The Riggs Report: California’s political defiance

January 5, 2017

Democratic leaders put former Attorney General Eric Holder on payroll

The Democrats who run things at California’s Capitol issued a call to arms this week with the announcement that they havehired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to oversee potential legal warfare with the incoming Trump administration.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said the Legislature’s hiring of Holder’s law firm, Covington and Burling, reflects a desire to be prepared.

“The Covington team will be an important resource as we work with the governor and the attorney general to protect California from the reckless overreach we expect from Donald Trump and the Republican members of Congress who have so cravenly enabled him,” Rendon said in a prepared statement.

It’s an unusual move. Typically California’s attorney general would have the task of pursuing litigation with Washington. The post is currently vacant as Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles—the governor’s pick—awaits confirmation hearings.

And it appears that the Democratic leaders didn’t want to wait before lining up their legal weaponry.

Rendon and his Senate counterpart, President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, immediately engaged in combative language after the Nov. 8 election, talking about the need for California to fight back against Trump’s anticipated policy changes. The decision by both houses to hire Holder takes that talk beyond the realm of political rhetoric.

The move stands in contrast to the approach of Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. While both have expressed opposition to Trump’s stated policy views on issues like climate change and immigration, they have largely taken a wait-and-see attitude toward the incoming administration.

The legislative leadership’s move carries significant risk. Republicans control all aspects of the federal government. And California, as the largest state, has a substantial amount of federal dollars at stake.

According to the California Budget and Policy Center, funds from Washington make up 36 percent of California’s annual budget. Some believe antagonizing the Republicans could be counterproductive.

But the Democrats’ move is driven, in part, by worry that a Republican-led repeal of the Affordable Care Act would carry a heavy price. The state could lose $15 billion alone in Medi-Cal funding as a direct consequence, according to the center’s analysis. Backfilling that gap would blow a huge hole in the state’s budget.

And so it comes down to the politics of confrontation. The hiring of Holder means the Democrats will be pursuing possible lawsuits on two tracks from both the Legislature and the Department of Justice.