News & Politics

DC Is Going to Have to Fight Harder Than the Other Blue States to Move Left Under Trump

It's already started to, but so has the pushback.

Bowser. Photo courtesy Street Sense via Flickr.

Anticipating a federal government under unified Republican control led by Donald Trump to take a hard-rightward tilt after January 20, cities and states that voted most emphatically against Trump last year have positioned themselves as bastions of liberal policy. And DC, where Trump earned just 4 percent of the vote (as his son-in-law will proudly boast), is one of those places, with its elected leaders making pre-inauguration announcements that move the city further to the left.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that her administration will move to eliminate enforcement of a federal law that automatically suspends the driver’s licenses of drug offenders, regardless of whether the crime involved driving. “This change will ensure that the DC criminal code is tailored to public safety, not maintaining antiquated and ineffective policies that place unnecessary burdens on District residents,” the mayor said in a press release.

The policy will make it easier for the more than 300 DC residents whose licenses are suspended each year to get jobs and rehabilitate themselves, Bowser said in the press release. The change puts DC in line with at least 33 other states that have opted out of enforcing the law. (A 1992 federal law requires states to formally opt out of the policy to avoid losing highway funding.)

Bowser, who met with Trump last month, also announced Monday that DC is “doubling down” on its status as a sanctuary city. “We are ensuring that if immigration enforcement changes and problems arise, DC’s immigrant population will have our support and the support of DC’s legal community,” the mayor said. To make that happen, the city is providing $500,000 to organizations that do legal work on behalf of DC’s immigrant population. Among other programs, the money will help fund lawsuits if the incoming Trump administration tries to use residency applications made possible by one of President Obama’s executive actions to deport undocumented immigrants.

But unlike other solidly-Democratic places California or New York, DC’s leftward shift can be halted by nosy members of Congress, who get final approval over laws the city tries to enact. The most recent example also happened Monday, when Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who runs the House Oversight Committee, signaled his plans to block an assisted-suicide bill Bowser signed into law last month.

An expansive paid family leave billwhich Bowser opposed but was approved by a veto-proof majority of the DC Council, still awaits the mayors signature. But even if she consents, House Republicans may feel empowered to cut it in favor of a regressive alternate like a child-care tax deduction promoted by Ivanka Trump.

Chaffetz has other designs on the District, too, including proposals to move federal agencies away from Washington.

For now, though, Monday’s announcements keep Bowser aligned with state- and city-level resistance to Trump. At least 37 cities have reaffirmed their status as sanctuary cities since the election. And on December 29, 30 mayors sent President Obama a letter that urged him to protect Dreamers. Bowser wasn’t among them; local activists criticized her the month before for what they saw as a weak statement reaffirming DC as a sanctuary city.

Yesterday’s decision to double down makes it clear where Bowser and the city she leads stand.

Editorial fellow

Noah Lanard is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, he freelanced for the Guardian, Fusion, and Vice in Mexico City. He was born in DC, grew up in New Jersey, and went to college in Montreal.