ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Republican senators walked out of the Maryland Senate during debate over a resolution introduced by Democrats that would direct state Attorney General Brian Frosh to challenge federal actions that cause harm to Marylanders.
Republicans tried to secure a special order to delay debate of the resolution to Friday; doing so would have likely pushed a final vote on the issue until Monday, unless the Senate decided to hold a session on Saturday, which at least one Republican Senator suggested.
The resolution is a reaction to executive orders issued by President Donald Trump in recent weeks and would empower Frosh to challenge those orders in court, as other state attorneys general have already done.
However, Democrats pushed back against efforts to delay the resolution, leading to an unusually combative dust up on the Senate floor that culminated in the majority of the chamber’s 14 Republican senators walking off the floor after the delay vote failed.
Todd Eberly, an associate professor of Political Science and Public Policy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said the walkout by Republicans was “incredibly rare” and reflected significant anger at the unwillingness to delay the vote, which is generally considered a common courtesy in the Senate.
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s, opposed the delay, saying that he wanted to move the resolution through the body as fast as possible — citing its disruption and divisiveness — and because he said it very unlikely that any senator would change their vote given more time.
Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County — one of the few Democrats not listed as a sponsor of the resolution — directly contradicted Miller, arguing that some senators might indeed change their vote given time to consider the resolution, especially those who represent ideologically mixed districts, such as his.
The Maryland Defense Act of 2017 would allow Frosh to initiate legal challenges against Trump’s executive order — restricting travel from several majority-Muslim countries — which was suspended by court order on Friday.
The resolution’s language uses generic terms, but appears aimed fighting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the deregulation of financial institutions, the relaxing of environmental standards, and efforts to deport illegal or undocumented immigrants — bedrock promises of the Trump campaign.
Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, argued the resolution is likely unconstitutional because the broadness of the the attorney general’s new powers could undermine the constitutional authority of the governor and the legislature.
Cassilly said he thought the resolution was effectively giving the attorney general permission to pursue nearly any case.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, who handled the bulk of the resolution’s defense on the floor, said the resolution was specific because it listed each policy area in detail.
Eberly said the claim that the resolution only covers specific policy areas is “totally bogus.” He said the resolution allows the attorney general to pursue any case where a federal government action threatens “the general health and well-being of (Maryland’s) residents,” which could apply to almost any federal action.
However, he pointed out that most state attorneys general already have the power to pursue cases largely as they like; Maryland is unusual in that the attorney general requires specific instructions from the legislature or governor to pursue cases.
Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, questioned the scope of the resolution, asking Madaleno whether the attorney general would be empowered to act on behalf of undocumented residents in Maryland. Madaleno said yes, he thought so; the resolution refers to federal actions that harm Maryland “residents,” without specifying residency or citizenship status.
Reilly also voiced concern that the state was setting itself up for a spat with the Trump administration, perhaps needlessly. He reminded the body that Trump has threatened to cut federal funding from sanctuary cities and expressed concern that the resolution could produce a similar threat from the president against Maryland.
Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s, asked why there had been no effort to grant similar powers to the attorney general during the last two years that Frosh has occupied the position.
Hershey suggested that the powers are very specific to the Trump administration, trying to paint the resolution as a partisan effort. Democrats did not refute Hershey.
When asked whether the resolution is a response to Trump’s election, Madaleno told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that it is, more specifically, “a response to the unprecedented actions the Trump administration has taken.”