WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Three of the 19 Democratic state attorneys general who joined Washington state’s legal challenge to U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban are making a politically tricky maneuver: they are from states that went for Trump in the November election.
The attorneys general of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Iowa - key states for Trump in his presidential election victory - say they signed on to the legal action seeking to overturn the travel restrictions because of the potential impact of the presidential order on their states.
“When someone says to me you’re doing this in a state that Trump won,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told Reuters, his response is: “Trump is doing this in a state that I won.”
Pennsylvania was a crucial swing state in the 2016 election between Trump, a Republican, and Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump ended up winning the state with nearly 3 million votes. On the same night Shapiro, a Democrat, won 86,000 more votes than Trump to become the state’s attorney general.
Shapiro said political considerations played no role in his decision to help coordinate a Democratic legal response on the Trump travel ban, which he believes is unconstitutional. If Trump enacts policies that enhance the rights of Pennsylvanians, Shapiro said he would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him.
Charlie Gerow, a Republican political strategist in Pennsylvania, said he doubts Shapiro took much of a risk in opposing Trump’s order, in part because he was just elected and voters likely will not care in four years when he runs again.
“My guess is he believes that it is important to his base that he be perceived as a leader in this fight,” Gerow said.
Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order barred entry to the United States to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and imposed a 120-day halt on all refugees, except refugees from Syria, who are barred indefinitely.
Washington state challenged the legality of the order, claiming it discriminated against Muslims, and a Seattle federal judge suspended the order on Friday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now reviewing that ruling.
Just two of the nation’s Democratic attorneys general did not sign on to the fight, and both were from deeply Republican states where the political risk was potentially greater.
Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general since 2004, told Reuters budget concerns kept him from joining with his colleagues in other states on the legal action.
But he said he was “grateful to these attorneys general for carrying the fight on this important issue.”
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who won his election by just 2,000 votes in 2015, said in a statement that he declined to join his colleagues because “when you join in other large groups that make statements, you lose your own particular voice.”
As for his own views, Beshear said as a Christian he believes “we have a duty to help families facing terrorism and oppression,” but he did not say whether he thought Trump’s order was illegal.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, was elected by a slim margin of 20,000 votes on the same night that Trump took the state with nearly 200,000 votes more than Clinton.
Stein, previously a state senator, said he decided to sign on because Trump’s order is hurting his state.
“I ran for the position of attorney general to protect the people of North Carolina,” he told Reuters. “I did not run to engage in battle with the federal government.”
Tom Miller, Iowa’s attorney general since 1995, told Reuters he supported Washington state in the fight but did not expect to take a lead. He said he hoped to identify areas to work with Republican attorneys general, none of whom have so far made any court filings over the Trump travel ban.
“One of the areas I will be looking at in particular is consumer protection,” Miller said.
Dave ‘Mudcat’ Saunders, a Democratic political strategist in rural Virginia, said attorneys general in swing states are unlikely to pay a high price for opposing Trump on immigration.
“They aren’t going to gain any votes. They’re going to satisfy their base,” he said. “The people who are going to get pissed off about it weren’t going to vote for them anyway.”
Editing by Sue Horton and Bill Rigby