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News / Politics

California Democrats aim for Trump, GOP Congress

Democratic base energized by push for single-payer health care

By JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press
Published: May 20, 2017, 8:29pm
2 Photos
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the California Democratic Party Convention on Saturday in Sacramento, Calif.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the California Democratic Party Convention on Saturday in Sacramento, Calif. rich pedroncelli/Associated Press Photo Gallery

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s elected Democrats had tough words for President Donald Trump and the GOP Congress on Saturday, urging their party’s fired-up activists to work against the 14 Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.

The party’s leaders blasted Trump’s alleged ties to Russia and presented California as the epicenter of liberal resistance to the president.

“The world, literally the world, is counting on all of you, counting on California to reject Trump’s deception and destructiveness,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is among a crowded field of Democrats running for governor next year.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, often mentioned as a potential candidate for president in 2020, accused Trump of putting “Russia first, America second.”

The convention comes less than a week after the U.S. Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during last year’s election — a charge Trump has vehemently denied and called a witch hunt.

In a sign of the vigor of the party’s distaste for the president, outgoing party Chair John Burton, a longtime Democratic lawmaker and power broker known for his blunt and profane manner, extended two middle fingers in the air as the crowd cheered and joined him.

“F— Donald Trump,” he said.

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said Democrats are focused on Trump to avoid talking about their own policies, including a recent decision to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees to pay for road improvements.

“Democrats own California and they broke it,” Brulte said in a statement. “They don’t want to talk about their record in California which is why they want California voters to focus solely on President Trump.”

The Russia attacks excited the Democrats, but no issue animated the party’s base more than single-payer health care — government funded health care for everyone.

Rowdy activists organized by the California Nurses Association repeatedly interrupted speakers they deemed insufficiently supportive. When U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a “public option” in health care, the advocates began chanting “single payer.” State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who has previously suggested now is not the time for single-payer, received similar treatment.

Nurses union director RoseAnn DeMoro warned officials not to assume activists will stick with them if they oppose single-payer health care.

While party activists are singularly united in their zeal to confront Trump and Congress, beneath the surface they are deeply split, still struggling to mend the divisions that exploded in last year’s primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The divide was on clear display in the race to replace Burton as party chair. It has highlighted strong disagreements between longtime party activists and a new breed of progressives eager to more aggressively promote liberal priorities and reject money from corporate and establishment interests.

Both major candidates for party chair endorsed Clinton’s presidential bid and they’re largely aligned in their approaches to public policy, including support for single-payer. However, Sanders supporters have rallied around Kimberly Ellis, the former head of an organization that works to elect Democratic women to office.

Ellis has called for new blood in the party. She faces longtime Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman, the state party’s vice chair, who says the party needs a steady hand to continue its dominance in California politics.