Updated Sep 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump issues memo to cut funding from "anarchist" Democratic cities

President Trump makes a speech in Wilmington to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II

President Trump during a speech in Wilmington, N.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Trump issued a memorandum on Wednesday titled "Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients That Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities."

Why it matters: The review threatens to withdraw federal funding for any "anarchist jurisdiction" it finds "disempowers or defunds police departments." The memo specifically mentions the Democratic-controlled cities of Portland, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C.

"As a result of these State and local government policies, persistent and outrageous acts of violence and destruction have continued unabated in many of America’s cities, such as Portland, Seattle, and New York."
— Memo excerpt

Details: The memo directs Attorney General Bill Barr, "in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of OMB," to publish a list on the Justice Department's website within 14 days that identifies jurisdictions that "permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities (anarchist jurisdictions)."

Of note: Constitutional experts are questioning the legality of the action, including Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe, who tweeted in response to the announcement: "Spoiler Alert: No such presidential power exists."

  • "The president obviously has no power to pick and choose which cities to cut off from congressionally appropriated funding," said Tribe, co-author of the book "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, to The Guardian.
  • When asked to comment on the legalities of the action, OMB Director Russ Vought said in a statement issued to Axios, "American taxpayers who fund the great programs that our cities rely on deserve to be protected by their local city officials.
    • "We are taking action by exploring all options to ensure Federal resources flowing to lawless cities aren’t being squandered. The lack of law and order surrounding these riots, and response from local leadership, is a dereliction of duty.
    • "Our men and women in blue cannot be handcuffed by local leadership in their efforts to respond to riots and protect their fellow citizens."

The big picture: Trump is trailing Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden in the polls and is seeking to position himself as being tough on law and order amid massive anti-racism protests in the U.S. that began after the May police killing of George Floyd.

What they're saying: Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the action "cheap, political, gratuitous and illegal," adding Trump would need an "army" to protect him if he returned to New York.

  • Bill Neidhardt, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, "This has nothing to do with 'law and order.' This is a racist campaign stunt out of the Oval Office to attack millions of people of color."
  • Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted, "only progressive communities with democratic Mayors, which he labels 'anarchist jurisdictions' – including Portland – are targeted. This is a new low, even for this president.
"He continues to believe that disenfranchising people living in this country to advance his petty grudges is an effective political strategy. The rest of us know it is dangerous, destructive, and divisive."
— Wheeler

Go deeper: 50% of likely voters say having Trump as president makes them feel less safe

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more reaction to the memo and further context.

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