Essential Politics: Californians showcase different views during refugee debate


I’m Christina Bellantoni, your Essential Politics host getting the week started.

It’s almost as if the Republican presidential hopefuls read Cathleen Decker’s Sunday column and wanted to give her further proof that on the question of Syrian refugees, California remains its own world.

On the Sunday talk shows, real estate mogul Donald Trump doubled down on his calls for a database to monitor Muslims and the possibility of shuttering mosques and suggested waterboarding should be used in the fight against ISIS.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he would support the measure that passed the House last week effectively halting the program for Iraqi and Syrian refugees. (It earned a veto-proof majority, but Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has said he’ll block it from passing the GOP-controlled Senate.)

Decker wrote that in an illustration of the moderating influence of demographics, "many California politicians have been navigating a middle ground, concerned about national security yet openly uncomfortable with blaming refugees or immigrants themselves."

That could be because of the reality that 3 in 10 Californians were born in a country other than U.S., double the national figure. Add in those whose have a foreign-born parent, and the numbers zoom higher, Decker writes, and "those voters have been persistently protective of immigrants, legal or not, and resentful of attacks on them."

Decker writes that recent rhetoric from Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson "was fierce in part because the fate of the Syrian refugees struck at the confluence of important needs for the Republican presidential candidates: championing evangelical churches, supporting Israel and, most of all, criticizing the nation's immigration system."

She surveyed the candidates for the open U.S. Senate seat. Some excerpts from the column:

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat and the frontrunner, told Decker she opposed the GOP measure because it set up an "untenable" system. Beyond the current 18-to-24 month vetting process, it would have required top federal officials to certify that individual refugees pose no threat.

Republican Rocky Chavez, an Oceanside assemblyman running against Harris, sounded remarkably like her. "One, security is important, but two, we need to understand we are a country that has always been a home for those who are hungry and tired and oppressed," said Chavez, who said he was not sure, pending more research, how he felt about the House bill.

Another Republican Senate candidate, former state party chief Tom Del Beccaro, was more comfortable with blocking refugees. "The wise thing would be to upgrade our ability and our intel and if we are satisfied, if we are able to vet people, we could look to resuming it," he said. "We shouldn't move too quickly.... Just like our mothers taught us, safety first." But he too expressed hope that the discussion of refugees could lead to a refreshed conversation about immigration.

Democrat Loretta Sanchez, an Orange County congresswoman running for Senate, voted against the House refugee measure. In brief remarks before the Thursday vote, she indicated she was influenced by the history of her California district, heavy with refugees from Vietnam and neighboring countries.

The question is a complicated one for California’s congressional delegation. Sarah Wire talked with the lawmakers to get a sense of what their constituents were calling for ahead of the vote, and how they made their decisions. For some, the demographic makeup of their districts was a determining factor. For others, the White House’s arguments against the legislation just weren’t convincing. See how the California delegation voted here.

And as Gov. Jerry Brown asks the White House for more information, George Skelton also weighs in, scolding governors for grandstanding on the refugee question in his Monday column.

Wire also reports on legislation proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) to keep people on the terrorist watchlist from being able to legally buy guns, a compromise proposed as an alternative to adding more restrictions on the refugee program.

The idea was gaining traction late last week.

"It is outrageous that we would be slamming the door on mothers and children while we still allow people on the terrorist watch list to walk in the door of a gun store and buy a gun," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor.

We’ll continue to track the debate, so keep an eye on our politics page and follow us on Twitter via @latimespolitics.


Los Angeles accountant Navneet Chugh and his wife Ritu Chugh were scheduled to hold a $150 per person fundraising dinner for 17th congressional district Democratic candidate Ro Khanna on Sunday at their Fullerton home, according to an invitation obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

"We honestly believe that at this point every Indian American leader should participate in supporting this cause. This is not about politics. It's about our community. Let's send a strong signal that the Indian American community has finally arrived politically," Chugh wrote in the invitation.

"This is the best opportunity we have had as a community to win a second Congressional seat in the country. We may never get an opportunity like this from Silicon Valley for the next decade. Our community has chosen this quarter to start putting this race away," Chugh added.

Khanna is challenging Rep. Michael Honda (D-San Jose), whom Roll Call listed earlier this month as one of the 10 most vulnerable members of Congress.

Honda squeaked out a victory over Khanna in 2014, and the rematch is proving to look just as competitive. "2016 is going to be a different result," Chugh wrote in his invitation.

With $1.35 million in cash on hand, Khanna has more than twice as much in the bank as Honda, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

While Khanna was in town, he attended Friday night’s season wrap party for the HBO show "Real Time With Bill Maher."


If you’re reading this newsletter, you may have the URL to our "PolitiCAL" page saved to check in on news from Sacramento.

As I detailed in the debut of Essential Politics, our new project is pulling together the best of all of The Times’ political coverage in one place:

PolitiCAL will redirect you to the politics page from now on. We use that page to post lots of great work from our team in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington all day long.

The "California Politics" section hosts stories about campaigns, the congressional delegation and local political characters. "From Sacramento" delivers enterprise reporting on the legislature and will expand when the session begins next year. The campaign section lists our best from the campaign trail and national politics.

If you’re not already a regular visitor, we hope you check it out.


-- Paige St. John reports that the expanded background checks and stolen-gun reporting requirements that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom seeks to put on the state ballot next fall fit neatly into an unfolding national effort championed by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

-- Don’t miss Seema Mehta’s revealing profile of Republican donor John Jordan, a California vintner and creator of Baby Got PAC.

-- Officials cleared Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris in an ethics inquiry probing gifts from a company owned by San Francisco interior designer Ken Fulk.

-- Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer contributed $1 million to support a proposed ballot measure next year that would raise the tobacco tax by $2 per pack in California.

-- Michael Finnegan and Kurtis Lee use crucial general-election battlegrounds Colorado and Nevada to evaluate how Sen. Marco Rubio has been navigating the volatile issue of immigration in the primaries, and how that risks undercutting his support among Latinos there.

-- Evan Halper and Noah Bierman detail how Hillary Clinton seems to have figured out a better strategy to woo Iowa caucus goers, eight years later.

-- A downtown Los Angeles mural supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders that was written about in a Times story last month was vandalized.

-- Alan Zarembo wades into the swamped Department of Veterans Affairs' disability claims appeals system, which advocates and government officials say is badly broken.

-- Want to follow California’s delegation on Twitter? We made you a list.


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