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Politics

Trump runs against California as he steps up his campaign

Essential Politics

President Trump made clear this week that running against California will form a significant part of his reelection bid.

Republicans have used the country’s most populous state as a foil since the late 1990s, when California moved reliably out of their reach in national campaigns. But since the Civil War, no Republican has done as poorly in California as Trump, and if current trends hold, he’ll have trouble in his reelection bid even matching the 31.6% he won in 2016.

State officials have taken on the role of leading resistance to Trump on the environment, immigration, healthcare and a host of other policies. And Trump, ever sensitive to slights, has repeatedly lashed out, using California as a target to focus his overall attacks on urban America, as Janet Hook wrote. This week, as he visited the state to raise campaign funds, he escalated the battle on two fronts.

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THE POLITICS OF HOMELESSNESS

In the runup to Trump’s fundraising trip, the White House dispatched several administration officials to California to look at the state’s homeless problem. As Chris Megerian and Ben Oreskes wrote, the visits gave rise to speculation that Trump might announce new policy on the issue. But, as they noted, that was never particularly likely.

Once the president got to the state, he made clear that he doesn’t have any interest in proposing new programs to assist its roughly 130,000 homeless people. The administration’s main policy idea on the topic — cutting regulations on housing to make construction easier — is one that a lot of California officials share, at least in part, as Oreskes and Liam Dillon wrote. But, at best, it might have an impact in the long term.

For Trump, however, homelessness is not so much a problem to be solved as an issue to be exploited. He uses it to highlight what he sees as the failure of liberal politicians to maintain public order.

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His comments to reporters on Air Force 1 as he flew into the state were telling.

“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” he said. The problem, as he depicted it, had little to do with the plight of those living on the street, but instead with how they make more affluent residents uncomfortable.

“We have people living in our… best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings,” he said. “Where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”

“In many cases they came from other countries, and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave.”

The next day, he said the Environmental Protection Agency would be putting San Francisco on notice about pollution stemming from people living in the streets. Officials were at a loss to explain what sort of notice he was referring to.

Meantime, at the other end of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders released a “housing for all” plan that would spend billions of dollars to add millions of homes nationwide.

As Melissa Gomez wrote, the plan would also impose a nationwide rent control measure, capping annual rent increases at 3%, or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index — a move that many economists, including liberal Democrats, say would risk worsening the problem by prompting many landlords to take units off the market.

BATTLE OVER ENVIRONMENTAL POWER

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Trump’s other big action this week focused specifically on California: His administration moved to revoke a key California environmental power, as Anna Phillips wrote. The decision, which administration officials have threatened since shortly after the inauguration, will set off a legal battle that could last years.

At stake is one of the foundations of California’s environmental policy: a provision in the federal Clean Air Act that, since the 1970s, has allowed the state to set tougher tailpipe emission standards than Washington imposes.

Other states have the choice of following the national rule or California’s, and 13 states, mostly on the East and West coasts, go with the more stringent rules. That authority has made the California Air Resources Board one of the most powerful regulatory agencies in the country.

Since auto makers don’t want to give up access to the California market, the state has leverage to force the industry to adopt new technology. From the catalytic converter to zero-emission vehicles, California’s clout in the auto market has driven many of the most significant changes that have cleaned the air nationwide.

In the early 2000s, California began proposing to use its power to combat climate change, pushing regulations aimed at improving the average fuel economy of the nation’s fleet of cars and trucks. That effort is what Trump and EPA chief Andrew Wheeler now propose to shut down by revoking the waiver of federal standards that allows California to proceed.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra denounced Trump’s plan, saying they would take the EPA to court to defend California’s authority. Courts in the past have upheld the state’s waiver authority several times, but the administration hopes the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court ultimately will rule in its favor.

The case may not get to the high court until after next year’s election. If a Democrat wins, they almost certainly would reverse Trump’s move before the justices would have a chance to rule. So, add one more to the pile of policies that could turn on the outcome of November 2020.

UNCERTAIN POLICY ON IRAN

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Picking fights with California has political consequences. A fight with Iran would have more dire outcomes, and Trump has made clear he’s not eager to plunge into one.

For all his bellicose rhetoric, Trump has repeatedly shied away from using U.S. military power abroad. His top advisors, however, have a more hawkish outlook. And as Megerian, Eli Stokols and Nabih Bulos wrote, that’s left him with no clear path forward.

Trump did choose a new national security advisor to replace the ousted John Bolton, who was the most hawkish voice in the administration. The new advisor, the fourth to hold the job in Trump’s not-yet-three years in office, is Robert O’Brien, who has served as the administration’s chief hostage negotiator.

As Molly O’Toole wrote, O’Brien is in some ways an unlikely pick. He supported a couple of Trump’s opponents in the 2016 primaries — first Wisconsin’s then-Gov. Scott Walker and then Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — and made his reputation as a Republican foreign policy expert by working for Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee and now senator from Utah who is an occasional Trump critic. But while O’Brien was not a Trump backer, he never joined the ranks of the “Never Trump” faction.

On the immediate problem of Iran, Trump’s current approach has been to stall. There’s “no rush” to respond to attacks on Saudi oil facilities that administration officials have blamed on Iran, he said.

As Doyle McManus wrote, a big part of the problem is that the U.S. has Iran cornered. That means the leaders in Tehran feel they have little to lose by escalating the conflict.

BIDEN’S HISTORY

Do you wonder about Joe Biden‘s unusual verbosity and his propensity for gaffes? His childhood struggle with a stutter doesn’t explain all of his odd verbal tics, Hook wrote, but it had a lasting impact.

KAVANAUGH’S PAST

A year after Brett Kavanaugh took his seat on the Supreme Court, new reporting by authors working on books about his confirmation have detailed how much the White House and Senate GOP limited the FBI investigation of the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. Jackie Calmes, who is finishing a book on the nomination fight, laid out the latest evidence.

EXPANDED POWER FOR BORDER PATROL

O’Toole uncovered a change by the administration that may sound bureaucratic, but has major consequences: Border Patrol agents, rather than asylum officers, are now interviewing asylum seekers to judge their “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries.

The credible-fear interview is the first step in the asylum process. By shifting the interviews to Border Patrol agents, administration officials hope that fewer asylum applicants will get past that initial screening and get a date to appear before a judge to formally present their case for refuge.

FEDERAL RESERVE DIVIDED

The Fed cut interest rates again by a quarter-point, as was widely expected. But, as Don Lee wrote, future rate cuts this year are in doubt. Some members of the Fed board indicated they believe further cuts will be needed to keep the economy from slipping toward a recession. Other members, however, believe they will need to raise rates soon.

Trump has made clear he wants rates as low as possible; he recently called for negative interest rates. That would, of course, benefit people like him in the real estate development business, which tends to be debt heavy.

TRUMP WINS A ROUND

A federal judge blocked the California law that sought to force disclosure of Trump’s tax returns. As John Myers wrote, U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. suggested that federal ethics law, which lays out the required disclosures for officials, may preempt the state effort. Trump’s lawyers have also raised constitutional issues about the law.

IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS OPEN

After weeks of public debate over whether to call their investigations an impeachment inquiry, the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee convened the first of what they openly declared to be an impeachment hearing.

The witness, Corey Lewandowski, clashed with lawmakers at every opportunity, as Megerian wrote. Once the committee’s outside lawyer began asking him questions, however, Lewandowski made some damaging admissions.

ELECTION INTERFERENCE PERSISTS

States are tring to combat election interference, seeking ways to get around the deadlock in Washington. But as Evan Halper wrote, the state efforts are moving slowly and hitting many difficult issues.

MOVEMENT ON DRUG PRICES?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hopes a prescription drug bill will give Democrats something to show voters in 2020. The Democrats took control of the House in large part because of healthcare, and as Jennifer Haberkorn wrote, many members are anxious that they have little to show for their efforts so far.

Trump would also like to have a victory to claim. Some Senate Democrats are wary of giving him — and Senate Republicans — any accomplishments to campaign on. Pelosi, however, has told her caucus she’s willing to move forward on a measure to control drug prices. Her bill would go much further than a measure being pushed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Reconciling the two could be difficult.

ISSA RETURNS, MAYBE

Darrell Issa, the former Republican congressman from northern San Diego, has been nominated for a trade post in the administration. It’s not clear he wants the job.

What he may want to do is run for Congress again, this time from the inland San Diego district currently represented by Rep. Duncan Hunter, who facing trial in federal court on charges that he used hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign funds to finance a lavish lifestyle.

But as Sarah Wire wrote, both of Issa’s ambitions hit a snag this week when a Senate committee postponed a vote on his nomination because of what senators described as an issue related to his FBI background file. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) raised the objection to the vote, but the committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, backed him up, saying the committee would not vote until the White House made the FBI file available.

“We’re going to get this file open,” Risch said.

Issa says the issue relates to well known incidents in his youth and is nothing new, but, for the meantime, his plans are somewhat on hold.

LOGISTICS

That wraps up this week. Until next time, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration on our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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david.lauter@latimes.com


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