Two congressmen from the state President Trump seems to despise most are leading an investigation into whether his campaign team conspired with the Russians. And the two lawmakers couldn’t be more different.
They symbolize, in many ways, the diversity of California and are a microcosm of the sprawling state.
Rep. Devin Nunes, 43, of Tulare is a Republican former dairy farmer from the conservative southern San Joaquin Valley. His county has nearly a half million cows.
Rep. Adam Schiff, 56, of Burbank is a Democratic former federal prosecutor from liberal neighborhoods stretching from Glendale through Hollywood, Los Feliz, Echo Park, western Pasadena and La Crescenta. His district has the Hollywood sign.
Democrats rule politics in California, but are relegated to second fiddle in Washington. So Nunes is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating — at least it’s supposed to be — whether there was any collusion between Trump campaign aides and sinister Russians to hobble Democratic loser Hillary Clinton.
Schiff is the committee’s ranking Democrat. But the only real power he has comes from his ability to articulate and attract a national audience, his savvy as a strategist to prod GOP weaknesses and the discipline to calmly rattle Nunes. He has been doing all this quite well.
California Democrats have been giving Trump a headache, or at least trying to. He lost the state in November by nearly 2 to 1.
Legislative leaders are attempting to declare California a “sanctuary state” to thwart the president’s attempts to deport immigrants here illegally. And while Trump has begun rolling back federal rules intended to fight global warming, California is pressing forward with tough new pollution-reduction requirements for automobiles.
California arguably has the nation’s most aggressive and expansive version of Obamacare, which Democrats and political activists have vigorously fought to preserve while Trump has tried and failed to repeal.
“California in many ways is out of control,” Trump told Fox News last month.
In Nunes, however, Trump seemingly has a soul mate and certainly a loyal follower. The congressman served on his transition team.
The Russian investigation aside, Nunes’ obsessive interest is on attaining more irrigation water for the valley, primarily from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. That has been his legislative focus for years. And he often has tangled with centrist Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her attempts to balance irrigation and the environment.
You name it, his congressional district produces it: wine grapes, raisins, figs, peaches and — increasingly — thirsty almonds and pistachios. Tulare County also leads the nation in dairy sales. The Nunes family, of Portuguese descent, has operated a large dairy farm for three generations.
Nunes rails at “radical environmentalists” who are trying to save threatened salmon and the coastal fishing industry. It was a “man-made drought,” not lack of rain, that created water shortages for farmers the last five years, he has said.
“There was plenty of water,” he contends, but President Obama gave it to fish.
And, while complaining that government isn’t building enough dams, Nunes simultaneously attacks big government, equating Democratic spending to “a broke gambler who desperately keeps doubling down in a vain effort to break even.”
Nunes, like Trump, also is a climate change denier. “Global warming is nonsense,” he has proclaimed.
But these days, Nunes is making headlines as the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who, Schiff contends, is too friendly to the president. It compromises Nunes’ ability, the Democrat says, to conduct an objective investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russian operatives.
Schiff is far from the only one. A New York Times editorial criticizing Nunes last week was headlined: “A Lapdog in a Watchdog Role.”
This was after Nunes rushed to the White House with newly learned intelligence that was perhaps relevant to the committee’s investigation, but he didn’t share it with the committee. Nunes later apologized. But some lawmakers from both parties are calling for an independent investigation, a notion Nunes flatly rejects.
“It’s no way to run an investigation,” Schiff told the Los Angeles Times. “You don’t go to someone who is associated with people that are under investigation with evidence and withhold it from the investigatory body.”
Nunes looked pathetically like an amateur, but he’s hardly a political rookie. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with an agriculture business degree, he was elected to a community college board at age 22.
He won a congressional seat in 2002 in a district that is one of the GOP’s strongest in California. Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 43% to 33%.
By contrast, Schiff’s district is heavily Democratic, about 50% to 18%. He’s considered a fiscal moderate and in Congress joined the Blue Dog Coalition.
Schiff graduated from Stanford as a political science major, and earned his law degree at Harvard. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles for six years. Twice he failed to capture a state Assembly seat. But he persisted and won a state Senate race in 1996.
In 2000, Schiff defeated Republican Rep. Jim Rogan, a Democratic target because he had led the impeachment process against President Clinton. It was then the most expensive House race in history.
Schiff is soft spoken, but can use his words like a stiletto. If Feinstein, 83, were to retire next year, as often speculated, Schiff would be a logical candidate to replace her. But she seems intent on running.
Schiff will continue to represent a slice of the Left Coast, which stops far short of Nunes’ district.
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