BOSTON >> In many Democratic-leaning states, the routine start of legislative sessions has been swept aside as lawmakers move to condemn or counteract the policies and directives of President Donald Trump.
Democrats have filed a flurry of bills and resolutions seeking to shield their states from federal action on immigration, health care and a host of other hot button issues, in a reversal of the partisan maneuvering that played out in GOP-controlled states during Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency.
The emotionally charged activity renews the perennial debate over states’ rights vs. federal authority, already evidenced by the court battle led by Washington state over the Republican president’s temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.
In Massachusetts, Democratic lawmakers planned an unusual caucus to discuss “what we can do as a state to express our displeasure with the actions of the president,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
The strategy session, scheduled Wednesday but postponed by an ice storm, could prompt anything from symbolic resolutions to substantive legislation to “override what is going on at the federal level,” DeLeo said, though the Democratic leader conceded the limited power of states to supersede U.S. law.
Anti-Trump efforts have dominated the legislative session in California, with Democrats proposing a wide range of bills to protect immigrant communities from deportation. Lawmakers hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to advise them on legal strategy as they prepare for clashes with the Trump administration.
Democratic legislators in New York and New Jersey proposed bills to prohibit the Port Authority from enforcing the immigration ban and a bill in the Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly would force the state to divest holdings in companies that work on Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said bills that would push back on restrictions for refugees have been introduced in more than a dozen states.
In Illinois, a House committee voted 7-5 along party lines Wednesday to advance a bill that seeks to assure abortion would remain legal in the state should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
“After repeated threats from the White House and President Trump’s remarks to strip abortion rights away from women, this legislation is necessary to safeguard a woman’s right to make decisions that affect her personal health in Illinois,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, in a statement.
The potential dismantling of the federal Affordable Care Act prompted Democrats in Washington state to file legislation that would require health insurers to cover preventative services that were required as of Dec. 31 under the federal law.
But Democrats control only about one-third of all legislative chambers in the U.S. and in some states, Republican legislators are coming to Trump’s defense.
In Missouri, where the GOP solidly holds the House and Senate, resolutions have been filed in support of easing Obama-era regulations and urging U.S. Senate confirmation of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
And aggressive responses to Trump are not without peril for Democratic-leaning states since the president can threaten, and has threatened, to withhold federal funding, said David King, senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
“The federal government has a big sledgehammer,” said King, noting threats already directed at “sanctuary cities” in California and elsewhere that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.
Legislatures have a key role to play in defending the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which delineates the rights of states to resist an overreaching federal government, King added. But he also cautioned against action that may be viewed as overtly partisan.
He suggested that Democrats in Massachusetts, for example, invite members of the Republican minority to participate in discussions rather than simply caucus on their own.