Essential Politics: California Democrats plot Trump resistance

As President Trump enjoyed a royal welcome and promised he would not “lecture” more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations on how their governments should function, Democrats in the most populous state — and one of the most liberal — in the nation gathered to figure out the best path forward for resisting his presidency. What does the changing of the guard in California portend for the next few years?

I’m Christina Bellantoni, and with that deep thought, welcome to the Monday edition of Essential Politics.

Trump’s first international trip takes him today to Israel. We’re closely covering the action on Essential Washington. Mike Memoli is traveling with the president. Check out his dispatches from the first few days: looking at how Trump was received in Saudi Arabia and his call for religious tolerance in the first major speech of his journey, describing the fight against extremism as “a battle between good and evil.”


It’s unclear how the trip might shift attention away from the continual fallout over Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey. But Friday was, by any account, a bad day for the White House.

Here’s our look at the pair of late afternoon scoops from the New York Times and the Washington Post about what Trump told a pair of Russian envoys about the firing and how the FBI investigation reached directly into the White House for the first time.

Want a refresher of the week that was? Colleen Shalby and Michael Finnegan broke it down day by day.


We had a full slate of reporters covering the California Democratic Party Convention in Sacramento over the weekend. Seema Mehta, Christine Mai-Duc, Phil Willon, Melanie Mason, Cathleen Decker and John Myers were all over each and every twist and turn during the jam-packed few days.

A raucous, chaotic weekend at the convention ended with establishment favorite Eric Bauman being named chair, but not without some verbal sparring on the floor and promises from his opponent that the race is not over.

“I will not concede this race until we have validated the results,” Kimberly Ellis told supporters who rallied at nearby Cesar Chavez Park on Sunday. Ellis and her campaign team have called for an audit of the election results, which showed Ellis losing to Bauman by just over 60 votes. State party officials say they have agreed to her request.

The results and widespread, unfounded rumors by Ellis delegates that some ballots had been destroyed or were counted twice led to protests and prompted many in the convention hall to walk out during Bauman’s speech Sunday, after outgoing chair John Burton declared him the new party chair.

Ellis said that she and her advisors plan to stay in Sacramento for the next few days to review each ballot and that she will make a final statement after the audit.

The team looked at the battle of liberal versus more liberal.

Decker examined how the reign of the state party’s old guard — including Dianne Feinstein, Jerry Brown and Nancy Pelosi — effectively ended at convention, part of a shift both generational and ideological that is altering power across the country and in the nation’s biggest Democratic state. Whoever fills the vacuum will answer defining questions, she writes: How far left will the California Democratic Party now go? Will its movement backfire?

The convention also gave Democratic activists their first long look at the party’s cadre of gubernatorial hopefuls plus a few other big-names who might jump into the race in the near future. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and state schools chief Delaine Eastin all were more than happy to bash Trump and each did their best to telegraph their main campaign themes that voters will no doubt be seeing over the next year or so. Tom Steyer and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also made appearances, stirring up speculation that they may jump into the race — but both deflected when asked about that.

In other convention news:

— So-called Berniecrats and left-leaning progressives showed up in full force, resolving to “misbehave” at a dinner Friday and protesting outside the governor’s mansion Saturday afternoon.

— Chiang delivered a brief speech on Saturday, pledging to ensure that California takes “a different road” than the one offered by Trump.

— Eastin made her pitch.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla urged Democrats to “make defense of voting rights” a party mantra, while also taking a jab at Trump’s voter fraud allegations.

Rep. Adam Schiff offered his case for the party, suggesting his own ambitions for higher office.

Rep. Maxine Waters was cut off while speaking. Her audience wasn’t happy.

— “The California bear don’t scare,” Garcetti told the crowd.

— A crew of California’s top Democratic strategists urged convention-goers to “persist” — and capped the campaign off with a West Coast version of the “Fearless Girl” statue on Wall Street.

— Democrats at the event believed that they’ve got a chance to knock off some vulnerable Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation. That sentiment was most clearly articulated by Sen. Kamala Harris in her Saturday convention speech. “If you vote for people to lose their healthcare,” she said about the recent House vote to repeal Obamacare, “then you need to lose your job.”

— Burton lived up to his reputation, bidding farewell with profanity.

To keep up with state politics, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.


Newsom, the front-runner in the governor’s race, is facing a thicket of political trouble in a court fight over the California shoreline. As lieutenant governor, he chairs the state Lands Commission, which is suing San Francisco to invalidate a 2014 ballot measure that limits waterfront development.

Finnegan reports that the case pits Newsom and his allies in the real estate industry against the Sierra Club, among others. With Newsom touting his environmental record, the case, set for trial in September, is an awkward one for his campaign. One silver lining for Newsom: His rival Chiang was also on the Lands Commission when it filed the lawsuit.


The debate over cap and trade, one of California’s premier programs for fighting global warming, hinges on different interpretations about convoluted tax rules. While most measures require only a majority vote, taxes require two-thirds support in each house of the Legislature. Some lawmakers believe they can push forward with extending the program with a simple majority vote, which would make it easier to reach a deal.

Chris Megerian reports that Brown doesn’t want to accept anything less than a two-thirds vote, a higher threshold that would insulate the program from accusations that it’s an unconstitutional tax because it requires companies to buy permits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As Brown focuses on the bigger picture, he should turn his attention to one basic program here at home, George Skelton argues in his Monday column: the state’s recycling program.


“Am I getting money from Russia? No,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told a reporter from The Hill newspaper Friday.

The question stemmed from a Washington Post story this week that disclosed an audio recording from last year in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said he thought Rohrabacher and then-candidate Trump were being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin.


With businesses expected to get state licenses in January to sell marijuana in California, the top regulator said they will be given up to six months to comply with a requirement the pot be thoroughly tested by a licensed laboratory.

And alarmed by several explosions in residential areas caused by drug processing labs, the state Assembly voted to ban home manufacturing of marijuana concentrates using volatile solvents.


Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León remains coy on his 2018 plans but he continues to collect cash for whatever he’s up to next. Mason reports that on June 8, he’ll be hobnobbing with donors at the Bel-Air home of entertainment mogul (and Los Angeles Dodgers and Golden State Warriors co-owner) Peter Guber. Later that month, he’ll be feted at a dinner at the Palm in downtown L.A. Both events will be raising money for his lieutenant governor 2018 campaign account.


While Democrats railed against the influence of big money on politics at the convention, an undeniable truth remains: the state party is the king of cash in California elections.

In his Sunday column, Myers tallied up the supersized political spending of the California Democratic Party — money that has come, in large amounts, from some of the same corporations that liberal activists criticize the most.


Newly energized residents are giving Democrats hope they can claim at least some of the congressional seats in Orange County that have been red for a generation.

Despite the vocal optimism from activists and local dissatisfaction with Trump, it will be an uphill battle for Democrats to flip the four heavily Republican congressional districts there, all but one of which the incumbent won in 2016 by double digits.

Sarah D. Wire has the story from Orange County on what Democrats have to do if they plan to win there.


— This week’s California Politics Podcast offers a glimpse at the swirling political themes that faced state Democrats this weekend, and what it might mean for the 2018 elections.

— A letter sent to L.A. voters ahead of last week’s election tried to shame voters into turning out to the polls and no one knows for sure who sent it.

— Supporters of a bid to make California an independent nation are filing another proposed ballot measure.

— Matt Pearce takes a look at the history of witch hunts.

— California’s delegation was largely supportive of the Justice Department’s pick for a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s Russia investigation, but Democrats are still pushing for an independent commission to study how the Russian interference happened.

— The state Senate approved a measure Thursday that could loosen sentencing for gun crimes.

Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and 14 other states took legal action to try to preserve Affordable Care Act funds that insurance companies receive to lower costs for some Americans.

Rep. Eric Swalwell and his wife Brittany welcomed their first child, a boy named Nelson.


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