Capitol Alert

Where California and Trump could clash over the next four (or more) years

Donald Trump claimed the presidency with a decisive electoral victory, but he was just as soundly defeated in California, where Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won by the largest margin in 80 years.

It underscores a tension between deep-blue California and the wave that swept Trump to the White House, which will likely only intensify throughout his term.

The state’s overwhelmingly Democratic politicians are already publicly rebuking Trump, setting California up to become the center of dissent and legal challenges to his agenda over the next four (or more) years. Here are six key areas that could produce significant political clashes:

Health care

The stakes are high for California with the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal as soon as possible.

California embraced the law more aggressively than any other state, enrolling more than 1.3 million residents in plans through its insurance exchange and adding more than 3.8 million to Medi-Cal, its low-income health program, after eligibility was expanded under the ACA. Uninsured rates have dropped by more than half, to 11 percent last year.

It’s not clear how Trump plans to dismantle the complex law or what form a replacement might take, but California stands to lose as much as $20 billion in federal subsidies for private insurance plans and Medi-Cal patients.

State policymakers are already wringing their hands about how to plug the holes. While millions of Californians could be left unable to afford coverage, replacing the subsidies would require a prohibitively massive chunk of the state’s stretched General Fund.


Liberals have raised some of their most urgent alarms over Trump’s ability to appoint one or more new members to the U.S. Supreme Court, and what that could mean for key decisions such as Roe v. Wade, which secures abortion rights.

Though a longstanding priority for conservatives, a reversal on Roe is unlikely to come anytime soon: A majority of current members on the court struck down the most recent attempt to undermine abortion access. And while Trump has vowed to pick judges who oppose abortion, a future majority might still be unwilling to go so far as overturning precedent.

That means the battle could turn to new limitations proposed by conservative states and how many the Supreme Court is willing to uphold, creating a patchwork of access across the country. In that case, California, which has arguably the strongest political advocacy for abortion rights of any state, would not be affected.

Even if Roe is ultimately reversed, Californians will still be protected. In 2002, the Legislature passed the Reproductive Privacy Act, guaranteeing a woman’s “fundamental right to choose to bear a child or obtain an abortion.”


In a place as immigrant-friendly as California – one of the Legislature’s major policy priorities last year was expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented children – perhaps the biggest fight brewing with Trump is over his pledge to deport or incarcerate undocumented immigrants who are criminals, a number he believes could be as high as 3 million.

Political leaders have denounced the proposal, which would have a disproportionate impact on the state’s communities and economy. Of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, about 2.3 million live in California – more than any other state.

Resistance has already been building for years. A 2013 state law known the Trust Act bars jails from holding onto undocumented immigrants for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement unless they have been convicted of or charged with serious offenses.

But that does not prevent local officials sympathetic to the deportation push from communicating with federal authorities to scoop up immigrants when they are released, and Trump could pursue new laws in Congress that supersede tough stances like California’s.

Other fights could come over Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” municipalities such as San Francisco that do not cooperate with immigration authorities, and his efforts to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Climate change

After Trump’s victory, Gov. Jerry Brown vowed that California would “continue to confront the existential threat of our time – devastating climate change.” The statement made clear that a priority for Brown’s final years in office will be counteracting a president who has dismissed climate change as a Chinese hoax.

While California has doubled down in recent years on its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, through programs such as cap-and-trade and an increasing reliance on clean energy sources, Trump has promised to pull out of the international Paris Agreement on climate change that Obama signed last year, undo his Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and step up production of fossil fuels on federal lands and coastlines.

Those actions wouldn’t override the significant steps California has taken, but Trump’s efforts to slash “job-killing regulations” might weaken state protections or send lawmakers scrambling to respond. A group of U.S. senators is preemptively trying to block new oil drilling off the West Coast.

Aggressive action might also embolden environmentally minded Democrats to push even further on pollution and energy efficiency rules as a message to other states, similar to California’s go-it-alone approach during the Bush years.

High-speed rail

Could Trump, who lamented in March that China has “trains that go 300 miles per hour” while “We have trains that go chug, chug, chug,” be a boon for California’s high-speed rail?

The troubled project is more than $40 billion short of the estimated funding needed for construction, and since an infusion of stimulus money during the economic recession, Republican-controlled Congress has repeatedly voted to cut off federal support for the rail.

Trump said that a massive infrastructure bill will be one of his first priorities in office – perhaps offering hundreds of billions in tax credits to private investors to finance $1 trillion worth of projects.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan is resistant to any new government spending; in September, he laughed at questions about Trump’s proposal.

And even if Congress does approve the bill, it might still block any funding for California’s bullet train. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield is one of the project’s fiercest critics.


Trump shocked many Californians in May when he declared at a campaign event in Fresno, “There is no drought.”

Echoing the frustrations of Central Valley farmers, he blamed the state’s water shortage, now in its fifth year, on wasting resources to protect the endangered Delta smelt that could instead be used for agriculture.

Though Trump can’t simply turn a faucet in the federally operated Central Valley Project to divert more water to farms, his election does improve the prospects for longstanding Republican efforts to boost storage and increase irrigation deliveries. A bill to scale back an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration program, speed up studies of potential storage projects and mandate pumping to farms south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been stuck in Congress for years.

Northern California Democrats and Brown, who had an ally in the Obama administration, oppose the plan that they worry would take their water supply and undermine the health of the Delta. The state can push back through the considerable authority it wields in regulating California water rights.

Environmental groups are also concerned about two landmark federal laws, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, with a significant impact on how the state directs its water resources. Trump could seek to lower regulatory standards that tie up water for environmental purposes.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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