Bill Whalen

Newsom, Feinstein experiences this week fell on both sides of hot and cold spectrum

To survive February is to appreciate climate change. The mercury can soar into the 70s and 80s, just as easily as Mother Nature can inflict rain and snow. Temperate and frigid likewise apply to what two California politicians encountered this past week.

Gov. Newsom, making his first visit to the nation’s capital since taking office, stayed on the warm side. He had positive things to say about his encounter with President Trump’s point man on disaster aid. There was no heated talk about the anti-Trump “resistance,” even while in Trump’s proximity at a White House black-tie event.

That’s in contrast to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s frosty encounter back here in California with a youth climate change advocacy group. A bunch of kids used their field trip to Feinstein’s San Francisco field office to lecture California’s senior senator on the coming horrors of a warming planet.

Feinstein was cordial at first, but it didn’t take long for her to lecture the kids on their impudence. A pleasant video it wasn’t. And it’s a Halloween reminder: If you plan on trick-or-treating at Sen. Feinstein’s house, don’t come dressed as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

My guess is that Feinstein’s staff will more thoroughly vet the senator’s visitors moving forward. As for Newsom, can he be both defiant and deferential in his approach to the Trump regime?

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You’ll note that California’s governor praised Peter Gaynor, who’s the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and, as such, a stumbling block for getting recovery funds to the Golden State. But there’s a world of difference between praising a Trump aide and Trump himself.

To his credit, Newsom didn’t take the bait when he was excluded from additions Trump made to his Council of Governors – five Democrats and five Republicans who advise the president and his cabinet on national defense, homeland security, civil support missions and disaster response. Trump chose the newly-elected governor of a big blue state – Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker.

Nor was Newsom present for the unveiling a so-called “Governors Coalition for Tax Fairness” – i.e., the Democratic governors of Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Oregon, who are trying to turn up the heat on Congress to revisit the Trump tax cuts’ limit on the deductibility of state and local taxes.

Why isn’t Newsom a part of that coalition (for now, at least)? Maybe he wasn’t asked. A more likely explanation: He already has an invaluable friend in high places, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Why toil in the vineyard when you already know the manager of the operation?

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Bill Whalen

Newsom did meet with reporters. But he didn’t do the Sunday morning talk circuit. Policy seminars with his fellow governors – Newsom was in town for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association – gave way to less splashy one-one-meetings with a select few governors, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the acting Interior Secretary, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., plus Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

That’s a very business-like approach to a California governor’s time in Washington. And it bodes well for Newsom meeting a very high gravitas bar set by his predecessor.

As a high profile leader of the “resistance,” Newsom has an open invitation to appear on the likes of CNN and MSNBC and blast away at Trump. It’s catnip for the Washington press corps.

But in Washington, the goal for a California governor isn’t visibility. It’s getting results. That means working the administration and checking in with congressional leaders.

Newsom checked those boxes this week.

Which is why there was nothing checkered about his first gubernatorial visit to Washington.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.
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