Behind Closed Doors, Beacon Hill Dems Map Anti-Trump Strategy

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BOSTON — Upon exiting a Democratic caucus that focused on how to react legislatively to the new administration of President Donald Trump, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters at one point during the media scrum that he has heard a common refrain relayed by lawmakers to him from their constituents: ” Thank God I’m from Massachusetts.”

“In terms of what they see going around the country and especially in Washington,” the powerful Democrat from Winthrop specified on Wednesday in recapping the meeting.

DeLeo said that while in the past most lawmakers reported having on average about a dozen constituents show up during district office hours, “now they’re getting 50-60 people, with some [members] talking about how they had 600 people at some of these meetings.”

“I’d have to say that this is one of the major things that is on people’s minds,” DeLeo said about Trump.

As for the Trump-focused caucus itself, DeLeo told reporters that the bulk of discussion among House Democrats focused on “being able to just keep on showing that Massachusetts is different.” That includes squashing any plans to ship select crews of prison inmates down to the Mexican border to build a wall — but also, according to DeLeo, holding off on pushing forward any legislation that officially declares Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.”

“I heard considerably in there about the issue of immigration, the issue of health care, women’s health issues, the concern about climate change, and the like, so I think that those were just some of the issues that people were concerned about,” DeLeo added.  “In particular, again, the issue that came up was the issue about using prison guards to be called upon to build a wall at the Mexican border, being paid for by Massachusetts taxpayers.”

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, during his swearing-in speech last month, announced that he would be suggesting to the Trump administration that Massachusetts inmates under his direction would be available to help build such a wall. Several House Democrats responded by filing legislation aimed at halting such a move.

Even House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) appeared cool to Hodgson’s wall idea when approached by reporters Wednesday.

“I think my first inclination or thought is that if there is that much labor we can utilize there’s probably a lot of things here that it can be used on — as much as I like Sheriff Hodgson, if I have x-number of man-hours we can do legally on things, my guess is that there’s a lot of things in the commonwealth that can be done,” Jones said. “If that’s something that can be done as part of punishment or whatever you want to call it, it seems to me that there are opportunities here first and foremost.”

Meanwhile, DeLeo appeared hesitant when asked directly whether he’d support a “sanctuary state” bill. State Senstor Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) has introduced a version of such a bill each of the last four years. Eldridge told FOX 25 News on Wednesday that more than 80 lawmakers have vowed to back such a proposal.

DeLeo said sanctuary policies are best left for local communities to decide on.

“I’m not sure if I would go so far as to say sanctuary state, being a former local elected official prior to coming to the House, I think it’s important for cities and towns to have the ability pretty much wherever possible to make decisions such as that,” noted DeLeo, who served for about a decade on Winthrop’s Board of Selectmen. “I will tell you that was mentioned a little bit but not a whole lot, and I’m looking forward to taking the pulse of the members of that, but generally cities and towns have rights in terms of issues such as that.”

Overall, DeLeo hinted that Democrats are leaning more towards pushing anti-Trump legislation rather than a series of anti-Trump resolutions.

Earlier this month, on the same day that they voted to override Governor Charlie Baker’s veto against legislative pay raises, members of the Senate passed a resolution condemning a Trump executive order temporarily halting the flow into the United States of refugees and other foreign nationals hailing from seven Muslim-dominated countries.  

“People are looking more for legislation than a resolution, some people are looking for a resolve, I think if I’ve got one message — they want to see action,” DeLeo said. “They like the idea of a resolution in terms of getting the message out, but I think most importantly, they want to see action, and a statement to our constituents that we hear their concerns, we don’t agree with what’s going on with the Trump administration, and we here in Massachusetts to the best of our power are going to do something about it.”