President Trump has directed federal officials to find ways to cut funding to a string of cities controlled by Democrats, citing violence amid protests against systemic racism in policing, a move that threatens billions of dollars for many of the country’s largest urban hubs as the president makes the unrest a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
Mr. Trump laid out the directive in a memo, released Wednesday, to Russell T. Vought, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Attorney General William P. Barr. It accuses state and local officials of abdicating their duties.
“Anarchy has recently beset some of our states and cities,” Mr. Trump wrote in the memo, mentioning a few cities specifically: Portland, Ore.; Washington; Seattle; and the president’s birth city, New York. “My administration will not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.”
With polls showing him trailing his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump has tried to shift the public’s attention away from his administration’s failed response to the coronavirus pandemic and to what he depicts as out-of-control crime in New York and other cities. He has seized on an uptick in crime and has tried to blame it on local Democratic leaders.
The president has repeatedly sought to paint cities as hellscapes that only he can save, regardless of how limited the violent outbreaks have been during broader protests against acts of brutality by police officers against Black people.
The memo, which was titled “Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients That Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence and Destruction in American Cities” and was first reported by The New York Post, ratchets up Mr. Trump’s argument. But the move is almost certain to face legal challenges, and Democrats and city officials reacted furiously. Officials in New York said they were reviewing their legal options.
Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, said on Twitter: “As much as Donald Trump wants New York City to drop dead, we will never let this stand. This has nothing to do with ‘law and order’. This is a racist campaign stunt out of the Oval Office to attack millions of people of color.”
An effort by Mr. Trump to curtail funding to so-called sanctuary cities was challenged in court, but a federal appeals court ruled this year that the administration was within its rights to withhold some funds, although three other appeals courts have ruled that the administration did not have the authority.
The memo appeared to be a dagger aimed squarely at New York, where Mr. de Blasio and the state’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, both Democrats, have been critical of the federal response to the coronavirus. The memo went on at length about the recent rise in crime in New York City, and Mr. de Blasio’s recent agreement to cut $1 billion in funding to the New York Police Department.
“To ensure that federal funds are neither unduly wasted nor spent in a manner that directly violates our government’s promise to protect life, liberty and property, 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,” the memo said.
It gives Mr. Barr 14 days to identify “anarchist jurisdictions” where officials have “permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures,” although it does not specify particular cities.
Mr. Vought has 30 days to direct “heads of agencies on restricting eligibility of or otherwise disfavoring, to the maximum extent permitted by law, anarchist jurisdictions in the receipt of federal grants,” according to the memo.
Among the factors that Mr. Barr is to consider in determining such jurisdictions are “whether a jurisdiction forbids the police force from intervening to restore order amid widespread or sustained violence or destruction,” whether a jurisdiction has pulled back law enforcement after being prevented access to a certain area and “whether a jurisdiction disempowers or defunds police departments.”