U.S. Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Attorney General nominee for the state of California. December 8, 2016. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
SACRAMENTO—A state Assembly committee voted along party lines Tuesday to recommend that Democratic U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra be confirmed as California’s 33rd attorney general.
The 6-3 vote followed a friendly, two-hour hearing in which the 12-term congressman from Los Angeles took measured jabs at President-elect Donald Trump and his proposals on immigration, health care and the environment.
“California must continue to be a forward leaning-state,” Becerra told the Committee on the Attorney General. “We want to stop and deter criminal behavior, not stop and frisk our young brothers based on preconceived notions. And we want to build schools, not walls and unconstitutional religious tests, for our people.”
Becerra arrived at Tuesday’s hearing with the endorsements of five former attorneys general, including Republican Dan Lungren, who served with Becerra in Congress until 2013. Becerra was accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown, who called the nominee a “battle-tested” candidate seasoned by the polarized political atmosphere in Washington, D.C.
“There are big battles ahead but probably the biggest battle of all is serving the people of California in a way that earns their respect,” Brown said. “You have before you an outstanding candidate who can certainly champion the causes that we believe in but will do it in a way that will earn the respect and confidence of the people of California.”
Committee members did not ask Becerra whether he would run for attorney general in 2018; he has refused to rule out a campaign for governor or perhaps an open U.S. Senate seat if Dianne Feinstein retires. State lawmakers also did not mention the Legislature’s recent hire of ex-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., a move that Republicans have criticized as unnecessary given the ranks of state lawyers who work at the state Department of Justice.
Becerra was pressed on whether the state will defend so-called sanctuary cities, such as San Francisco, that minimize their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agencies. Trump campaigned on a plan to “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities” within his first 100 days in office.
“It’s important to have someone in the Oval Office who understands the Constitution and recognizes the limits of what the federal government can do,” Becerra said. “Sanctuary is simply saying that we’re not going to go out there and do the bidding of an aggressive immigration enforcement agency.” He added: “Locally and at the state level we will do what we need to protect the residents of the state of California.”
But Becerra also told committee Republicans he had no plans “to be a thorn just to be a thorn” in the side of the Trump administration.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m going to disobey the federal law,” Becerra said. “In fact the Southern states did that a whole lot and it didn’t help a whole bunch of folks.”
The full Assembly is scheduled to take up Becerra’s nomination Friday. The Senate Rules Committee will interview Becerra Jan. 18.