Vowing to fight President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration, Rep. Xavier Becerra on Wednesday soared through another major hurdle on his way to becoming California attorney general.
Becerra, a Los Angeles Democrat, told the Senate Rules Committee that he takes the role of the state’s top cop “very seriously” and is poised to defend what he characterized as progress on strengthening the state’s social safety net – including access to health care for millions of Californians – as well as immigrants’ rights, climate change legislation and state-enacted gun control measures.
“We are a forward leaning state. We’re not looking to go back in time,” Becerra said. “When we enact innovative, ground-breaking laws for our people, we have every right to defend them...we can teach a few people in this country what it means to govern as an open, welcome society that believes everyone should have a chance to work hard and prosper.”
Becerra also said he’d defend and enforce recently approved voter-enacted ballot initiatives to speed up the death penalty process and legalize recreational marijuana.
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“It is far smarter to regulate marijuana than it is to criminalize it,” he said.
In a 3-1 vote, the Senate Rules Committee recommended that Becerra be confirmed in the full Senate, a week after the state Assembly approved his nomination to succeed newly elected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the state’s top cop. If confirmed, Becerra, the son of Mexican immigrants, would become the state’s first Latino to head the Department of Justice. Gov. Jerry Brown tapped him in December to fill the position vacated by Harris.
The full Senate is expected to take up Becerra’s final confirmation on Monday.
Becerra, 58, faced few challenges in Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, though Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte – the lone Republican lawmaker to vote against Becerra’s confirmation – voiced concern over his stance on immigrants’ rights, gun control measures and whether he could remain independent when writing ballot language for proposed statewide initiatives, a responsibility of the state attorney general.
Becerra’s clipped response – a simple “yes” – represented a measured yet confident composure he held for the duration of the five-hour hearing. At times, he struck a combative tone when faced with criticism over his voting record in Congress and his stance on politically divisive issues, such as reproductive rights, equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and protections for jurisdictions that declare themselves places of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
Should the federal government move to withhold funding as retaliation for California’s stances on such issues, Becerra is prepared to sue, he said when pressed by state Senate leaders.
“I will do everything, up to and including, suing the federal government,” Becerra told Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “I am prepared to defend the rights of all Californians...I don’t care who the president is. The president does not have the right to eviscerate (peoples’) constitutional rights.”
De León, chairman of the rules committee, repeatedly and successfully sought Becerra’s assurance that he would not shy away from a legal fight against the incoming Trump administration, should state officials deem it necessary. De León, for example, said Becerra must be prepared to preserve and expand access to health care, prevent mass deportations that “tear families apart” and battle those who consider climate change a “hoax.”
His comments come roughly two weeks after the state Legislature hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his Washington, D.C.-based firm Covington & Burling, to assist with legal challenges posed by policy conflicts with the Trump Administration.
“We have some rough turbulence ahead and it will take an all-hands-on-deck approach to weather that potential chaos,” de León said. “The president-elect has no clue how to run a government and I don’t think he has any plans to. Instead, he’ll delegate to his band of billionaires and conspiracy theorists...who threaten to systematically dismantle protections that ensure opportunity and fairness for all under the law.
“They will kill regulations that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the rights of all people, regardless of where they come from and who they love.”
De León also repeatedly pressed Becerra to commit to serving as state attorney general beyond next year, saying the Legislature is “not looking for a caretaker...but someone who is going to dedicate himself or herself to the position given the very luminous threats on the horizon.”
“My intent is to serve in this position....more than two years,” Becerra said.
Angela Hart: 916-321-1178, @ahartreports