This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:
- Former NFL player Rosey Grier has dropped out of the race for California governor
- Angered by his decision to block a bill on single-payer healthcare, a group of activists has launched an effort to recall Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon from office.
- Rohrabacher faces hostile crowd during panel about Russia and Trump at Politicon in Pasadena
- How 2018 could be the year of the rookie in California's pivotal congressional races
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has made several trips to Moscow during his 15 terms in Congress.
But the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats canceled a publicly announced trip to meet with the Russian parliament last spring with little notice.
Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) told the Times on Wednesday that he decided not to go because he was worried the national focus on Russia would make it difficult to have serious conversations with Russian officials.
"In the middle of a chaotic, public brouhaha, you're not going to be able to get the serious job done that you need to get done," he said.
But a senior House GOP aide who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters said Thursday it was House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) who declined Rohrabacher’s request to travel to Moscow shortly after President Trump's inauguration. The aide said such a trip would have been inappropriate.
At the time, Congress was just beginning its investigations into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.
Rohrabacher's interest in a friendlier relationship with Russia has puzzled the GOP establishment for years. Rohrabacher's spokesman, Ken Grubbs, said Thursday both Southern California congressmen agreed it would be best for Rohrabacher to stay home.
"Dana and Ed were of one mind at the time," he said.
In a related matter, longtime Rohrabacher committee aide and ally Paul Behrends no longer works on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a committee spokesman confirmed. The spokesman said he couldn't comment further on a personnel matter. Grubbs said Rohrabacher wasn't notified of the change in advance.
Behrends is a shared employee, meaning he worked for both the committee and Rohrabacher, and Grubbs said it "is not quite settled yet" what Behrends' employment status is if he's not working for the committee.
At least three news outlets have refreshed previous reports in the last few weeks about Rohrabacher's plan to hold a subcommittee hearing on removing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s name from an anti-corruption law opposed by the Russian government. The Daily Beast reported that the meeting was arranged at the prompting of Russian officials, who hoped it would change minds about the law's sanctions.
Magnitsky was a whistle-blower who alleged officials in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government stole $230 million. He died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
The act named after him banned officials accused of involvement in his death from visiting the U.S. and using American banks. In response, Putin banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans. People with connections to the Russian government have been lobbying against the Magnitsky Act ever since, and according to recent media reports, Behrends was a main point of contact for them on Capitol Hill, and arranged meetings with Rohrabacher and Russian officials overseas.
Several of the people with Russian ties who lobbied Rohrabacher against the act also attended a Trump Tower meeting with Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and other campaign officials in June 2016, news of which has catapulted Rohrabacher's legendary affinity for a better relationship with Russia into the national spotlight.