This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:
- The California Republican Party will host its convention in Sacramento today through Sunday.
- State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra spoke Friday at the Democratic National Committee meeting in Atlanta.
- Protestors visited the homes of California's GOP members of Congress Thursday night.
- City and county officials told state lawmakers they are having a hard time keeping up with the booming business of legal marijuana .
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who called on Donald Trump to step aside as the Republican presidential nominee late in the campaign, spent much of his speech praising the president's policies and appointees that he agrees with.
Speaking at a dinner banquet on the first night of the California Republican Party's convention, Hewitt had high praise for Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch, saying, "The best three things about the Trump administration are named Gorsuch, Gorsuch, Gorsuch."
Hewitt also focused on Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, saying he gave a speech upon arriving in Washington that "would make everyone in this room stand up and cheer." He praised the president's stated goal to slash federal regulations.
But Hewitt also acknowledged where he — and even top national party leaders — disagree with Trump.
He described Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan as Trump's "most important allies," but said they are "from different parties."
"We have two parties in this room," Hewitt continued, referencing the rift Trump has created among California Republicans, "and the question is whether those two parties are going to work together for the next four years."
The radio host also pointed out some differences he had with some of Trump's policies. He said he believes any immigrant in the country illegally "who wants to just stay and work" and has not broken any other laws should be allowed to stay, a statement in contrast with the Trump administration's latest signals that deportation efforts could be dramatically expanded.
"I would never send a kid home under" Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Hewitt added, referring to the Obama-era program that shields from deportation some young people who were brought illegally into the country as children.
If immigrants in the U.S. illegally want to vote, however, they should leave the country and apply to enter legally, Hewitt said.
San Diego County Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said Friday night that a special prosecutor should be tapped to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, a stance that mirrors the calls of congressional Democrats to sideline the U.S attorney general from such inquiries.
Appearing on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," Issa was prodded by Maher, the program's liberal host, on how the congressman, who used to lead the House Oversight Committee, would've acted if Democrats were suspected of improper ties to a foreign government in the 2012 presidential race.
"Say the Russians hacked only Mitt Romney and there was a lot of contact between the Obama administration and Russia," said Maher. "You going to let that slide?
"No," Issa responded.
"Oh, so you're not going to let this slide?" Maher asked of the current controversy facing the Trump administration.
"No," Issa responded again.
"We're going to ask the intelligence committees of the House and Senate to investigate within the special areas they oversee," he added.
That didn't appear to satisfy Maher, who pressed the congressman on whether he favored recusal for Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, President Trump's appointee to lead the Justice Department and an early campaign backer.
"You're right that you cannot have somebody — a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions — who was on the campaign and who is an appointee," Issa said. "You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute and office," adding it would be insufficient to hand the job off to the deputy attorney general, another political appointee.
Issa then pivoted his attention to Russia, arguing that its president, Vladimir Putin, is a "bad guy" who murders his political enemies.
"We have to work with [the Russians]; we don't have to trust them," Issa said. "We need to investigate their activities and we need to do it because they are bad people."
The rhetoric was notably harsher than that used by the president to describe his Russian counterpart. Trump has denied any past connections to Putin or his allies, but has often said it would be a good thing for the United States to improve its relationship with Russia.
California Republicans meeting for their annual convention will vote Sunday on resolutions supporting President Trump’s efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, increase vetting of immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries and repeal Obamacare.
Such matters are typically aired at committee hearings during the convention, but these resolutions, along with one opposing higher gas and vehicle taxes, were approved by the state party’s resolution committee during a conference call this week.
The immigration proposal once again places a spotlight on an issue that has increasingly vexed the state GOP: Although cracking down on illegal immigration is popular with many of the party’s base voters, such views have alienated the state’s fast-growing bloc of Latino voters.
In 2015, the state party voted to soften its stance on immigration, revising its platform to say that Republicans "hold diverse views" on "what to do with the millions of people who are currently here illegally."
The new proposed resolution, submitted by the co-founder of the state’s Tea Party caucus, notes that many jurisdictions in California decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and some spend taxpayer money to defend those in the country illegally. It calls for the state party to support Trump’s efforts to enforce immigration law.
Immigration was a primary focus of Trump’s presidential campaign, as he notably promised to build an wall along the southern border of the U.S. and to make Mexico pay for it.
Within days of taking office, Trump signed an executive order promising to withhold federal money from so-called sanctuary cities that shield those in the country illegally from deportation.
The other resolutions concerning taxes, Obamacare and vetting of immigrants were also backed by the Tea Party Caucus of California. The resolution urging support for Trump's travel ban stated that "at least 72 individuals" from the seven Muslim-majority countries affected were convicted of terrorism or terrorist plots, a figure disputed by media organizations .
The tax resolution cites an increased gas tax floated in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, saying it would give government "more money to use for special interests." Another resolution called on Congress to repeal and replace former President Obama's healthcare law "within the first 100 days of the Trump administration."
The party’s delegates will vote Sunday on whether to accept the committee’s recommendations.
It was a cool and rainy day when elders of the Republican tribe recently gathered to honor one of their own.
The honoree, Stuart K. Spencer, was unmistakable in his white duck pants and a lime-green sport coat so bright it almost hurt to see. A reformed chain-smoker, he snapped merrily away on a wad of chewing gum.
The event marked Spencer's 90th birthday, but the mood beneath the surface conviviality was unsettled and gray, like the clouds fringing the mountains outside.
If the occasion was intended as a personal celebration, it also had the feel of a wake for a time in politics long passed.
Along with former Vice President Dick Cheney and former California Gov. Pete Wilson, veterans of the Reagan years turned out in force. It was Spencer, more than anyone, who took a political long shot and washed-up B-movie actor and helped transform him into the Reagan of legend.
Though the majority of protests during Congress' week back home have focused on California's 14 Republican members, some activists are voicing frustration with Democrats who didn't hold town halls while they were in their districts.
Some of the ire in recent weeks has focused on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Protesters have appeared outside her home and offices, pleading with her not to support President Trump's cabinet nominees.
This weekend, protesters are focusing on the fact that she did not hold a town hall during the break as dozens of House members did.
When asked about her next town hall, Feinstein's staff pointed to an event at the Public Policy Institute of California on Friday, during which the senator answered questions that had been submitted online in advance. The event, part of the institute's speaker series, was streamed live on the Web. Tickets were limited but free.
Feinstein also answered audience questions for 20 minutes at the end of the event.
Several people inside the room clapped or booed at Feinstein's responses, prompting the moderator to intervene. A crowd also gathered outside the venue demanding that Feinstein hold a more open town hall.
Feinstein's staff wouldn't say whether she has a town hall planned for the next lengthy recess, which begins April 10.
Activist group Indivisible East Bay has scheduled an "empty chair" town hall in Oakland on Sunday, where constituents will have a chance to tell stories and pose questions that will be forwarded to the senator.
"The senator has chosen not to hold an open town hall during this recess, but that doesn't mean we have to be silent," the event description says.
Feinstein said during Friday's event that she cannot attend because she is returning to Washington on Sunday ahead of next week's votes. She was then asked to commit to holding town halls during the next recess, with the questioner saying constituents need reassurance that what they tell the senator's staff is being relayed to her.
"I pretty much know how people feel," Feinstein said, pausing when the crowd began to murmur and gasp. "But perhaps I don't know how you feel.... I should provide that opportunity, and I will."
The Sacramento/Elk Grove chapter of The Resistance is holding a similar event Sunday for constituents of Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove), which members of the group say is making up for a town hall he canceled.
"In his absence, we are holding the town hall as scheduled, to let our congressman know that we are concerned by his lack of accountability. We are also concerned by the direction of this administration and we need to be assured that Dr. Bera is our advocate and will stand up to the undermining of American liberties and values,” organizer Dennessa Atiles said in a statement.
Spokeswoman Annie Ellison said Bera held a town hall Jan. 28 and had started to plan an event for Sunday, but it wasn't finalized. Another town hall will be held March 11 in Sacramento, she said.
"Feb. 26 was one day that we looked at. As it turned out that date didn't work for our venue," she said. "I think there was a miscommunication. Nothing was canceled."
I don't know about you, but Donald Trump's just rockin' my socks.
Rep. Steve Knight (R-Lancaster) will hold a town hall meeting in Palmdale next Saturday after weeks of pressure from constituents and protesters for an in-person meeting with the congressman.
Knight, whose sprawling district includes Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, will take questions from the first 275 people who line up outside Palmdale's Chimbole Cultural Center.
Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m., and the town hall will start at 8:30 a.m. and last an hour. Attendees will have to provide identification to prove they are residents of the district to get into the town hall, Knight's office said.
Daniel Outlaw, a spokesman for Knight, said the office doesn't want the concerns of constituents "crowded out" by those who live outside the district.
"Our goal is to serve the people of the 25th [Congressional District]," he said.
Hundreds of protesters descended on Knight's offices this month to urge him not to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Knight's office took cards from protesters and told them to call into telephone town halls. Others protesters targeted a house they believed belonged to Knight .
Recent congressional town halls around the country have been packed with attendees asking pointed questions of their representatives about the Trump administration's healthcare and immigration policies.
“This town hall meeting is another great opportunity to make your voice heard and have your questions answered,” Knight said in a statement.
Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel is bullish on President Trump and, despite some skepticism about his rocky start, thinks his tenure in the White House will pay dividends for the California Republican Party.
“He knows he has 100 or 200 days to make these changes. I say you embrace him because there’s a lot more beneficial things he can do for California than vice versa,” said Steele, a former state GOP chairman who was in Sacramento on Friday for the kickoff of the party’s annual convention.
Steele also believes California Democrats fighting Trump’s new policies may face serious consequences, especially in areas defending so-called sanctuary city policies.
“They’re going to pay a terrible, terrible price,” said Steel, an attorney who works in Los Angeles County.
But while Trump has Steel’s support, he said he remains a little wary about the president’s leadership style during his first weeks in office.
“That’s the beauty of having a Trump presidency,” Steel quipped. “You’ve got to look at the Drudge Report every morning: Who did he insult? What changes is he making and what the hell is he doing inside the White House?”
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading supporter of Proposition 64, sent a letter to President Trump on Friday, urging him not to carry through with threats to launch a federal enforcement effort against recreational marijuana firms that will be legalized in California.
The letter, which was copied to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, came a day after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement” against recreational-use marijuana.
Newsom’s letter attempts to persuade the president that a regulated market for adult-use marijuana is preferable to what has existed in the past.
“The war on marijuana has failed,” Newsom wrote. “It did not, and will not, keep marijuana out of kids’ hands.”
Proposition 64, approved by voters last November, allows state residents who are at least 21 years old to grow, transport and possess an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The state expects to issue licenses to growers and sellers early next year.
“The government must not strip the legal and publicly supported industry of its business and hand it back to drug cartels and criminals,” Newsom wrote to Trump. “Dealers don’t card kids. I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors.”
Newsom also took issue with comments by Spicer likening marijuana to opioids.
“Unlike marijuana, opioids represent an addictive and harmful substance, and I would welcome your administration’s focused efforts on tacking this particular public health crisis,” he wrote.
Gov. Jerry Brown's press conference on Friday wasn't just a chance to talk about the problems plaguing an increasingly soggy California. It was also a window into the complicated dance between the governor and and President Trump.
Brown leads one of the country's most diverse and Democratic states, with a large population of immigrants in the U.S. illegally who have concerns about the new president. He also has sharp disagreements with Trump on climate change, which the governor views as an existential threat.
But Brown is also counting on help from Washington on other issues, such as financing the bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. On Friday he asked Trump to expedite environmental reviews for repairs to the Oroville Dam spillway, as well as several other highway and public transit projects.
"I welcome the opportunity to work with you in improving America's infrastructure," Brown wrote.
It's a different tone than has been struck by top Democrats in the state Legislature, who have clamored for high-profile opportunities to denounce Trump and use state law to block his agenda here.
Asked if he was concerned about adversarial relationships jeopardizing access to federal help, Brown said he was seeking the right balance.
“We have to walk a very thoughtful line here, seeking help that we need, but also calling attention to those things we object to, and fighting vigorously when required," he said.
Brown said he would handle the relationship with Washington "in very discrete, sequential steps, based on the needs of the hour."
Trump has talked about a potential $1-trillion plan for nationwide spending on infrastructure. With roughly one-eighth of the country's population, Brown said California should get a proportional amount of the money.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday unveiled a $437-million plan for shoring up some of California’s most pressing water and flood-control needs, saying the storms of January and February have made clear the state has substantial needs that have gone unmet for years.
“We have our aging infrastructure and it’s maxed out,” Brown said during a news conference at the state Capitol.
The plan, largely an acceleration of existing plans to fund infrastructure needs, requires approval of the Legislature. In addition, Brown asked President Trump for expedited environmental review of a handful of repair projects, including fixes to the spillway system at the Oroville Dam.
“These liabilities are a serious cloud, and we have to take them seriously,” Brown said.
The governor’s actions come on the heels of a winter storm season that has left thousands of Californians scrambling from fast-moving floods and two incidents — in Oroville and at Lake Don Pedro — of swollen dams forcing emergency releases of water.
The centerpiece of his proposal unveiled on Friday is the acceleration of $387 million in bond borrowing approved by voters in 2014. Those dollars would go primarily to providing new flood protection in the Central Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The specific projects have yet to be identified. Brown’s advisors say the goal is to spend the money over a two-year period, instead of previous plans to do so over five years.
Brown took pains to point out that state officials were unlikely to have known what else was needed in places such as Oroville without the real-world test provided by the winter storms.
"There will be problems, we will not live a trouble-free existence,” the governor said.
Even so, Brown admitted the new effort is only a small down payment on the state’s infrastructure to-do list. Officials pegged that long-term price tag at $187 billion, a list that includes deferred maintenance on California highways as well as repairs to local streets and roads.
As the California Republican Party looks ahead to a high-stakes governor’s race and midterm elections in 2018, it faces a grim reality: A Republican hasn’t been elected to statewide office here in more than a decade, and the Democrats hold a powerful supermajority in the state Legislature. The GOP’s share of registered voters in California is just 27.3%, its lowest since 1980, and it has yet to field a prominent candidate in the 2018 governor’s race.
State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte vows that the party’s fortunes will improve in the 2018 election, including one or two top-shelf candidates running for governor.
Donald Trump ’s election provides an opening, Brulte said. California’s Democratic leadership is so focused on battling the new Trump administration that they are ignoring growing concerns at home over the state’s crumbling infrastructure and rising poverty, he said.
“We are looking for opportunities where Democrats are out of step with the districts they represent because they are bowing down to a liberal Washington Democrat establishment that is fundamentally out of touch with where the country is, and where California is,” Brulte said in a recent interview.
The difficulty will be convincing Californians that Republicans have the answers, especially as GOP leaders in Washington dismantle the Affordable Care Act, crack down on immigrants in the country illegally and strip away environmental protections — moves that are popular with a conservative base, but don’t play well out West.
A group of activists who went to Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's home Thursday night asking for a meeting say they found a closed door and, soon after, the sprinklers turned on.
Activists with the Service Employees International Union, Courage Campaign and other groups tried to visit the California homes of half a dozen Republican members of Congress that night.
A group of about 100 Costa Mesa residents met at the Newport Public Library and held candles as they walked to Rohrabacher's home. Costa Mesa police partially stopped traffic in front of Rohrabacher's home, and the group held a candlelight vigil outside.
After an SEIU organizer went to knock on the front door, the sprinklers were turned on, Courage Campaign organizer Darcie Olson of Costa Mesa said.
After a while, Olson said, she walked through the sprinklers to knock on the front door. Two men answered and told her she was trespassing on private property, Olson said.
"They told me to get off his property, and I was like, 'OK. I not going to fight with you about that,'" Olson said.
No other participants walked onto Rohrabacher's property after that, she said.
Rohrabacher's spokesman, Ken Grubbs, said in an email that the lawmaker was holding a barbecue with friends after a day of meeting with constituents.
"The watering ban now over, he turned on his sprinklers during the evening hours, as many Southern Californians do. When he did so, he noticed no protesters in the vicinity. If any protesters thought he turned the sprinklers on them, it would be in keeping with their self-conception of the world revolving around nobody else but them," Grubbs said.
Olson laughed upon hearing the explanation. Photos show dozens or people outside the home, with at least one holding a bullhorn.
"Somehow that's so appropriate that Dana would do that. There he goes again, an inappropriate response," she said. "I don't know why he's fighting so hard just not to sit down with his constituents."
Grubbs said there are more productive ways for the congressman to reach constituents.
"When people show up at his door with signs and bullhorns, he is perfectly aware that the incivility springs from Indivisible guidelines to disrupt rather than engage in dialogue. He chooses not to take their disingenuous bait. He reaches vastly more constituents and hears their concerns by far more productive means," he said.
California Republican activists and state party leaders have descended on Sacramento for their annual convention, which runs Friday to Sunday.
While it's not expected to be quite as eventful as last year's event in Burlingame, when an appearance by Donald Trump was met with protests , there are a few key things on the state GOP's agenda as the party looks to rebound in 2018 .
Party delegates will decide on their top party leaders, including whether chairman Jim Brulte should be granted a third term . Members will also consider proposed party rules and a slate of resolutions, including one supporting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and another condemning sanctuary cities.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt will speak at a dinner tonight, while Central Valley Republican Rep. Devin Nunes will headline the Saturday night banquet.
Citing concerns about protests, convention organizers have spent thousands of dollars to beef up security around the convention taking place at the Hyatt Regency and Sacramento Convention Center in downtown.
You can follow all the latest updates from the GOP convention here .
Bracing for protests, the California Republican Party is spending thousands of dollars to heighten security at its annual convention that begins Friday.
On the opening day of the three-day event, at least a half-dozen Sacramento police officers and four private security guards milled around the Hyatt Regency and the Convention Center, the two venues where most of the convention events are scheduled to take place. Four patrol cars were parked near the two facilities.
"The security at this convention is unprecedented — even tighter than when we have had presidential candidates attend," said former state party chairman Ron Nehring.
In recent history, the sole time there was a greater show of force was at the party's 2016 gathering in Burlingame because of large, raucous protests prompted by the appearance of then-presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
In a letter to attendees sent earlier this week, state party officials said this year’s measures were being implemented “in light of the current political climate.”
But in a letter between state party officials, the heavy security was attributed to “strong security concerns” raised by the Sacramento Police Department as well as unrest at recent congressional town halls and rumors of potential protests.
“There is information that a protest is being organized on Friday, and there are rumors of another, more militant, group protesting on Saturday, although that information” is unconfirmed, GOP executive director Cynthia Bryant wrote in an email to state party leaders. “… I do not want to cause a panic or create unnecessary concern, but I also want to make sure that we have taken every appropriate precaution to ensure the safety of our attendees.”
The state party is urging convention-goers not to wear their credentials in public and is not posting information about meeting locations on its website, Bryant wrote.
Signs reminding attendees to take off their credentials when leaving the convention were posted on doors at the Hyatt.
Bryant wrote that the hotel and the center would be locked down, meaning delegates, elected officials and their guests would need to show their credentials or appear on a registration list to enter either facility. But Friday morning, people appeared to be moving freely at both facilities.
Taking the national stage as a leading foe of President Trump's policies, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on Friday told a meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Atlanta that his state is fighting federal efforts to roll back protections for immigrants and the environment.
The large audience at the DNC's winter meeting cheered as Becerra verbally attacked Trump, using a baseball metaphor to say the Republican president will strike out if he continues to try to undermine important policies of the states.
"Sooner or later the imposters strike out," Becerra said. "When you play fast and loose with the Constitution and you call for a Muslim ban, the umpire calls you out."
Becerra also accused Trump of hypocrisy for his own business practices.
"How can a guy who put his name on products manufactured abroad claim to be the one who is going to bring back jobs to America?" Becerra asked. "How do you allow a guy who let Putin into our elections be the safe-keeper of our nuclear codes."
Becerra was a keynote speaker at the committee's winter meeting, which includes an election of new leadership on Saturday.
As California's top attorney, Becerra has joined with attorneys general in other states to file three amicus briefs supporting court cases that challenge Trump's travel ban, including a lawsuit that led to it being put on hold.
Becerra, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, has been thrust into the national limelight in part because California is the state with the largest number of immigrants in the country illegally and has been the destination of many refugees from countries targeted by the president's stalled ban.
The state has policies that provide immigrants with drivers' licenses, college financial aid and legal assistance to fight deportations. Becerra and others are concerned that Trump will challenge such policies.
The attorney general said California has "seen this movie before" when former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson pushed Proposition 187, which would have denied access to government services to immigrants in the country illegally.
Becerra noted the measure was struck down by the courts and today no Republican holds a statewide office in California.
"In California, Pete Wilson and the Republican Party struck out," Becerra said. "And California has no intention of being fooled by another imposter. California is not looking back. If there is a state in America that is leaning forward, it's California."
Becerra said immigrants should be welcomed as long as they contribute to the country.
"In America its not where you hail from, it's how hard you work," Becerra said. "You can be from Indiana or India, Kansas or Kenya, Michigan or Mexico. What counts is, are you a hitter for America."
The attorney general said he is prepared to fight to keep Obamacare coverage for Californians and to protect other policies.
"In California, we are going to defend every action we have taken to improve the air our children breathe and the water they drink," he said. "We will fight for everyone in California regardless of their status."
Darren Parker, civil rights activist and chair of the California Democratic Party's African American Caucus