California vs. Trump, the climate change edition

Essential Politics

California is likely to again dominate the discussion of U.S. states as government leaders, scientists and activists gather in New York for this week’s United Nations summit on climate change. But the timing of the event serves to highlight a key point: It’s not clear what happens when the federal government insists it has the final say.

That unsettled issue presents a unique chance for Gov. Gavin Newsom to step forward on a topic with which his two immediate predecessors often dominated national and world headlines.


Newsom will spend Monday and Tuesday delivering a message undoubtedly reminding U.N. dignitaries that California remains on course to continue reducing its carbon emissions footprint. It’s not an issue that was in the spotlight during the recently ended session of the California Legislature, after several years of landmark deals on extending the life of the cap-and-trade program and substantially boosting the commitment to renewable energy.

But the governor now finds himself at the crux of a larger debate, one about the power of an individual state to set the international agenda. On Friday, California filed a lawsuit against the administration of President Trump that challenges the recent federal decision to revoke the state’s right to set strict vehicle emission standards. This fight has been percolating all summer, with California seeking to cut its own deals with auto manufacturers and the president firing back last week while visiting the Golden State.


On Saturday, Newsom took to Twitter to accuse the president of doing the bidding of the oil industry in seeking to revoke California’s power to regulate tailpipe emissions.

“The car companies don’t want it. The consumers don’t want it. Our economy won’t like it. Our air will suffer. This is about giving Big Oil what they want,” he tweeted.

As for the governor’s agenda, he announced on Friday an effort to push California’s public employee pension systems toward long-term investments in “carbon neutral and climate resilient technologies.” His executive order also directed state officials to look for new ways to lower emissions from state vehicles and buildings. And it urged the California Air Resources Board to continue its work with auto manufacturers on producing clean-burning vehicles.


— Trump appeared to acknowledge Sunday that he discussed political rival Joe Biden with the president of Ukraine during a July 25 phone call, at the same time renewing his attacks on a whistleblower from within the intelligence community.

— New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker suggested Saturday that he might quit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination if he falls short of his fundraising goal for September.

— Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a sweeping new plan in his White House bid to cancel $81 billion in past-due medical bills of Americans.

— Sanders has found success among a smaller group rarely on the radar for White House hopefuls: Muslims.

— As she runs for president, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren faces the same arduous political challenge she’s had in previous political campaigns: portraying herself as a prairie populist from Oklahoma before opponents can paint her as an out-of-touch Ivy League academic.

— The Steak Fry is one of a few Iowa political events, along with the summer Wing Ding in northeastern Iowa and the Fall Gala in Des Moines, that have transformed from folksy local gatherings to jampacked pageants where attendance by presidential candidates is just about mandatory.


While the governor will continue to sort through hundreds of bills sent to his desk by the Legislature when he returns from New York, two of the year’s most controversial proposals are already law. They represented both the main thrust of a hotly debated effort to impose new oversight of medical vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren and the last-minute changes Newsom demanded from lawmakers.

How all of that happened, though, has been somewhat unclear. Until now.

Melody Gutierrez, Taryn Luna and I collectively interviewed some two dozen state Capitol insiders for our Sunday in-depth look at the clashes and confusion over the vaccine crackdown — including the grumbling some Democratic legislators expressed at what they saw as Newsom’s on-again, off-again position on the language of the bill.


Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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