7 Ways California Is Fighting Back Against President Trump's Administration
By Katy Steinmetz April 6, 2017
In a big, red year for Republicans, California was one of the few places in America that got even bluer in 2016. As the largest of only five states that emerged with Democrats controlling both chambers of the legislature and the governor's desk, the Golden State quickly promised a wall of resistance to conservative policies coming out of Washington, D.C. And as President Donald Trump approaches his 100-day mark, Californians have beefed up vows to push back with legislation and lawsuits.
The relationship hasn't been all hostile. Trump approved hundreds of millions of dollars to help California recoup from ravaging winter storms after Gov. Jerry Brown appealed for assistance. In his State of the State address earlier this year, Brown also signaled that he believes infrastructure is an area where "we can all work together."
But much of the action in California — where Trump began his tenure with the lowest approval rating of any president in the past 60 years — has been persistently defiant. Here are seven examples.
Climate change conflict
Before Trump even took office, Brown said that if the president backed down from climate change research, "California will launch its own damn satellite." After Trump released a proposed budget gutting funds related to that work, Brown said he conferred with officials from other states and countries about how to fill the gap, promising a California-charged "countermovement."
The state has meanwhile reaffirmed its commitment to strict greenhouse gas emission regulations, as Trump has moved to roll back those back at the federal level, which may lead to a showdown in court. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has joined other states in threatening to sue the federal government if it delays issuing energy efficiency standards for products like ceiling fans and air conditioners. California can pressure businesses to cater to greener standards by setting them at the state level, because many companies can't afford to miss out on selling their products in the world's sixth-largest economy.
Sanctuary state (and city) showdowns
On April 3, the California Senate passed a "sanctuary state" bill in defiance of Trump's promises to starve such jurisdictions of federal funds. The measure would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources to aid in federal immigration enforcement. The bill's author, state Sen. Kevin de León, accused the Trump Administration of "spreading fear and promoting race-based scapegoating" toward immigrants, while pursuing "inhuman and counter-productive mass deportations."
While that measure may mean a coming legal fight between California and the Department of Justice, which has already announced that it will deny grants to sanctuary cities and states, other lawsuits have already been filed. San Francisco sued over the Trump Administration's threats to deny federal dollars to cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, as did the county of Santa Clara. Dozens of cities, including Los Angeles and the state capital of Sacramento, have signed on to the latter suit.
The same day that the state Senate passed the "sanctuary state" bill, those lawmakers also passed a measure that would dedicate $12 million to defending immigrants in deportation proceedings. (Though immigrants have a right to counsel in those cases, the government has long had "no obligation to provide an attorney for those who are unable to afford one," as one law review article put it.) The move comes as Trump has expanded the types of immigrants being targeted for deportation and instructed agencies to more aggressively enforce immigration laws. Several other bills that would bolster immigrant protections have yet to be voted on by a full legislative chamber.
Border wall boycotts
The Bay Area cities of Oakland and Berkeley have both passed measures that would deny city contracts to firms that take part in building Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. San Francisco is considering a similar proposal. "It goes beyond symbolic protest of the wall at the border and basically makes a statement through San Francisco's action in the marketplace that the city will not be complicit with the building of this wall in any way," says San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen, the bill's author.
California, along with several other states, is considering another tactic that uses money as a stick: requiring public pension funds — the nation's largest — to divest from any companies that help build the barrier. "This is a wall of shame and we don’t want any part of it," Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco-area Democrat, said in a statement about the proposal. "Immigrant stories are the history of America and this is a nightmare.” A poll conducted by the University of California at Berkeley found that California voters oppose the wall by a three-to-two margin.
Russian interference and tax returns
A bill currently in the state Assembly's committee on education would require that a California commission consider adding material on "Russian interference with the 2016 United States presidential election" to high school history textbooks. Another resolution passed by the state Senate, which is toothless beyond expressing the sentiment of lawmakers, calls on Congress to order a bipartisan, independent investigation into any ties Trump, his presidential campaign or his "business empire" might have with Russia.
Both that measure and another resolution also call on the President to release his tax returns, "including any pertinent documentation which can reveal foreign interests and financial interests which may put Donald Trump in conflict with the interests of this nation."
Protecting legal marijuana markets
In an interview shortly after the election, a representative of the cannabis growers industry in California told TIME that many farmers feel safer, despite uncertainty about whether Trump might crack down on marijuana. Their reason? In 2016, voters in the state legalized recreational pot and California is now working with the industry to legitimize cannabis as a crop. “For the first time in the history of my life, at least, the state government is our ally," said the California Growers Association's Hezekiah Allen.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has denounced legalizing marijuana, has sent mixed messages about how strongly the feds might go after people in states where it is legal. In the meantime, California AG Becerra has vowed to defend the will of the state. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, who plays by California’s rules deserves to know: we’ve got your back," he said at a hearing in January. Members of Congress are also planning to reintroduce an amendment to an upcoming spending bill, named after California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, that would prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to interfere with legal medical marijuana markets.
Grassroots movements and protests
When Trump's top immigration official recently came to Sacramento, hundreds — including the city's mayor — showed up to protest the actions the President has taken on refugees and undocumented immigrants. Marchers taking to the streets to push for workers' rights on Cesar Chavez's birthday in late March carried new signs this year that simply said #resiste.
The momentum has been sustained since before Trump took office, as hundreds of thousands of Californians have shown up throughout the state to march for women's rights and immigrants' rights and LGBT rights. Tech workers in Silicon Valley have been hosting hackathons to build apps that make it easier to appeal to members of Congress (often to oppose policies being pushed by Trump and other Republicans). And a quixotic movement to secede from the country — known as #CalExit — continues to forge ahead, with organizers hoping to have a vote on leaving the union in the next two years.
Most Californians don't support a declaration of independence, though Democrats (44%) are much more likely to say they would jump ship than Republicans (15%). After all, that arguably crosses a line between resisting and giving up on the idea of a more perfect union. As state Sen. de León, the author of the sanctuary state bill, said to TIME in an interview for a previous story on California's reaction to the election, "We can’t secede, we need to lead."