Any hope that President Trump’s first visit to California could soothe tensions between the White House and a state dead set on defying his administration’s policies evaporated quickly early Tuesday. Of course, it happened via a tweet.
“California’s sanctuary policies are illegal and unconstitutional and put the safety and security of our entire nation at risk,” the president tweeted about 8:30 a.m., as he flew toward San Diego aboard Air Force One. “Thousands of dangerous & violent criminal aliens are released as a result of sanctuary policies, set free to prey on innocent Americans. THIS MUST STOP!”
The salvo set the tone for the day, as Trump traveled to the Otay Mesa border crossing to inspect prototypes for one of his signature campaign promises: a southern border wall that is wildly unpopular among California voters, who soundly rejected the president in 2016. Although the White House said it was hopeful Trump would have an “incredibly positive trip” to the Golden State, the president followed up his potshot about California’s “sanctuary state” law with digs at Gov. Jerry Brown, the state’s finances and illegal immigration.
"The state of California is begging us to build walls in certain areas. They won't tell you that,” he said at Otay Mesa, a comment most of the state’s elected officials and voters would probably disagree with.
The president landed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar shortly before 11:30 a.m. After driving past crowds of supporters and protesters near the Otay Mesa and San Ysidro border crossings, Trump traveled to Los Angeles for a Republican fundraiser in Beverly Park.
Air Force One touched down in Los Angeles about 3:30 p.m., and Trump flew via helicopter to Santa Monica airport, where the observation deck was filled with onlookers.
As Trump's motorcade drove along Mulholland Drive, snarling traffic, police officers stood in nearly every driveway. A sign on the street outside the $35,000-minimum fundraiser read: “Absolutely no cellphones.”
About 100 people, including Trump supporters and critics, had gathered at the Beverly Gardens Park in what turned out to be more of a festival than a protest. Mariachis took the stage to sing Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba,” while a group of people danced. Street vendors sold hot dogs and passing cars honked their horns.
Among the crowd was Omar Mohamed, a Tanzanian immigrant who moved to Los Angeles from Ohio two days ago. Already, he said he feels at home.
“People in my community back in Ohio voted silently, so we were shocked when Trump became president,” he said, as passing cars honked their horns.
“I used to brag to people while I traveled that I live in America because I was proud of President Obama,” Mohamed said. “I don’t do that anymore.”
As Trump arrived in downtown L.A. late Tuesday, a few hundred protesters stood outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel. Tudor Popescu, 38, brought a projector and turned it toward a building across the street from the hotel. In bright letters, the screen projected: “Oppose racism, oppose Trump.”
Protests had been expected in both Los Angeles and San Diego, no surprise in a state where Trump has clashed with everyone from Brown to LaVar Ball. According to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll conducted in November, 66% of voters here disapprove of Trump’s performance as commander in chief.
The hostile attitudes toward the president have simmered since the campaign trail, when the bombastic then-candidate pushed a conservative agenda at odds with the majority of the state.
Protesters burned Trump’s head in effigy on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall less than 24 hours after he defeated Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 presidential election, part of protests that rocked downtown L.A. and the Bay Area for several days. In recent weeks, campaign billboards for state Senate candidate Maria Elena Durazo have popped up around Los Angeles, emblazoned with the words “Disobey Trump.”
The distaste, of course, is a two-way street. Trump has repeatedly bashed the state, dismissing California as “out of control” during a 2017 interview, a comment he repeated Tuesday. This month, he called Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf a “disgrace” after she warned her residents about potential ICE raids. Just last week, U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions told police leaders in Sacramento the administration had filed suit to invalidate California’s sanctuary state law.
The last president to wait this long into his first term to visit the Golden State was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he crossed the country by train to reach the West Coast.
Aside from an electorate that loathes him — Clinton defeated Trump by more than 4 million votes here — California also is home to a number of Trump’s fiercest political detractors.
Brown accused the president of “going to war” with the state after Sessions announced the administration lawsuit last week. Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris also have emerged as significant foils to the president in Washington. Even former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who once walked Trump’s path from celebrity to elected office, has been an outspoken critic.
Some of the state’s Democrats were quick to rebuke Trump on the morning of his visit. California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra mocked the border wall that the president plans to trumpet while in San Diego.
“Some people think that medieval walls might keep us safe in this country,” Becerra told reporters in Los Angeles, adding that a wall “might keep us safe from knights on horses.”
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) told a crowd of protesters near the San Ysidro port of entry that Trump “ain’t my president!”
“He’s violated the Constitution. He collided with Russia … he’s done all sorts of terrible things to women,” Vargas shouted. ”“Prison is where he ought to be!”
Many of the state’s Republicans also are staying away from the president, whose actions in office have become a campaign issue for many seeking reelection. Of more than a dozen GOP candidates The Times contacted, most said they had no plans to attend the president’s events. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) was spotted near the border, however, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) attended the president’s speech at Air Station Miramar.
Near the border crossing, dozens of the president’s supporters gathered, waving American flags and chanting “Build that wall!” Some held signs deriding CNN as “fake news” or wore attire supporting the conspiracy website Infowars.com, while others called for Schaaf, the Oakland mayor, to be arrested. The crowd broke into a brief “Lock her up” chant, repurposing the refrain used against Hillary Clinton during the election.
Carolyn Hays of Redlands said she took the day off work to support Trump. She wore a red “Make America Great Again” cap and held up a sign shaped like a picket fence that read, “Secure our border.”
“I love our president. I want a border wall. It’s time for action, not just talk,” said Hays, who is involved with the Redlands Tea Party Patriots.
She said people in the country illegally are bringing drugs and crime to California, and she contended the state’s leaders have prioritized immigrants over native-born Americans.
“I support our Constitution, and when the states do not follow the rules of the land, they should pay a price,” she said. “Any time illegals are protected and told to go hide and given every advantage to be protected, that’s wrong.”
Gregory Brittain, an attorney who is also a member of the Redlands Tea Party Patriots, compared supporting Trump in California to being “behind enemy lines.”
“There are so many people out there who think, ‘There’s no one out there who thinks like I do,’” he said. “I hope this sends a message: ‘I can do this, too.’”
A small fracas broke out at the pro-Trump event after a protester dropped a Mexican flag from a car. Another demonstrator grabbed it and began to rip it apart while another man, wearing a Trump hat and shirt, threatened to burn it.
“They burn our flag in our country; burn theirs in ours!” another man shouted, as others encouraged him.
Eventually, some of the demonstrators managed to calm the man and told him burning the flag sent the wrong message.
Around the same time, a group of demonstrators chanting, “No ban! No wall!” began to gather at an outlet mall near the San Ysidro border crossing.
Judith Castro, 27, took the day off work as a teacher’s aide to protest Trump’s visit. Castro said she captured the viral video last week of Border Patrol agents arresting a mother in National City in front of her daughters.
Born and raised in San Diego, Castro said her parents were deported in 2006 and 2007 and now live in Tijuana.
“Why are we allowing this here?” she said. “He is in power, and let me tell you something, the people give him that power. We need to take it back.”
At the port of entry, protesters welcomed people entering the country. Some smiled; others looked confused.
“Donald Trump is not going to deter you from entering this land,” said Mohamed Elnakib of San Diego Action United, who helped organize the protest. “Thank you for coming. Viva Mexicanos!”
They chanted that Border Patrol agents should be deported. Several agents stood around, with some recording footage of the event.
The president’s planned visit to Los Angeles had already snarled traffic downtown. The Los Angeles Police Department announced on Twitter that several streets in the area of the Wilshire Grand, where Trump is expected to stay Tuesday night, would be closed until 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Neither local police nor federal officials have confirmed where Trump will spend the night, but the Wilshire Grand announced to its tenants and workers that a VIP or high-security visitor was expected at the hotel on Tuesday, according to a memo obtained by The Times.
Castro said Trump’s tweet made clear that he serves only a certain segment of the American people, and she also took issue with the president calling people without legal status “violent and dangerous criminal aliens.” She said many immigrants in the country illegally actually support the deportation of people with serious criminal records, yet Trump has unfairly lumped them in with the immigrants accused of minor or nonviolent crimes that California’s sanctuary policies seek to protect.
“I understand he’s the president of the United States, but his tweets put the whole nation at risk,” Castro said.