Wolf: 'Cowardly' counties 'choosing to desert' virus fight

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FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2015 file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf is attacking local elected officials making plans to reopen in defiance of his shutdown orders as cowards deserting the pandemic battlefield. Wolf threatened Monday, May 11, 2020 to block aid to rebellious counties in an escalating political fight over his administration's handling of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Gov. Tom Wolf attacked local elected officials making plans to reopen in defiance of his shutdown orders as cowards deserting the pandemic battlefield, threatening Monday to block aid to rebellious Pennsylvania counties in an escalating political fight over his administration's handling of the coronavirus.

The normally mild-mannered Democrat fired back after several GOP-controlled counties declared themselves in open rebellion against his stay-at-home orders and shutdown of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.” The counties assert they have enough testing, equipment and hospital capacity to manage flareups of a virus that has sickened over 57,000 in Pennsylvania, of whom more than 3,700 have died.

Wolf said local officials who pronounce their communities open for business are acting selfishly and risking lives.

“The politicians who are encouraging the people they were elected to lead to quit the fight are acting in a most cowardly way," said Wolf, asserting they are “choosing to desert in the face of the enemy.”

Wolf threatened to withhold COVID-19 funding to counties that act unilaterally and “put us all at risk by operating illegally.” Under the federal emergency relief law signed by President Donald Trump in late March, Pennsylvania has about $4 billion in aid that Wolf, for now, has pledged to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature on how to spend.

Republican officials responded sharply Monday to Wolf's “name-calling” and threats, saying their constituents are suffering economically and desperate to get back to work. They say Wolf has been arbitrary and illogical in deciding what areas of the state to reopen and when, refusing to explain his decisions.

“You can only govern if the people are willing to be governed, and the governor has clearly lost his crowd," said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.

Nearly all of the counties that are planning to reopen are longtime GOP strongholds that voted heavily for Trump in 2016, helping him become the first Republican to capture the key presidential battleground of Pennsylvania since 1988. Trump was planning to visit the state later this week.