America is deeply divided, a threat to democracy President Donald Trump created and exploits. At a virtual state dinner at the White House on Aug.27, Trump admonished his evangelical fans to turn out their flocks in the midterm elections to stave off a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives and the inevitable move to impeachment. Democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently,” Trump warned, adding “you’re one election away from losing everything you’ve got.”
Prolific California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, an ardent LGBT ally, is on high alert, having already filed 42 lawsuits against the Trump administration, as well as amicus briefs, opinions, and other actions to protect California, challenge federal agencies and policies and uphold the Constitution.
“It’s chilling to watch Congress abandon its role to put a check on Donald Trump’s excesses,” Becerra told the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. “I have no hope for Donald Trump. And I think he’s proven himself repeatedly who he is and what he’ll do. When you have someone who’s that much of a rogue and that dangerous a player, you expect the other branches of government to stand up.”
In every respect, Trump is endangering the health, the security, the economic well-being of the people of the country,” Becerra says. “It’s been a long time since we thought we were this close to having someone press the button that could end up starting some nuclear conflict. But given how erratic Donald Trump is—you just never know what he’s going to come up with next. I think that’s probably as bad as it gets when you get to the point of a nuclear conflict. But the fact that we would even talk about that or believe that could be possible for irrational reasons—it makes you just wonder where are the checks and balances that would make sure that one irrational person could not topple the longest living democracy in history.”
Becerra is the tip of the spear in California’s resistance to the growing conflict between the state’s laws and values and the Trump administration, including sanctuary laws and LGBT rights. Sworn in as attorney general on Jan. 24, 2017, four days after Trump’s inauguration, Becerra’s first LGBT-related action came five weeks later on March 3 when he filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., a case involving discriminatory bathroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers. Since then, he’s added states to the State-Funded Travel Restrictions law, filed numerous amicus briefs in LGBT-related cases and perhaps most significantly, on Nov. 9, 2017, filed a motion for the state of California to intervene in Stockman v. Trump, a federal case brought by Equality California and other plaintiffs challenging Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. Becerra has kept up with that fight, including filing an amicus brief this past July 2 in Karnoski v. Trump, now in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Becerra has never had an issue with LGBT people. “I’ve always looked at things from the perspective of someone who remembers my dad’s stories where, simply because he was from Mexican heritage, he couldn’t walk into restaurants because of the signs that said ‘no dogs or Mexicans allowed.’ When I ran [for the California Assembly] in 1990,” Becerra says, “I ran for office to be able to fight against discrimination.”
It was a quiet evolution. “You get accustomed when you’re younger to hearing things,” Becerra says. “I remember in my family it was always taboo if you weren’t Catholic. You begin to think, ‘well, if you’re not Catholic, I guess you’re a sinner all the time.’ And then you begin to realize, ‘wait, maybe you don’t have to be Catholic to be a good person.’ Same kind of thing. I think as time went on, not only were people willing to come out but people who were straight were willing to speak out in defense of, in support of people who were LGBTQ because there were still people who would be very mean-spirited towards folks. Rather than just absorb an attack or a gesture against someone who was LGBTQ, you’d actually say, ‘wait a minute, that’s not right.”
Becerra is still speaking out, however, how he has to be more cautious. For instance, advocacy groups representing victims of Catholic Church sexual abuse sent him a letter pleading for a grand jury probe into the decades of priest molestations and the church’s cover up in California.
Becerra starts with the caveat of never even acknowledging a California Department of Justice investigation. Then he adds: “There is no doubt that there some serious allegations that have been proven facts here of past misconduct. And so at the Department of Justice we will take every measure that we must to try to make sure we’re protecting the rights of the people of California, whether it’s a consumer issue, whether it’s a criminal matter and whether it’s a matter involving the church. We understand what the obligations are for the state and we will do what we are authorized to do.”
Becerra comes to his job with deep experience: the first in his family to graduate from college, he secured his Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School in 1984, worked for State Senator Art Torres, then Attorney General John Van de Kamp before running for Assembly in 1990. He ran for Congress in 1992 after famed Rep. Ed Roybal announced his retirement. Becerra rose to leadership positions, including as chair of the House Democratic and Hispanic caucuses, until Gov. Jerry Brown asked him to replace departing AG Kamala Harris after her election to the US Senate. Becerra is running for re-election in November.
During his long congressional tenure, Becerra fought for LGBT issues, including against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and “to make sure that the standards for immigration were not discriminatory against people who were LGBTQ.”
As attorney general, he is constrained by federal law in what he can do. However, “we can take on the federal government if the federal government violates constitutional rights,” which is why he’s had success defending the DACA Dreamers and “protecting the state status against the attacks” by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Becerra is “very confident” about the lawsuits challenging the trans military service ban. “Why you would stop anyone who was willing to put his or her life on the line to protect our people in the nation goes beyond me and it certainly goes beyond the law,” Becerra says. “So I feel very confident that if the Trump administration seeks to act based on a bias and discrimination that the courts will overturn anything he tries to do.”
But Becerra is concerned about the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who Senate Republicans seem to want to rush through without a thorough examination.
“If you don’t stand up in this crucial time, you’re being far less of a patriot than what we need right now in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “And right now with the way Congress has constantly been AWOL in doing oversight and the work that’s necessary to put a check on the work that the Trump administration is trying to put forward, it’s time to have profiles in courage.”
Anything short of “full, thorough, fair and transparent process” would be “a blemish on our form of governance” and would “undermine the credibility and the integrity of the Supreme Court to be that fair and final arbiter. And I think people will begin to say that the courts and the Supreme Court are no less a political body than is the executive.”
Becerra has a pointed analysis about Trump’s possible impeachment.
“Let me just try to give you my own personal opinion. I absolutely believe that there is an accumulation of evidence that Donald Trump has committed crimes. I believe that Robert Muller is assembling those facts to prove that he has committed crimes. I believe that Robert Muller’s investigation will be the evidence that it take to take action against Donald Trump,” Becerra says.
“Some people say that he might face indictment; some people say that you can’t indict a sitting president. Regardless, if Donald Trump has committed crimes, actions can be taken against him,” says California’s Attorney General. “I believe that Robert Muller has accumulated evidence that shows that Donald Trump committed crimes. Whether it’s through an impeachment process or through an indictment, I believe Donald Trump should and will face justice.”