NY ready to sue Trump over 'anarchist' label

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a coronavirus briefing in Manhattan on Aug. 3. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

ALBANY — New York state officials stand ready to sue President Donald Trump and the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said while snapping back at officials Monday after the U.S. Department of Justice made a motion to label New York City an anarchist jurisdiction.

The department labeled the downstate metropolis, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, anarchist jurisdictions on the heels of a Sept. 2 presidential memorandum directing department officials to review withholding federal funding to states and localities permitting anarchy, violence and destruction in American cities.

“Is it going to happen? No — because it’s illegal and unconstitutional,” Cuomo said Monday during a telephone coronavirus briefing. “It’s politics. It’s politics for the next few weeks going up to the November election. That’s all this is.”

New York City receives about $7.4 billion in federal funding, Cuomo said — a significantly higher sum compared to other jurisdictions nationwide.

Seattle receives an average of $365 million from the federal government, while Portland gets an average of $252 million annually.

Congress appropriates funds with specific legal requirements, designating money to localities for specific purposes, such as U.S. Housing and Urban Development money for affordable housing.

“The president can’t supersede the law and say, ‘I’m going to make those funds basically discretionary funds,’” Cuomo said. “He doesn’t control federal funding. The federal law controls federal funding, and the federal law is very specific.”

Trump’s threat is empty, the governor said.

“I don’t really think they believe any of this is going to work,” he added. “Policing is a power by the Constitution that is left to the states. That’s the 10th Amendment, it’s left to the states. If they actually do this, we will challenge it legally and he will lose once again because we’ve seen this play before. But again, it’s just for the politics and part of his campaign rhetoric.

“I think he’s more concerned with remaining president of the United States and he thinks his political opportunity is to try to divide this nation.”

Cuomo drew parallels to the recent funding fight between the federal government and officials in cities nationwide over sanctuary cities.

In 2017, Trump attempted to block federal funding to sanctuary cities, or cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities — especially regarding the arrest or detainment of undocumented immigrants — and issued an executive order halting funding for those localities.

A San Francisco judge blocked the order, ruling only Congress could place such conditions on spending.

A dozen lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration for the order. The Justice Department has been unsuccessful in withholding federal funds for sanctuary cities.

The state is preparing to take action against the president’s illegal designation and funding threat, state Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement Monday.

“As the nation moves towards 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 and as tens of millions remain out of work, President Trump is trying to distract the American people from his failures as a leader and is using the last few months of his presidency to sow more chaos, more hatred, and more fear,” James said. “This designation is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to scare Americans into voting for a commander-in-chief who is actually incapable of commanding our nation. President Trump failed to listen to scientists, failed to steer our economy through this pandemic, and has repeatedly failed to bring our nation together. The president should be prepared to defend this illegal order in court, which hypocritically lays the groundwork to defund New York and the very types of law enforcement President Trump pretends to care about. We have beat the president and the illegal actions of his DOJ in court before and have no doubt we will beat them again.”

Trump is politicizing the cocktail of issues plaguing New York in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo said, as cities across the nation face exponential increases in violent crime. The department’s “anarchist” label Monday secures the president’s agenda to keep potential voters safe from urban unrest.

“This is a continuation of his political theme, which is that he’s the law-and-order candidate,” Cuomo said. “I understand the politics, but when you try to manipulate and distort government agencies to play politics, which is what the Trump Administration has done from Day One ... this is more of the same.”

Cuomo signed an executive order over the weekend extending the state’s COVID-19 commercial eviction moratorium until Oct. 20, or that a business cannot be evicted from a space because owners cannot pay the rent as a result of the pandemic.

The executive order banning residential evictions remains in effect indefinitely.

“We said that is effective until the end of the crisis, and the crisis is still ongoing,” Cuomo said.

The state will honor the late Brooklyn native U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a statue in the New York City borough.

Ginsburg died Friday of pancreatic cancer complications. She was 87.

“That’s a tremendous loss for the nation,” Cuomo said Monday. “She was a generational role model and champion.”

The state established a commission to work on the statue design and location. A site at Brooklyn Bridge Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty is a potential location.

“Obviously, I think the attempt to fill the [Supreme Court] vacancy in this rushed, highly political, highly partisan manner is the exact worse thing this nation can be doing now,” Cuomo said. “It stresses the division. It further polarizes, it further politicizes. You’re talking about destroying democratic stability ... the last thing this nation needs at this precarious time.”

The state reported 573 new coronavirus infections Monday, or 0.98% of more than 58,319 COVID-19 tests conducted Sunday.

One New Yorker died from the coronavirus Sunday — the state’s lowest number of fatalities in a 24-hour period since mid-March.

“That’s the lowest number we’ve had since this began,” the governor said. “I want to thank all New Yorkers for their extraordinary efforts — their spirit of community has literally saved thousands of lives. You’re protecting all New Yorkers’ health. We won’t stop until that number is zero.”

The state reported 468 New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, or no change from the day before.

Officials continue to monitor positive coronavirus infections in Western New York after a series of COVID-19 clusters linked to out-of-state workers or cases in a factory caused a spike in infections.

The region had 1.6% positive new COVID-19 infections Monday, up from 0.9% Sunday, and has fluctuated under 2% for the past two weeks.

“It appears to be stabilized right now... but we would like to see that number under 1,” Cuomo said. “It’s day by day. This whole situation has been day by day — stone to stone across the morass. You’re only as good as your performance yesterday. You’re only as good as your last win.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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