News Analysis: Jeff Sessions comes to California bearing gifts

Most out-of-state politicians come to California to raise money. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions flew into Sacramento bearing a gift, in the form a lawsuit targeting this so-called sanctuary state.

Recipients include Democrats who convened press conferences to denounce Trump and the lawsuit Sessions filed in federal court in Sacramento to compel California to help the feds deport undocumented immigrants.

President Donald Trump’s base of supporters got some of what they like, too: more to hate about the crazy California progressives. And the president could again divert attention from the latest scandals and developments in Robert Mueller’s investigation related to Trump’ s 2016 campaign.

Sessions, speaking to the California Peace Officers Association at a downtown Sacramento hotel, detailed aspects of Trump’s suit to invalidate three state laws intended to thwart efforts to deport undocumented immigrants, and singled out Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Schaaf last month defiantly restated that her city would be a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants and issued a warning when she got advance word that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were preparing to make arrests.

“How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open-borders agenda,” Session said, as if speaking to Schaaf.

His words were like manna from on high as Schaaf seeks re-election in one of the nation’s most anti-Trump cities. Certainly, Sessions’ comments allow her to avoid discussion of, say, the city’s terrible homelessness problem.

In the next breath, Sessions denounced California’s lieutenant governor, who had praised Schaaf’s stand. No matter that Sessions didn’t actually utter Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s name. Newsom, who is running for governor, was quick to tweet:

“Jeff Sessions just called me an embarrassment. A man whose legacy is targeting immigrants, re-waging the failed War on Drugs, sucking up to private-prison profiteers, and apologizing for white supremacists.… I take that as a HUGE compliment.”

Later, Newsom held a Facebook Live event, beamed to his 609,000 Facebook followers, featuring people he said would be targets of immigration raids. By 3:30, Newsom had sent a fundraising email crowing: “If I’m on Jeff Sessions’ bad side, I must be doing some things right.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeared at a press conference with Gov. Jerry Brown. That made sense; Becerra is responsible for defending the state laws in court. But it also didn’t harm his election effort.

Los Angeles Democrat and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat, held a joint press conference with Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco. That, too, made sense. They carried the three bills that are the focus of Sessions’ suit. But it helps their campaigns, too. De León is running against U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Lara aspires to be California insurance commissioner.

San Diego businessman John Cox, a Republican funding his run for governor, took the occasion of the lawsuit to release a radio ad linking San Francisco’s sanctuary status to the killing of Kate Steinle in 2015, though the undocumented immigrant charged with shooting her was acquitted in her death.

Assemblyman Travis Allen, an Orange County Republican also running for governor, didn’t catch the speech but did find a few reporters on a street near the hotel where Sessions spoke.

“California Democrats have gone too far,” Allen said, speaking over demonstrators who marched in defiance of the suit, Sessions and all things Trump. “Finally, the U.S. Department of Justice has come to California to make sure California abides by and enforces federal immigration law.”

Then there was Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a Republican from Oceanside, who is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Vista Republican Darrell Issa. Chavez didn’t vote for the bills in question, and criticized Schaaf. But he also called it “sad when we have the state and feds fighting over public safety.”

“They ought to read the bill,” Chavez said, referring to Senate Bill 54, the measure pushed by de León that Sessions and other critics call the main sanctuary state bill. “SB 54 clearly lays out the opportunity for a partnership between California law enforcement and ICE.… No one reads the damned bill. Everybody is so polarized.”

California has sued the feds many times, and Uncle Sam has sued California. But no one could recall an instance in which the U.S. attorney general had come to Sacramento to announce such a suit. If it wasn’t a stunt, as Brown described it, it sure looked like one.

Once his speech was over, Sessions left through a side door and sped off in a motorcade. No time for questions about issues that matter, like when might Congress and the administration get serious about drafting legislation to overhaul immigration law.

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