Protesters and supporters of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions take to Sacramento streets
President Donald Trump will soon make his first trip to California, a state that resoundingly rejected him at polls and whose elected officials have sparred with him in an escalating verbal and legal battle over federal immigration policies.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that Trump would make the trip to California next week. She did not provide details and the White House did not immediately answer follow-up questions.
Trump is expected to visit the San Diego area to inspect prototypes of the wall he seeks to build along the border with Mexico, according to a person familiar with the trip but not authorized to speak publicly. He is also expected to attend a Republican fundraiser in Beverly Hills, and rumors circulated that he would make an appearance in Fresno.
In late January, the White House asked Congress for $25 billion for border security, including a wall along the southwest border. It also asked for cuts in legal immigration.
In exchange, Trump would allow 1.8 million young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents – known as Dreamers – a chance at citizenship. Congress has so far failed to act on his proposal or any other immigration deal that would have provided significant border funding.
A California trip for Trump has long been rumored, but never materialized until now – possibly because Trump will likely be the target of protests when he does arrive. Trump lost the state to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by more than 4 million votes in 2016 and Californians have grown increasingly vocal about their opposition to his policies.
"I think it's safe to say there will be a lot of organizing to push back and make clear what we think about his policies here in the state," said Grisel Ruiz, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which provides legal aid to undocumented people.
"It's going to be an organized response throughout the state," said Carlos Montes-Ponce, a community organizer with Sacramento Area Congregations Together. "This isn't just a loose-end effort."
Ruiz and others said their early reaction to the news of Trump's trip was that the timing was "strategic."
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in Sacramento challenging the state's sanctuary laws aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.
"I'm obviously speculating to some degree, but the administration appears to be doubling down on their fear mongering, their bullying tactics, trying to use California as an example," Ruiz said.
Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown accused the Trump administration of "basically going to war" with California after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke in Sacramento.
"There is no nullification. There is no secession," Sessions said. "Federal law is 'the supreme law of the land.' I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln."
Rob Stutzman, a political strategist based in Sacramento, said Sessions' speech was "very politically charged, and he made a point of doing it in Sacramento."
"Now Trump will make his first trip to California for the supposed purpose of inspecting border wall prototypes," Stutzman said. "So the only hands-on attention California gets from the administration is to incite political conflict on immigration in a election year when Republican seats here are only really in peril if there’s a energized, extraordinary Democrat turnout. California Democrats couldn’t be more ecstatic right now."
The Trump campaign Wednesday sent an email to supporters after Sessions' Sacramento speech.
"Add your name to show you support the Department of Justice's lawsuit against 'sanctuary state' California," the email read.
Trump was expected to visit California after his State of the Union address in January. Instead, Vice President Mike Pence visited the Texas-Mexico border and meet with border law enforcement about fighting drug and human smuggling.
When asked why it had taken Trump more than a year to travel to such a large, important state, Sanders said he has been busy.
“Why it's taken so long?” she asked. “I think it's because he's been busy growing the economy, creating jobs, defeating ISIS, remaking the judiciary. I'd be happy to name off some other successes.”
Pence also visited the state in October, where he touted Republicans' tax overhaul, promised wildfire relief and held a series of fundraisers for a handful of vulnerable Republicans in Congress.
Despite the strong rhetoric from Brown and other California leaders, Trump will find some welcome pockets in California.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, send out a press release Wednesday in support of the federal lawsuit. LaMalfa represents California's northernmost counties, which are traditionally more conservative than coastal and urban cities.
"Whether Governor Brown likes it or not, those that are here illegally are breaking the law, and California cannot prohibit ICE from doing their jobs and removing them from the country," LaMalfa said.
Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, who represents a conservative inland stretch of Southern California, including Orange County and part of San Diego, put out a similar message. "The Trump Administration showed true leadership in its decision to take on our state's reckless sanctuary laws," Issa wrote.
But California's senior U.S. senator had a different message.
“The attorney general flew across the country today for the sole purpose of attacking California," said Senator Dianne Feinstein. "If the president similarly intends to use a trip to California to attack our state for political purposes, that would not be welcome.”