Becerra, Sessions and the gulf that separates us

Rep. Xavier Becerra faces a confirmation hearing for attorney general, as Gov. Jerry Brown, right, looks on.
Rep. Xavier Becerra faces a confirmation hearing for attorney general, as Gov. Jerry Brown, right, looks on. The Associated Press

One nominee dodged questions about crackdowns on illegal immigrants and said he thinks Roe v. Wade violated the Constitution, though he would respect the abortion rights decision.

The other nominee vowed to defend California’s efforts to integrate immigrants into American society, protect access to abortion, and defend California’s tough environmental and gun control laws against any overreach by Washington.

As the nominees for U.S. and California attorneys general faced confirmation hearings on Tuesday, it was hard not to count the many differences between them.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate will confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican nominated by President-elect Donald Trump. The Democratic-controlled Legislature will confirm Rep. Xavier Becerra, the L.A. Democrat nominated by Gov. Jerry Brown.

But beyond that, there weren’t many similarities. Even their hearing rooms were on opposite coasts.

The Trump era has only barely begun. But under questioning by Democrats on a special Assembly committee, Becerra made clear he will use whatever legal means exist to resist any unreasonable efforts by the new administration to infringe on California’s authority to govern its own affairs.

Sessions’ record includes votes against gay rights and for war. Becerra voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and against the war in Iraq.

Sessions said the federal government must support police. Becerra answered a question about racial profiling by recalling the time, as a McClatchy High School kid, he was stopped for no apparent reason.

As he said multiple times Tuesday, Becerra is the son of immigrants from Mexico who taught him the value of hard work and education. The Stanford Law School graduate worked for a short time as a deputy California attorney general before winning a state Assembly seat in 1990 from Los Angeles, and a congressional seat in 1992. Once Brown nominated him to replaced Sen. Kamala Harris, Becerra placed his license to practice law back on active status.

Becerra promised to find common ground with Republican legislators, and work with police to improve law enforcement. Republicans on the committee voted against his confirmation, though the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents 10,000 L.A. cops, endorsed him. But his challenge is clear.

The first question, posed by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, focused on the issue of reciprocity, perhaps the highest priority of the National Rifle Association. Legislation introduced in Congress last week would require that all states, no matter how strict their gun laws are, recognize as valid permits to carry concealed firearms granted by other states, no matter how lax their laws are.

California would be required to honor permits issued by, say, Utah, which grants permits for the asking. The bill introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson, a North Carolina Republican, has 102 co-sponsors, 100 of them Republicans, including Reps. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale and David Valadao of Hanford. The bill challenges California’s right to run its affairs as it sees fit.

“We’re not looking to go backward,” Becerra told the committee. The California attorney-general-to-be and his governor will have their work cut out for them.