Lawmakers respond to Trump's threat to 'send in the feds' to Chicago

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's threat of federal intervention in Chicago is getting blasted by the left and the right.

Some of his fellow Republicans protest that it's not the federal government's role to take over cities.

Democrats complain that his idea, expressed in a terse late-night tweet, is little more than another example of his insensitive, callous view of what Trump labels "inner cities."

Trump ignited this firestorm Tuesday night, the day after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a former chief of staff for President Barack Obama — attacked Trump's preoccupation with the size of the crowd at his Friday inaugural.

Trump threatened intervention if Emanuel did not get his violence-torn city under control. "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on," Trump wrote, "I will send in the Feds!"

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said Wednesday that Trump was suggesting a "horrifying" violation of the constitutional limits on how much power the federal government had over cities.

"What he is threatening to do in addressing carnage would bring far greater carnage to the Constitution and the idea of a limited federal government," Sanford said. "Every American problem does not require an answer from Washington."


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Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson characterized Trump's threat as a true test of how dedicated conservatives are to the principle of limited federal government.

"If Obama had announced he was going to 'send in the feds' to some red state, Republicans would rightly be losing their collective minds," Wilson said on Twitter.

It's not clear exactly what Trump means by "send in the feds." White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that the president wanted to "provide the resources of the federal government."

"I think what the president is upset about is turning on the television and seeing Americans get killed by shootings, seeing people be — walking down the street and getting shot down, the president of the United States giving his farewell address and two people being killed that day," Spicer said.

To Democrats, Trump's threat has a more ominous symbolism. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who represents Chicago neighborhoods in Congress, said the president wasn't helping Chicago's gun violence problem by issuing a Twitter threat of intervention in the midst of a feud with the city's mayor.

"The president wants publicity and to be seen beating up on Democratic elected officials and appearing hostile to a big city like Chicago in the eyes of his suburban and rural voters. I get that," Gutierrez said. "But I doubt he has any serious intention to solve the national problem of guns killing young people.

"Chicago's murder epidemic is more serious than a late-night Twitter threat from the new tweeter in chief," Gutierrez said.

Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Chicago's North Side, called Trump's threat a "gross overreach of federal power."

"While I agree that gun violence, both in Chicago and across this country, is a national tragedy that requires immediate and substantial action, a threat to institute martial law is not the answer," Quigley said.

Trump's extraordinary tweet followed a discussion of Chicago's violence on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News.

Trump said in his tweet that Chicago had had 228 shootings and 42 homicides since the beginning of the year, more than a comparable period during the city's violence-plagued 2016.

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Not all lawmakers were critical of Trump's threat.

Several members of the House of Representatives and the Senate refused comment, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The office of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted that the Chicago Police Department expressed willingness to work with federal law enforcement.

Eddie Johnson, Chicago's police superintendent, said his department was open to federal help with the crime problem.

"As the mayor said just a few hours ago, the Chicago Police Department is more than willing to work with the federal government to build on our partnerships" with other federal agencies, Johnson said in a statement.


Direct federal intervention to help Chicago combat crime would engender enormous opposition from members of both parties if Trump decides to proceed.

"Martial law isn't an answer to Chicago gun violence; stopping the flow of guns into dangerous hands and supporting local public safety efforts are," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the city would benefit instead from community policing grants, affordable housing and investments in education.

"Militarizing Chicago would only make things worse," Swalwell said.

Matthew Schofield and William Douglas contributed to this report.