T oday, California legislators returned to their jobs in Sacramento, facing a new year and, for the Democrats, a distressing new reality: their first session under the incoming presidency of Donald J. Trump.
Last November, in an election that turned traditional political allegiances upside down and threw at least two “reliable” blue states to the GOP, California continued its long march to the left, bringing even Orange County into the Democratic column for the first time in eight decades.
Had the election gone as pretty much everyone expected, this year, Sacramento lawmakers would have been preparing to further expand their bank of pathbreaking legislation to slow down climate change, protect immigrants, restrict gun access, extend labor protections, and advance other progressive goals.
Instead, there’s only one overriding political imperative for California’s Democratic supermajority: Resist Trump.
As Trump’s agenda rolls out over the first 100 days of his new administration, the period during which presidents traditionally seek to put legislative “points on the board,” Californians can expect to see a slew of countervailing bills emerge out of the State Capitol, touching everything from healthcare access to the civil rights of Muslims. With the Democrats in Congress stuck in a bicameral minority and with Chuck Schumer looking ready to play nice with the new president, whether we like it or not, California is now at the center of the fight to stop Trump.
Depending on how you look at it, the new spirit in California is one of defensiveness or of defiance. This morning, Democratic leaders announced that they were retaining former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to represent them in the many fights they expect to have with the Trump administration. The team Trump is assembling in the White House represents “a very clear and present danger to the economic prosperity of California,” Senate Speaker Pro Tem Kevin De León told The New York Times.
De León has made his intention to resist Trump particularly clear when it comes to immigration. Along with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senator Ben Hueso, and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, he has introduced new legislation designed to provide a layer of protection between federal law enforcement and California’s immigrant communities.
Expected to be voted on prior to Trump’s inauguration, these bills will prohibit state and local police forces from cooperating with ICE, create a fund to provide free legal counsel to every immigrant facing deportation charges, and train public defenders to assess immigration-related risks facing their clients in criminal courts. Officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles are bolstering those protections at the county and municipal levels with measures to provide local legal defense funds for immigrants. Defending these initiatives against a hostile Trump administration will inevitably be the top priority and overriding focus of Attorney General nominee Xavier Becerra, whose confirmation hearings begin next week.
The landmark environmental achievements California has made under Governor Brown (and under Schwarzenegger before him) are likewise threatened by the agenda of the President-elect, whose fossil-fuel-friendly cabinet appointments indicate an imminent wholesale abandonment of the global effort to prevent, or at least mitigate, a future of cataclysmic climate change. Brown has loudly proclaimed the state’s intention to go it alone on global warming, even if it means creating a foreign policy for the state separate from that of the country as a whole.
Addressing fears that Trump might cut earth science research by NASA and end Department of Energy funding for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other California labs that study climate change, Brown had fighting words for Trump. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend,” he told a conference of earth scientists last month. “And, if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”
In the Hunger Games world of Trump’s America, California is now District 13. Today is the start of what’s likely to be a bruising battle between Sacramento and Washington, DC, which will not let up for at least the next two years.