Newsletter: Essential Politics: Eric Holder huddles in Sacramento


Few attorneys who bill by the hour end up posing for pictures with their clients, or stopping and answering questions from reporters.

Which is why Tuesday’s visit by Eric Holder to Sacramento was so notable.

Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, and yesterday was full of meetings attended by the former United States attorney general. They were private affairs, mostly confined to Holder huddling with members of the California Legislature.



With an entourage of attorneys from the law firm for which he now works, Holder made his way to separate private meetings with Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly.

Later on Tuesday afternoon, he paid a visit to Gov. Jerry Brown, with Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra joining by phone.

What did they talk about in terms of responding to the proposals made by President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress? Hard to say. As Melanie Mason reports, legislators were instructed that the conversations were covered by attorney-client privilege.


Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) offered this assessment: “The theme was coordination.”

As we’ve previously reported, Holder’s firm has a 90-day contract for $25,000 a month to advise legislators on federal policy changes. But absent from the former attorney general’s client meetings on Tuesday: legislative Republicans.

Legislative Republicans grumbled about that, although the office of Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) did decline a meeting with other attorneys in Holder’s firm, Covington & Burling.

Holder’s visit to Sacramento, though, was hardly Tuesday’s biggest high-stakes discussion over the early actions of the Trump administration.


For more than hour, three federal judges heard arguments on both sides of whether the president’s executive order suspending entry into the United States was constitutionally lawful.

The early take: There was skepticism about Trump’s ban.

Even so, Judge Richard R. Clifton — an appointee of President George W. Bush — repeatedly noted that the moratorium on entry from the seven targeted nations affected only 15% of the world’s Muslim population.


It’s worth noting the three-judge panel isn’t expected to rule on the underlying constitutional issues, but whether the lower court’s block of the ban should remain in place while the other questions are resolved.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s big hearing, some legal observers suggested there are limits to Trump’s power. In short, they said, there’s not unlimited deference by federal courts to a president’s national security powers.

And in case you were looking for more information about the three appellate judges: Two were appointed by Democratic presidents; they hail from three different western states; and all are viewed somewhere in the realm of “moderate” judges.


The fate of a presidential executive order remains in doubt, but Trump can celebrate victory in the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As expected, it all came down to a tie-breaker.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the decisive 51st vote in the Senate on Tuesday, the first time in history that’s happened for a presidential Cabinet confirmation, thus putting DeVos over the top. Pence later gave her the oath of office, ending a fierce battle that saw some Republicans distance themselves from the wealthy self-styled education reformer.

Democrats held an all-night Senate floor session into the wee hours of Tuesday morning to protest the DeVos nomination, though they knew it was unlikely to sway any additional GOP senators to jump ship. California’s newest lawmaker, Sen. Kamala Harris, said in her Monday night stint on the Senate floor that DeVos has “a complete lack of knowledge” about special education law, among other areas.



The president’s nominee for secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, was forced to offer a mea culpa on Tuesday, admitting that he had once employed a woman in the U.S. illegally as a housekeeper.

“When I learned of her status, we immediately ended her employment and offered her assistance in getting legal status,” Puzder said in a statement. The fast-food company executive also said that he and his wife have paid back taxes to the IRS and the state of California.

By the way, can you remember the other prominent political figures caught in a similar predicament in years past? On the national level, there was the failed nomination of Zoë Baird to be attorney general (her family hired two people to care for their kids).

Here in California, there have been two high-profile cases of candidates’ domestic helpers lacking legal residency. Former congressman Michael Huffington’s revelation rocked the 1994 campaign for the Senate. And in 2010, GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman admitted the same thing happened in her family, shaking up her race against Brown.


Trump’s choice for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is expected to receive a full Senate vote later today. Tuesday night, however, his nomination sparked a formal reprimand for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for reading from a letter once written by the late Coretta Scott King. King had written the letter opposing Sessions’s failed judicial nomination three decades ago.


A bit of a political reality check was delivered on Tuesday by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly: It’s going to take some time to build that wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We’re not going to be able to build a wall everywhere all at once,” Kelly told a House committee. And then this nugget, which seems to undercut the president’s campaign promise: Border Patrol agents, said Kelly, prefer barriers they can see through rather than a solid wall.


A few nuggets of news in the still nascent 2018 race to replace Brown in the governor’s office.

Most notable, perhaps, is the decision by Assembly Speaker Rendon to endorse state Treasurer John Chiang in a crowded field of prominent Democrats. One prominent political analyst called Chiang the “undervalued stock” in the governor’s race.

Meanwhile, those close to Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel made it clear that the PayPal co-founder has no intention of running for the job.

And Republican outsider John Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe venture capitalist, said he’s forming an exploratory committee.

As always, we’re tracking these and other politics and government happenings every day on our Essential Politics news feed.


— A state lawmaker wants to prohibit state agencies, higher education institutions and public service providers from disclosing any personal information of applicants that would reveal immigration status.

— With little discussion and no opposing testimony, the state Assembly Public Safety Committee on Monday passed a bill to fund immigration law resources for public defender’s offices across California.

— Two new candidates have joined the special election in California’s 34th congressional district, while another one has dropped out. And an endorsement in the race by the California Democratic Party sparked some challengers to issue a joint statement claiming the process was “rigged.”

John Burton, chair of the California Democratic Party, endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison on Tuesday to lead the Democratic National Committee. The decision could help swing the largest state delegation behind the Minnesota congressman.

— Less than a year after a closely watched lawsuit challenging union fees assessed to California teachers was killed by a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court, critics of the fees are back with a new effort.

— State officials are reviewing the rules on how they spend money from California’s cap-and-trade program, with a new emphasis on sending funding to low-income communities.

— A GOP lawmaker in Sacramento celebrated President Ronald Reagan’s birthday this week by handing out cookies to his state Capitol colleagues.


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