SACRAMENTO — The war of words escalated Monday between California’s Democratic leaders and Donald Trump after the Republican president said California is “out of control” and suggested withholding federal funding.
In separate statements Monday, the leaders of the state Legislature pointed to California’s massive economy and strong job growth, saying the state provides critical contributions to the nation.
“If this is what Donald Trump thinks is ‘out of control,’ I’d suggest other states should be more like us,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount.
Trump criticized California during a Fox News interview broadcast on Sunday.
‘President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities’State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon
“California in many ways is out of control as you know,” he told Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly. “Obviously the voters agree or otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for me.”
Responding to questions from O’Reilly, Trump said California’s consideration of legislation to create a statewide sanctuary for people living in the country illegally is “ridiculous.”
Trump, who opposes sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, said the federal government “gives tremendous amounts of money to California.”
O’Reilly asked if defunding is Trump’s “weapon of choice,” and the president responded: “I don’t want to defund anybody. I want to give them the money they need to properly operate as a city or a state. If they’re going to have sanctuary cities, we may have to do that. Certainly that would be a weapon.”
California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said state residents contribute more to federal coffers than their state gets in return, and any sanctions against California would ripple nationwide.
“President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities,” de Leon said.
Rendon, de Leon and other Democratic leaders in California have fiercely criticized Trump and vowed to fight his policies through the Legislature and in court. The Legislature has hired Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general under President Barack Obama, to advise members on a legal strategy.
California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst reported last month that federal expenditures in the state amount to $368 billion a year, most of it to provide health care for people with low incomes.
Trump’s defunding suggestion wasn’t his first threat to use the power of the federal purse as leverage.
He also signed an executive order threatening to cut off some federal grants for sanctuary cities. Last week, in response to a violent protest on the UC Berkeley campus, he tweeted: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
Donald J. Trump on Twitter
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also vowed Monday to challenge any move by the Trump administration to take away federal funding.
“We will … fight every way we can to make sure we get our fair share of money back,” Becerra said told reporters at the California Department of Justice crime lab in Fresno.
The attorney general’s office also joined several other states that filed briefs in support of the state of Washington, which is challenging Trump’s travel restrictions for refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Becerra said the ban could hurt a large number of people who come to California for everything from attending medical school to driving technological developments in Silicon Valley.
On the California Assembly floor, several Democrats contrasted Trump’s approach to immigration and foreign policy and that of former President Ronald Reagan, a revered former California governor and a hero to many conservatives.
While discussing a resolution to recognize Reagan’s birthday, Assembly Democrats noted that he granted amnesty to some undocumented immigrants and urged the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall.
AP writers Sophia Bollag in Sacramento and Scott Smith in Fresno contributed to this report.