Democrats Win Majority of AG Seats, ‘Last Line of Resistance’ Against Trump

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is calling for bipartisanship, but his administration will probably face more legal attacks after Democrats captured a majority of state attorney general seats in Tuesday’s elections.

Victories by challengers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado have tilted the balance of power among attorneys general in favor of Democrats by a 27-to-23 margin, offering Trump’s rivals further ammunition to confront his policies in court. The Democrats expect partisan bottlenecks in a split Congress to further derail policy action, widening the vacuum for states to check Trump’s agenda.

“There is going to be gridlock that will rule the day on Capital Hill," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told reporters in a call on Wednesday. “In the states, AGs will work to get things done on big ticket items, including protecting individual’s civil rights and serving as the only effective check on the federal government.”

Democratic attorneys general have served as the primary obstacle to Trump’s agenda, dubbing themselves “the last line of resistance” against the president. The top legal officers in big states including New York, California, Illinois and Massachusetts have been on the front lines to block an array of the president’s initiatives, from his travel ban that mostly targeted Muslim-majority nations and his threat to pull funding from sanctuary cities to his plans to deport children of undocumented immigrants and unwind environmental regulations.

While the Democrats prepare their next move in court, Trump softened his antagonistic tone toward Democrats and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who is set to return as House Speaker. “I really respected what Nancy said last night,” Trump said, referring to her call for bipartisanship. “I give her a great deal of credit for what she’s done and what she’s accomplished.”

Democratic attorneys general from 22 states and the District of Columbia have filed almost 60 lawsuits against the Trump administration, and have posted far more wins than losses. Trump has called out some of the jurists who’ve ruled against his policies, in one case referring to Seattle U.S. District Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge” after he temporarily blocked enforcement of the president’s first travel ban.

While the Democratic AGs appear emboldened by Tuesday’s outcomes, Trump and Republicans landed their own victory on Tuesday that may give them a counter-punch to thwart legal challenges. By expanding their margin in the U.S. Senate, Republicans could find it even easier to stack the federal courts with conservative judges, as Trump has done on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats said GOP attacks on Obamacare helped flip control of the attorney general seats in some states, including in Wisconsin, where Republican Brad Schimel lost on Tuesday to Democrat Josh Kaul. Schimel was part of a 20-state coalition led by Texas that’s trying to win a court ruling wiping out the Affordable Care Act, including its popular provision requiring insurers to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“There is no doubt that the Republican position related to pre-existing conditions was significant in the races, including in Wisconsin,” said District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who co-chairs the Democratic Attorneys General Association. He predicted that newly elected officials in Wisconsin and Maine will now join the group of blue states fighting to preserve Obamacare.

Republicans claim Tuesday’s results would have been much worse without $40 million in record-breaking fund raising for the attorneys general races alone, compared to Democrats’ own record of $24 million in campaign spending. After years of Republican control of these state seats, anti-incumbency finally caught up with the party, said Zack Roday, spokesman for the Republican Attorneys General Association.

“Twenty seven Republican AGs have been dominating for a decade, so this time we were on our heels because of the larger map we created after multiple years of success,” he said. “We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. We knew going into 2018 that the party out of power had the advantage.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.