Gov. Andrew Cuomo Updates Howard on New York’s COVID-19 Fight and His Relationship With Donald Trump

Politician also discusses his upcoming Rolling Stone cover and the health of his brother, CNN’s Chris Cuomo

April 13, 2020

Governor Andrew Cuomo called into the Stern Show on Monday to update Howard on everything from New York’s ongoing battle against COVID-19 to his working relationship with President Donald Trump. Anyone who has turned on a TV recently has probably caught the governor communicating the need for social distancing and temporarily sheltering at home in order to slow the spread of the pandemic and ensure hospitals have enough beds, staff, and equipment to treat every coronavirus patient being admitted. Howard and co-host Robin Quivers wondered if his and everyone else’s efforts have actually helped “flatten the curve” in New York.

“It’s flat. They call it a plateau,” Gov. Cuomo said on Monday. “It’s flattened but that means 700 people die every day for the past five or six days. New admissions into the hospital are flat but thousands of people come in every day.”

“Are you hopeful?” Howard wondered. “From what I see on TV, it feels like this thing won’t be resolved for—I hate to say it—18 months or something like that. Are you feeling that way?”

“Look, if you’re not optimistic with this it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, right? So, let’s start with that. There will be waves of resolution,” Cuomo responded, explaining early victories include reducing panic and reactivating impacted sectors of the economy. “I don’t think ultimate resolution comes until you have a vaccine, where someone can say to you, ‘Don’t worry, Howard. There’s a vaccine. You take this, you never get it. It’s a non-issue,’” he added. “That’s 18 months.”

Howard wondered if he and Robin could anything to help during these trying times.

“You know, Howard? Your voice, Robin’s voice, so important. We’re fighting a virus. We’re also fighting emotions on an individual level and on a collective level. People are frightened, people are anxious, they’re stressed … The communication is as important as anything else,” Cuomo said.

“We are going to get through this—that’s the God’s honest truth,” he continued. “We will get through this—but it is hard.”

Plenty of New Yorkers are struggling right now and Cuomo wasn’t ashamed to admit he’s one of them. He told Howard he’s frightened not only for his 20 million constituents but also for his family members, including his 88-year-old mother Matilda and his younger brother Chris Cuomo, a CNN news anchor who revealed late last month he’d been infected with COVID-19.

He told Howard that Chris is thankfully doing much better now and that he was impressed by his younger brother’s courage to continue broadcasting while battling the virus. “He’s like 50 years old and he’s like superman,” Cuomo said, adding, “The day he was diagnosed, he went on air that night from his basement. That’s guts.”

Between caring for his family and the entire state of New York, Howard wondered if the pandemic had taken an emotional toll on the governor. “Have you cried during this crisis?” Howard asked.

“Yes,” Cuomo said. “I can’t get over the death numbers every day. I can’t, and I can’t rationalize it … The healthcare workers have been heroic and have done great work and we’ve saved every life that we could because the healthcare workers were great, but I can’t get past the death numbers. There’s nothing that abates that pain.”

Cuomo travels as infrequently as possibly these days, spending most of his time at his Albany residence with his children. His routine doesn’t much vary, either—mornings are spent on his daily press briefing, afternoons are filled with operational work, and nights are devoted to conversations with scientists and healthcare professionals about what’s happening on the frontlines. “That’s what every day looks like, and then it’s Groundhog Day,” Cuomo said.

The governor is exercising as often as he can and completely abstaining from alcohol during the duration of the crisis, but he told Howard it’s impossible for him to get the doctor-recommended amount of sleep every night.

“Who could sleep in the middle of this, right? You could get into bed, you could try to sleep, but your mind doesn’t turn off and you know that people are dying, literally every hour in this state,” Cuomo said, explaining his mind is constantly flooded by thoughts of what more he can do to help out.

While the governor has obviously always taken the pandemic seriously, he said it wasn’t until his brother contracted COVID-19 that he really began self-isolation. “After Chris got the virus … I took more precautions .I got a little smarter afterwards,” he said, explaining he’d still held public meetings and events until that point, greeting everyone with elbow bumps instead of handshakes and hugs. “I was bumping people all over the state,” he laughed.

One person Cuomo hasn’t been seen bumping with is President Donald Trump. The governor and the president clashed on multiple occasions over the years, but Howard wondered if their relationship had evolved since the onset of the pandemic.

Cuomo conceded Trump has fought with him probably more than any other governor in the country, but he said they now talk multiple times a week about how to deal with COVID-19. “We’re both New Yorkers. We speak our mind and if we have to disagree we disagree,” Cuomo said, adding, “During this, I said to him from the get-go, ‘This is not about politics. This is not about personalities. We have to be better than that for the jobs we do and I put my hand out in partnerships to work with you and we’ll call it straight. If you do the right thing by New York, I’ll say it. If you don’t, I’ll say it.”

“Since then he has been good in delivering for New York,” the governor added.

While Cuomo conceded Trump also has a “confrontational” relationship with his brother Chris, he told Howard the president actually asked about the news anchor’s health now. “I’ll say this, the President always makes a point of saying to me, ‘How is Chris? Is he doing okay?’ And that’s not in his usual character. We’re not chit-chatty when we’re on the phone, but he always makes a point to say that about Chris and always remember my mother,” Cuomo said.

Figuring out how to work in concert with everyone from a Republican president to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is just one of Cuomo’s many responsibilities. He is also tasked with communicating his state’s coronavirus response strategy to his constituents and convincing them to shelter-at-home and practice social distancing.

“New Yorkers are not gonna do it just because you tell them to … They have to believe it was necessary,” Cuomo said. “And the compliance has actually saved lives and changed all those projection models. So, communicating to people—besides the small percentage that just is defiant or ignorant, frankly—it worked. It really did work. People believed and they acted responsibly.”

Cuomo told Howard he inherited his love for politics and public service from his late father Mario Cuomo, who himself was a three-term governor of New York. The two were extremely close over the years and Cuomo admitted it was tough for them when his father was defeated by George Pataki in 1994 and also when he himself lost his first gubernatorial bid in 2002.

“My father and I went through a very dark period together,” Cuomo said, adding, “That was a very important time for me because you really do learn more in life from getting knocked on your rear end than anything else … Do you get up? Do you learn? Or do you just stay down.”

While Cuomo believes his father helped elevate politics into an art form, he knows some feel his father’s legacy is as a governor who spoke eloquently but didn’t get enough things done. Before his father passed, Andrew assured him things would be different when it was his turn. “I’m going to correct all the mistakes for both of us,” he recalled telling his dad.

In addition to becoming one of the nation’s most prominent leaders since the onset of the coronavirus, Cuomo has also become somewhat of a cultural icon. New Yorkers have recently declared him a sex symbol and Rolling Stone just selected him—as opposed to a pop star or rock legend—to grace the cover of its May issue.

The governor told Howard he doesn’t know why so many people are now paying him that kind of attention. “Look, I don’t understand it either because from my point of view I am doing the exact thing I have always done,” he said. “It’s who I am and how I operate.”

“I haven’t changed. I’m doing what I’m doing. The public appetite has changed and their desires have changed. Politics is no longer a celebrity contest,” he continued. “We see real life that this matters. The people who are in charge, who are in office, they make decisions that will decide life and death. Literally.”

Considering his surging popularity, Howard wondered if the governor regretted not running for president this election cycle. “There’s no regret,” Cuomo told him. “I’m doing what I said I was going to do. When you’re doing that and you’re true to yourself and the relationships around you, you have no regrets … no regrets is the most important thing to end the game with, right?”

Howard and Robin thanked Cuomo for his leadership during these calamitous times, but the governor also offered his gratitude to the two of them before hanging up the phone and getting back to work. “I say thank you to you Howard and to you Robin. Thank you for what you do. We need your voices,” he told the Stern Show hosts.

Before saying goodbye, Howard invited the governor back onto the show to join him and Robin in the studio for a wide-ranging interview after the pandemic had subsided. “I would love to know everything about you … I have a million questions,” he told his guest.

“Well, you intimidate me because you’re one of the really great interviewers. You get people to open up and say things. So, I’ll take a raincheck on that. I’ll take the distance of the phone,” Gov. Cuomo said with a laugh.