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July 22, 2020, 2:46 p.m. EDT

Trump is currently taking both sides in the states’-rights debate

Governors are told to take control of state responses to coronavirus pandemic, but governors and mayors get no say on placement of federal forces in their jurisdictions

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By Associated Press

Associated Press
President Donald Trump‘s walk on June 1 through Lafayette Square to St. John's Church for a photo opportunity was preceded by a forceful clearing of demonstrators from the area by federal agents and troops.

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to states’ rights, President Donald Trump is all over the map.

To battle the coronavirus, he’s told states they’re largely on their own. But when it comes to stamping out protests in cities led by Democrats, Trump is sending in federal troops and agents — even when local leaders are begging him to butt out.

It’s a driven-by-expedience approach that’s been a hallmark of his stormy presidency, one that has little to do with ideology and more to do with reelection efforts.

“After seeing Trump in the White House for three and a half years, anyone expecting to find classical ideological consistency is bound to be mistaken,” said Andrew J. Polsky, a political-science professor at Hunter College. “All of this is done for partisan political purposes with an eye toward the election.”

‘It’s selective federalism.’

Julian Zelizer, Princeton University

For months now, as he’s tried to skirt responsibility for the nation’s flawed response to the coronavirus, Trump has put the onus on states, first to acquire protective gear and testing agents and then to scale testing and contact tracing.

“The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk,” Trump said in March when testing in the U.S. severely lagged behind other countries and governors were pleading for help as they competed against one another on the open market.

His son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, even said, “The notion of the federal stockpile is that it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

Just a month later, Trump flipped to asserting vast executive authority as he pushed states to reopen their economies fast.

“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he declared in April, in an inaccurate interpretation of the Constitution.

He quickly reversed course, saying he’d leave reopening plans up to the states, but continued to threaten to intervene if he didn’t like what they were doing. Now, he’s pressuring schools to fully reopen in September, saying he’ll pull funding from school districts that continue to keep kids home.

That approach stands in stark contract with Trump’s view of “law and order,” the mantle under which he’s decided to run his 2020 race.

After National Guard troops were deployed to Washington, D.C., to quell protests near the White House following the police killing of George Floyd, the Department of Homeland Security now has agents patrolling Portland, Ore., to protect federal buildings, despite pleas from the mayor, governor and local activists to leave.

And DHS is poised to deploy about 150 Homeland Security Investigations agents to Chicago to bolster local law enforcement, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday.

See: Trump and Barr set to expand ‘surge’ of federal forces to Chicago and other cities

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