Previewing an adversarial relationship between California and the federal government over the next four years, legislative leaders opened a new session on Monday by vowing to preserve California’s liberal agenda and passing a resolution rejecting President-elect Donald Trump’s hardline immigration stance.
Members of both houses directly confronted Trump’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric, which has included calls to deport millions and block immigration by Muslims. Lawmakers passed a resolution that says “California stands unified in rejecting the politics of hatred and exclusion” and exhorts Trump “to not pursue mass deportation strategies that needlessly tear families apart, or target immigrants for deportation based on vague and unjustified criteria.”
“We have all heard the insults, we have all heard the lies, and we have all heard the threats,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, adding of an undocumented immigrant population that is the nation’s largest, “if you want to get to them, you have to go through us.”
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, opened his chamber’s business by accepting the election results but rebuffing Trump. He urged Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to “treat immigrant families and children humanely, with a modicum of dignity and respect.”
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“They are hard-working, upstanding members of our society who contribute billions of dollars to our economic activity and tax revenue to our state each year,” de León said.
The immediate challenge to Trump drew criticism from Republican members who said Democrats were demonizing a man who had not yet taken office. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said the tactic “seeks to flare up tension between communities.”
“To throw down a gauntlet and say ‘here we go’ without ever having time to discuss this” is inappropriate, said Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside.
But dark warnings about the coming Trump administration set the tone, with Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, saying the president-elect had advocated “ethnic cleansing policies.”
With fiery language that broke from his usually staid public demeanor, Rendon said California faces a “major existential threat.” He spurred raucous applause for an apparent dig at Trump aide Stephen Bannon, saying that “white nationalists and anti-Semites have no business working in the White House.” Bannon’s Breitbart website has drawn admiration from nationalists and opponents of multiculturalism as well as criticism for pushing bigotry into mainstream discourse.
“It is up to us to pass policies that would firewall Californians and what we believe from the cynical, short sighted, and reactionary agenda that is rising in the wake of the election,” Rendon said, adding that “unity must be separated from complicity...Californians do not need healing. We need to fight.”
Specifically, Rendon said California would seek to preserve reproductive rights for women, ensure people can find health care coverage, shield Muslims and LGBT people “or anyone whose rights and safety are increasingly under fire” and send a message that “if you are an immigrant you are welcome here.”
Legislators also announced measures to fund legal services for immigrants facing deportation and allocate money for training public defenders in immigration law.
Branding a trio of bills a “Fight for California” package, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens said he would introduce bills prohibiting state agencies from furnishing the federal government with information about a person’s religion, an effort to stymie a database of Muslim Americans; require voter approval of a border wall through environmentally sensitive parts of California; and bar contracting with private immigrant detention facilities, an idea that Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed this year in deference to the Department of Homeland Security reviewing private contracting.
“We’re going to fight for California and for our values of democracy, freedom, and basic human decency,” Lara said a in statement.
Election gains have handed Democrats two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature, allowing them to pass bills that raise taxes without Republican input. That could ease the way to long-sought deals to better fund transportation repairs and affordable housing, issues that Rendon called “crises.”
“If we don’t step up and solve them,” he warned, “our economy will decline and the people we represent will suffer.”
Rendon went on to call for a bipartisan fix. But the Senate Transportation Committee leader on Monday introduced legislation to fund transportation repairs by increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fee, a proposal that has formerly stalled for lack of Republican support.
“No matter what else we accomplish together,” de León said in prepared remarks, “if we don’t comprehensively address the lack of investment in affordable housing and our crumbling roads, bridges, parks and water resources, it will continue to be a drag on the quality of life of our communities.”