‘The President Is Not a King’: NY Attorney General Tish James

‘The President Is Not a King’: NY Attorney General Tish James

‘The President Is Not a King’: NY Attorney General Tish James

Governors, mayors, and attorneys general set the agenda, as Trump’s malignancy, like the coronavirus, grows exponentially.

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The Noise? The blatherer in chief trying to deflect blame for his administration’s abysmal, criminal failing to stem the coronavirus outbreak in the United States by going after China, the World Health Organization, and Democratic governors, whom Trump continues to feud with, and over whom he erroneously claimed he had “total authority” when it came to the timing for reopening the country’s economy. And Congress, which Trump is now threatening to adjourn, so that, like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, he can effectively rule by decree, appointing anyone he wants to positions of power with no congressional oversight and no Senate confirmation hearings.

The Signal? Trump’s bluster is, increasingly, that of a paper tiger. He’s replacing good governance with tantrums and preening, self-congratulatory propaganda spectacles. In this crisis, it is the governors, the mayors, and the state attorneys general who are setting the agenda and the pace of response to the pandemic. “The president is not a king,” New York Attorney General Letitia James told me this week. “It’s clearly up to the governors to lift their executive orders. The president can only issue guidelines. He could put out all kinds of edicts, but they have no legal import.”

The governors are forming regional pacts to coordinate long-term responses. California is at the center of a Pacific West alliance, New York a Northeastern one, and Illinois and Michigan are developing a Midwestern alliance. These pacts will help coordinate when and how to restart economies and when and how to relax stay-in-place regulations.

And it is the governors and mayors in states like California who are stepping in to protect vulnerable populations whom the feds have abandoned—or, worse, deliberately targeted, with ICE continuing its raids in undocumented communities even as the pandemic worsened. This week, California moved to create a $75 million fund to help the undocumented immigrants whose families were left out of Washington’s $2 trillion CARES rescue package, and philanthropists in the state pledged to raise an additional $50 million. The moneys, a first-in-the-nation state-level cash disbursement to the economic victims of the pandemic, will be distributed through a network of regional nonprofits that work with undocumented communities.

Also this week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of an Angeleno Card, an electronic-benefit transfer program that will distribute funds donated by local private philanthropists to help low-income residents whose earnings have been hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, many of whom may not receive stimulus checks because they do not file income taxes. Families will be eligible for up to $1,500, and the payments—unlike the much-delayed Trump-signed stimulus checks—will be delivered to recipients within days.

And it is the state attorneys general who are pushing for more humane—and more sensible—policies vis-à-vis immigrants, so as to bring as many US residents as possible under health insurance and nutritional assistance umbrellas during this crisis.

This week Attorney General James, with the support of the Connecticut and Vermont attorneys general, petitioned the Supreme Court to revisit on an emergency basis its stay on a lower court decision putting on hold the new “public charge” regulations, which effectively bar noncitizen immigrants from all public benefits. The Supreme Court’s stay had allowed the new regulations to go into effect while the courts heard ongoing legal arguments. James wants the justices to temporarily halt its implementation so that immigrants can access health care and medical testing during the pandemic. “There’s no question the Supreme Court has the authority to alter its own stay,” James explained. “The facts on the ground have changed. We’ve got an extraordinary circumstance.” New York’s request, she said, “is a plea to our humanity.”

In this crisis, it is the states that are showing what humane and effective governance can look like. Meanwhile, the feds continue to show their most ugly, cruel face to the world: Witness the recent flight to Guatemala deporting a planeload of asylum-seekers who had been detained in ICE facilities. Guatemala reported that 75 percent of these men and women tested positive for Covid-19 when they landed. In other words, not only is America keeping immigrants in close-quarters detention, where the pandemic is raging among them; it is then deporting them, while contagious, to an impoverished country that has only a few hundred ventilators to service the needs of a population of 17 million, and that would suffer calamitously should the epidemic take root.

Trump’s malignancy is on an exponential growth curve, seemingly doubling in its vindictiveness and squalidness every couple of days. When this crisis is over, it will fall to progressive politicians to push policies capable of rebuilding both the economy and the moral fabric of this shattered country. History, James stated, will judge Trump to have been “hostile to immigration, a nationalist; he was regressive and imposed a number of challenges to marginal and vulnerable populations.” But, she continued, she hopes the history books will also one day tell how progressive attorneys general “stood up, fought back, and won—believing we are a pluralistic society and welcome all.”

That’s the Signal. Stay safe and healthy—and keep fighting for a more decent tomorrow.

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