House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) speaks to members of the media after a House Democratic Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC., on June 22, 2016
Alex Wong—Getty Images
By Katy Steinmetz / Sacramento
January 10, 2017

As members of the U.S. Senate grilled Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general on Capitol Hill, California lawmakers vetted their own in Sacramento on Tuesday.

Appearing before a special House committee, 12-term California Rep. Xavier Becerra was asked about his positions on topics ranging from religious liberty to marijuana legalization. But the strongest chorus of questions for the Democrat were about Donald Trump and what Becerra would do to defend liberal state policies from conservative tides coming out Washington.

“I’m not going to be out there just to be a thorn in the side of the federal government,” Becerra said in response to a question about immigration regulations. But, he added, if a law impinges on the rights of Californians in excessive or unconstitutional ways, “I will fight.”

The sentiment is not just idle words. As the largest state and a solid blue Democratic bastion, California could play a key role in resisting Trump’s plans on such hot topics as immigration and marijuana by refusing to cooperate or even suing the federal government, a job that would be led by the state’s attorney general. Texas’ attorney general during the Obama Administration once described his job under similar circumstances as “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”

Becerra, Congress’ highest-ranking Latino and someone once touted as a potential running mate to Hillary Clinton, would be the first Latino to hold the California attorney general’s post, and he repeatedly emphasized the role his “hardworking immigrant” parents had played in shaping his character.

“I am bringing my own personal experiences and biases to this job,” he said, after telling a story about possibly being racially profiled by police as a young man. He also expressed support for reproductive rights, LGBT rights and other stances that sat well with most of his questioners.

After two hours, the special committee voted 6-3 along party lines to support Becerra’s nomination. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown had appeared at the beginning of the meeting, amid preparations to release the state budget later that day, to speak on Becerra’s behalf.

“I don’t usually come to the other branch out of respect for the separation—not the wall, but the separation,” Brown joked—to much laughter—before lauding Becerra’s intellect and “battle-testedness.”

He still must get a vote of approval from the full assembly to take the job recently vacated by Kamala Harris, who was sworn in earlier this week as an incoming member of the U.S. Senate. But he is unlikely to face much opposition from the Democratic supermajority.

“It’s not often you get to be in this chair,” Becerra said of getting the job. “And I want to use it.”

Write to Katy Steinmetz at


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