IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Petty and divisive': Democratic governors, mayors slam Trump for threatening to withhold funds from cities

"It is another attempt to kill New York City," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a late-night conference call.
Image: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a daily media briefing at the governor's office in New York City in July.Jeenah Moon / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Democratic mayors and governors lashed out at President Donald Trump after he issued a memo directing his administration to find federal funds that could be cut from cities run by Democrats, including "anarchist jurisdictions."

Democrats said the federal government cannot unilaterally withhold funding from their cities and argued that the president's memo, which was released Wednesday, was merely an attempt to distract from the more than 187,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is another attempt to kill New York City," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a late-night conference call, adding that Trump is "persona non grata" in the city where he was born and raised.

"He can't have enough bodyguards to walk through New York City," Cuomo said. "Forget bodyguards. He better have an army if he thinks he's going to walk down the streets in New York."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also blasted Trump, saying in a statement that the memorandum was "illegal" and a "sham."

"It is just the latest baseless, petty and divisive move by President Trump to distract from his abject failure to protect Americans from COVID-19. With more than 185,000 lives lost on his watch, we won't forget," he said. "The president cannot and will not defund us. He is not a dictator and laws still apply to him."

The memo directs Russ Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, to issue guidance to executive departments and agencies. It asks them to list all federal funds provided to New York City; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and Washington, D.C., specifically.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

It also directs Attorney General William Barr, in consultation with Vought and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, to identify state and local jurisdictions "that have permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities (anarchist jurisdictions)."

The memo was issued as the president pushes to establish "law and order" as a campaign theme as some protests have turned violent in recent weeks.

After the memo was released, Vought tweeted that Trump had "made clear that we will not continue to funnel taxpayer money to lawless cities that fail to restore law and order in their communities. We will explore all options."

Asked about the memo Thursday, a White House official said the effort will focus on withholding grant money.

"We're not going to keep providing those funds from the federal level if they're not using them," the official said. Instead, the official said, the administration will look to offer incentives to use federal dollars and "could give additional grants to other jurisdictions where they're utilizing it." The official directed specific questions to OMB and the Justice Department.

In a statement to NBC News on Thursday, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump "should not hold hostage taxpayer funds as part of yet another campaign stunt that, at its core, seeks to suppress demands for racial justice and transformational changes to our policing institutions."

Kanya Bennett, a senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, said the group will be "closely monitoring any actions resulting from this unfounded and irresponsible memorandum, which accomplishes nothing more than to stoke the flames of racism and division across this country."

Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said Thursday: "This order has no legal standing, but if it were implemented it would make cities less safe by slashing resources for police, firefighters, and first responders as well as other essential services. Families and small businesses who make cities their homes should not be used as a weapon in some political fight."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted late Wednesday that the move was "the latest attempt to distract from the fact that COVID-19 has infected over 6 million Americans, killed 185,000 people, and destroyed the American economy."

"The only anarchy zone in America, where the rule of law is disregarded, is at the White House," she tweeted. "President Trump cannot defund Seattle — it is unlawful."

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a string of tweets that the order was a "new low" for Trump, saying the money he is threatening to withhold would be "health, education, and safety net dollars Americans are relying on to get through this pandemic and economic crisis."

Trump appeared to respond to Cuomo's criticisms Thursday on Twitter, saying Cuomo "has the worst record on death and China Virus. 11,000 people alone died in Nursing Homes because of his incompetence!"

He then said Cuomo "should get his puppet New York prosecutors, who have been illegally after me and my family for years, to investigate his incompetent handling of the China Virus, and all of the deaths caused by this incompetence. It is at minimum a Nursing Home Scandal - 11,000 DEAD!"

Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York had recorded its 26th straight day with a COVID-19 infection rate below 1 percent.

Peter Alexander contributed.