In the two months that Donald Trump has been president, attorneys general across the county have already taken on leading roles challenging his policies. Most of that has been through legal channels, such as when Democratic state attorneys general united to denounce Trump's travel ban executive order in January and later filed an amicus brief in support of Washington's lawsuit against it. But sometimes, it has taken other forms.
Last month, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro made headlines when he shared an exchange with Trump that suggested the president believed recent anti-Semitic attacks were actually false flags. After asking the president about how he would respond to the spate of bomb threats called into Jewish institutions and the vandalism to Jewish cemeteries, Shapiro said the president told him, "Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people — or to make others — look bad."
Although Trump's deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected concerns about anti-Semitism by pointing to the content his address to the joint sessions of Congress, Shapiro's account validated many critics' concerns about Trump.
In a Facebook Live interview on Monday, Shapiro told Bustle's politics editor how he hoped the president would have responded.
"I hoped he would have said, 'In no uncertain terms, we condemn it.' And then spoken specifically with us, law enforcement leaders of our respective states, on how we can work together to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and hate speech threats," Shapiro said. "Leaders need to speak with moral clarity. You need to speak with moral clarity on these issues, especially when you're the present of the United States."
At the same time, Shapiro stressed that it was not his job as an attorney general to make a law nor challenge ones simply because he disagreed with them. "The test is always about the rule of law, not whether I like or dislike something the president is doing, but the rule of law," Shapiro said.
However, Shapiro did acknowledge that attorneys general were taking on new responsibilities because of Trump's decisions and Congress' reactions to them, or, according to him, lack thereof. "I think what we're beginning to see, because Congress has seemingly abrogated its responsibility in that checks-and-balances structure, is that we're seeing the states and the state attorneys general become a check on the federal executive branch," Shapiro said. "I think that's really critical."
Although there has been speculation that Shapiro could be a possible candidate for senator and governor of Pennsylvania, he said that his heart lies in being a legal advocate — at least for now.
"I get to protect people's rights. I get to make sure that communities are safe. I get to go out and ensure equality in our communities," Shapiro said. "These are things that I think are fundamental to our democracy. It's fundamental to who I am and, ultimately, I think this is the most impactful job in government today."