Trump col­ors year’s ses­sion

Democrats’ dis­like and alarm has shaped leg­is­la­tion, irked GOP

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Duncan and Erin Cox

In a nor­mal year, the par­ti­san jab on the floor of the Mary­land Se­nate would have drawn only eye rolls. A Demo­cratic sen­a­tor used the cer­e­mo­nial in­tro­duc­tion of guests to slip in a ref­er­ence to sus­pected Rus­sian meddling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

But like much in pol­i­tics since the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump, this was not a nor­mal year in the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly.

The per­ceived swipe at the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent last week had Sen. Steve Waugh seething in his seat. So when the of­fend­ing Demo­crat walked by, the South­ern Mary­land Repub­li­can popped up to give him a ver­bal thrash­ing.

“It boiled my blood,” Waugh said later. “I pretty much gave it to him be­tween the eyes.”

Con­cern about the new pres­i­dent and his Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties in Congress per­vaded the Demo­crat-led Gen­eral Assem­bly’s work this year, col­or­ing de­bate and help­ing to set the agenda.

The Democrats passed three res­o­lu­tions and at least six new laws in re­sponse to Trump’s poli­cies or plans, em­pow­er­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral to sue the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and pass­ing the na­tion’s first law to pro­tect Planned Par­ent­hood from fed­eral bud­get cuts.

“We think about it ev­ery day,” Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller said. “Ev­ery day, ev­ery bill, we think about what’s hap­pen­ing on Capi­tol Hill.”

The 90-day ses­sion ends Mon­day. To date, law­mak­ers have ap­proved res­o­lu­tions ex­press­ing “sharp dis­agree­ment” with moves by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and

Congress to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act and op­pos­ing Trump’s plan to make “dras­tic cuts” to bud­get of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup pro­gram.

Democrats forced the re­peal of five long-stand­ing calls for a fed­eral con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion, out of con­cern such a gath­er­ing now would be dom­i­nated by forces loyal to the new pres­i­dent.

The new fo­cus alien­ated state Repub­li­cans. Democrats gave so many floor speeches about the pres­i­dent that one Repub­li­can dubbed them “Trumper­tantrums.”

“It’s an ob­ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture this year,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader J. B. Jen­nings. “The Democrats have fo­cused a lot of their en­ergy on Trump.”

Democrats say they feel morally ob­li­gated to de­fend Mary­land against a White House they don’t just dis­agree with, but view as an un­prece­dented threat.

The sense of cri­sis, they say, has been uni­fy­ing.

“Pres­i­dent Trump’s ac­tions have brought Democrats to­gether in a way I’ve never seen Democrats work to­gether be­fore,” Sen. James Ros­apepe said. “Democrats see real dan­gers to the val­ues that we share.”

Ros­apepe, the Demo­crat who was on the re­ceiv­ing end of Waugh’s tongue-lash­ing, said na­tional pol­i­tics didn’t weigh so heav­ily on the leg­is­la­ture un­der other Repub­li­can pres­i­dents — cer­tainly not when he was a del­e­gate at the end of the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Don­ald Trump is not Ron­ald Rea­gan,” said Ros­apepe, who is from Prince Ge­orge’s County.

The em­pha­sis on Trump, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts said, re­placed jock­ey­ing around the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion and crowded out de­bate on some peren­nial is­sues, such as pro­pos­als to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana and pass an aid-in-dy­ing law.

“Don­ald Trump ended up suck­ing the oxy­gen out of the room,” said Todd Eberly, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at St. Mary’s Col­lege.

Even bills that might not seem at first glance to be re­lated to the change in party con­trol of the White House were col­ored by the elec­tion.

Del. Kumar Barve, the chair­man of the En­vi­ron­ment and Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, said en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists could thank Trump for the land­mark ban on frack­ing that Gov. Larry Ho­gan signed into law last week.

Out­law­ing the gas drilling tech­nique was a long-sought goal of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists that had proven po­lit­i­cally elu­sive — un­til this year.

“If Hil­lary would have won, I would not have passed the frack­ing ban,” the Mont­gomery County Demo­crat said. With Clin­ton in the White House, Barve said, he would have trusted the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to ag­gres­sively en­force fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal laws. “Now we can’t,” he said. Mileah Kromer, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Goucher Col­lege, said fo­cus­ing on Trump gives Mary­land Democrats fresh am­mu­ni­tion to at­tack Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can.

In Mary­land, so­cial is­sues that have helped mo­ti­vate party vot­ers to the polls — gay mar­riage, gun con­trol, the death penalty — are largely set­tled.

“It’s not that Democrats don’t be­lieve” in these mea­sures to counter Trump, she said. “But it’s also very strate­gic.”

Ho­gan said Democrats in the Gen­eral Assem­bly wasted their time dur­ing the ses­sion.

“I hate to give them po­lit­i­cal ad­vice — they’ve been around a lot longer than me,” Ho­gan said. “But it didn’t seem like it was a very pro­duc­tive 90 days for them.

“They promised be­fore the ses­sion their en­tire fo­cus was go­ing to be on pol­i­tics and try­ing to tie me to Trump and hurt me on my elec­tion chances next year, and I think they’ve failed mis­er­ably.”

Ho­gan, who de­clined to en­dorse Trump in the elec­tion last year — he said he wrote in the name of his fa­ther, for­mer Rep. Lawrence Ho­gan — largely avoided talk­ing about the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

He ex­pressed his po­si­tion on the pro­posed re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act in pri­vate meet­ings at the White House. In­stead of sign­ing or ve­to­ing bills to pro­tect fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood and giv­ing the state at­tor­ney gen­eral money to cre­ate a team of anti-Trump lawyers, Ho­gan sim­ply let them go into law with­out his sig­na­ture.

Af­ter many hours of de­bate, com­mit­tee hear­ings and news con­fer­ences de­voted to the pres­i­dent, the im­pact of many of the anti-Trump mea­sures is un­clear.

Democrats cre­ated com­mis­sions to mon­i­tor whether fed­eral health care or bank­ing poli­cies are changed and rec­om­mend ac­tions.

A bill still pend­ing would shore up fund­ing for public broad­cast­ing in Mary­land if fed­eral money is cut back.

One bill that looked as if it could carve out a clear de­par­ture from fed­eral pol­icy was wa­tered down dra­mat­i­cally as the leg­is­la­ture en­tered its fi­nal days.

The Trust Act was orig­i­nally de­signed to sharply limit the de­gree to which author­i­ties in Mary­land could co­op­er­ate with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents.

But to get it through the House, law­mak­ers agreed to grand­fa­ther in coun­ties that have or are seek­ing ar­range­ments to for­mally co­op­er­ate with U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. And to clear the Se­nate, law­mak­ers stripped a pro­vi­sion that would di­rect lo­cal author­i­ties to dis­re­gard fed­eral or­ders to hold peo­ple sus­pected of vi­o­lat­ing im­mi­gra­tion law un­less they had a war­rant.

The re­main­ing mea­sure mostly re­stated cur­rent law.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the chair­man of the Ju­di­cial Pro­ceed­ings Com­mit­tee, which is han­dling the bill, called Trump a “wack job.” He said the Gen­eral Assem­bly was right to try to re­as­sure im­mi­grants, but the mea­sure had to be care­fully bal­anced.

“It’s ab­hor­rent, the things that are com­ing out of his mouth on mul­ti­ple fronts,” the Baltimore County Demo­crat said. “But we need to be care­ful about what we do to pro­tect the public also.”

The mea­sure that might have the great­est im­pact was the move to grant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian Frosh broad au­thor­ity to sue the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and fund a squad of five lawyers to take on the work start­ing next year.

Repub­li­can states adopted sim­i­lar ef­forts un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. But Frosh, a Demo­crat, said how he’ll use the new pow­ers will be dif­fer­ent, be­cause Trump is dif­fer­ent.

“I think it was par­ti­san war­fare dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said. “I think if you could give truth serum to a lot of Repub­li­cans about the stuff the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has done, they’re as con­cerned about it as we are.”

For Repub­li­cans, though, some of the Democrats’ ef­forts have been gra­tu­itous. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nic Kipke pointed to the health care com­mis­sion bill as par­tic­u­larly trou­bling. It shouldn’t have been con­tro­ver­sial, he said, but it con­tained a pre­am­ble prais­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act that left Repub­li­cans un­will­ing to vote for it.

Kipke said Democrats’ fo­cus on Trump has con­tam­i­nated An­napo­lis with the “toxic” style of pol­i­tics that pre­dom­i­nates in Wash­ing­ton, some­thing he says his party avoided dur­ing the Obama pres­i­dency.

“We didn’t bring in Oba­macare de­bates here,” he said. “We didn’t push our party pol­i­tics over the last decade.”

The dis­cus­sion will con­tinue into the ses­sion’s fi­nal day Mon­day, when law­mak­ers take up fi­nal de­bate on Democrats’ late push to adopt in state law the fed­eral in­ter­net pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions that Trump re­cently stopped from go­ing into ef­fect.

Sen. Michael Hough, the Fred­er­ick County Repub­li­can who coined “Trumper­trantrum,” said few of his col­leagues were early Trump sup­port­ers — Hough him­self chaired Sen. Ted Cruz’s pri­mary cam­paign in Mary­land.

But the back­lash against Trump has led at least some to rally around him. Hough now dis­plays pho­to­graphs of him­self with the pres­i­dent in his An­napo­lis of­fice. He calls it an act of re­bel­lion against the in­ces­sant anti-Trump rhetoric.

“To say it’s grow­ing old is an un­der­state­ment,” he said.

AMY DAVIS/BALTIMORE SUN

The leg­isla­tive ses­sion that ends Mon­day has fea­tured a num­ber of bills that are di­rect re­sponses to Pres­i­dent Trump.

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