Even for an implicitly political exercise, this year’s State of the Union address comes under an unusually politicized penumbra.
Just 13 days ago, President Trump acquiesced to California Democrat and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blocking the State of the Union from being delivered inside the House until the government shutdown had ended.
Pelosi cited security concerns – citing how the Secret Service (“ the lead federal agency for SOTU security”) went unfunded during the shutdown – though her edict doubled as the latest showdown in an ongoing war of words and posturing between the two leaders, most directly articulated in their stalemate over funding Trump’s plan for a Mexican border wall.
By most measures, Pelosi left the SOTU showdown a strengthened political figure both publicly, and crucially, within her diverse and energized Democratic caucus, while the President’s standing in opinion polls has taken a hit.
All of this is relevant as we watch Tuesday’s State of the Union: Far more than a simple assessment of the nation’s status, this week's speech is poised to be a showcase for the President to score points with his base, quite possibly by attacking his predefined adversaries.
And amongst his frequent targets are a sizable swath of folks who live on this side of the country: Ms. Pelosi, our new Governor Gavin Newsom, and the plurality of Californians who voted Democrat in 2016, thereby helping deny Trump a popular vote victory.
As it is, there is no love lost between Donald Trump and the overwhelmingly Democratic California political establishment, especially since the state resoundingly placed Gavin Newsom into the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento after a campaign which posited the Golden State as the epicenter of the Trump resistance.
To frame it more legally: As of January 10th, California has sued the Trump administration 45 times.
And so if you’re a Southern Californian watching Trump’s State of the Union Tuesday, your ears may perk when you hear the President mention any of the core issues of Governor Newsom’s platform. Those keywords to listen for are listed here:
President Trump’s hard-lined approach to immigration – from the border wall to his desire to end the Obama-era DACA program supporting undocumented immigrants brought to the country at a young age and now vested in our educational and economic systems – is likely to be underscored during his SOTU.
In 2018, California enacted SB 54, the California Values Act, which essentially made California a sanctuary state by limiting how much local law enforcement can cooperate with the federal authorities to enforce immigration laws. The Trump administration has sued the state of California, claiming SB 54 is unconstitutional. In fact, at least 14 Californian cities have joined the Trump administration in the suit. Immigration remains a divisive issue, and Trump’s speech is likely to knock at the heart of debate in California.
ENVIRONMENT/FOREST MANAGEMENT/NATURAL DISASTER RELIEF FUNDING … AND THE WALL?
It’s interesting to consider how immigration and disaster relief funding overlap here: In a recent interview with The New York Times, with regard to the border wall, Trump said “I’ve set the table. I’ve set the stage for what I’m going to do.” What could that mean?
Let’s go deeper.
In October, and again in November, President Trump criticized California’s wildfire prevention efforts and threatened to stop sending federal funding. Then last month, he tweeted a promise: "Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen," Trump tweeted. "Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!"
And what would he do with all of this money that wouldn’t go to California’s wildfire prevention efforts? Reports suggest that the President is considering using federal disaster relief funds to pay for his Mexican border wall. To wit: There is $13.9 billion in the Army Corp of Engineers budget. This could theoretically cover just over 300 miles of border wall construction fees; this would certainly divert the funds from their intended projects, including various wildfire management projects in this state.
If you hear Trump talk about FEMA or disaster relief funding, keep all of this in mind.
Governor Newsom has endorsed a single-payer health care system. That is to say: He wants universal health care for all. Of course, as most experiments with socialized health care services in this country have shown, this is easier said than done. At the moment, Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income citizens) covers over 30 percent of the state.
There are presently around three million Californians without health insurance, and most of the rest (about 43 percent) are insured through their employers. To restructure Medi-Cal funds in a manner expanding coverage in contemplation of universal health care in California, Newsom would need the federal government to provide an explicit waiver to certain federal Medicare rules, and Trump isn’t likely to allow this.
And while the President isn’t likely to directly address this in his speech, he may well pick up the national dialogue around health care after his dismantling of Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. Depending on what’s said, this could directly impact Newsom’s course toward expanding health care for Californians.
If California was a sovereign nation, its GDP would make it the fifth largest national economy in the world. (On top of this, Los Angeles’s economy – or its Gross Municipal Product, as Mayor Garcetti calls it – makes it the third most productive urban economic engine, behind New York and Tokyo.) All of this is to say: Californians contribute a lot to the national economy, and have a lot at stake with Trump’s various edicts.
Perhaps most pressingly is the Trump administration’s trade war with China, which has direct repercussions for this state: “China is a major export market for goods produced in every California congressional district,” according to a report by Sara Kimberlin of the California Budget & Policy Center. Agriculture and tech are both big economic drivers in California, and both on the line when it comes to China policy.
The implications for Californians with this State of the Union are endless. With this primer, perhaps they’ll come into slightly better focus.