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The resistance to a new Trump administration has already started

The Democratic governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee, said he had secured a large enough supply of mifepristone pills to preserve access for women in his state through a second Trump administration. The supply is locked away at a state warehouse.
Last Updated : 16 June 2024, 09:47 IST

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Opponents of Donald Trump are drafting potential lawsuits in case he is elected in November and carries out mass deportations, as he has vowed. One group has hired a new auditor to withstand any attempt by a second Trump administration to unleash the IRS on it. Democratic-run state governments are even stockpiling abortion medication.

A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself.

“Trump has made clear that he’ll disregard the law and test the limits of our system,” said Joanna Lydgate, the CEO of States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan democracy watchdog organization that works with state officials in both parties. “What we’re staring down is extremely dark.”

While the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an attempt to nullify federal approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, liberals fear a new Trump administration could rescind the approval or use a 19th-century morality law to criminalize sending it across state lines.

The Democratic governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee, said he had secured a large enough supply of mifepristone pills to preserve access for women in his state through a second Trump administration. The supply is locked away at a state warehouse.

“We have it physically in the state of Washington, which could stop him and his anti-choice forces from prohibiting its distribution,” Inslee said in an interview. “It has a life span of five or six years. If there was another Trump administration, it’ll get us through.”

If Trump returns to power, he is openly planning to impose radical changes — many with authoritarian overtones. Those plans include using the Justice Department to take revenge on his adversaries; sending federal troops into Democratic cities; carrying out mass deportations; building huge camps to hold immigrant detainees; making it easier to fire civil servants and replace them with loyalists; and expanding and centralizing executive power.

Ian Bassin, the executive director of Protect Democracy, said the planning for how to resist such an agenda should not be seen as an ordinary policy dispute, but as an effort to defend fundamental aspects of American self-government “from an aspiring autocrat.”

“He is no normal candidate, this is no normal election, and these are no normal preparations for merely coming out on the wrong side of a national referendum on policy choices,” Bassin said.

The leaders of many of the centrist and left-leaning groups involved insist their energies are primarily devoted to preventing Trump from regaining power in the first place. Many are also wary about discussing their contingency plans publicly, for fear of signaling a lack of confidence in President Joe Biden’s campaign prospects. Their angst is intensified by Biden’s low approval numbers and by his persistent trailing of Trump in polls of the states that are likely to decide the election.

Interviews with more than 30 officials and leaders of organizations about their plans revealed a combination of acute exhaustion and acute anxiety. Activist groups that spent the four years of Trump’s presidency organizing mass protests and pursuing legal challenges, ultimately helping channel that energy into persuading voters to oust him from power in 2020, are now realizing with great dread that they may have to resist him all over again.

The group leaders say they learned a lot from 2017 to 2021 about how to run an effective resistance campaign. At the same time, their understanding of what Trump is capable of expanded after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. They believe that the orbit around Trump has grown more sophisticated and that a second Trump White House would be both more radical and more effective, especially on core issues like immigration.

“What Trump and his acolytes are running on is an authoritarian playbook,” said Patrick Gaspard, the CEO of the CAP Action Fund, the political arm of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. He added, “So now we have to democracy-proof our actual institutions and the values that we share.”

The Biden administration pushed through a flurry of regulations in the spring, meeting a deadline to ensure that those rules could not be summarily overturned next year under a 1996 law if Trump wins the election and Republicans take total control of Congress. But administration officials have generally been reluctant to engage in contingency planning, insisting they are confident Biden will win a second term.

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesperson, denounced these efforts as a way to preempt Trump from being able to implement a legitimate policy agenda.

“It’s not surprising Biden and his cronies are working overtime to stymie the will of the American people after they vote to elect President Trump and his America First agenda,” Cheung said. “Their devious actions are a direct threat to democracy.”

Last week, representatives from 50 national and local immigration rights organizations convened at a hotel outside Phoenix for a three-day retreat under the umbrella group Immigrant Movement Visioning Process. On the agenda for two days was “Scenario Planning: Post Election Readiness,” building on a four-hour exercise the group had conducted online in May, according to Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center.

And next month, the anti-Trump conservative group Principles First and Norman Eisen, who was a lawyer for House Democrats during Trump’s first impeachment and helped produce an “autocracy threat tracker” focused on Trump’s plans, are organizing a New York University conference. They are inviting dozens of practitioners and scholars to discuss how to resist leaders with authoritarian leanings around the world, Eisen said.

A New Litigation Wave

A common tactic to push back against the first Trump administration was through litigation that tied up his policies in court. Sometimes that work succeeded in blocking actions entirely, and in other cases it delayed those policies from taking effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the chief litigants against the first Trump administration, is planning to assume a similar role if he regains the White House. In anticipation of that role, the ACLU has hired a new auditing firm to do a top-to-bottom scrub of the organization’s finances to ensure it can withstand scrutiny if a Trump administration were to sic the IRS on it.

The ACLU’s director, Anthony Romero, said his group had mapped out 63 scenarios in which a new Trump administration could pose a threat to individual rights and the rule of law. The ACLU team cataloged the threats by their severity, timing and other factors.

That exercise, he said in an interview, led the group to focus on four areas, for which it is drafting potential legal filings. Those areas are Trump’s plans for an unprecedented crackdown on immigrants in the country without legal permission; the potential to further curtail access to abortion; firing civil servants for political reasons; and the possibility that he would use troops to suppress protests.

A large part of the pushback to Trump in his first term centered on immigration policy, from protests against his ban on travel to the United States by citizens of several Muslim-majority countries to outrage at his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents in immigration detention.

Since Trump left office, the political environment on immigration has shifted amid the post-COVID surge of migrants arriving at the border and claiming asylum, overwhelming the system. Biden recently issued an executive order requiring summary rejection of asylum claims when the numbers are too high.

Several immigrant rights groups, assisted by the ACLU, are challenging that order in court. But immigrant rights leaders say they believe Trump’s policy plans, from mass deportations to giant detention camps, would be vastly more draconian.

A memo circulated by immigration group FWD.us is warning of a range of restrictive immigration policies that could come in the future. The intention of the memo, a person familiar with its contents said, was to prompt a discussion about finding lessons on how Trump had responded during his first term to public pressure on his most controversial immigration actions.

At the National Immigration Law Center, scenario planning and preparations for a second Trump term have been underway since the fall — particularly after a New York Times article detailed Trump’s plans for a vast deportation effort, Matos said. The group convened planning meetings in response to the article and has been working both internally and in coordination with other groups, she said.

Another hub of liberal resistance plans for a second Trump administration is Democracy Forward, an organization that formed after Trump’s 2016 victory that filed scores of legal challenges to policies during his first term in the White House. The organization has developed a 15-page threat matrix that covers issues including abortion, health care, civil rights, environmental protections, immigration and the “weaponization of government.”

In addition to drafting potential lawsuits to file against expected Trump administration actions, Democracy Forward CEO Skye Perryman said the organization had also begun recruiting sympathetic plaintiffs who would have legal standing in court.

“We are ensuring that people and communities that would be affected by a range of policies that we see with respect to Project 2025 know their legal rights and remedies and are able to access legal representation, should that be necessary,” Perryman said, referring to a policy planning project developed by conservative think tanks for a second Trump administration.

But there is also a widely held view among Democrats that many types of legal actions may be less effective during a second Trump term than they were during his first. A Supreme Court remade by Trump is far more conservative and likely to be more sympathetic to his administration’s actions.

A Blue-State Bulwark

That legal reality has left those planning for a Trump return to power to focus on state-level actions that can be locked in before the 2024 election.

Lawyers working for Democratic state attorneys general have been quietly studying the playbooks of their Republican counterparts in Texas and Florida, whom they view as being most successful at attacking and obstructing the Biden administration.

A person with knowledge of these conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said one of their goals was to see what aspects of the red-state anti-Biden playbook could be appropriated to ensure that Democrats can play offense as well as defense against a potential Trump administration.

The Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade also forced a sense of urgency upon liberal groups and governors. Immediately after the decision, Democratic governors and state attorneys general began arranging calls and meetings to figure out how to counter the new threat to abortion access in their states.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom founded a group called the Reproductive Freedom Alliance as a hub for governors to coordinate their strategies. Though nonpartisan, it now comprises 23 governors, all Democrats.

The governors in the alliance have worked together to plan litigation, pass shield laws to protect abortion providers and patients from penalties in other states and secure the emergency stockpiles of abortion pills in case they become unavailable or severely restricted. It could be the seeds of a broader collaboration to resist Trump’s agenda.

“The Reproductive Freedom Alliance has pioneered a model of coordination across states to defend, and expand, access to reproductive health care — enabling governors and key staff to develop relationships and a structure for collaboration that could be replicated on other issues, like immigration and gun control,” said Julia Spiegel, a lawyer who helped start the Reproductive Freedom Alliance from Newsom’s office.

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Published 16 June 2024, 09:47 IST

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