Next Tuesday (2/21/17): History of U.S. refugee policy
A solid majority of California political leaders and residents have since vowed to resist key parts of the administration's mandate.
The morning after the election, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) issued a joint statement expressing as much:
"Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land, because yesterday Americans expressed their views on a pluralistic and democratic society that are clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California ... By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny."
And in an impassioned State of the State address on Jan. 24, Gov. Jerry Brown pledged war against the Trump administration's policies, citing the state's leadership on key issues like climate change, women's rights and immigration. "California is not turning back, not now, not ever," he declared.
Trump, in turn, recently said that "California in many ways is out of control" (although he didn't specify why). He's repeatedly threatened to withhold federal funds -- his "weapon" of choice --if the state or its cities defy his policies.
The rift is hardly surprising. California, where more than one in 10 Americans call home, has long been a Democratic stronghold. The party gained a supermajority in the state Legislature this November. With a Democratic governor at the helm, that makes the state one of only six Democratic "trifectas" in the country. And that puts it in a reasonably strong position to resist some of Trump's mandates.
The economic cost of resistance, though, could be steep (although it's entirely unclear if Trump will follow through on his threat to defund the state, and if doing so is even legal).
California relies on federal funding to help support a wide range of programs, including health care, education and infrastructure. Over a third of the current state budget -- close to $96 billion -- comes from Washington, according to to the California Budget and Policy Center. State residents also receive over $200 billion each year in federal benefits like Medicare (health care for the elderly) and Social Security.
At the same time though, California is actually less dependent on federal funding than most other states. It has the sixth largest economy in the world, generating more than $400 billion in tax revenue in 2015 alone. It's among only a handful of states that gives the federal government more money than it takes.
How can California fight back?
Yes, there is an effort underway to get a measure on the 2018 state ballot for California to flat-out secede from United States (a prospect that one-third of the state's residents say they'd be in favor of, according to one recent poll). But the likelihood of a "Calexit" is, well, pretty much nonexistent. Sorry guys.
That said, the state's most realistic line of defense is to sue the Trump administration. California's new attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is an outspoken critic of Trump's policies, and appears ready and willing to take the administration to court, if need be. He'll also have the support of Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general under President Obama, who the state Legislature recently hired to provide legal muscle in the expected court battles to come.
A state can challenge the federal government in court if it finds laws or actions unconstitutional or an overreach of power. The Republican-controlled state of Texas (which has also intermittently flirted with the idea of secession), sued the Obama administration at least 48 times (and won seven lawsuits) on issues like immigration, the environment and a host of social issues.
Hinting that California was gearing up to challenge Trump's controversial actions on immigration, Becerra recently said: "I'm not interested in the president of the United States sucker punching the people of California. That's how I feel, so that's how I'll act."
Below is an overview of four major areas -- immigration, health care, economy/trade, energy/environment -- where Democratic lawmakers and citizens are focusing their efforts against the Trump administration.
What Trump proposes
Trump made tough immigration policy one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign. As the Republican nominee, he promised to crack down on illegal immigration, accusing undocumented immigrants of stealing jobs from U.S. citizens, straining public resources and jeopardizing national security.
Although as president, Trump has softened his hard-line pledge to deport all of the 11.3 million estimated undocumented immigrants living in the United States, he's quickly tried to follow through on various other hard-line campaign promises. Within his first week in office, he signed an order to begin construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, defund sanctuary cities, beef up immigration enforcement and expand the criteria of undocumented immigrants to be targeted for deportation. In his second week, he issued another even more incendiary order temporarily banning travelers from seven terror-prone countries and suspending the U.S. refugee program (key parts of this order were halted by a federal court in early February).
What California can do
Although state governments generally have little control over federal immigration policy and enforcement, Democratic lawmakers in California are promising to provide a strong line of defense for undocumented state residents facing deportation.
Proposed state bills focus on providing funding for free legal assistance and training for lawyers to better defend undocumented immigrants. Currently, less than 40 percent of immigrants facing deportation have legal counsel, according to the left-leaning American Immigration Council. Another proposed state bill would establish "safe zones" prohibiting immigration enforcement in public spaces such as schools and hospitals.
Also at stake is federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities that don't fully comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Major cities with sanctuary policies include San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland -- in addition, California passed a statewide bill in 2013.
In the face of Trump's threat to defund these jurisdictions, most of California's sanctuary cities have reaffirmed their commitment to such policies. San Francisco became the first city to sue the administration, charging that denying funding over policy disagreements is a violation of the 10th Amendment. The University of California and California State University have also issued statements pledging not to cooperate with federal enforcement authorities and to continue admitting eligible students regardless of immigration status.
Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- popularly known as Obamacare -- was signed into law in 2010 and survived two major Supreme Court challenges, it's still among the most hotly contested partisan issues in American politics. Since it went into effect in 2014, an estimated 20 million more Americans now have some form of health coverage.
What Trump proposes
Like much of the Republican establishment, Trump is strongly opposed to the ACA and has pledged to "repeal and replace" it. Tom Price, Trump's recently confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary, calls the law "stifling and oppressive."
Although House Republicans have already voted to take the first steps toward repeal and Trump has already signed an executive order (largely symbolic) to limit "burdens of the Affordable Care Act," a replacement plan is still unclear. Proposals include restoring "free market principles" by allowing people to deduct health insurance payments from their tax returns, changing federal aid to "block grants," and removing barriers to entry for legal drug providers to lower prescription costs. Trump has also argued that deporting undocumented immigrants would "relieve health care cost pressure on state and local governments."
It will be difficult to completely repeal the law; it would require 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, including the support of at least eight Democrats. More likely, the law will be picked apart piece by piece. Certain portions, such as allowing children to stay on their parents' policies until the age of 26 and requiring insurance companies to offer plans to those with existing conditions, have broad public support and are less likely to be slashed from the ACA. However, the Republican-controlled Congress will most likely reduce federal funding for state exchanges (such as Covered California) and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), a program for the poor and elderly, which provides health insurance for nearly one in three statewide, including undocumented immigrants.
What California can do
Most Californians are covered under their employer-sponsored health care programs. However, nearly 5 million are newly covered under the ACA. Since the law went into effect in 2014, California has signed up more people for the program than any other state in the nation. At stake is $20.5 billion in federal funding -- $15.5 billion for Medi-Cal and $5 billion in Covered California subsidies. Drastic reductions in federal funding would almost certainly deal a huge blow to the level of coverage and number of insured Californians.
Individuals who currently buy insurance through Covered California are already seeing a spike in monthly premiums -- just over 13 percent on average -- due to expiring federal funding programs and rising medical costs. The impact of these increases on enrollment numbers is still unclear. However, the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, predicts that 7.5 million Californians will be uninsured by 2021 if the ACA is repealed -- nearly double the number than if the law remains in place.
California's 2017 enrollment numbers will be released in March, but nationally an estimated 12.2 million have signed up so far this year despite threats to discontinue the ACA. A clear majority of those enrolled - nearly 64 percent - live in states that Trump won.
Although the outlook is not rosy, Democratic lawmakers say they will examine state budgeting tools to fill federal funding gaps, and that they are committed to keeping health care affordable for all Californians.
The national economy is officially rebounding from the depths of the 2008 recession, and employment rates continue to rise. However, with the continuing loss of manufacturing jobs, wages have remained stagnant for millions of Americans, a factor that's contributed to a shrinking middle class and growing gap between rich and poor. Wealth inequality in the U.S. is now at near record highs, with about 90 percent of wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent of families, according to recent economic research.
In response to public pressure, a number of states have recently raised their minimum wages, even as the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009.
What Trump proposes
Trump's "America First" economic plan includes ways to simplify the tax code, increase trade enforcement with Mexico and China and strike down federal agency regulations, which he describes as "the anchor dragging us down." The president has consistently appealed to big business, pledging to slash the top tax rate on corporations by more than half.
During the Republican presidential primary, Trump advocated strongly against raising the federal minimum wage, but has since shifted his position. More recently, he suggested it should be increased to "at least $10," but thinks it's an issue best left to the states, not the federal government, to decide.
As a candidate, Trump railed against international trade deals, which he claimed has hurt U.S. workers and sent more jobs overseas. So far, President Trump seem to be sticking to his campaign pledges to withdraw from or renegotiate these agreements. During his first week in office, he signed an executive order formally withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal orchestrated by President Obama that would have lowered tariffs on imports and exports among the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. He also promised to renegotiate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
What California can do
Californians are paying close attention to the president's proposals to redraw trade agreements. The state economy is heavily tied to markets in Asia and Central America, and more than 40 percent of all U.S. imports come through California's ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles.
Some economists have predicted that trade agreements that boost U.S. exports, as the TPP proposes to do, could lead to significant job creation in wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing sectors. However, policies that increase taxes on goods made abroad -- particularly those in China and Mexico -- could potentially hurt many California businesses involved in logistics and trade. Trump has threatened a 35 percent tax on cars and parts from Mexico and a 45 percent tariff on Chinese products. (His spokesperson also recently suggested a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports in order to fund the border wall).
The president's tough immigration policies may also have unintended consequences for the agriculture industry, according to a recent UCLA report. About half of all agriculture workers in the state are undocumented immigrants. Deporting a portion of the workforce would likely increase the cost of fruits and vegetables nationwide.
Despite inaction at the federal level, California's minimum wage was raised to $10.50 in 2017 and is slated to reach $15 by 2022. The federal minimum wage is likely to remain at or close to its current level under the Trump administration, which some argue puts businesses in California at a competitive disadvantage. However, state leaders maintain they are committed to providing living wages to all Californians. In fact, some cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have passed laws to raise the minimum wage to $15, ahead of the state's schedule.
President Obama was unable to push through any domestic climate change legislation during his presidency, but his administration continued to try to make the United States a global leader in curbing carbon emissions -- even as it remains one of the world's largest carbon emitters. At the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, the Obama administration pledged a 32 percent reduction in the nation's carbon emissions by 2030 (from 2005 levels).
Writing in the journal Science ahead of his final week in office, Obama urged the incoming administration not to walk away from the Paris agreement: "Were the United States to step away from Paris, it would lose its seat at the table to hold other countries to their commitments, demand transparency, and encourage ambition," he wrote.
Globally, 2016 was the hottest year on record, the third year in a row of record-setting global average surface temperatures.
What Trump proposes
Despite broad scientific consensus, Trump has disputed the notion that climate change is caused by human activity. He has called global warming a "hoax" and a "pseudoscience" invented by America's global competitors to stifle U.S. economic growth. As spelled out in his "America First Energy Plan," he plans to renegotiate Obama's carbon reduction strategy, revive coal mining and other carbon-intensive industries and withdraw from the Paris agreement. As of the Trump administration's first day in office, any mention of climate change has been removed from the White House website.
The president's nomination of Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a well-known climate change denier and state attorney general with a history of lawsuits against the EPA, has environmental activists preparing for battle.
Trump's recently confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has also given environmentalists serious cause for concern. He is, after all, the former chief executive of ExxonMobile, the largest oil and gas company in the world that's not exactly known for its pristine environmental record.
However, under Tillerson's leadership, the company publicly embraced the scientific consensus that climate change is linked to human activity, proposed some solutions to address the problem and issued a statement in support of the Paris agreement. And during Tillerson's January confirmation hearing, he acknowledged the validity of climate science and said he supported sticking with the Paris agreement.
What California can do
California Gov. Jerry Brown has emerged as a national and global figure in the fight to combat climate change. In response to rumors that President Trump's administration may eliminate funding for earth-science programs, including NASA satellites that provide important data for climate change research, Brown recently proclaimed, "If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite."
The state has extensive programs that aim to reduce carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels and increase renewable energy use to 50 percent of total generation by 2030. California's environmental regulations have historically exceeded national standards and set the benchmarks for federal policies.
If the U.S. backs out of the Paris agreement, as President Trump has promised to do, California lawmakers would not be able to sign the agreement as a separate entity. The state would likely be challenged in court if it attempted to circumvent national foreign policy. However, Brown has signed the state on to its own climate movement, Under2 MOU, an international pact to slash carbon emissions with even more ambitious emission reduction goals.
Leaders of the state's environmental groups and the scientific community are more concerned the Trump administration may reduce funds for important research facilities, and cut federal regulations on emissions and vehicle fuel standards. Some business groups are worried that removing federal environmental protections may put California at a competitive disadvantage if other states choose to opt out of climate change policies or environmental regulations.
For now, California's political leaders remain optimistic and committed to leading the national and global campaigns to stop climate change. According to Gov. Brown, "We've got the scientists, we've got the lawyers, and we're ready to fight."