Hours after Donald Trump’s victory last week, New York’s top Democrats struck a conciliatory and sometimes shockingly complimentary chord. Governor Andrew Cuomo called Trump’s election a “bonus” to New York. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that he was glad that Trump was “a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker.” Chuck Schumer said he was willing to work with Trump on infrastructure spending and corporate tax reform, calling on the country to “heal the bitter wounds from the campaign.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday that she is “ready to work cooperatively with President-Elect Trump on shared goals and values and will be equally vigilant in opposing him where our values diverge.”
This has been the overwhelming post-election message from Democratic leaders, from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren: They will support what they agree on with Trump, and fight back against what they consider to be non-negotiables.
The hard truth that they will have to come to terms with is that nothing they support will be given to them by Trump or a Republican Congress without compromising on one of these sacred principles, which include mass deportations, a Muslim registry, a rollback of the rights of the LGBTQ community, overturning Roe v. Wade, privatizing Medicare, widening gun rights, reversing clean energy laws, and the elimination of every liberal democratic achievement from past eighty years.
Locally, any negotiations between New York politicians and Trump or the Republican controlled federal government would most likely make New York City a more unequal, less diverse, and frighteningly totalitarian place. Morally, a deal with Trump would betray New York’s premise as a city of immigrants. New York politicians don’t have to negotiate with Trump at all. And they shouldn’t.
During the campaign, one of Trump’s most frequent pledges was to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities” — cities that do not cooperate with federal authorities when it comes to enforcement actions on immigrants. He has also promised to undo all executive actions president Obama enacted, making undocumented immigrants in New York, even those who were encouraged to apply for programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a target of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). The prospect of ICE raiding homes in Brooklyn or Queens in the middle of the night or waiting outside a courthouse for people paying off minor summonses should sends shivers down one’s spine, but that has all already been happening during the Obama administration. The prospect of an amped-up and emboldened ICE should further horrify New Yorkers.
In response to Trump’s election, cities like San Francisco and Seattle have begun to prepare for life without federal aid as they move to protect their immigrants above all else. Mayor de Blasio sounded prepared to make a similar stance, announcing on Thursday that “We are not going to sacrifice a half-million people who live among us, who are part of our community. We are not going to tear families apart.”
After blowback to Cuomo’s “bonus” comment, as well as massive protests in cities across the country, the governor struck a much more defiant tone. In a Daily News op-ed, Governor Cuomo wrote that he would support the immigrant community, but only on paragraph thirteen, a full nine paragraphs behind a litany of infrastructure projects — “the Tappan Zee Bridge, a new La Guardia Airport, a new cross-Hudson Tunnel, and a revitalized Penn Station” — he hopes that Trump will fund. Cuomo also put up a Facebook post touting his own progressive accomplishments, and offering New York State as a refuge for anyone who “feels that they are under attack.” Democratic strategists are already talking about his chances in 2020.
Mayor de Blasio, and senators Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have also not yet ruled out a compromise to secure federal funding. According to Politico, those closest to Schumer say he’s ready to make deals with Trump on a number of his proposals. Gillibrand has been near-silent since the election, but has long had the most anti-immigrant stance of any major New York politician, coming out against any amnesty provisions and in favor of deputizing local law enforcement officers to carry out federal immigration priorities.
This is all in contrast to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has declared that the city is in a “state of emergency.” In an interview, Mark-Viverito said that she refuses to acknowledge the president-elect as long as hate is “still welcome under Trump’s tent.”
When asked whether the governor would be willing to stand up for the state’s sanctuary cities (which include New York, Syracuse, and Albany, accounting for almost half of the state’s population) even if that meant severe cuts to federal support, Richard Azzopardi, a spokesperson for the governor, told the Voice that, “The Governor has been very clear that he will fight to protect the rights of all immigrants in New York, and against every and any attempt to diminish them.”
Azzopardi has not answered a follow-up question on whether Cuomo would be willing to forego federal funding.
In an email, a spokesperson for Senator Gillibrand told us, “The Senator would vote NO on a funding deal that was contingent on the elimination of sanctuary cities,” and pointed out that the senator voted against two bills that would defund sanctuary cities.
Spokespersons for the mayor, the city council speaker, and senator Schumer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Refusing federal funding seems like a drastic choice. Around 30 percent of funding for New York State comes from the federal government. More than half of that is in the form of direct payments to citizens, like Medicare, food benefits, and social security. The rest comes in the form of grants to the state that are used for education, housing, or transportation projects. Trump has never specified how exactly he would go about cutting off funding for entire cities, but it seems like the easiest path would be cutting off the grants to the states. If he goes for for the direct payments to citizens, then he might have to fight for years in court over those cuts.
But the amount of funding for New York State will surely decline with Republicans controlling three branches of government anyway, as they cut federal tax rates for the wealthiest and make a shrinking federal government even smaller. New York State politicians must be prepared raise taxes to make up the 15 percent funding gap the state will be faced with. Conveniently, some very well-heeled New Yorkers are about to see big cuts on their federal tax rate. Andrew Cuomo will have to push these increases through the state senate, and if he fails, it would be yet another compelling reason that Democrats need to take back the state senate he has worked to keep under Republican control.
When New York’s politicians promise to protect our neighbors, we should zealously keep them to their word, even if that means going without federal funding. Trump and Republican rule of the federal government will already be a disaster for New York. Allowing our politicians to make concessions on protecting immigrants would make it an unforgivable tragedy.