Gov. Jerry Brown, in his most extensive remarks since the election last month, took a measured approach to President-elect Donald Trump on Monday, breaking with fellow California Democrats by avoiding partisan rejoinders while pledging not to retreat from the state’s progressive policy approaches on issues from immigration to health care.
Brown said he will continue to press his signature issue of addressing climate change, contending it will be difficult for the U.S. to “go rogue” on the topic regardless of who is president, particularly with China and European leaders bolstering their responses.
“The science is clear and the consequences are dire. So, based on those two facts, I think Washington will come around,” Brown told reporters in his office. “To the extent they don’t, we are going to be pushing as hard as we can from California.”
Brown said his office is still delving into the cross-currents of waivers, funding streams and legal interactions between California and the federal government that the next president can affect.
“We don’t know what it means,” Brown said of Trump’s Nov. 8 victory. “It is certainly different.”
State legislative leaders were not as cautious.
Moments after the governor spoke, they opened a new session by directly confronting Trump’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric, which has included calls to deport millions and block immigration by Muslims, in passing a resolution rejecting the president-elect’s hardline stance.
The resolution states that “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.” Lawmakers paired the call with announced legislation to fund legal services for immigrants facing deportation and allocate money for training public defenders in immigration law.
Other proposed bills would bar providing the federal government with religious information that could be used for a database of American Muslims, let Californians vote down a border wall in environmentally sensitive areas and prohibit the state from contracting with for-profit immigrant detention companies.
“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. Speaking of an undocumented immigration population that is the nation's largest, he said, “if you want to get to them, you have to go through us.”
Rendon, stepping out of his usually staid public demeanor, said California faces a “major existential threat.” He drew raucous applause for a dig at Trump adviser 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.
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,” Rendon said.
“Unity must be separated from complicity,” he added. “Californians do not need healing, we need to fight.”
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.”
“In the coming weeks and months, this institution will once again become a conveyor belt of bold ideas to California’s most pressing priorities,” said de León, who also used the speech to denounce nascent efforts to secede from the United States.
“We have much to do over the next two years – and the voters have elected the right women and men to do it.”
The immediate challenge to Trump drew criticism from Republican members. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, accused her colleagues of fomenting “tensions between communities” by prejudging a man who hasn’t yet taken office.
The resolution “was written with the intention of making a national statement on California’s behalf without any process, without any conversation, without any transparency,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, who called it “a politically self-serving attempt to cynically stoke fear and anxiety.”
In the meeting with reporters Monday, with attorney general nominee Xavier Becerra by his side, Brown took a longer view, arguing that California’s stances on water, free or low-cost health care and education have repeatedly conflicted with federal positions over the years.
The fourth-term governor’s remarks were in line with his initial statement on Trump’s election, in which Brown quoted Abraham Lincoln’s warning that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and said California would do its part to find common ground. His pragmatic positioning contrasts with many Democrats outside the Legislature, some of whom are already forcefully countering Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress.
Brown and Becerra, a veteran Democratic congressman, predicted that Republican vows to repeal the Affordable Care Act, throwing millions of recipients into a state of uncertainty, will be difficult to carry out, particularly given Trump’s commitment to retaining parts of the 2010 Obamacare law.
While the governor acknowledged that any conflicts between the governments could hasten litigation, he offered, “we’ll just have to wait to see how these different issues emerge under the new president.”
“But,” Brown added, “we are going to be protective of California’s interests. You can be sure of that.”
Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.