California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filled top posts in his office with civil rights and federal agency lawyers, a nod to his 24 years in Congress and his new role as a Trump administration antagonist.
A list of Becerra hires, provided to The Recorder on Friday in response to a public records request, includes a half-dozen lawyers and political operatives with ties to Democratic members of Congress or the Obama administration. Among them is Amanda Renteria, the former national political director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign who is now Becerra’s chief of operations.
“Over the next four years, California’s DOJ will be at the center of an important struggle for the soul of America’s democracy,” Renteria wrote in a Medium post this month. “My colleagues and I will be using the legal system to secure the well-being of our families and neighbors.” Renteria, who earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, is not a lawyer.
Since February, the attorney general’s office has filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting 11 lawsuits challenging Trump policies. Becerra also moved to intervene as a defendant in federal lawsuit challenging vehicle emissions standards approved during the Obama administration.
Becerra is scheduled to appear Sunday morning on the ABC News program This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
The AG’s office did not provide biographical information about Becerra’s top appointees. But publicly available information suggests Becerra has chosen lawyers and executives with experience in areas—including immigration and health care—where California is likely to challenge federal orders and legislation.
Special Assistant Attorney General Melanie Fontes Rainer is the former chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. A health care policy specialist, she was also senior counsel and assistant Democratic leader to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Becerra’s office told Reuters this month that the state AG team will be “leaning forward when it comes to protecting our people’s right to affordable, quality health care.”
Special Assistant Attorney General Eleanor Blume was counsel at the Obama-era Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for five years before joining the Becerra’s office this month. Blume has spoken about how the CFPB partners with state attorneys general on consumer-protection matters. Republicans are moving to give the president greater power to remove the CFPB director, and the agency is under attack in the courts. Blume is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley School of Law and was an intern in the Obama White House.
Special Assistant Attorney General Kelli Evans has long focused on public interest law in California—ever since 1995, when she joined the ACLU of Northern California as a staff attorney. She was a court monitor for the U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District, where she monitored a consent decree mandating reforms in the Oakland Police Department. She did similar work for the last two years monitoring police in Cleveland. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated in February that the U.S. Justice Department would curtail its role in monitoring police departments.
Sean McCluskie, Becerra’s former chief of staff in Washington, was named chief deputy attorney general. McCluskie is not a member of the California State Bar, although he reports on his LinkedIn page that he attended The George Washington University Law School.
Alejandro Perez was one of Becerra’s first hires, having been named director of federal affairs in February. He is a former White House staffer and an aide to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. Perez is the only staffer working in Washington.
Becerra’s office also named two other special assistants, identifying them as John Blazer and Lauren Stuber. Neither attorney is a member of the California State Bar. The AG’s office did not respond to requests for clarification of the identities of the two attorneys.
Jonathan Blazer, a member of the Pennsylvania State Bar, is an immigration attorney and policy counsel in the ACLU’s San Francisco office. He was not reached for comment.
Laura Stuber, a member of the D.C. bar, is oversight counsel at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Politico reports she coordinated the Obama administration’s defense of its health care policies in the Republican-controlled Congress. Stuber also was not reached for comment.