SAN DIEGO — President Donald Trump remains on a war footing. With California.
Trump’s primary mission during his two-day visit to the state was to raise millions from wealthy Republicans. But he also made a point of deriding the state’s handling of its homeless crisis, and on Wednesday, he issued a long-expected challenge to California’s authority to reduce car emissions.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in turn, publicly called out the Trump White House for a lack of “moral authority” and lamented the state’s “unfortunate relationship” with the president.
The president and many Republicans see little downside to him making the nation’s most populous state a ready villain.
“The voters that he’s targeting in rural America look at California as an out-of-touch liberal state,” said Republican consultant Alex Conant. “There’s no political cost to him bashing California.”
Trump and the Democratic-led state have battled throughout his 2½ years in office, with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra filing more than 50 lawsuits against the Trump administration. They cover the president’s initiatives on immigration, health care and the environment, and have slowed and occasionally stopped the administration altogether.
And it’s not just the president’s agenda that California has gone after; the sparring has gotten personal, too. The state passed a law that requires candidates for president and governor to release five years’ worth of tax returns to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a pointed slap at Trump, who veered from historical precedent by declining to release his tax returns.
Trump began his latest criticisms of the state before he had even landed on Tuesday, faulting the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco for not doing enough on homelessness. On Wednesday, he jumped ahead of his Environmental Protection Agency to announce via tweet that his administration was revoking California’s authority to set auto mileage standards, insisting the action will result in safe, less expensive cars and more jobs for Americans.
With all sides acknowledging the state’s serious problems with homelessness, the issue stands as a vulnerability for Democratic leaders, and one that Trump can use as part of his broader effort to paint Democrats as out of touch and extreme. The president has yet to provide any specifics on how to deal with the complex homelessness problem, though.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., allowed that Trump was “right that homelessness is a big problem in California. But how he explains the situation is wrong and raises significant concerns that his so-called solutions will only make matters worse.”
GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader and an early ally of the president, said Trump wasn’t bashing his home state but pointing out the shortcomings of Democratic leadership that has dominated California politics for years, especially as the Golden State has become the forefront of the Trump resistance.
“When he’s talking about homelessness and solving that problem, and affordability, that goes across party lines,” McCarthy told The Associated Press.
“Drive around — every community, even in Bakersfield — homelessness is the No. 1 issue,” he said, referring to his own district in the rural Central Valley, just outside Los Angeles. His district also includes much of the northern part of the Antelope Valley.
“They want to try to attack him, but you see how much support he has out there?” he said. “I think Californians are getting tired of the governor just fighting this president instead of trying to work with him. You don’t have to agree with him all the time, but you can find common ground.”