Boston Herald Hillary Chabot column

2017-03-20 | Boston Herald

March 20--House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the Trump presidency has forced him to become a legislative "policeman" -- he's been scrambling to keep outraged Democratic lawmakers focused on Bay State business, with anti-Trump fervor roiling the State House.

"At the beginning of the session since his being sworn in, the attention you know has been diverted somewhat to Washington," said DeLeo, adding that Trump, though hundreds of miles away and focused on bigger fish, has "changed business at the State House."

The frenzy over Trump's immigration orders and potential cuts to Planned Parenthood have overshadowed day-to-day business as Beacon Hill officials brace for another round of emergency state budget cuts that have nothing to do with Trump, say critics.

"It seems like the focus is less on Massachusetts and more on sending a message to Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) -- in a rare moment of agreement with the Democratic House speaker.

Legislators face a rapidly approaching deadline to fine-tune marijuana regulations and potentially another round of budget cuts -- and they can't afford to be distracted by daily Trump controversies, said DeLeo.

"Sometimes, my role is to act as a policeman and say, 'OK, we've talked about that, now we've got this going on,'" said the Winthrop Democrat, who was overwhelmed by the Trump chatter during a recent Democratic caucus.

"I found myself just dealing so much with reps talking about Donald Trump that I decided I'm just going to have just one caucus strictly to hear from members on that," he said, adding he hopes to focus on local priorities like fighting opiate addiction.

"I think it's important that I, as speaker, try to bring people back here into what's going on in Massachusetts."

DeLeo noted, however, that if the obsession is a bit much, leaders must keep close watch on Trump's federal budget and the Obamacare repeal, which could slash $9 billion from MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program. It could also jeopardize $52.4 billion in federal funds toward restructuring that program.

"We always have to know what's going on in Washington, and we always have to be prepared, whether it's funding, laws or whatever. But on the other hand, let's not forget about Massachusetts," DeLeo said.

State Rep. Jim Miceli (D-Wilmington), who was first elected in 1977, said the Trump panic on Beacon Hill could be historic.

"I have seen many folks elected president over the years, and I've never seen members oppose a president this strongly," he said. "We are being besieged by a lot of the folks who are getting very defensive about Trump."