Trump to Ignore New Jersey Quarantine Order

A case where the rules probably shouldn't apply to the President.

President Donald J. Trump boards Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., just after midnight Sunday, June 21, 2020, for his flight back to the White House following his trip to Tulsa, Okla.
Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

The President of the United States is going to play golf at one of his properties over the weekend and no one can make him stop.

CNBC (“Trump will not follow New Jersey coronavirus quarantine order, ‘he’s not a civilian,’ White House says“):

The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump will not change his plan to travel to New Jersey this weekend despite a new order by the governor requiring visitors who have been in states with high numbers of coronavirus cases to quarantine for 14 days.

“The president of the United States is not a civilian,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere, when asked about Trump’s compliance with the quarantine order given his travel Tuesday to Arizona, which has seen a rise in the rate of its Covid-19 cases.

“Anyone who is in close proximity to him, including staff, guests, and press are tested for COVID-19 and confirmed to be negative,” Deere said in a statement.

“With regard to Arizona, the White House followed it’s COVID mitigation plan to ensure the President did not come into contact with anyone who was symptomatic or had not been tested,” the spokesman added.

“Anyone traveling in support of the president this weekend will be closely monitored for symptoms and tested for COVID and therefore pose little to no risk to the local populations.”

Trump is the commander in chief of the U.S. military, but he has never been a member of the military.

The president is expected to travel this weekend to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. In past visits to the club, he has flown on Air Force One to airports in Newark and Morristown.

So, realistically, I think the White House is right: the President of the United States can’t be legally subject to orders from state governors. The rationales offered, however, are stupid.

First, of course the President is a civilian.

Second, military personnel are, generally speaking, subject to the laws of the state in which they reside or even happen to be.

Third, while it’s true that the President has access to the best medical care and has extraordinary protections for his safety, it’s not true that he’s safe from the disease. Indeed, the reckless rally in Tulsa has dozens of Secret Service agents under self-quarantine orders.

Via CNN’s report on the matter (“Trump won’t follow New Jersey quarantine mandate during upcoming trip“), we get a far better rationale:

In response, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront” Wednesday evening that “there is a carve out for essential workers, and I think by any definition the President of the United States is an essential worker.”

Of course he is. Now, granted, his playing golf in New Jersey is the opposite of essential. But that’s not a decision state governors get to make about a sitting President.

Beyond that, the order only applies to people coming from a handful of states with exceedingly high transmission rates. While Trump is now officially a Florida resident, surely DC (which is not on the list) is where he’d be considered coming from.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    There is a much bigger issue here.
    Trump is ensconced in what is, probably, the most sanitary bubble there is.
    Yet he actively encourages recklessness by everyone else.
    And people are literally dying because of it.

  2. Scott says:

    First, of course the President is a civilian.

    First thing I noticed about the article is this common misstatement. Commander-in-Chief is not a military position. I wish the Presidents would go back to Eisenhower’s precedent and not pretend they are military by saluting. Personal pet peeve. Rant over.

    OTOH. The President is a leader of the country. He should act as if he had responsibilities rather than privileges.

  3. CSK says:
  4. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: If I recall correctly, Ronald Reagan started the practice of returning salutes. He thought it was plain courtesy to do so and it has the added benefit of signaling the saluter that he or she can order arms. I don’t mind it. (I’m actually more annoyed by Presidents donning quasi-military flight jackets and the like.)

  5. grumpy realist says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Anyone who thinks that
    “gee, Trump isn’t wearing a mask and is going out everywhere therefore I can do as well without any worries” deserves whatever happens to them. Catch COVID-19 and die? Well, you were pretty stupid, weren’t you?

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I guess if we are going to talk about Trump and his Bedminster, NJ property, we might as well mention that it was built on the back of illegal immigrants.

  7. Jen says:

    The real issue isn’t so much the President himself, it is the entourage that travels with him. Where do those people eat/sleep/etc.? Unless there is ZERO (and I mean ZERO) contact with the people who live and work in New Jersey, the problem isn’t so much that one (frequently tested) individual will be there, it’s that he brings dozens of other potentially infected people along with him. All of those people will interact with others on the property, potentially spreading disease.

    He is such a narcissistic fool.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    and I think by any definition the President of the United States is an essential worker.

    Is the Governor providing an example of Poe’s law?

  9. dmichael says:

    @Scott: I agree with everything you said and comment only because you reminded me of a pet peeve of mine: The erroneous belief that the President is “Commander in Chief” of all of us civilians. The Constitution (Article II, section 2) specifies that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Trump is not my commander in chief and never will be. Nixon was only because I was in the US Navy at the time.

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    A guy I went to High School with (Class of 1966) made a point of telling people that when he enlisted in the United States Air Force he took an oath …to support and defend the Constitution of the United States...

  11. CSK says:

    If ever there was an illustration of how deeply, profoundly Trump doesn’t care what happens to other people, this is it. Put dozens of lives at risk as long as you get to whack a little white ball around a green.

  12. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    When I got my first passport I had to swear to protect and defend the Constitution.

  13. Bob@Youngstown says:


    it is the entourage that travels with him.

    Moreover, the President is modeling the behavior that will undermine efforts at controlling the virus. Specifically, he is modeling the: I can rationalize why a self-quarantine does not apply to me or my support staff, therefore F**k the quarantine..

    That gives permission to every american to rationalize similarly.

    Can’t wait to see the reaction when aircraft are not permitted to land at JFK if they originated in Florida. (and I can practically guarantee you that every one of those passengers will be able to rationalize why they should not have to quarantine)

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:..When I got my first passport I had to swear to protect and defend the Constitution.

    I got a passport back in the early ’80s when I thought I would be working out of the country so I must have done the same thing. The job never materialized and I never renewed my passport so the memory of that occasion, like so many other life events, has vanished.
    However I do carry one copy of the United States Constitution in my pocket and another one in the glove box of my car.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @Mister Bluster: I swore the oath in ’64 and my two-or-three contemporaries and I all recall the words as being ‘protect and defend’ the Constitution. But I looked and Wikipedia said the actual date of official change to ‘support and defend’ was 1959, best as I recall.

  16. CSK says:

    Wikipedia may be wrong on this. (It’s hardly infallible.) I got my passport in the 1970s, and I had to swear to protect and defend the Constitution. The first time I can recall seeing support and defend was a few weeks ago. “Support” sounds kind of New Age-y to me.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Jen: Yes. The Presidential entourage is massive and spreads the risk exponentially. Presumably, they all live in DC or its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, none of which are on the “must-quarantine” list. Still, it’s reckless if the only point of the visit is golf.

    @gVOR08: It’s the Democratic governor of New Jersey. As a matter of common sense, the President is an essential worker even if this particular one is a buffoon.

    @dmichael: I remind my students of this all the time. I have bosses, not commanders.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    I thought one saluted the uniform, not the man. At least that’s how my father explained it.

  19. PJ says:

    Pence found out that Trump might replace him on the ticket so he’s encouraging Trump to ignore the rules.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The origin of that saying is that you’re expected to salute those entitled to it by regulation regardless of your personal feelings toward them. A soldier is entitled to despise the individual officeholder but not to be discourteous.

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    So if a general is in mufti a soldier still has to salute them? Is that common practice?

  22. Scott says:

    @James Joyner: This reminds me of when the cars has blue, yellow, red, white base stickers to get on base. Blue stickered cars (for officers) got saluted regardless of whether it was driven by the officer, spouse or a mangy haired teenager.

  23. JohnMcC says:

    @CSK: Well, if you can prove my memory is superior to Wikipedia you’ve made MY day! Parenthetically, all three of us Viet Nam vets sitting around the living room that day remembered ‘protect & defend’.

  24. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Ah. Generally speaking, no. None of the branches require saluting in civilian clothes, or even PT gear. But, as @Scott mentions, gate guards will salute the car regardless of who’s driving and, yes, will salute an officer even if he’s in civvies.

  25. CSK says:

    I think all four of us are right, and Wikipedia is dead wrong. By the way, the president still swears to “protect and defend” the Constitution.

    Speaking of Wikipedia’s errors, the late writer Philip Roth was engaged in along-running battle with them to correct what he regarded as an egregious error. Wiki insisted that Roth had based one of his characters on Anatole Broyard. Roth said he hadn’t. Wiki said it had 2 printed sources that said he did, and they were sticking with those.

    Additionally Wikipedia had to lock its entry on Paul Revere after Sarah Palin babbled whatever the hell it was she said about him back in 2011. The Palinistas were frantically trying to rewrite the entry to conform to her word salad.

    So much for Wikipedia.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: @JohnMcC: It has been “support and defend” since July 1868, a change made in the aftermath of the Civil War. The officer’s oath has not changed since that date. The enlisted oath has changed a number of times, most recently in 1962, but has never been “protect and defend.”

    To my knowledge, the only place where “protect and defend” exists is in the President’s oath, prescribed in Article II, Section I, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

  27. KM says:

    So, realistically, I think the White House is right: the President of the United States can’t be legally subject to orders from state governors.

    My first instinct was to agree with this statement but then stepped back to think about it. Why not, exactly?

    I understand the principle that state cannot supersede federal in legal conflict but this is Trump *personally* choosing to disobey a valid order for non-governmental reasons. There’s no legal conflict in play here because the Executive Branch has not issued an official contradictory stance. There’s plenty of laws that exist only on the state level that Trump could theoretically choose to disobey under this “logic”. The now cliche example of shooting someone on 5th Ave comes to mind – murder and assault charges are usually state in nature. In other words, he’s abusing the privilege of the Office for utterly petty reasons that aren’t covered by federal supremacy. POTUS also does not have instant and unlimited access to everywhere in the United States at will -he is using public locations like Newark that are not under his official control and can theoretically refuse him access because they are complying with state law / directives. He’s demanding others break the law to enable his lawless ways and they don’t have a legal fig leaf to hide behind.

    Trump is POTUS, not King. He’s still subject to state laws/ directives when he’s in said state. He can’t be held accountable the same way you or I do for Constitutional reasons but it’s not a blanket “Do What You Want” from the Founding Fathers. In fact, they’d have said the governor could absolutely tell Trump what to do in their state as they envisions POTUS as a caretaker figurehead.

    Also, if Trump’s not a civilian then someone needs to be drawing up all the charges he’s racked up under the UCMJ so it’s ready for President Biden.

  28. James Joyner says:

    @KM: While there are credible dissenters, the overwhelming view of legal scholars is that Presidents are simply not subject to detention or prosecution under state or federal law while they sit in office. The only remedy against their wrongdoing is impeachment, which, as we have seen, is next to impossible to carry through to removal (Congress is 0-for-3 to date). They would be subject to transgressions after the fact, of course, but not in office.

    And, as a practical matter, Presidents simply can’t be subject to the whim of state authorities in their right to travel the country as they see fit.

  29. KM says:

    @James Joyner:
    But it’s not detention or prosecution because he’s not being seized and forced to do so by the government. Nobody’s coming with armed guards to get anyone for quarantine, let alone coming for POTUS. That’s a bit of a false equivalent as quarantine is voluntary; I’d agree with you if it was mandatory with people actually *making* you stay in place for 14 days.

    Also, there’s a difference between enforcement and application. As you note, there’s no good Constitutional way to enforce the law on Trump but it’s still applicable to him. He’s still bound by it same as anyone who walks past NJ’s border. Nowhere in the Constitution does it grant the President legal permission or freedom to break any law while in Office. They are incurring transgression while in Office but they are not practically actionable, similar to how you can rack up millions in parking tickets while having diplomatic immunity. Law still broken but enforcement cannot happen as normal. Solution? Cut the water and electricity to the offending location since THEY are in violation as well by letting someone violate quarantine on property under their auspices. Order them shut down since they are a business and under official guidelines to be allowed to reopen. Yank licensees. Get creative and you end up having the same effect legally.

  30. Jen says:

    @James Joyner:

    Presumably, they all live in DC or its Maryland and Virginia suburbs

    I was really thinking about anyone who may have accompanied him to either Tulsa or Phoenix. Anyone who caught something at either of those locations would probably be starting to have sufficient viral replication that they could start shedding virus but not yet be symptomatic.

    But hey, dude’s gotta golf, amiright?

  31. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Jen: @James Joyner:
    Jen, you are spot on. The text of the NY order (and preseumably NJ’s as well) states:

    All travelers entering New York from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a 10% test positivity rate, over a seven day rolling average, will be required to quarantine for a period of 14 days consistent with Department of Health regulations for quarantine.

    It has nothing to do with where the individual lives, but rather where they have been.

  32. Arnold Stang says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from Band of Brothers

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I may be traveling to Canada in a couple of weeks as an essential worker because the work I am doing is essential. I have not been able to travel to Canada to visit my son, because that is not essential work.

    “Essential Worker” refers to people who can still go to their usual place of employment so as to continue to do work deemed essential. “Travel for essential work” refers to needing to travel to another location in order to do essential work.

    The fact that Trump is an essential worker keeps him in the White House, “working”. But there is no definition of “Traveling for essential work” that golfing qualifies.

  34. DrDaveT says:

    “Anyone who is in close proximity to him, including staff, guests, and press are tested for COVID-19 and confirmed to be negative,” Deere said in a statement.

    If they know they’re going to confirm negative, why waste a test kit?

  35. CSK says:

    Trump’s penchant for butchering the language is contagious. What Deere meant to say, as you know, was that people had to test negative before they’re admitted to Trump’s presence.

    Part of Trump’s appeal, like Sarah Palin’s was, is that he talks like a “real American,” a.k.a. a semi-literate.

  36. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    In Brazil Bolsonaro was force to obey a “state”(Brasilia is a Federal District, not a state) order mandating use of masks in public spaces. That’s how the better form of Federalism works(Yes, I’m just trolling in this last sentence).

  37. Blue Galangal says:

    A case where the rules probably shouldn’t apply to the President.

    This is the epigraph Donald Trump feels should apply to his *presidency.