Political fights from health care to climate change in the Trump era increasingly look like the election itself: a raw battle for resources and advantage between red and blue states.
Since gaining control of Washington, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have pushed an array of policies that tend to punish states that voted Democratic in last year’s presidential election.
California and other traditionally blue states are scrambling to fight back however they can, pushing state-level legislation and turning to the courts to try to halt policies that Democratic leaders see as hostile to their constituents.
One particularly striking example emerged in the current health-care debate. Analyses of a Senate bill embraced by Trump showed starkly disparate effects on funding levels in red and blue states. Fourteen of the 15 states that would benefit were won by Trump, while 11 of the biggest 15 losers are states he lost. A newer version of the bill unveiled Monday would shower extra benefits on conservative states such as Alaska to appeal to wavering senators.
Blue states would also take a disproportionate hit under a prominent provision in Trump’s tax plan. The vast majority of “sanctuary cities” threatened with loss of federal funding are in Democratic-leaning states, as are the majority of young undocumented immigrants who could lose protection from deportation. The administration has signaled its intent to significantly scale back mass-transit funding traditionally favored by more liberal and urban states.
And all but one of the handful of states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use are blue. They are now watching nervously to see whether Trump’s Justice Department reverses course and launches a crackdown on those states and the District of Columbia.
“What we’re witnessing is war between the red and the blue,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “This is hardball, and it’s distinctive from what we’ve seen before.”
The combat in Washington reflects the divide exposed in last year’s bitter election between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and it extends beyond politics to culture and values. Trump was wildly cheered during a political rally in ruby-red Alabama on Friday when he said National Football League players should be fired if they do not stand during the national anthem. Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week compared Trump supporters to cave dwellers, apparently unconcerned about any political blowback he might receive in his deeply blue state.
Since taking office, Trump has held campaign-style rallies exclusively in states he won last year, and most of the events he has staged as part of his official travel have been in red states. During Friday's rally in Alabama, Trump touted the money he is steering to the state and said he shares its values, proclaiming: "I understand the people of Alabama. I feel like I'm from Alabama, frankly."
Republicans in Washington say their aim is not to target blue states but, in many cases, to roll back the excesses of the Obama administration and right other policy wrongs.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said it would be foolish to think Trump is biased against certain states, noting that Trump is a New Yorker. Schlapp, whose wife works in the White House, pointed to one Trump proposal that he said makes sense on the merits and is long overdue — ending the state and local tax deduction on federal income-tax filings.
The provision would effectively shift more of the federal tax burden to states with higher taxes, which tend to be Democratic. Under existing law, Republicans argue, the federal government is essentially subsidizing higher income-tax rates in blue states such as California and New York.
“It’s fine if they want higher taxes, but that doesn’t mean red states should have to subsidize it,” Schlapp said. “It’s bad policy.”
On health care, the authors of the Cassidy-Graham bill have used its list of winners and losers as a selling point. Under the legislation, which could come to a vote in the Senate this week, states that would experience the biggest funding cuts are those that utilized a provision in the Affordable Care Act to expand their Medicaid populations and pick up additional federal funding.
All states had that option, but Democratic governors were far more inclined to take advantage of it.
“I like Massachusetts. I like Maryland. I like New York. I like California. But I don’t like them that much to give them a bunch of money that the rest of us won’t get,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a floor speech last week, ticking off several blue states that aggressively used President Barack Obama’s signature law to insure more people.
"Now, if you live in Massachusetts, you don't get twice the Social Security or 50 percent more than if you live in Pennsylvania," Graham continued. "Now how can this happen? Obamacare, for whatever reason, favors four blue states against the rest of us."
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) said the funding formula appeared to be a deliberate attempt to buy Republican support for a plan that can pass with only GOP votes.
In the Trump era, "to be a Democratic governor or a Democratic-leaning state is to be punished," he said.
Malloy cited a litany of other initiatives from Trump and the Republican-led Congress that he said have a disproportionate impact on Democratic states, including the president’s travel ban and his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord.
While climate change affects all Americans, Malloy said, the effects are particularly bad for coastal states, many of which are led by Democrats.
“You can’t get away from the fact that the coasts are more exposed,” Malloy said. “It may be bad for Kansas, but it’s far worse for Connecticut.”
Whatever their aim, some Republican policies coming out of Washington would hit more than Democratic targets, some analysts say.
Beth Osborne, senior policy adviser for the advocacy group Transportation for America, said the Trump administration has been “particularly hostile” to mass-transit projects.
The president's proposed budget, for example, included a provision to halt federal funding for new light rail and other local transit projects, a move that could cut $900 billion next year.
Such projects have traditionally been favored by urban areas, particularly those in Democratic states more willing to fund them. Many of the states that voted for Trump rely far more on highways.
But Osborne said mass transit is now being embraced more and more by red states, including Arizona and Florida. “The ones that will get slaughtered are the new ones,” she said, referring to projects planned in such states.
In August, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, noting that grant awards to several Democratic-leaning states — including Delaware, Massachusetts and California — had declined compared with the previous year.
"There could be many reasons for these apparent declines," Carper wrote, adding that the issue should be examined given the administration's new practice of involving political appointees in the grant process.
In many blue states, there have been torrents of legislation intended as policy blockades against Trump. California, which has been most active, recently ended its legislative session by passing a bill to create a “sanctuary state” — a counter to Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration and increase deportations.
The legislation limits the communication between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities and prevents local officers from questioning and holding people on immigration violations.
It comes amid the Trump administration’s efforts to deny federal grant funding to “sanctuary cities” across the country. While some of those jurisdictions, such as New Orleans, are in red states, the majority are in states that Trump lost.
In the wake of Trump's announcement that the United States would pull out of the Paris accord, several blue states have stepped up their efforts to address climate change. Brown traveled from California to China to discuss global warming with President Xi Jinping. He has also announced that San Francisco will host the Global Climate Action Summit next year. His comments comparing Trump supporters to cave dwellers came at a climate-change event last week in New York.
“They’re both kind of very similar,” Brown said. “You should check out the derivation of ‘Trump-ite’ and ‘troglodyte,’ because they both refer to people who dwell in deep, dark caves.”
Other Democratic governors are seizing the initiative in different ways.
Shortly after Trump announced plans to end the program that has shielded about 800,000 young immigrants from deportation, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) attended a rally with such immigrants. There, she heard concerns about paying the $495 renewal fee to participate in the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Days later, Raimondo announced an effort by her office to raise money from the private sector to pay the costs for everyone affected in Rhode Island.
“I think it’s important to speak out [against Trump], and I’ve done that,” Raimondo said. “I’ve loudly opposed him when I think his policies are hurting people. But we have to do more than pound on the podium.”
The Trump presidency has also invigorated Democratic attorneys generals across the country. Since Trump took office, officials in blue states have collectively filed more than 50 lawsuits and other legal actions aimed at derailing aspects of the president’s agenda.
The earliest actions sought to block Trump’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries. Since then, the target list has broadened considerably to counter the Trump administration’s actions on DACA, health care, education loans and numerous environmental regulations.
"It's unprecedented the number of actions this president and his administration have taken that are illegal and unconstitutional," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D), whose office has filed 15 lawsuits.
Democrats are essentially taking a page from Republicans, who use the courts to attempt to stymie Obama on a range of issues while he was in office, including health care, immigration and transgender rights. Much of the work is being coordinated in Washington out of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
One of the latest salvos came this week from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), targeting a signature Trump campaign promise: a proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The lawsuit alleges that the project runs afoul of environmental and other federal laws and would have a chilling effect on tourism between the countries.
Since taking office in January, Becerra has filed a flurry of suits against Trump that he said are intended to look out for the rights of Californians.
“My job is to protect everything we’re doing to move ahead,” Becerra said. “He’s attacking some of the foundations of our economic success.”