Political News

Is the White House declaring a policy war on California?

Posted January 4, 2018 8:00 a.m. EST

— It's Washington versus California on marijuana, climate change, offshore oil drilling and immigration this week as bubbling disagreements between President Donald Trump's administration and California all seemed to spill over at once.

The Trump administration picked a notable moment to undo the Obama-era legal guidance that seemed to give states leeway to legalize marijuana: four days after California, the nation's largest and most important state economically, officially legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.


There's more.

On immigration, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, said on Fox Business Network that "California better hold on tight" after enacting a new law to protect undocumented immigrants from federal authorities.

"There's no sanctuary from federal law enforcement," he said, adding that the state would be seeing a lot more agents and deportations as a result.

CNN's Holly Yan recently wrote that as a result of the law, both state and local law enforcement agencies will not be allowed to use their funds or personnel to investigate, detain or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes. Unofficially called a "sanctuary state" bill, supporters, such as California Gov. Jerry Brown, said it "prohibits the commandeering of local officials to do the work of immigration agents."

The White House has not responded to a CNN request for comment. But the marijuana announcement wasn't the only move the Trump administration made Thursday which could run afoul of California -- but not national -- law.

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the US would undo an Obama-era action and explore new offshore oil drilling, including off the coast of California, where there have been no new leases granted in decades.

"It's better to produce energy here and never be held hostage by foreign enemy needs," Zinke said, adding it's a "clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance."

But it's also a slap, intended or not, at Brown, who has been hitting the federal government for being absent at international climate summits and raising alarm bells about climate change.

That's the backdrop for new oil drilling off the coast of the state. The new oil leases wouldn't be offered until 2019, but California is already plotting a fight, according to the state's attorney general, Xavier Becerra.

"It should be underscored that regulatory agencies in our state will have a say in whether any offshore drilling ultimately does occur. Irrespective of the Trump administration's backwards action today, California will continue to lead the way on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels."

That last point is key. California's isn't just the richest and biggest US state. It's also one of the most regulated, with its own environmental protection agency. Brown has said the ultimate effect of Trump withdrawing the US from the otherwise worldwide Paris climate accord would be small if states stepped up instead of the federal government.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour recently asked Brown what California will do on its own and he had a ready list of actions the state has undertaken on its own.

"Well, we have the 30% of our energy renewable. It will be 50% in a few more years. We have a strong -- a policy for electric and hydrogen vehicles. We have a cap and trade system, a low carbon fuel standard. We have very strict energy efficiency for buildings for appliances. We have our land use rules, now, being aligned with a lower carbon footprint."

Some critics even say California, where the state government is actively engaged on the climate debate in place of the US government, is not doing nearly enough on the issue. Brown was booed by protesters while giving his speech at the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany, in November.

But he was there, unlike Trump or Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

It's not just California that opposes Trump's policies on oil drilling, climate change and immigration.

Brown reacted to the oil drilling news with a joint statement from governors representing the entire West Coast, which has also legalized recreational marijuana. The entire West Coast also voted overwhelmingly against Trump. He's the first President in decades not to visit the largest US state during his first year as President.

On the other hand, Trump this week also declared a major disaster in California after devastating wildfires that began last year.

And it isn't novel for a state to become the focus of resistance to the party controlling the federal government. Texas and its former governor, Rick Perry, played a similar role under former President Barack Obama.

But it is certainly interesting that on so many issues, the administration finds itself lining up against the same foe.