Can Trump Actually Defund New York City? It’s Complicated

Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images.
It looks like President Donald Trump is once again trying to ramp up his own red scare with his latest threats to defund Democratic cities. On Wednesday night, the president warned on Twitter he would cut federal funding for cities that have seen violent protests since May, though often due in large part to the presence of heavily militarized police forces.  
“My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump wrote. “We’re putting them on notice today.”
In a longer memo released Wednesday to Russell T. Vought, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Attorney General William Barr, the Trump administration writes, “Without law and order, democracy cannot function.” Trump has made “law and order” in response to ongoing dissent a focal point of his re-election campaign. 
“Anarchy has recently beset some of our States and cities,” the memo states, naming examples like Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, where locals occupied an area of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building. Trump also named Portland, where protestors have taken the streets for more than 80 days, and Washington, D.C.
But the memo distinctly took aim at New York City, the president's hometown, where he claims “city officials have allowed violence to spike.” The memo further cites Mayor Bill de Blasio's agreement to cut $1 billion in funding from the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shot back at the president, accusing Trump of trying to "punish NYC since day one." In a tweet of his own, Cuomo wrote that Trump "let COVID ambush New York. He refuses to provide funds that states and cities MUST receive to recover. He is not a king. He cannot 'defund' NYC. It's an illegal stunt."
In a Wednesday evening press conference with reporters, Cuomo called the memo “another attempt to kill New York City,” The New York Times reported. "Everything that he could possibly do in his power to hurt New York City he has done. The best thing he did for New York City was leave. Good riddance. Let him go to Florida. Be careful not to get COVID.”
Like many of Trump's past threats, this one is also unlikely to hold up in court, Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the Democrat-led House Appropriations Committee, told the Times. Hollander called the memo "nothing more than a distraction from the fact that Americans are less safe under the Trump administration," a campaign narrative the administration has repeatedly pushed in an effort to align Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris with America's so-called radical left.
Sam Berger, a former Office of Management and Budget official echoed the same, to The Washington Post. “This is a campaign document coming out of the White House,” said Berger. “Any actual restriction on funding in court will immediately be sued and almost certainly struck down.”
So, it looks like Trump will likely try to defund New York City, but he'll be at the bitter end of immediate legal push back should he continue to do so.

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