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California Attorney General On Challenging Trump Administration Policies


Here in the U.S., President Trump is also facing stiff opposition. State attorneys general have challenged Trump's actions on immigration, the environment and health care. No attorney general has filed more lawsuits than California's Xavier Becerra. He has sued 45 times in the past two years, helping to make California the center of the resistance to the Trump administration. When I spoke with Becerra earlier today, I started by pointing out that while I was in California, he was speaking with me from Washington, D.C., where he recently opened an office.

XAVIER BECERRA: After 24 years in Washington, D.C., in the House of Representatives, I knew the importance of having a presence in Washington. So much of what we've had to do has a federal color to it, whether it's defending the Affordable Care Act in court or defending the DACA DREAMers. Much of what we're doing, it really originates in Washington, D.C. And I was not going to just abandon those efforts by not having people in Washington, D.C., who could help us make sure we prevail.

SHAPIRO: You are the attorney general of California. Is there any risk that by focusing so much on the federal level you could be shortchanging Californians who depend on you to be the state's top consumer watchdog, the state's top law enforcement official?

BECERRA: Ari, the fact is that what we do with - that gets attention because it's a challenge to the federal government is just a fraction of what we do. I was just recently this week in Paradise, Calif., where the Camp Fire took the lives of more than 85 people - nothing to do with Donald Trump but everything to do the work that I have to do to make sure that consumers aren't gouged who are now looking for a place to live, for food to buy. What we do, whether internally or to fight off external threats, is to make sure that California's people and its values and its resources are protected.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about some of the specific areas in which you've brought challenges against the Trump administration, and the biggest one is the environment. I understand California has filed 24 lawsuits so far on environmental issues alone. That's more than half the total cases you filed against the Trump administration. Why has this become the No. 1 issue for you?

BECERRA: Because that's the place where the Trump administration has attacked our laws the most. Whether it's trying to undo the national clean car standards or whether it's trying to allow industries to release more methane gas, we can't afford to go there. And we're also trying to protect our businesses that have made major investments to go clean. And so we have not only become the No. 1 state when it comes to clean energy, but we're still No. 1 when it comes to manufacturing. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

SHAPIRO: You've also filed a lot of cases involving immigration, and your parents were immigrants from Mexico. And so I wonder - when you challenge the Trump administration on something like a border wall or DACA, how much of that is about your personal ideals and beliefs and background as opposed to the interests of a diverse state of almost 40 million people?

BECERRA: Certainly have to first take a look at the matter from the lens of a lawyer. And that's why we've had success in our DACA litigation against the Trump administration because we had a strong legal case.

SHAPIRO: It was your case that got the program reinstituted.

BECERRA: That's correct. I know close to 200,000 of those DACA recipients have now actually reapplied and been able to do so because of that. But there's no doubt that my own personal experiences and beliefs were wrapped up in that litigation as well. I know what it means to be from an immigrant family. I've seen immigrants and how hard they work because my parents did it every day. And I believe that there is justice in defending people who want to do it the right way, who work very hard, play by the rules and simply want to earn a chance to be here.

SHAPIRO: What would you say to Americans who argue that these issues should be decided at the ballot box, not in the courtroom? I mean, there's an argument that a president who wins an election should be able to pursue his agenda without having his hands and feet tied with lawsuits. How do you respond to that?

BECERRA: The courts will let you know if there's a political issue versus a legal issue. The reason we have victories is not because these are political issues that should be decided at a ballot box. It's because they raise real legal issues. And the courts are right to get involved. We should not have had a policy that said people could be provided education on a separate but equal basis because we knew that separate was not equal. Without the court stepping in to say that kind of politics doesn't have a place in a democracy, we'd have a far worse society.

SHAPIRO: Attorney General Becerra, thanks so much for speaking with us today.

BECERRA: Ari, great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Xavier Becerra is attorney general for the state of California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.