U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the nominee to replace newly minted U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D) as California attorney general, cleared his first confirmation hurdle Tuesday after a hearing largely focused on how he would defend the state’s priorities against President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
The roughly two-hour-long hearing, which included comment from members of the public, concluded with the Assembly Special Committee on the Office of the Attorney General voting 6-3 to recommend Becerra’s nomination to the full Assembly. All three Republicans on the committee voted against the congressman.
During an opening statement, Becerra highlighted his tenure in Congress and his personal background as the son of immigrants. Describing himself as optimistic, he said he believes his duty as attorney general would be not just to “preserve” California’s progressive policies but to also “charge forward” in the face of Trump’s administration.
“California must continue to be a forward-leaning state,” he said. “We want to build on the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it. We want to be home to the next wave of good-paying clean energy jobs, not pollute America again. 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.”
Democratic members of the committee proceeded to question Becerra on how he plans to defend the state against potential federal encroachment on health care, environmental efforts, the protection of LGBTQ rights, immigration and other issues. The congressman repeatedly assured the committee of his commitment to “aggressively enforcing the laws that make sure we provide uniform treatment of all Californians.”
The committee’s Republicans, meanwhile, grilled Becerra on his commitment to public safety and fighting violent crime. They also raised concerns about guns rights and California’s newly approved recreational marijuana law.
Earlier in the hearing, committee co-chair Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), issued a grim warning about life under the Trump administration. Noting that the president-elect “ran the most xenophobic campaign in modern history,” he predicted Becerra would need to wage a “legal war” with the administration should he be confirmed.
“At a national level, it’s important that California takes a leadership position in the politics of inclusion,” he said. “We in California face a hard, cold reality that reflects both unprecedented uncertainty and, inconceivably, a looming long and ferocious and hard-fought legal war with bloodshed stretching from the Golden State to Washington, D.C. The reason: Trump and his incoming administration are dead set on building up legal barriers and walls that we have torn down in recent years.”
Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who nominated Becerra to the post last month, gave a forceful endorsement of the congressman at the hearing. Noting he considered more than a dozen other candidates for the role, Brown described Becerra as “battle-tested” and ready to take on Trump on behalf of Californians.
“There are big battles ahead, but probably the biggest battle of all is to serve the people of California in a way that earns their respect,” Brown said. “I believe you have before you an outstanding candidate that can certainly champion the causes that we believe in.”
The full assembly will vote on Becerra’s confirmation on Friday, while the state Senate Rules Committee will consider his nomination on Jan. 18. He is widely expected to be confirmed by the full legislature, where Democrats currently hold a supermajority in both chambers.