California and the Resistance to Executive Action
BY GRANT BONHAM
Every day in a Donald Trump Presidency has proven to be, at a minimum, engaging. Amongst massive changes in policy, the new president has quickly laid out a roadmap for his vision for America and what will make it “Great Again.” Adamant supporters have found hope in the promises of towering walls, religious immigration bans, import tariffs, and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Yet many in California and other consistently democratic states have rightfully shown the direction these policies would take us: backwards. Just as quickly as this tyranny has begun so has the resistance. Lawmakers, citizens, and people across the world have shown an open disdain for the policy of this president and millions have openly chosen to fight against any move this administration tries to make. One of the key battlegrounds is at the state level, and a pivotal player in this fight is California.
As the state with the most progressive policies worth fighting for, California is also a state with the most to lose. Defunding Planned Parenthood and Covered California could skyrocket healthcare costs for millions of students and leave almost five million Californians uninsured and without access to safe abortions and contraception. Defunding the Environmental Protection Agency could cause California to take on an increased burden of defending our environment and those hurt most by increased pollution. With the possibility of Jeff Sessions as the attorney general, currently toothless drug policy could be rebuilt, forcing California and the federal government to once again prosecute criminals for minor or major drug offenses. The trend of this government is becoming increasingly clear: the entire existence of a Trump policy threatens every aspect of a progressive, modern society.
President Trump gained incredible momentum in his first week in office. But this is typical of a new administration. Employment turnover at the State Department, and the banning of communication at the NPS and EPA seem drastic, but, these are policy shakeups that mark a change in direction. An administration in transition should be expected to make these types of moves regardless of their policy motives. The agencies at hand will change as new appointees come with new priorities. But, what will quickly dash any long term and substantive policy momentum are the intricacies of government inherent in our federalist system. Broad, open-ended and simplistic promises defined the Trump campaign and his persona, but that doesn't mix incredibly well with the dual sovereignty system of our federal and state governments. Combined with the overlapping and tedious structure of the federal government, the defining characteristics of states rights and federal jurisdiction make president Trump far less powerful than he is aware.
Take, for example, his executive order on the construction of a border wall with Mexico. While official border crossings are subject to national law, the border itself would be constructed across land in California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. The potential problems here are vast. The President, with the help of the Department of Homeland Security, will use the the Secure Fence Act (2006) as justification for the further construction of a wall. Claiming this is done as an act of national security, an attempt will be made to override any local environmental laws or states rights in the area. However, the burden of proof would be placed on the DHS and will not stand well if California, or any other state, decides to sue. A lengthy federal court battle could diminish any start date within this year, especially if a judge decides the construction needs to jump through any environmental hoops within the state. The large debate over construction of our borders’ fence took place in 2007 and the then Bush administration, through the DHS, pushed through to rapidly build the fence and establish a stronger border patrol. The case could be different here as the national attention and scope of the law has swayed. A federal judge could halt construction but only they believe there is just cause. State Sen. Ricardo Lara proposed three bills in December under the name “Fight for California.” One of the bills established that voter approval would be necessary for the construction of a wall along the border, showing california promoting its sovereignty over this issue. Framing this as a states' rights issue, and giving state approval to the voters of California, should provide one more level of brash resistance to the wall, but still no binding or permanent solution against the construction. While resistance here is an option, California lawmakers would be more able to delay than destroy any wall construction. With the backing of a republican congress, this issue should see quick work even in the face of strong statewide resistance.
The destruction of the Affordable Care Act came first on the GOP Majority’s to-do list and will have the most lasting impact. In early measurements of public approval this repeal is looking like a disaster. Congressional Republican leaders, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, have already backtracked from their most staunch regressive views, dangling a replacement plan in front of disapproving voters. Donald Trump has openly said he wants insurance for everyone while also saying it will become better and cheaper. Look in any direction and it's apparent that the ACA is now more popular than ever, making some congressional republicans worry about losing their seats. But a sectional analysis of the ACA and Medicaid is the appropriate way to understand if certain parts do get repealed, then who will be most affected. Covered California is the state's private insurance market place. Through the loss of insurance subsidies and Medicaid transfers, the state of California could lose around 15 billion dollars in federal funding for healthcare. Medi-Cal, the state sponsored operator of Medicaid, would drastically shrink leaving those making just above the poverty line unable to purchase affordable coverage. Furthermore, repealing the 26 year old age restriction and any limitations on preexisting conditions would cause millions of young or previously sick Californians to pay drastically more for their coverage. With republicans proposing a measly tax deductible voucher system they will be putting a band-aid on an otherwise gushing wound. The costs from the current system are running a large deficit and without federal help healthcare in California will suffer greatly. Lawmakers who voted to repeal the ACA are seeing backlash across the nation. But, a lasting impact can be made if voters hold house republicans accountable for this repeal. Across the next four years fourteen house republicans will be up for reelection in California and a dent in that margin could sway republican leverage in the house.
In such little time California has quickly juxtaposed itself against an incredibly active executive branch that wishes to uproot the progress of the previous administration. With an incredibly strong, united California, the state can stand at the forefront of the resistance to Trump. Los Angeles and San Francisco held some of the largest women’s marches in the country, and that type of enthusiasm, native to Californians, represents the start of a long four year battle. Yet this administration is neither tough nor tested and has shown incredibly little knowledge when asked simple questions on policy or administration. As the caves get deeper and darker the loud progressive voice of California will continue to ring clear and represent a never changing ideal in the face of such a regressive administration.