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Where the California congressional resistance can go from here

Where the California congressional resistance can go from here
“The biggest tool in our toolbox right now is really public sentiment,” says House Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Linda T. Sanchez of Whittier. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

California Democrats have talked for months about resisting President Trump, and many of their constituents have demanded it, loudly. With more details about the president's policies expected to come out in the next few weeks, the state's congressional Democrats will get their chance to try to turn that talk into action. At least they hope.

Trump has so far made early policy moves in the form of executive orders and hasn't yet worked within Congress to get his priorities approved.

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"We don't know what next week's going to bring. Each week it's something new that really hurts the most vulnerable, hurts our standing in the world, and really is very dangerous," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

But the speech Trump made to Congress last week was expected to kick off weeks of congressional activity, starting with efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and California Democrats — the largest block in the nation — are poised to fight it.

In reality, there are severe limits on what members of the minority party can do to stop legislation from passing in Congress, so it seems the resistance will be televised, as Democrats in Congress use public perception of Republicans, Trump and what the policies could mean for constituents as a bludgeon.

"The biggest tool in our toolbox right now is really public sentiment," said House Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Linda T. Sanchez (D-Whittier).

Expect to see Democrats hold more big town halls, write opinion pieces and appear constantly on television. There will be more stunts, like when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) used dogs Thursday to try to track down Republican's draft of a new healthcare bill in the Capitol.

"We've been trying to stand up on the floor here and try to [explain] some of the terrible impacts, but we are a minority party," said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). "We cannot at this point stop the legislation. We can highlight to the American public what that legislation is, and what impacts it's going to have."

Even though they ultimately can't stop most legislation, Sanchez said Democrats will use every procedural tool they have "to slow down or stop the worst of what they will attempt to accomplish."

Members mentioned using up all of the debate time on the House floor or bogging a bill down in committee as ways to delay a vote.

And they've started trying to force Republicans to take uncomfortable votes, like on Monday when Democrats attempted to force the House to vote on a resolution demanding 10 years of Trump's tax returns. The effort failed 229-185 along party lines, but it was the first time Republicans had to take a recorded vote on the issue.

Sanchez said to expect Democrats to force votes routinely on topics like Trump's taxes and conflicts of interest related to his business. Democrats are "just pushing back as forcefully as we can with the tools that are available to us," she said.

Among those tools is taking advantage of Republican missteps. Many California Democrats quickly called for Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions' to resign when news broke he wasn't honest in confirmation hearings about meeting with the Russian ambassador. Even more moderate Democrats like Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) were fast to call for his ouster.

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are waiting to see if Republicans fail to reach a consensus and then turn to the minority party for help making tweaks to the existing law rather than starting over. Several Californians say they are willing to work on improvements, but can't accept changes to the core tenets of the law or stand for large numbers of Americans losing the healthcare they gained under the law.

For the moment at least, Democrats say they've been united by the overarching concern over what Trump may do, the expected fights with the administration, and the vocal prodding from concerned constituents.

"Ironically, Trump has brought us all together. He might not have been planning to do it in opposition, but he did," said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). "You're seeing people with all kinds of issues come together."

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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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