisis,” Howard was shocked to learn about the governor’s apparent run-in with President Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, over the administration’s apparent insistence upon touting hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 miracle drug.
“This whole hydroxychloroquine [ordeal] was one of the dumbest things of all time,” Gov. Cuomo responded, adding, “They didn’t know what they were talking about. Either somebody owned stock in that company and it was some financial scam … or it was just totally dumb.”
“‘Just fix the results, just change the numbers,’ is their attitude,” the Governor continued. “He said, ‘We’re about to do the distribution of the hospital money and your state is not going to get funding if we don’t have these results.’ I said, ‘That’s just not going to work … You’re talking to the wrong guy if you think you’re going to muscle me.’”
In case the contrast between Cuomo and Trump’s approach to governance wasn’t clear, the Governor also offered up a pair of airplane anecdotes proving how he valued function while the president was seemingly obsessed with form.
“He would talk about somebody’s ratings like he was talking about the quality of their character,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It was all ratings. It was all P.R. It was all image. It was all the patina. That’s all it ever was. It’s the Trump name in gold letters on the airplane parked at LaGuardia that didn’t fly.”
“He pays to leave it parked but the plane doesn’t fly!” he added.
Cuomo, meanwhile, travels from Albany to New York City and back again in a 40-year-old plane with broken landing gear. He refers to it in his book as a “flying jalopy.”
“The other legislative leaders, they’re petrified in this plane. They all say, ‘We gotta get a new plane. This is madness,’” Gov. Cuomo said, explaining, “I just find it like an indulgence, you know? I don’t want to say to the people, ‘Uh, I think I need a new plane.’ If God wants me to die in the plane, Howard, I think I’m going to die in the plane.”
His rocky relationship with Trump wasn’t the only one Gov. Cuomo opened up about Monday. He also spoke candidly of his complicated connection with both Catholicism and his late father. Gov. Cuomo acknowledged an occasional dissonance between the lessons learned in mass and the political views espoused by him and his dad Mario Cuomo, who served as New York’s 52nd governor.
“My father had trouble with the Catholic Church because he was pro-choice and the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate him, and I lived through that with him. It took a lot out of him and it hurt,” he told Howard. “And I have to go through the same thing. They were against marriage equality and they killed me for it.”
“Yes, I support a woman’s right to choose … I also passed a bill which I think really bothered the Catholic Church which was called the Child Victims Act,” Gov. Cuomo continued, explaining the law he signed gave survivors of sexual abuse additional time to seek justice against their accusers.
At the end of the day, he’s done his best to live in accordance with his faith. “I hope when I get to the pearly gates either Christ is there or the Pope. I just hope they don’t send up one of the deputies, otherwise I’m in trouble,” he said with a laugh.
Before seeking office himself, Gov. Cuomo helped out on his father’s political campaigns. “I think, looking back, that I went into politics to get close to him because all he did was what he did,” Gov. Cuomo said.
The two worked together the rest of the elder Cuomo’s life and grew quite close because of it, but Gov. Cuomo’s father still never offered him any emotional affection. “He did not have that dimension. He did not have that emotional intimacy,” he said. “He was from a different generation: you worked. I did want to correct it with my kids. With my kids, I did a 180 … They think I’m from Pluto. I’m so desirous of emotional connection with them and intimacy they’re like, ‘Get a job, dad.’”
Howard and co-host Robin Quivers also wondered about a different kind of intimacy. They were curious if their guest, one of America’s most eligible bachelors, had found romantic companionship since his last visit.
“Did Chelsea Handler reach out to you?” Robin asked.
“Chelsea Handler is from the state of California, so she would be quarantined. I need a date who is not quarantined. Can’t have somebody come and stay on a date for 14 days,” Gov. Cuomo responded with a laugh.
Howard offered to help him connect with a woman in the Tri-State area and the Governor was open to the idea, though he did have one condition: “You can make a recommendation, just make sure she doesn’t go on your show afterward,” Gov. Cuomo laughed, adding, “I want someone who will never go on your show. That’s what I want.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” is available now.