During an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Attorney General William Barr, who has heretofore enjoyed a reputation as one of the cagiest members of the cabinet, has just made a massive political blunder. Whether he did it at the best of his boss remains unclear.
President Trump's tweets about "liberating" Democratic-led states has enraged certain conservatives who recognize that Trump has just accepted blame for the handling of the coronavirus response. Delegating to the states was a brilliant move because it meant that no matter what, Trump would be praised for doing the 'smart' thing and handing the reins to the states, something that, in theory, also goes against the president's "authoritarian" nature, which would earn him extra political cred.
By baiting the thousands of Americans willing to go out and join protests demanding an immediate reopening of the economy, Trump is inviting citizens to break the law during an unprecedented crisis when public resources are already strained. If nothing else, it will under mine moderates' faith in Trump's ability to make 'responsible' choices, likely costing him critical votes in the swing states.
Now, AG Barr has taken Trump's embrace of the 'reopen now' movement to the next level by claiming the DoJ might join lawsuits filed by businesses and citizens against various states over the shutdown orders.
"We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that’s reasonably safe," Barr said. "To the extent that governors don’t and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce - our common market that we have here - then we’ll have to address that."
The move comes as more conservative groups reportedly heap pressure on the administration to do more to stop governors like Gavin Newsom from keeping their states closed until the summer, according to BBG.
But the last thing states need right now is another reason to blame the White House for meddling in their reopening planning...
One way the Justice Department might act against state or local officials is by joining lawsuits brought by citizens or businesses over restrictions, Barr said. He acknowledged that state governments are at "a sensitive stage," as they try to balance health and safety against pressure to reopen.But he said that "as lawsuits develop, as specific cases emerge in the states, we’ll take a look at them."
"We’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place,” Barr said. "And if we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them. And if they’re not and people bring lawsuits, we file statement of interest and side with the plaintiffs."
...and Barr just gave it to them on a silver platter.