Shortly after he was sworn in as California’s new attorney general, Xavier Becerra, a longtime liberal Democrat from Los Angeles, said he intends to “officially” form a campaign committee and launch a 2018 run for the influential post as the state’s top cop.
“I’m committed to do this work as long as the people of the state of California will allow me to ... 2018 is around the corner,” Becerra said after he was sworn in Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown. “Now that I’m official, can’t take it away from me … I hope that I can prove to the people of this state that I will be able to earn their support to be re-elected.”
In letters submitted Tuesday morning to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Becerra resigned from the House seat he’s held since 1993. At 58, he is the first Latino in California history to head the state’s Department of Justice.
Becerra is Brown’s pick to succeed U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November. In stepping down from Congress after 24 years, Becerra is expected to mount the first line of defense against President Donald Trump and his new administration should federal proposals conflict with state initiatives on climate change, health care, criminal justice and immigration.
In comments Tuesday, Becerra positioned himself as experienced and well-positioned to tackle a turbulent two years ahead, having served more than two decades in elected office in Washington. In a series of confirmation hearings over the past two weeks, he has vowed – reluctantly at times – to sue the federal government to protect California’s laws and residents. In a news conference, he offered several sports metaphors and said he sees his role, along with the governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature, as critical.
“We’re a team,” Becerra said. “I’ll run, catch, block. You let me know what you need me to do.”
Becerra said he plans to begin his tenure meeting with other attorneys general across the country “so we can start charting a path together.” He views former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as a friend and close ally, saying “the more we prove we’re ready to take on any battle, the more prepared we’ll be.” Democrats in the Legislature this month hired Holder and his Washington, D.C.-based firm, Covington & Burling, to assist with legal challenges posed by policy conflicts with the Trump administration.
Already, Trump’s administration has taken initial steps Brown and Democrats in the Legislature have characterized as defiant to California’s blue-leaning values. Trump has taken executive action supporting the dismantling of Obamacare, which has allowed the state to expand health care access for 5 million Californians. Trump has threatened to strip federal funds from states that declare themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. And some of his Cabinet nominees, including Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, have cast doubt on the science around human-caused climate change.
“Job one is the security of the people of California and ensuring that all of our laws are enforced fairly. I want you to know we’ve got your back,” Becerra said. “I don’t think California is looking to pick a fight. But we’re ready for one.”
In public comments this week, Becerra said making the jump from Congress to attorney general has been a difficult decision, one that he has weighed very carefully with his wife and three daughters. He has characterized himself as unafraid to wade into divisive political battles, touting stances he’s taken in Congress against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, tax breaks for the wealthy and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that largely barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage that has since been overturned.
Becerra has also denounced stop-and-frisk, while voicing strong support for criminal-justice reform, state efforts to combat climate change and strengthened gun control measures.
Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly opposed Becerra’s nomination, with some voicing opposition to his stance on protections for undocumented immigrants and others, saying his promise to take on Trump is antagonistic and could threaten billions of federal dollars that California receives every year.