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Trolling the Tweeter in Chief: California congressman stands up to Trump, using the president's favorite weapon

Has it been two months already?

Time flies when you’re on the road to becoming great again.

President Trump’s repeated promise of cheaper and better healthcare for everyone isn’t looking so hot at the moment for 24 million people or so. Investigations into votes by 5 million immigrants in this country illegally, and the phone-tapping of candidate Trump by President Obama, seem to be stalled. My mail is more racist and vulgar than ever, and the country remains split in two, with fear on one side and loathing on the other.

And we have at least three years and 10 months of greatness still to come. That means we’re likely to have thousands more broadsides from Torrance’s Tweeting Ted — Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu — who has been trying his best to outpace the Tweeter of the Free World on social media.

I’m not surprised by Lieu’s resistance. In January, after attending the Trump inauguration, I roamed the halls of Congress and talked to Southern California Reps. Tony Cardenas, Adam Schiff and Lieu, all of whom said being in the minority party didn’t mean they had to wear muzzles for four years. All three have been outspoken critics in the early going.

On that visit, I noticed that Lieu had taped a sign to his door.

“Alternative Fact Free Zone.”

It was a reference to the administration’s extraterrestrial claim that attendance at Trump’s inauguration was vastly larger than reported by the lying media.

Since then, Lieu has called Trump guru and alt-media mogul Steve Bannon “Dr. Evil.” He has demanded that U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions resign for false statements made during his confirmation hearing. He co-introduced a measure that could force a House vote on demanding documents related to Sessions and Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials.

And when the new chief of environmental protection said carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming, Lieu couldn’t help himself.

“Scott Pruitt is Making America Unscientific Again,” he tweeted.

In short, the second-term congressman from Torrance — a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and a former military prosecutor — has been like a puppy with a chew toy.

“It is NOT okay that @realDonaldTrump routinely lies and lives in a universe of #alternativefacts,” he tweeted on Feb. 8.

On Feb. 21, he tapped out another scolding:

“Lyin’ @realDonaldTrump has made 132 false or misleading claims as @POTUS.”

@tedlieu often tweets in the style and language of Trump, with capital letters, exclamation points and parentheses.

“More evidence #Trumpcare is a disaster,” said one Lieu tweet. “American Medical Association calls it critically flawed. Sad (or sick) bill!”

Trump was missing in action after the release of the GOP health reform plan, which hits many of his core supporters over the head with a mallet, judging by the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office. Just a couple of weeks ago Trump was popping off about how the bill was going to be “fantastic.” He also said, after beating up on Obamacare for months, “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.”

I thought he wrote “The Art of the Deal” and knew how to make things happen. What next? Is Trump going to discover car manufacturing has been automated, coal is yesterday’s power source and the math is tricky on tax cuts for everyone along with massive increases in military spending?

Obamacare wasn’t perfect, Lieu said, and it could have used some tweaks. But he called the GOP proposal a calamity that would slash Medicaid and threaten Medicare, among other problems. The AARP said the bill would hike costs “for those who can least afford them, eroding seniors’ ability to live independently, and giving tax breaks to big drug companies and health insurance companies.”

My tweet to Trump was, “Will new health care plan offer coverage for having your foot removed from your mouth?”

Lieu was more direct:

“Dear lyin’ @realDonaldTrump: The disaster known as #TrumpCare cuts both #Medicare and #medicaid. Did you read the bill?”

Lieu’s social media commentary took a dark turn this week in response to comments about American culture and identity by Iowa Rep. Steve King, a Trump cheerleader who sounds a lot like Steve Bannon. We need a more homogeneous U.S., said King, who praised a Dutch politician who has spoken out against Muslim immigration to Europe.

“Dear @steveKingIA: You know what makes America great?” Lieu tweeted. “You get to make obscene comments and I get to call you a stark, raving racist.”

Lieu’s family moved to the U.S. from Taiwan when he was 3. His parents worked at flea markets before starting their own gift store, and Lieu went to Stanford and earned degrees in political science and computer science before getting his law degree at Georgetown University.

He took particular umbrage at King’s contention on CNN Monday that immigration poses a threat because “you cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values.”

On Twitter, Lieu posted a photo of his two smiling boys, 13 and 11, along with another note to King.

“Dear Representative Steve King: These are my two babies.”

Trump’s spokesman said Tuesday the president does not share King’s views. Lieu told me he feels an obligation to speak out against King, Bannon, Trump or anyone else who trades in divisiveness or dishonesty.

“I will not cede public discourse to anyone,” he said.

I asked if he thought California could be punished by Trump or Congress for bold, blue resistance by him and other Californians.

Lieu said no, because when it comes to federal funding formulas, there’s not a great deal of discretion. But for him, that’s beside the point, anyway.

“Michelle Obama had that beautiful line, ‘When they go low, we go high,’” said Lieu. “I thought about it a lot. But I also thought, ‘We lost the election.’ My view now is that when they go low, we fight back.”

Get more of Steve Lopez's work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez

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A previous version of this column carried a photo caption that referred to Ted Lieu as a state senator, his former position. He is a member of Congress.
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