State Watch

Trump, Sessions escalate war with California

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday announced a new lawsuit against the state of California, escalating a war of words between the conservative administration and the liberal capital of the so-called resistance.

Sessions on Wednesday announced the administration would sue the Golden State over three laws that hinder its ability to enforce federal immigration laws.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of California and announced Wednesday by Sessions before law enforcement officers in Sacramento, is only the latest in a string of decisions the Trump administration has made that has left California politicians feeling targeted.


Sessions, who gets his name from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, invoked the Civil War in reprimanding the state, accusing it of trying to nullify federal law and secede from the Union.

“There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land,” he said. “I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg, to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown, ordinarily a cautious politician not prone to outbursts even when it comes to the Trump administration, gave an unusually passionate and at times personal rebuttal.

“This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy. It’s not wise, it’s not right, and it will not stand,” Brown said at a hastily-organized news conference just blocks from where Sessions spoke.

Brown, who referred to the attorney general as “Jeff” and to the president as “Donald,” said the administration is “full of liars” who are pleading guilty to charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. He said the lawsuit amounted to a political stunt meant to ingratiate Sessions with Trump, who Brown said would be certain to tweet his support.

“I assume, and this is pure speculation, that Jeff thinks that Donald will be happy with him,” Brown said. “Let’s face it, the Trump White House is under siege. Mueller is closing in. There are more indictments to come.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of shots taken by the federal government that have California politicians squarely on the defensive.

The administration has rolled back environmental regulations championed by California Democrats and adopted by the state. It has proposed opening the coast to offshore drilling, something even some California Republicans oppose. 

The Republican tax plan passed last year would actually raise taxes on millions of Californians by capping deductions for state and local tax payments and mortgage interest payments. And Sessions angered California legislators earlier this year when he rescinded the Cole Memo, which governed how the Justice Department would prosecute marijuana cases in states where recreational pot is legal.

“It just gets worse every day,” state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D), who heads the Senate Budget Committee, said in a recent interview. “Everything from the reversal on climate change, his blatant disrespect for immigrants — particularly those with a tint of melanin in their skin or an accent — to the GOP tax plan.”

Even before this week’s lawsuit, California Democratic leaders have verged on apoplexy as they confront an administration they believe is targeting them explicitly. In a series of interviews in Sacramento earlier this year, party leaders said they felt compelled to fight the administration on a growing variety of fronts.

“It is very clear that Donald Trump has California in the crosshairs,” said state Sen. Kevin de León (D), the state Senate president pro tem.

California has been the center of the political resistance to Trump since he was a candidate. Trump received just 31.6 percent of the vote in California in 2016, lower than any Republican presidential nominee in history. He became the first Republican since the Great Depression to fail to carry Orange County, once the hotbed of Reagan conservatism.

Things have not improved since Trump took office. His approval rating in California hovers near or below 30 percent, according to recent surveys. That gives Democrats hope for reclaiming control of the U.S. House of Representatives: Seven of California’s 14 Republican-held House districts voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

And Trump himself shows few signs of reaching out to the state. Trump became the first president since Dwight Eisenhower not to visit California during his first year in office. The White House confirmed Wednesday his first visit will take place next week.

Were he to stop by Sacramento, he would confront a phalanx of progressives furious at the administration’s latest assault on California.

“This lawsuit,” Brown said, “is going to last a lot longer than the Trump administration.”

At the moment, Brown and Trump are not scheduled to meet while Trump is in California, a spokesman for the governor’s office said. 

Tags California Climate change Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Immigration Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions Robert Mueller Tax reform the resistance

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