At Las Vegas confab, Republican Jews find reasons to like Trump

LAS VEGAS (JTA) — Republican Jews have President Donald Trump to thank for their party’s renewed dominance of Washington politics. So what do they think of him?

Marlyn Appelbaum paused to contemplate the question at the opening of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s confab at the Venetian resort hotel in Las Vegas Friday evening. Then, she avoided mentioning the president.

“My biggest thing is pro-Israel,” said Appelbaum, the head of a teacher training institute in Sugar Land, Texas. “I was real upset at the last eight years. I think things for Israel are going to turn around.”

Her answer captured the vibe at the RJC’s annual two-day Leadership Meeting. Amid giddy celebration of the end of the Obama years and the advent of a new Republican administration, RJC officials and members seemed to make an effort to get excited about Trump, with whom their group has a fraught history.

Vice President Mike Pence, center, takes the stage with his wife Karen Pence, right, after they were introduced by former Vice President Dick Cheney, left, at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

By contrast, US Vice President Mike Pence, one of the pro-Israel community’s closest friends, was greeted effusively at the event, where he addressed the crowd.

Michael Epstein, an RJC board member emceeing Friday’s dinner, delivered a dreams-come-true welcoming speech: “For the first time in RJC history we have a sitting Republican vice president sitting with us for our Shabbat dinner!” Epstein announced after Pence’s speech. The crowd erupted in applause.

“And a Republican president who is going to make our country great again!” Epstein added. Only a couple tables in the corner clapped.

Still, “Make America Great Again” kippahs dotted the Venetian’s byways, and Elliot Lauer, a board member perhaps best known as Jonathan Pollard’s lawyer, delivered a dvar Torah Friday evening in which he likened Trump’s victory to the triumph of the Jews in ancient Persia celebrated on Purim.

Asked about Trump, RJC members clad in bespoke suits and flowing gowns highlighted his political effectiveness.

“He did say things that were offensive,” said Robert Lewit, a retired psychiatrist from Florida who in the Republican primaries supported Marco Rubio, his state’s US senator. But “he’s innately a brilliant politician, making immigration an issue, advocating for a US economic revival.”

Though unimpressed by Trump’s star turn on “The Apprentice” reality show, Lewit’s wife, Jane, said, “No one saw what he saw: the forgotten man,” a reference to Trump’s appeal to working and middle class Americans. “In any case, it’s better than what was. I happen to have had a total antipathy for our last president, and everything he stood for.”

It has been a rocky road for the RJC and Trump. At the group’s presidential candidates’ forum in December 2015, Trump mocked the wealthy Jewish donors by saying he too was rich and so immune to their purchasing power. He also said he would be “neutral” on brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace and refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In this Dec. 3, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Then there were Trump’s affronts to minorities, like Muslims and Hispanics, which did not sit well with a Republican constituency that has in recent years spearheaded calls for the party to be more inclusive. And when Trump appeared last spring hesitant to disavow his burgeoning support from the “alt-right,” a loose grouping of anti-establishment conservatives that includes within its ranks unabashed anti-Semites, the RJC went dark.

The group hardly issued statements mentioning Trump. None of its events at the Republican National Convention in July were open to the press — in contrast with the group’s high profile in past years. Its get-out-the-vote drive barely mentioned Trump and focused on vulnerable GOP senators in states with large Jewish communities. And even its inauguration party last month was closed to the media.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Now, the RJC is trying hard to get behind the president. Trump’s pivot from his “neutrality” on Israel in 2015 to an eager embrace earlier this month of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and his policies on the Palestinians and Iran — have helped the RJC belatedly come around.

“There was not a consensus [on the RJC board],” said Elliott Broidy, a venture capitalist who was among about a dozen of the 50 or so board members who backed Trump prior to his nomination. “Even when he was our presumptive nominee. Over time, people became more supportive. Now that he’s president, there’s deeper support on the board.”

Fred Zeidman, another board member who is close to former President George W. Bush and could never quite bring himself to endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, said it was incumbent on all Republicans to make sure government works now that the GOP is in control of all its levers.

“I have a vested interest in making this White House a success,” said the Houston-area businessman.

Asked by journalists Friday about Trump’s most recent Jewish controversies — including the White House’s omission of reference to the Jews in a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was widely criticized by Jewish groups, including the RJC — the group’s director Matt Brooks talked about Israel.

Matt Brooks, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Screen capture: YouTube)

“There’s a professional complaining class in the Jewish community that will criticize and attack Donald Trump no matter what he says,” Brooks said. “People who genuinely have an open mind, individuals and organizations, see he is following through on commitments he made on campaign, he is repositioning in a positive way the US-Israel relationship.”

Brooks also pointed to the vice president. “He’s a terrific partner to President Trump, you have a terrific team with the both of them.”

In his speech, Pence too vouched for Trump’s pro-Israel bone fides. “If the world knows nothing else, it will know this: America stands with Israel,” he said.

“We told the ayatollahs of Iran they should check the calendar, there’s a new president in the Oval Office. President Trump will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, this is my solemn promise to you.”

Pence also described his recent visit to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where a Holocaust survivor gave him a tour. The crowd was clearly moved.

In one ballroom of the Venetian, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has defended the Trump White House from allegations it is covering up Russian interference in the elections, pleaded with RJC members to have the president’s back, according to people who were present. Boris Epshteyn, a top White House aide who is emblematic of an emerging vocal minority among Republican Jews who have adopted the alt-right’s confrontational style, made a similar pitch in another ballroom.

Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who owns the Venetian and who contributed tens of millions to the effort to elect Trump, had a private meeting with Pence prior to his speech. At Trump’s inauguration, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were accorded a rare honor to political donors, appearing on the capitol’s dais for the swearing-in.

Despite his access, Sheldon Adelson’s hoped-for administration officials have been waylaid: Former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Elliott Abrams, a mandarin in the Reagan and the George W. Bush administrations, are all on the outside looking in.

Casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson in attendance at the 4th Annual Champions Of Jewish Values International Awards Gala at Marriott Marquis Times Square on May 5, 2016 in New York City. (Steve Mack/Getty Images via JTA)

Seen as responsible for freezing them out is Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, a hero of the alt-right and the bane of neoconservatism, an interventionist outlook that many Republican Jews still support.

But RJC members were able to hold up their Jewish representatives in government, however few. Rep. David Kustoff, the freshman from Tennessee, joked, in an easy drawl, that “Jewish Republicans in the House grew by 100 percent,” with him joining Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-New York.

Eric Greitens, the steel-jawed Missouri governor, described how he rallied a diverse community this week to help clean up a vandalized St. Louis area Jewish graveyard, an effort joined at the last minute, by none other than the vice president. Pence called out inspiration over a bullhorn. Pence stood on the back of a pick-up truck. Pence wielded a rake.

Anita Feigenbaum, executive director at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery speaks to the crowd on February 22, 2017 in University City, Missouri. Governor Eric Greitens (R) and US Vice President Mike Pence (L) were on hand to speak to over 300 volunteers who helped cleanup after the recent vandalism. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images/AFP Photo)

Greitens, having depicted a sweaty, intense Pence, getting down and dirty for the Jews, finally got around to Trump.

“The president had called me earlier that day,” Greitens said. “He said, tell the people of Missouri that we stand with them in the fight against anti-Semitism.”

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Trump to Ask for Sharp Increases in Military Spending, Officials Say

WASHINGTON — President Trump will instruct federal agencies on Monday to assemble a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes sharp increases in Defense Department spending and drastic enough cuts to domestic agencies that he can keep his promise to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, according to four senior administration officials.

The budget outline will be the first move in a campaign this week to reset the narrative of Mr. Trump’s turmoil-tossed White House.

A day before delivering a high-stakes address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump will demand a budget with tens of billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, according to four senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan. Social safety net programs, aside from the big entitlement programs for retirees, would also be hit hard.

Preliminary budget outlines are usually little-noticed administrative exercises, the first step in negotiations between the White House and federal agencies that usually shave the sharpest edges off the initial request.

But this plan — a product of a collaboration between the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney; the National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn; and the White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon — is intended to make a big splash for a president eager to show that he is a man of action.

Mr. Trump’s top advisers huddled in the White House this weekend to work on his Tuesday night prime-time address. They focused on a single, often overlooked message amid the chaos of his first weeks in the White House: the assertion that the reality-show candidate is now a president determined to keep audacious campaign promises on immigration, the economy and the budget, no matter how sloppy or disruptive it looks from the outside.

“They might not agree with everything you do, but people will respect you for doing what you said you were going to do,” said Jason Miller, a top communications strategist on the Trump campaign who remains close to the White House.

“He’s doing something first, and there’s time for talk later,” Mr. Miller added. “This is ultimately how he’s going to get people who didn’t vote, or people who didn’t vote for him, into the fold. Inside the Beltway and with the media, there’s this focus on the palace intrigue. Out in the rest of the country, they are seeing a guy who is focused on jobs and the economy.”

The budget plan, a numerical sketch that will probably be substantially altered by House and Senate Republicans — and vociferously opposed by congressional Democrats — will be Mr. Trump’s first big step into a legislative fray he has largely avoided during the first 40 days of his administration.

Thus far, instead of legislating, he has focused on a succession of executive orders on immigration and deregulation written by Mr. Bannon’s small West Wing team.

Resistance from federal agencies could ease some of the deepest cuts in the initial plan before a final budget request is even sent to Congress. And Capitol Hill will have the last word.

To meet Mr. Trump’s defense request, lawmakers in both parties would have to agree to raise or end statutory spending caps on defense and domestic programs that were imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Mr. Trump is in a highly unusual position at a time when most presidents are finding their footing or confronting crisis. Despite his lament that he was handed “a mess” by President Barack Obama, Mr. Trump inherited a low unemployment rate, a lack of international crises requiring immediate attention and majorities in both houses of Congress.

By contrast, when Mr. Obama took office, the country was losing 700,000 jobs a month, and the global financial system was teetering on the edge of collapse. By the time he stepped up to the rostrum for his first joint congressional address on Feb. 24, 2009, he had already accrued an impressive string of accomplishments, including the passage of a massive stimulus bill through the Democratic-controlled Congress, a gender pay-parity act, a children’s health insurance law and executive actions that would ultimately help stabilize the financial and automotive sectors.

With the prospect of a second Great Depression still high, Mr. Obama sought to rally the country, vowing, “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who was Mr. Obama’s first chief of staff, said in an interview Sunday night that Mr. Trump was trying to create a “sense of urgency, which most people aren’t feeling right now, which was a reality to us” in order to generate support for his unspecified economic agenda, including an infrastructure bill and a tax overhaul.

“When it comes to all of these executive orders, the question is, does the public view what he’s doing as action or motion?” Mr. Emanuel added. “If you don’t have real action, you create a sense of motion, so the public views it as progress.”

In putting together their budget plans, White House officials are operating under the assumption that the rate of the United States’ economic growth this year will be 2.4 percent, according to one person who has been briefed on the matter. That is slightly ahead of current projections, but it is well below the 3 percent to 4 percent growth that Mr. Trump promised during the campaign.

For next year, the operating assumption is only slightly higher, that person added, a sign that the budget process will not be too out of step with economic reality.

The turmoil that has engulfed Mr. Trump’s West Wing is largely of his own devising — part of a calculated effort by Mr. Bannon to move boldly despite his team’s lack of experience, and despite the reluctance of many mainstream Republicans to work for a president whom many of them opposed in the party’s brutal primaries.

“During his first month in office, President Trump has done exactly what he said he was going to do,” said Thomas Barrack Jr., a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s who ran his inaugural committee. “No president has worked harder or accomplished as much, even with tremendous political resistance forcing him to operate with a small team of outsiders possessing little government experience.”

Lawmakers in both parties have complained that the president’s big words are not yet matched by detailed policy prescriptions or a legislative affairs team capable of executing such undefined promises as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or rewriting the tax code.

The budget outline will give Mr. Trump an opportunity to add some specifics to an agenda that has been defined by bellicose speech and the broadest possible policy strokes.

Still, aides said Mr. Trump did not plan to change his style for Tuesday’s address. The speech, they said, is likely to have more in common with his clipped inaugural address — in which he declared, “The time for empty talk is over” — than the fine-print litanies of policy proposals favored by President Bill Clinton or the high-flung invocations of national purpose preferred by President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama.

Mr. Trump’s team, conscious of his recent reversals and a first-month approval rating that is among the lowest ever recorded, has emphasized his determination to break the partisan gridlock and inaction that has kept congressional approval ratings in the 15 to 30 percent range for years.

At the start of an interview last week with Sean Hannity of Fox News at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, called him “President Action, President Impact, Donald J. Trump.”

In a round-robin of Sunday show interviews, Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s policy adviser, maintained that the president had accomplished more in his first month than most of his predecessors had in their entire administrations.

In reality, most of Mr. Trump’s executive actions have had no more effect on actual policy than news releases. And his nail-in-the-coffin order on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal came well after the agreement had been put on life support by labor protests and liberal opposition.

One West Wing official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about strategy, said the administration craved the split-screen television images of Mr. Trump at round-table discussions with business executives every few days on one side, and the vehement protesters of his administration on the other.

But his critics say such photo opportunities are all an act, a not-very-entertaining real-life rendition of “The Apprentice” by an ineffective rookie president.

“This man is not a doer,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, who will host a Monday “pre-buttal” of Mr. Trump’s Tuesday speech. “Oh, please. He has nothing to show for what he’s been doing in office for 40 days. It’s all been squandered.”

‘I want an investigation’: Father of slain SEAL blames Trump’s carelessness and ego for son’s death

The father of a Navy SEAL killed during a mission that Donald Trump approved just a week into his administration blames the president for his son’s death.

William Owens told The Miami Herald that he refused to meet with Trump when the remains of son, William “Ryan” Owens, were returned to Dover Air Force Base.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,” Owens recalled explaining to the chaplain. “I told them I don’t want to meet the president.”

“I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him.”

Owens questioned Trump’s motivation for signing off on a mission just six days into his presidency.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” he asked. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?”

Although U.S. military officials told The New York Times that “everything went wrong” during the mission, the Trump administration has called the operation a success. Administration officials have claimed that an investigation would tarnish the memory Owen’s son, but the father disagrees.

“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” he remarked. “I want an investigation. … The government owes my son an investigation.”

Owens suggested that Trump’s order to ban travel from seven majority-Muslim country a day before his son’s death may have compromised the mission.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to do something to antagonize an ally when you’re going to conduct a mission in that country,” he insisted. “Did we alienate some of the people working with them, translators or support people. Maybe they decided to release information to jeopardize the mission.”

“I think these are valid questions,” Owens added. “I don’t want anybody to think I have an agenda, because I don’t. I just want the truth.”

Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party Chairman

ATLANTA — Former Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, narrowly defeating Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota to take the helm of a still-divided party stunned by President Trump’s victory but hopeful that it can ride the backlash against his presidency to revival.

The balloting, which carried a measure of suspense not seen in the party in decades, revealed that Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from last year’s presidential primary campaign. Mr. Perez, buoyed by activists most loyal to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, won with 235 votes out of 435 cast on the second ballot.

Mr. Ellison, who was lifted primarily by the liberal enthusiasts of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, captured the remaining 200 votes. But that was only after he had pushed the voting to a second round after Mr. Perez fell a single vote short of winning on the first ballot.

After Mr. Perez’s victory was announced, Mr. Ellison’s supporters exploded in anger and drowned out the interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile, with a chant of “Party for the people, not big money!” When Mr. Perez was able to speak, he immediately called for Mr. Ellison to be named deputy chairman, delighting Mr. Ellison’s supporters.

Taking the microphone from Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison pleaded with his fervent backers: “We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided.”

In his victory speech, Mr. Perez played down what he called “the robust discussions in the Democratic Party.” “We’re all going to continue to be united in our values,” he said, calling the party’s “big tent” an asset.

Mr. Perez, 55, the son of Dominican immigrants, is the first Latino chairman of the Democratic Party. He was reared in Buffalo and has held a series of state and federal government jobs, most recently as Mr. Obama’s labor secretary.

Despite his limited experience in electoral politics, his calls for rebuilding the grass-roots and fostering a party that “makes house calls again” appealed to the party insiders who have watched as the House, the Senate and finally the presidency slipped away.

Addressing reporters with Mr. Ellison after the election, Mr. Perez vowed to shift the committee from its overriding focus on presidential politics.

“We’re no longer simply the committee that helps elect the president; we’re the committee that helps to ensure we’re electing people up and down the Democratic ticket,” he said, switching to Spanish for a time.

Neither of the two, by this point wearing each other’s campaign buttons, laid out Mr. Ellison’s role at the party, but they intimated that they had discussed joining forces before the vote. Directly appealing to his disappointed supporters, Mr. Ellison said, “If they trust me, they need to come on and trust Tom Perez as well.”

Mr. Ellison, who said he would not quit his House seat for the deputy chairman position, added, “The very fate of our nation, I believe, is in the balance right now.”

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Keith Ellison was named deputy chairman after his narrow loss to Thomas Perez for the chairmanship.CreditKevin D. Liles for The New York Times

Mr. Trump used a lighter tone in offering up his response to the Democratic National Committee’s election. “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!”

Mr. Perez’s victory was the culmination of a more than three-month campaign that began when Democrats were still shellshocked over losing the presidential race. All of the major candidates argued against any turn toward moderation, and they shared the same strategic vision for reviving a national committee and state parties that had withered under Mr. Obama.

What was expected to be a robust debate over the way forward for a party shut out of power across much of the country was soon diminished by the larger, more immediate matter of Mr. Trump’s almost daily provocations and the raging backlash to his hard-line agenda.

Entering the race immediately after Mr. Trump’s win, Mr. Ellison, a prominent surrogate for Mr. Sanders in the presidential primary race, quickly won support from him and other leading liberals. Allies of Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and other establishment-aligned Democrats soon began casting about for an alternative. In December, Mr. Perez entered the fray, quickly winning praise from Mr. Obama and endorsements from a number of governors.

While voting members of the party are more closely linked to the establishment wing, Mr. Ellison kept the race close by consolidating liberals and picking up support from mainstream Democrats such as the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York.

Mr. Perez, though, got a lift in the final days of the contest when the South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, Jaime Harrison, withdrew from the race and threw his support to him. Mr. Perez’s allies said they had enough votes to win on the first ballot, but a single committee member somehow missed the vote.

And Mr. Ellison’s effort was hurt when one of his aides sent a group text message to the committee members claiming that Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., who withdrew from the race before the first vote, had endorsed him, only to send a subsequent message with “CORRECTION” in capital letters acknowledging that Mr. Buttigieg had not.

The initial anger from Mr. Ellison’s supporters after the final results were announced was deeply embarrassing to party officials. Former Mayor R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis, the departing vice chairman of the committee, had to wade into the section of jeering activists to quiet them so Mr. Perez could announce his appointment of Mr. Ellison as his deputy.

Party chairman races have in recent years been tidier affairs, with trailing candidates often withdrawing before the election takes place. Indeed, Saturday’s vote marked the first time in over three decades that the outcome of a vote for chairman was unknown when the balloting began.

The attention of Democrats will now turn to a handful of special congressional elections and a pair of promising governor’s races this November in New Jersey and Virginia. But the most significant task ahead for Mr. Perez will come in 2018, when Democrats face a daunting Senate map, a more favorable House landscape and 36 governor’s races, many of which will help determine which party is best positioned to redraw legislative lines after the next census.

This year’s contest was shadowed by the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer system last year by Russian intelligence services. That resulted in the disclosure that the party, under Mr. Obama’s handpicked chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, had sought to undermine Mr. Sanders’s candidacy.

Despite that prologue, the race was largely free of vitriol. It was so amiable, in fact, that Mr. Perez and Mr. Ellison shared dinner last week at a Washington restaurant. And after the news conference in Atlanta, they were seen exchanging cellphone numbers.

The two leading candidates recognized that committee members had little appetite to relive a Clinton-versus-Sanders race on a smaller scale.

To say nothing of the Trump-induced harmony. “President Trump is a pretty easy guy to work against for Democrats,” said William Shaheen, a veteran New Hampshire Democrat.

Here Comes the Police State: New Laws Aim for Brutal Crackdown on Protest

The rise of right-wing populism in the United States—from the White House to state legislatures—has been met with public resistance on a stunning scale. Millions have taken to the streets, staged direct actions and flooded airports to resist a flurry of presidential decrees targeting undocumented, black, refugee, LGBTQ and poor communities. And long before Trump took the White House, the Black Lives Matter movement and indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock were leading the way with sustained mobilizations in the face of staggering repression.

Now, under cover of the Trump administration’s “law and order” platform, Republican lawmakers at the state level—often with the backing of police unions—are advancing a spate of bills aimed at crushing this groundswell. The proposed legislation would impose draconian penalties on protest organizers and participants, expanding local powers to put demonstrators in jail, seize their assets and further criminalize property destruction.

In recent weeks and months, politicians in at least 11 states—Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, Indiana, Virginia, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina and Arizona—have either introduced or threatened to introduce bills that make it more dangerous or costly to attend protests, or be anywhere near them. One bill recently proposed in North Dakota, and clearly aimed at Standing Rock resistance, would have expanded protections for drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protesters. While the legislation failed earlier this month, it nonetheless reflects a troubling political push to snuff out dissent.

Using racketeering laws to go after protesters’ assets

A bill that just passed through the Arizona State Senate would expand the state’s racketeering laws on organized crime to “rioting,” broadly defined to include acts that result in property destruction. This move would broaden the powers of authorities to target protest organizers and participants—and even seize their assets.

Backed by the Arizona Police Association, Senate Bill 1142 “[e]xpands the definition of riot to include immediate power of execution which results in damage to the property of another person,” according to an Arizona State Senate fact sheet.

“A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person,” the bill states.

According to Steve Kilar, spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona, the proposed legislation’s definition of rioting is “fuzzy and incredibly vague.” This law “would allow police and prosecutors to go after anyone who is at a protest” that authorities claim turned into a riot, he explained.

The Senate fact sheet notes that including “rioting” under racketeering statutes would provide prosecutors with “options that are generally not available under other types of criminal statutes, such as forfeitures, including the ability to confiscate the fruits of criminal activity from those convicted of racketeering offenses.”

The legislation itself emanates from false conspiracy theories. “Sen. Sonny Borrelli has said this is in response to unverified claims that protesters are being paid,” Kilar said. “He is using this false paid-protesters argument to connect his bill to anti-racketeering laws, which are targeting the financial incentives of criminal enterprises.”

The bill, which is headed to the Arizona House, also aims to blur the line between rioting and terrorism. According to Kilar, “If this bill were to pass, riots would join terrorism as the only racketeering crimes under Arizona state law that would not require financial incentive.”

The legislation appears to be aimed at mass mobilizations to oppose deportations. Earlier this month, ICE was met with a 15-hour, direct-action protest when it tried, with the help of Phoenix police, to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos. Protesters, including her own son and daughter, sat in the street holding hands to stop an ICE vehicle from taking away Guadalupe, who has lived in the United States for 21 years. After an hours-long stand-off, which was captured on live-stream, the mother of two was eventually deported to Mexico. By then, images of resistance against her expulsion had spread across the country.

“It appears that the state legislature wants to silence people’s voices by passing these laws,” said Ernesto Lopez, an organizer with Puente Arizona, which mobilized the opposition to Guadalupe’s deportation. “This seems to be really extreme and aimed at silencing small organizations and people’s movements in a very negative way.”

‘They’d rather we just be quiet’

The bill wending its way through Arizona’s legislature is not an isolated case. The Minnesota House of Representatives is currently weighing HF 322, which gives the city broad latitude to sue protesters for the cost of policing demonstrations. The bill’s author, Representative Nick Zerwas, once made the jaw-dropping pronouncement that “Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus. She didn’t get out and lay down in front of the bus.”

Meanwhile another Minnesota bill, if passed, would impose harsher penalties on protesters who conduct acts of civil disobedience on highways, making such acts punishable by up to a year in jail.

Both pieces of proposed legislation target the Black Lives Matter movement in the state, which has actively protested the state-sanctioned killing of black residents, including Jamar Clark and Philando Castile.

“It is really unfortunate that this is what the GOP is choosing to focus their time on,” Mica Grimm, an organizer with Black Lives Matter – Minneapolis, told AlterNet. “I think that Trump has definitely emboldened some people in the GOP to infringe on civil liberties and criminalize dissent. They’d rather we just be quiet.”

One bill introduced in Indiana initially mandated that authorities clear protesters from roadways within 15 minutes by “any means necessary.” Following public outcry, lawmakers removed the “by any means” language from the bill, but the latest text still calls for the increased criminalization of participants in acts of civil disobedience.

Along similar lines, SF 111, currently being weighed by the Iowa legislature, says that people who blocked traffic on highways can be hit with felony charges, punishable by up to five years behind bars. The legislation was direct retaliation for November protests against Trump that shut down the I-80 highway.

Meanwhile, Washington lawmakers are currently considering SB 5009, which would stiffen penalties against protesters who cause “economic disruption,” imposing sentences ranging from 60 days to a year in jail. Sen. Doug Ericksen, who introduced the bill, said in a press statement that “The measure is prompted by recent illegal actions that have blocked rail and highway transportation, including a demonstration at a rail chokepoint in Skagit County last summer that blocked traffic between Seattle and Vancouver for 11 hours.” Over 50 people were arrested in May 2016 when they blocked trains to two key oil refineries to protest climate change and fossil fuels extraction.

‘This is how you move toward fascism and nationalism’

Heavy crackdowns on protesters are not limited to cities and towns where anti-protest bills have been introduced. Over 200 people mass arrested at an inauguration protest in Washington, D.C., have been hit with felony riot charges, each facing up to 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Meanwhile, law enforcement is compelling tech giants including Apple and Facebook to mine the personal data of its users, and the companies appear to be complying.

Because the arrests took place in Washington, D.C., the cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is directly accountable to the Department of Justice, now overseen by the notorious white supremacist Jeff Sessions.

“We are seeing Sessions prosecuting mass arrests from January 20, and it is very obvious that they are using draconian tactics to criminalize dissent,” Pooja Gehi, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, told AlterNet. “The protesters were charged with inciting felony riot, under a subsection that’s never used. This is a new precedent meant to terrorize people.”

Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, told AlterNet that he believes that Trump’s three executive orders on crime and policing have emboldened these state-level initiatives. One decree, titled “Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers,” is premised on the false claim that there is a war on cops. The order instructs the executive branch to “develop strategies, in a process led by the Department of Justice (Department) and within the boundaries of the Constitution and existing Federal laws, to further enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

Sessions, who heads the DOJ, has said that he does not believe systemic police brutality is a problem worth addressing.

“The language of this executive order is focused on ‘preventing violence,’ which was the exact language of the memoranda that former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover wrote justifying the neutralization—i.e. destruction—of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Black Panthers,” said Taylor. “One of the key aspects of COINTELPRO was to ‘prevent violence.’ That was the cover for destroying movements.”

“Together with all the other preliminary indications from the Trump administration, this executive order bodes extremely ill, particularly for communities of color, in terms of unleashing the already awesome and racist power of police departments in cities across the country.”

Meanwhile, right-wing Republicans in Congress, with apparent backing from the Trump administration, are advancing efforts to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The initiative, which emanates from far-right conspiracy theories that the Sunni Islamist group is infiltrating the U.S. government, is aimed at crushing Muslim civil society organizations at the core of resistance to Trump.

Amidst a climate of authoritarianism, anti-protest laws are advancing alongside so-called Blue Lives Matter bills that protect police officers under hate crime laws meant to safeguard historically oppressed communities. These initiatives are spreading across the country, with Republicans now in control of roughly two-thirds of the partisan legislative chambers in the United States.

“I definitely think there are a lot of Republicans who feel that Trump is a dog whistle to start writing bills that infringe on people’s rights, because we’re seeing that on a federal level,” said Grimm. “They are taking advantage of this time to make sure that people who don’t agree with them don’t have the right to express that. This is how you move toward fascism and nationalism, by getting rid of dissent.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

Your Taxes Are Funding a Secret, Multibillion-Dollar Government Enterprise That Tortures and Kills Tens of Millions of Animals Every Year

Last week—following criticism from bipartisan Congress members, citizens, press, and advocacy groups like the White Coat Waste Project, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate cruel, wasteful and unnecessary taxpayer-funded animal testing—the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to reverse course on its unjustifiable animal welfare database blackout. It started by restoring documents about government and other animal laboratories. This is a crucial resource, but we’re still fighting systemic government transparency failures about $15 billion in wasteful taxpayer-funded experimentation on dogs and other animals.

Months before the recent USDA purge—a scandal first exposed by WCW—we released “Spending to Death,” a report documenting cruel and unnecessary government dog experiments, and a troubling abundance of secrecy about the practice and what it costs.

As reported in the Washington Post, we used the now-notorious USDA animal welfare database to reveal that agencies—including Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health and others—subjected more than 1,100 dogs to experiments in 2015. The USDA data indicated that this number had increased from the year before, and that one quarter of these dogs were subjected to experiments involving pain and distress. These basic figures are not available elsewhere, so it’s encouraging that USDA is in the process of restoring access to these documents. For non-federal animal laboratories, the database also includes evidence of any abuses documented by government inspectors, which can be grounds for losing taxpayer funding.

However, beyond the animal use numbers on the USDA site (which notably exclude mice and rats, who comprise 95 percent of animals used in laboratories), other publicly-available details about how dogs and other animals are used are scarce. It is estimated that across the nation, federal agencies are funding the abuse and death of tens of millions of animals in laboratories every year.

We did triangulate some information to determine that government agencies are purchasing months-old beagle, hound and mutt puppies and subjecting them to abuses including forced heart attacks and tick infestations. But overall, with very few exceptions, the agencies using tax money for painful and deadly dog experiments fail to disclose what they are doing, how much they are spending, the purpose or the outcome. In many cases, it appears agencies intentionally omit or obscure information to prevent scrutiny.

Our top recommendation in the report: “Provide Transparency.”

A beagle confined in standard caging in a U.S. laboratory awaits his eventual torture and death. Federal agencies subjected more than 1,100 dogs to experiments in 2015 alone. An estimated 100 million animals are tortured and killed by agencies across the nation each year. (image: White Coat Waste Project)

Thankfully, we attracted the attention of Congress. Citing our work, a bipartisan group led by Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Dina Titus (D-NV) asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct an audit of systems for public disclosure about federally-funded animal experiments. In their December GAO request, they wrote: “Such transparency and accounting deficiencies prevent assessments by Congress and the public of the cost-efficiency and effectiveness of what we estimate to be a multi-billion-dollar government enterprise.”

A companion letter to the GAO from Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stated:

Transparency about federal spending on animal research is especially critical given some evidence suggesting that such research is often wasteful and inefficient. … Government transparency and accountability are cornerstones of our democracy. The public has a right to know how federal agencies spend their tax dollars and whether this spending improves American lives. Congress must also have access to this information in order to assess the effectiveness of government programs and prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

For instance, since 2000 there has been an interagency government program charged with facilitating the reduction and replacement of expensive and inaccurate animal testing for chemical toxicity with more efficient alternatives like cell-based tests and computer models. However, the 15 federal agencies that participate in the program do not report how many animals are used in tests they conduct or require, so there is no way to measure the progress of this important effort. Even the head of the program recently stated, “We need a way to measure success quantitatively.”

To address this problem, earlier this month bipartisan Congress members introduced the Federal Accountability in Chemical Testing (FACT) Act. With over 30 Republican and Democratic cosponsors, the common-sense bill improves existing biennial reporting requirements so that agencies must include the number of animals they use, their species, and for what tests.

A WCW review conducted in support of the FACT Act uncovered unnecessary, multi-million-dollar government tests that involve poisoning animals with massive force-fed doses of herbal supplements sold for sexual dysfunction, cosmetics ingredients and even components from green tea and french fries.

As members of Congress expressed in their requests to GAO, transparency about taxpayer-funded animal experiments is critical to identifying waste and abuse.

The NIH laments that 90 percent of drugs that work in animal tests fail in humans because they are dangerous or ineffective. In the agency’s current Strategic Plan, it writes, “animal models often fail to provide good ways to mimic disease or predict how drugs will work in humans, resulting in much wasted time and money while patients wait for therapies.” Still, 47 percent of the agency’s $32 billion budget is spent on animal experiments.

At an NIH lecture last year titled, “Inefficiency and Waste in Biomedical Research,” the former President of the American College of Epidemiology reported that as much as 87.5 percent of biomedical research—especially animal experimentation—is flawed, redundant or completely unnecessary.

This is clearly cause for a serious reappraisal of research funding decisions. Yet, when we asked via a Freedom of Information Act request, NIH could not even determine what other federal agencies it funds animal experimentation at.

Americans may disagree on many things, but this isn’t one of them. A recent Lincoln Park Strategies poll of 1,100 voters found that a supermajority—73 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats—want more transparency about taxpayer-funded animal experiments.

USDA restoring its animal welfare database is a start, but major reforms are still needed to ensure transparency and accountability about billions in wasteful government spending for outdated and unnecessary experiments on dogs and other animals.

Visit FACTact.org to urge Congress to support the bipartisan Federal Accountability in Chemical Testing (FACT) Act (HR 816) to increase transparency about government animal testing.

Justin Goodman is the vice-president of advocacy at White Coat Waste Project, a non-profit dedicated to ending taxpayer-funded animal experiments. Read more at blog.whitecoatwaste.org.

House GOP plans to keep some Medicaid expansion — and steer money to states that never bought in

Congressional Republicans have been struggling for months to resolve one of the most vexing problems in their tortuous effort to replace the Affordable Care Act: What to do about the generous federal funding for states that broadened their Medicaid programs under the law, while not shortchanging the 19 states that balked at expansion?

Now, as the House begins to hone details of its legislative proposal, a possible compromise has emerged. It would temporarily keep federal dollars flowing to cover almost the entire cost of the roughly 11 million Americans who have gained Medicaid coverage but would block that enhanced funding for any new participants.

At the same time, the GOP approach would open a fresh spigot of aid for the states — all but one of which has a Republican governor — that eschewed the additional Medicaid money because of their elected officials’ antipathy to the law. This extra aid would probably go to hospitals with a large share of poor and uninsured patients.

The Solomon-like strategy is an attempt to calm fears of Republican governors in expansion states that abolishing the 2010 law would cost them hugely, while also satisfying new demands for equity from other GOP governors who opposed the expansion. ­Details of how the plan’s dual elements would be implemented, including their specific time frames and funding totals, are still coming together in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Within the context of the GOP’s broader repeal effort — and this week’s tumultuous town hall meetings around the country, at which lawmakers have been confronted by constituents scared of losing their health coverage — Republicans’ ideas for Medicaid’s future have drawn less public attention. Yet their proposals would significantly remake one of the nation’s largest entitlement programs, which serves more than 74 million lower-income Americans and accounts for half the additions to the insurance rolls that the ACA has brought about.

A similar approach is under consideration in the Senate. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is working toward a compromise to protect the roughly 700,000 Ohioans with Medicaid coverage ­under the ACA, said he is open to either a temporary extension or another way to subsidize their health insurance. “It’s necessary to figure out how to provide coverage, and that’s going to cost money,” he said Thursday.

The House committee also is moving forward with a plan to convert the rest of Medicaid to a system in which states would get a fixed sum of federal money for every resident who is enrolled. Such per capita funding, outlined by the chamber’s Republican leaders earlier this month, would be more restrictive than the way Medicaid has functioned since its birth as part of the Great Society legislation of the 1960s.

However, the allotments would be less rigid than block grants, which have been advocated for years by many conservatives and decried by liberals for their potential to reduce spending over time, prompting states to cut benefits or eligibility, or both. (Block grants might still emerge from Congress as an alternative that states could choose.)

This picture of the House’s ­behind-the-scenes work is based on interviews with several people familiar with the thinking of the Republican leadership. All spoke on the condition of anonymity since no plans have been announced.

The deliberations on Medicaid expansion are further along than other components of the law­makers’ thinking about how to shift government health policies in a more conservative direction, according to these individuals. The basic outline emerging from the Energy and Commerce Committee would “grandfather in” the adults currently on Medicaid-­ expansion rolls in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Still to be decided is whether the extra dollars for their coverage would last a specific length of time or continue as long as a beneficiary remained eligible.

As for non-expansion states, the extra money they would ­receive might come through an increase in “disproportionate share” payments the federal government has long given hospitals that treat a lot of poor patients. Or the government could increase its payments for Medicaid’s very poorest patients — a boost to Republican-led states across the South with large low-income populations.

The only Democratic-led state that has not expanded its Medi­caid program is Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been unable to overcome the resistance of the GOP-controlled legislature.

It’s unclear whether the plan would accomplish its goal of satisfying a range of the 35 GOP governors now in office, no matter the stance each has taken on expansion.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, said at an event at The Washington Post on Friday that GOP governors are working closely with both lawmakers and the administration to determine how to transition those living above the poverty line off the expanded Medicaid rolls.

“Maybe I’m foolish, but I thought Medicaid is for people living in poverty,” Walker said.

But Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), who discussed health-care reform Friday with President Trump in the Oval Office, said in an interview that he considered the current compromise inadequate.

“I don’t think that paying hospitals for uncompensated care results with a healthier population,” he said, adding that expansion has provided resources for those struggling with addiction and mental illness. “Where are they supposed to go?”

The House Ways and Means Committee is doing parallel work on overall ACA replacement. But according to the several people familiar with the House leadership’s approach, a central idea under consideration there — new health-care tax credits — hit a snag this week when congressional budget analysts reported privately to the committee that the credits would cost the government a lot of money and would enable relatively few additional Americans to get insurance.

Those tax credits would replace subsidies the ACA provides people with incomes of up to 400 percent of the poverty level to help them afford health plans through marketplaces created under the law. The credits would be available to everyone who buys coverage on their own, wealthy or poor. But the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the credits, as conceived at the moment, would be too small to help low-income people afford health plans. They also wouldn’t make much difference to affluent people, according to the CBO, since most of them already are insured.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), an influential member of the Budget and Appropriations committees, said that while CBO models are not precise indicators of a bill’s actual fiscal impact, the new estimate should remind Republicans that they “should err on the side of being cautious, rather than make grandiose claims.”

Democrats fell into that trap when passing the ACA, he said. “We should not be overselling.”

When the ACA passed a polarized Congress in 2010, the idea was that about half the Americans who would gain health coverage would do so through the law’s insurance marketplaces. The other half would come through Medi­caid, which was to grow nationwide to include adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level. The federal government would pay the full cost of expanded coverage for the first three years, then a decreasing amount before settling at 90 percent by 2020.

In 2012, though, in a case brought by ACA critics who unsuccessfully challenged the law’s constitutionality, the Supreme Court ruled that each state had the latitude to choose whether to expand Medicaid. Nearly all ­Democratic-led states said yes; most with Republican governors opted out.

The latest polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, released Friday morning, shows that Medi­caid expansion enjoys strong public support. Nationally, 84 percent of respondents — and 87 percent in the 16 expansion states with GOP governors — said it is important to preserve the greater federal funding provided by the ACA.

 

Muhammad Ali’s son detained under Trump immigration ban

A lawyer says the son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was detained earlier this month by immigration officials at a Florida airport.

Muhammad Ali Jr., 44, and his mother Khalilah Camacho-Ali, the second wife of Muhammad Ali, arrived at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Feb. 7 after returning from Jamaica, Chris Mancini, the lawyer, said.

The family is considering a lawsuit.

The Courier-Journal reported that immigration officials let his mother go because hse showed them a picture of herself with the boxing legend. Her son did not have a photo, the report said.

Mancini said officials questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, “Where did you get your name from?” and “Are you Muslim?”

Mancini says officials continued questioning Ali Jr. after acknowledging that he was Muslim. Ali Jr., who has no criminal record, was born in Philadelphia and holds a U.S. passport.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they “cannot discuss individual travelers; however, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection.”

“This is an outrage,” Mancini, a former federal prosecutor and family friend, told The Miami New Times. “I don’t know what is going on with Mr. Trump’s claim that his ban is not religion-based. We do not discriminate in this country based on religion.”

Mancini said, despite frequent traveling, the two have never been subjected to detainment before.

“Imagine walking into an airport and being asked about your religion,” he said. “This is classic customs profiling.”

Trump administration makes first tangible step to building border wall

President Trump’s administration on Friday made its first tangible step towards developing and implementing one of the president’s chief campaign promises: to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Bloomberg reported that the administration issued a preliminary request for proposals to contractors. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10.

The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

VIDEO: DHS SECRETARY KELLY WANTS A SURGE IN BORDER RESOURCES 

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

It is unclear how soon Congress would provide funding and how much.

The Government Accountability Office estimates it would cost on average $6.5 million a mile for a fence to keep out people who try to enter on foot and $1.8 million a mile for vehicle barriers. There are currently 354 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers, much of it built during President George W. Bush’s second term.

Republican leaders in Congress have said Trump’s wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Trump has suggested $12 billion.

An internal Homeland Security Department report prepared for Kelly estimates the cost of extending the wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border at about $21 billion, according to a U.S. government official who is involved in border issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.

The Homeland Security report proposes an initial phase that would extend fences 26 miles and a second wave that would add 151 miles, plus 272 “replacement” miles where fences are already installed, according to the official. Those two phases would cost $5 billion.

The price tag will depend largely on the height, materials and other specifications that have not yet been defined.

Granite Construction Inc., Vulcan Materials Co. and Martin Marrieta Materials Inc. are seen as potential bidders. Kiewit Corp. built one of the more expensive stretches of fencing so far at a cost of about $16 million a mile, a project in San Diego that involved filling a deep canyon known as Smuggler’s Gulch.

Cement maker Cemex SAB is also seen as a potential beneficiary even though it is based in Mexico.

California officials and the marijuana industry are ready to fight a federal crackdown

Warned of a possible federal crackdown on marijuana, California elected officials and cannabis industry leaders said Friday they were preparing for a potential showdown in the courts and Congress to protect the legalization measure approved by state voters in November.

The flashpoint that set off a scramble in California was a news conference Thursday at which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration had no plans to continue the Obama administration’s permissive approach in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

“I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement,” he said, adding that the administration would continue to allow states to regulate the sale of marijuana for medical use.

The latest development could force California officials and marijuana industry leaders into an unusual alliance against the federal government, with billions of dollars in profits for businesses and taxes for state coffers at stake.

The state agency responsible for drafting regulations said Friday it was going ahead with its plans to start issuing licenses to growers and sellers in January.

“Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

In Congress, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) plans to introduce legislation that could blunt Spicer’s threat by preventing the Department of Justice from enforcing federal laws against the recreational use of marijuana in states that have legalized it, a spokesman said Friday.

And industry officials warn that any federal crackdown in California and other states will result in many growers and sellers continuing to operate, but on the black market.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra says he is ready to safeguard the rights of the 56% of voters who approved Proposition 64, which allows California adults to possess, transport and buy up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use.

“I took an oath to enforce the laws that California has passed,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday after Spicer’s comments. “If there is action from the federal government on this subject, I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interests of California.”

State lawmakers also say California should do what it can to preserve Proposition 64.

“We will support and honor the laws that California voters have democratically enacted,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), an author of legislation creating the licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Becerra would likely be joined in any defense of the state’s marijuana policy by attorneys general in other parts of the country. Recreational use has also been legalized in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, home to a combined 68 million Americans.

Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, who has worked with Becerra on opposing President Trump’s travel ban, said he and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked for a meeting with U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to discuss how the recreational marijuana use system is working in their state.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading supporter of Proposition 64, took a similar approach, sending a letter Friday to Trump urging him not to carry through with threats to launch a federal enforcement effort.

“I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other … states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors,” the Democrat wrote.

If the Justice Department starts arresting licensed marijuana sellers, the multibillion-dollar industry would join forces with the states that issue permits to challenge the action in court, said Amy Margolis, an attorney whose law firm has more than 200 clients in the marijuana industry, including businesses in California.

“This industry is so mature and it’s so far along that I have no doubt that if the Department of Justice started true enforcement actions against cannabis businesses, that they would go to court,” Margolis said. “I see joint actions between the states and the industry hoping to prevent those type of actions.”

Margolis would argue that it is a states’ rights issue.

“The argument would be that this is a situation where the states have the right to regulate and tax an industry the way they want,” she said, adding that states are gaining tax revenue to pay for government programs.

Although federal law does not outline a medicinal use for marijuana, Trump administration officials have made public statements indicating they recognize that such a benefit exists, which could help the industry in a potential court case, Margolis said.

However, the states may find their hands tied legally if they try to keep federal agents from raiding and shutting down marijuana growing and sales operations, according to Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law.

“I imagine that California will mount a legal challenge to any crackdown on recreational marijuana,” Winkler said. “Yet there is not much California can do. Federal law is supreme over conflicting state law. Federal agents are entitled to enforce federal law anywhere in the country, including California.”

He said there are limits to federal power, but the courts have held that the federal government does have the authority to enforce federal drug laws.

Aaron Herzberg, an attorney for the industry, agreed that the state would face a tough fight. He cited the 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown marijuana even if states approve its use for medical purposes.

“Let’s face it: If the federal government wants to shut down recreational marijuana they could quite easily accomplish it using federal law enforcement and taxation tools,” Herzberg said.

Others say one basis for legal action would be an argument that enforcing laws against marijuana would damage states that have put regulations in place and are depending on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay for government programs.

States are too far down the path of regulating, licensing and taxing those who are making big investments in the sanctioned marijuana industry to pull the rug out now, said Richard Miadich, an attorney who co-wrote Proposition 64.

Updates from Sacramento »

“Given the strict regulatory structure set forth in Proposition 64, that medical and adult-use regulations are being developed in concert, and that public opinion is squarely on the side of states’ rights on this issue, I think it is impractical for the federal government to reverse course now,” he said. “Not to mention the potential for great harm to individual states.”

Supporters of Proposition 64 say there is also a potential political solution.

In recent years, Rohrabacher and Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) won congressional approval of a rider to the federal budget that prohibited federal funds from being used to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are in compliance with state laws.

Rohrabacher plans to introduce legislation that would expand the protection to businesses that comply with state laws allowing the growing and sale of marijuana for recreational use, according to spokesman Ken Grubbs.

The congressman is planning the legislation “because recreational use is an issue of individual freedom and should be dealt with legally according to the principle of federalism, a bedrock conservative belief,” Grubbs said.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is also “reviewing options to counteract whatever the Trump Administration’s plans” are for state marijuana laws, said Lieu senior advisor Jack d’Annibale.

Another option, though a long shot, would be for Congress to attempt to change the federal Controlled Substances Act to decriminalize the use of marijuana nationally.

Herzberg said reinstituting federal raids would be “a major setback for the industry.”

But the state could still go ahead with a licensing system for medical marijuana growing and sales in spite of a federal crackdown on recreational use, according to Hezekiah Allen, head of the California Growers Assn.

“A vast majority of California growers and cannabis business owners would choose to participate only in the medical marketplace if given the option, and some would choose to avoid licensure entirely if they were unable to distinguish themselves from adult-use businesses,” Allen said.

Because Spicer did not provide details on what an enforcement effort might look like, many in the industry hope it will focus on the illegal exporting of marijuana to other states, leaving alone state-licensed firms that grow and sell pot.

“The biggest crackdown we may see is on the increase of cannabis being illegally exported out of recreational states,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-San Rafael) said any change in federal enforcement policy on states that have legalized recreational use would be misguided.

“You can’t put the genie back into the bottle — marijuana regulation and enforcement can’t and shouldn’t go backwards,” he said.