No sooner had Gavin Newsom taken the oath of office as governor than he made it clear he will not fear becoming the new face of the national “resistance” to President Trump.
Before Newsom took office, plenty of other Democrats were fighting Trump’s policies, which aim to reverse multiple environmental and social policies designed by both Democratic and Republican presidents of the last 50 years.
In his own state, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris assiduously set herself up to run for president with pointed questioning of Trump appointees for many offices. At the same time, Burbank Congressman Adam Schiff resisted Trump strongly when he was only the minority leader on the House Intelligence Committee; now he’s the chairman. And there’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, tweaking the president almost daily.
On the legal side, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra leads resisters, with more than four dozen surprisingly successful lawsuits against Trump on subjects from birth control to immigration and the environment.
But as governor of the nation’s largest state, Newsom can command more resistance impact than anyone else in America, far more than he did in his previous job as lieutenant governor and much more than ex-Gov. Jerry Brown ever cared to exert on any issue but climate change.
Sensing Newsom’s potential, Trump early in last year’s campaign started jabbing him via Twitter, tweeting – among other insults – that Newsom is a “clown.”
But Trump wasn’t laughing after Newsom’s inaugural speech, where the new governor never mentioned the president by name, but still lambasted him. In just his third paragraph, Newsom called Trump’s administration “hostile to California’s values and interests.” He promised to “ensure a decent standard of living for all,” something Trump never mentions. Newsom described “powerful forces arrayed against us,” another Trump reference.
Still not mentioning Trump, he said “Washington failed on the epochal challenge of climate change” and declared “kids…shouldn’t be ripped away from their parents at the border.”
It was an anti-Trump speech covering almost every front where the president has met strong opposition and Trump responded quickly.
Taking Newsom’s cue, the president didn’t mention the governor, whom he last encountered amid the ashes of Paradise after the Camp Fire last November. But within a day of Newsom’s swearing in, he threatened to stop Federal Emergency Management Agency money for fire victims and prevention in California. Days later, detailing which $5 billion he might use to fund the border wall he badly wants, Trump again hit California. If the president declares a national emergency on the border, his administration said, about half that money could come from California dam repair and renewal projects approved by Congress.
It was likely no accident these threats came just after Newsom’s speech.
But Newsom showed no signs of being cowed. He quickly tweeted that Trump’s threats were “partisan bickering…Pres. Trump’s go-to is governing by fear and division,” then blasted Trump over the border wall and the partial federal government closure. A few days later, he defied federal authorities by inviting federal airport security employees going broke in the federal government shutdown to apply for state unemployment benefits.
Trump also drew fire for his threats from California Republican politicians in areas affected by last fall’s big fires. Said Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, “FEMA funds must not become bargaining chips in political arguments.” Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, who represents the devastated Paradise, called Trump’s threats “wholly unacceptable.”
But Trump buddy and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said nothing, even though his district includes the fragile Lake Isabella dam that would not get needed repairs under Trump’s border wall scenario.
Newsom apparently feels he has little to lose and a lot to gain from Trump threats as he carves out a more and more visible slot at the head of the resisters. He could be setting himself up for a possible run of his own for president. But that can work out only if he also leads successfully and quickly on items like the potential breakup of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the ongoing Los Angeles teachers strike.