Capitol Alert

‘Low-life politicians’ to blame for nation’s immigration impasse, Jerry Brown says

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday delivered a blunt message to the Republicans he blames for the country’s dysfunctional immigration system. “I think it’s time to just chill, recognize the fact that they’re here,” Brown said of the country’s undocumented immigrants.

“With all the other talk and noise about the border, the fact is America has 10 to 11 million people that are here,” he continued. “And they’re human beings, they have families, it’s very important that they be integrated in a humane, intelligent way.”

Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, part of a brief visit to the nation’s capital, Brown lamented how the immigration debate has become “an inflammatory football that very low-life politicians like to exploit. And I think it’s shocking, it’s despicable and it’s harmful to California, mostly to the people.”

It would be hard to interpret Brown’s comment as anything other than a swipe at President Trump, who has made illegal immigration a focal point of his run to the White House and has sparred with California repeatedly over the state’s immigration policies.

“If Trump wants to round ‘em up like some totalitarian government and ship them out, then say that,” the governor said. “But he doesn’t say that because the American people will repudiate him and the party.”

But Brown also emphasized that it’s Congress, not the president, that is truly to blame for the current dysfunction. “Everyone wants to talk about Trump but the Republicans in Congress are the guilty party, they make laws. The other fella is supposed to execute them.”

The governor also defended the state’s sanctuary law, currently being challenged by the Trump administration in court. Brown noted that the version of the legislation he signed into law last fall was “very measured.”

“I substantially modified the original provisions,” Brown noted. “We’re going to have some court lawsuits and maybe they’ll further delineate it.”

And he dismissed speculation that the state is prepared to compromise with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its authority to limit auto emissions. “The idea that we’re going to roll back the auto standards is absurd,” Brown said. “We’re not going to do that.”

The governor warned the state would pursue legal action to protect the fuel economy standards it is requiring automakers to hit by 2025. In 2012, the Obama administration decided to implement those standards nationally. “We’re not backing off,” Brown said, “and I believe we have the legal horsepower to block the immediate legal moves by the Trump administration.”

He pointed out that other countries are moving ahead with similar standards, which creates an incentive for the automakers to comply, regardless of what the EPA decides. “The auto companies can’t have fragmented rules,” Brown explained. “China is the biggest auto market. And California is the biggest auto market in America. And between California and China, (EPA Administrator Scott) Pruitt has met his match.”

Brown also took direct aim at the president later Tuesday morning in a speech at the National Building Trades Union’s annual legislative conference, where he gave a full-throated defense of organized labor. And he called for more federal infrastructure spending to help rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges and rails. “Donald, where is the money?” Brown shouted, to cheers from the packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton. He left to a standing ovation.

Brown, 80, is in the final months of his second stint as California governor, but he rejected the notion that his swing through D.C. was some sort of valedictory tour.

“I’m not riding off into the sunset,” Brown promised reporters at the Press Club. “You can be sure that you’ll hear from me.”

He did not, moreover, rule out a presidential run in 2020. “I’ve done a number of those,” he said to laughs, referring to his three failed bids for the Democratic nomination in 1976, 1980, and 1992. When the moderator pointed out that wasn’t a “yes” or “no” answer, the governor responded, “I’m not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ kind of a guy.”

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei