US President Donald Trump is ordering a review of funding of Democratic-run cities that have been epicentres of a wave of protests demanding racial justice, saying so-called “anarchist jurisdictions” should be disfavoured for federal money.
Mr Trump signed a memorandum on Wednesday aimed specifically at New York, Portland, Seattle and Washington, but including steps that could affect other US cities. The document calls on the White House Office of Management and Budget to detail within two weeks how all federal agencies will submit reports detailing funding to those four cities.
"It is imperative that the federal government review the use of federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America's cities," according to the memo, which was first reported by the New York Post.
Mr Trump later announced his move on Twitter, saying his administration would act to "prevent weak mayors and lawless cities" from taking federal funds "while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses".
While both preliminary and possibly symbolic, the memo comes as Mr Trump looks to shift attention away from the coronavirus pandemic and economic woes by framing the fall election on protests, particularly those that have turned violent.
“For the past few months, several state and local governments have contributed to the violence and destruction in their jurisdictions by failing to enforce the law, disempowering and significantly defunding their police departments, and refusing to accept offers of federal law enforcement assistance,” Mr Trump said in the memo.
The memo instructs Attorney General William Barr to publish, within 14 days, a list of “anarchist jurisdictions” that have “permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities”.
The memo also gives OMB Director Russ Vought 30 days to issue guidance to agencies “on restricting eligibility of or otherwise disfavouring, to the maximum extent permitted by law, anarchist jurisdictions in the receipt of federal grants that the agency has sufficient lawful discretion to restrict”.
Mr Vought said in a statement that “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,” he said.
House Democrats called the Trump move illegal. “This order intrudes on Congress’ power of the purse, would never stand up in court, and is nothing more than a distraction from the fact that Americans are less safe under the Trump administration,” Evan Hollander, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer vowed to protect New York City from any threat to funding. “Instead of these foolish stunts he ought to be focused on getting our country out of the Covid crisis,” Mr Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, said in a statement.
Mr Trump has tried to highlight riots and other violence while generally sidestepping the peaceful protests they grew out of, or the killings of black Americans at the hands of police that led to the protests in the first place.
The president visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, where Jacob Blake was shot repeatedly by a police officer, leaving him paralysed.
He toured a burned building and a National Guard command centre, but did not meet Mr Blake’s family and declined to discuss the case when pressed by reporters.
His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, said he would go to Kenosha on Thursday and visit Mr Blake’s family.