Ma­jor stakes for state, Trump in Tues­day polls

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Garo­foli and Tal Kopan

Pres­i­dent Trump is barn­storm­ing the coun­try as a getout-the-vote evan­ge­list for Repub­li­cans, preach­ing that Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions are “a ref­er­en­dum about me.”

He may get more than he bar­gained for, and Cal­i­for­nia is likely to play a large role in that.

The re­sults will prob­a­bly lead to a Cal­i­for­nian be­com­ing speaker of the House. But it re­mains to be seen if the cham­ber will be led by a de­ter­mined check on Trump like San Fran­cisco Demo­crat Nancy Pelosi, or a cham­pion of his agenda like Bak­ers­field Repub­li­can Kevin McCarthy. What hap­pens Tues­day also will shape the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy on two is­sues that poll high on the list of Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ con­cerns: im­mi­gra­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment.

And the re­sults in the state’s seven tightly con­tested, GOPheld House dis­tricts could ei­ther de­liver a knock­out punch to the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Party or de­flate the Trump re­sis­tance at ground zero.

While no­body in the Repub­li­can Party can rally its core vot­ers like Trump, the pres­i­dent’s harsh pre-elec­tion rhetoric could come with a cost, said James Tay­lor, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of San Fran­cisco.

“Don­ald Trump stay­ing in cam­paign mode is a sign of po­lit­i­cal ge­nius and a sign of po­lit­i­cal weak­ness,” Tay­lor said. “It’s omi­nous also, be­cause it’s not sus­tain­able (for Repub­li­cans) two or three elec­tion cy­cles down the road.”

Here’s what’s at stake for Cal­i­for­nia on Tues­day: Lead­er­ship in Wash­ing­ton: The most im­me­di­ate spoil of win­ning the ma­jor­ity in ei­ther house of Congress is lead­er­ship. The rul­ing party con­trols ev­ery­thing from the cham­ber floor down to the sub­com­mit­tees.

McCarthy, the GOP ma­jor­ity leader, and Mi­nor­ity Leader Pelosi are both fa­vorites to re­tain their po­si­tions in the party hi­er­ar­chy, al­though nei­ther is an out­right lock. Sev­eral Demo­cratic can­di­dates have said the party should look to some­one be­sides Pelosi, a long­time light­ning rod for GOP at­tacks, but she re­tains sub­stan­tial sup­port in the cau­cus.

Among the Repub­li­cans, McCarthy is the heir ap­par­ent to move up from the No. 2 job with Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin re­tir­ing, though he faces po­ten­tial hold­outs among more con­ser­va­tive mem­bers. A fel­low San Joaquin Val­ley Repub­li­can, Rep. Jeff Den­ham of Tur­lock (Stanis­laus County), told The Chron­i­cle, “I have not heard of a race at all. McCarthy will be our next speaker as long as we hold the ma­jor­ity.”

Lead­er­ship has rip­ple ef­fects through­out the com­mit­tees. Bur­bank Demo­cratic Rep. Adam Schiff, for ex­am­ple, would prob­a­bly take over the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, putting him in charge of the di­rec­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion as well as over­sight of the na­tion’s sur­veil­lance ap­pa­ra­tus.

It’s not just about whether the House flips. The size of the ma­jor­ity mat­ters, too.

If a GOP ma­jor­ity is slim, it could give out­size in­flu­ence to a group of con­ser­va­tives known as the Free­dom Cau­cus, who of­ten refuse to sup­port leg­is­la­tion that doesn’t meet their strict lit­mus tests. Iron­i­cally, that could give Democrats lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate with a Speaker McCarthy for votes.

Sim­i­larly, a nar­row Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity could ex­pose in­tra­party di­vi­sions, es­pe­cially be­tween Pelosi al­lies on the one hand and, on the other, mem­bers from red-lean­ing dis­tricts who cam­paigned on op­pos­ing her and strongly pro­gres­sive new mem­bers who have also dis­tanced them­selves.

Im­mi­gra­tion: If Repub­li­cans re­tain con­trol of Congress af­ter Trump made im­mi­gra­tion a wedge is­sue in the cam­paign’s clos­ing days, they could take it as a man­date to fund a wall on the Mex­i­can border and en­act other ag­gres­sive im­mi­gra­tion mea­sures. That would be the case even — and maybe es­pe­cially — in places such as Cal­i­for­nia that limit of­fi­cials’ co­op­er­a­tion with fed­eral en­force­ment ef­forts.

A Demo­cratic House or Se­nate doesn’t make it much more likely that im­mi­gra­tion re­form could hap­pen, ei­ther. Trump would have veto power over any­thing that came out of Congress, and law­mak­ers of both par­ties look­ing ahead to a 2020 pres­i­den­tial race would have lit­tle in­cen­tive to com­pro­mise.

There would be a slim chance of a deal on the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pol­icy, which pro­tects young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who came to the U.S. as mi­nors. Trump has tried to kill the pol­icy, which cov­ers nearly 700,000 peo­ple, 200,000 of them in Cal­i­for­nia. But he has also in­di­cated at times that he would be open to a deal if it in­cluded Demo­cratic con­ces­sions such as fund­ing for a border wall and lim­its on le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, he has walked away from ev­ery deal of­fered to him, and Democrats show no ap­petite for en­gag­ing him fur­ther.

With lit­tle chance of an im­mi­gra­tion agree­ment, Pelosi-led Democrats would prob­a­bly fo­cus on over­sight of how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion han­dles the is­sue. They could sched­ule hear­ings on fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions, troop de­ploy­ments to the border and the treat­ment of im­mi­grants in de­ten­tion, slow­ing down the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s other ini­tia­tives.

“I think most im­por­tantly, it will mean over­sight of the ac­tions of the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and De­part­ment of Jus­tice,” said Ali Noorani, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cacy group the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Fo­rum. “How are the agen­cies spend­ing re­sources, how are peo­ple be­ing treated in de­ten­tion? I think the list of things to look into by Congress is get­ting longer day by day.” En­vi­ron­ment: As with im­mi­gra­tion, a Demo­cratic House would have lit­tle chance of en­act­ing pol­icy — but could ha­rass the ad­min­is­tra­tion by scru­ti­niz­ing changes it has made through the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and In­te­rior De­part­ment.

For ex­am­ple, con­gres­sional Democrats could en­tan­gle the EPA in in­ves­ti­ga­tions into its plans to re­voke Cal­i­for­nia’s author­ity to set stricter stan­dards than the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s for ve­hi­cle emis­sions of green­house gases.

“Congress can cer­tainly slow things down,” said Andy Kel­ley, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor with the Cal­i­for­nia League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers.

Like­wise, the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee would be “hard-pressed to con­sider” the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal to sell off pub­lic lands to pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions, with at least six Cal­i­for­nia Democrats ex­pected to be part of the com­mit­tee ma­jor­ity, Kel­ley said.

On Thurs­day a fed­eral judge struck down a Cal­i­for­nia law that sought to give the state more power to over­ride the sale of fed­eral lands. State law­mak­ers passed the law last year to make it harder to de­velop, log or drill for oil on some of the 46 mil­lion acres the fed­eral gov­ern­ment owns in Cal­i­for­nia.

A Demo­cratic House ma­jor­ity may also be able to stall Trump’s pro­posal to in­crease oil drilling off the coast, an idea that polls show is widely un­pop­u­lar in Cal­i­for­nia.

Re­sis­tance morale: If the Democrats don’t at least win the House, “I think it will suck the oxy­gen right out of their sails,” said John Thomas, a GOP poll­ster and strate­gist in Los An­ge­les. “They will have an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis.”

Tay­lor, the Univer­sity of San Fran­cisco pro­fes­sor, said a loss “will have a de­mor­al­iz­ing ef­fect” on the grass­roots en­ergy that was stoked by groups such as In­di­vis­i­ble and Swing Left that formed in re­ac­tion to Trump’s vic­tory two years ago. They will “know that they lost in 2016 and 2018 to this man who who has done ev­ery­thing he could to sab­o­tage his own party,” Tay­lor said.

But Aram Fis­cher, a San Fran­cis­can who is a top Cal­i­for­nia or­ga­nizer for In­di­vis­i­ble, which claims up to 200,000 mem­bers in the state, said the grass­roots won’t wilt if Repub­li­cans hold the House be­cause “the re­cruiter-in-chief will still be there.”

“And whether it’s the cli­mate or ed­u­ca­tion or health care, con­cerns about those is­sues are still there,” Fis­cher said. “That’s what’s an­i­mat­ing peo­ple.”

Repub­li­cans’ pulse: Only 14 Repub­li­cans are in Cal­i­for­nia’s 53-mem­ber House del­e­ga­tion, and the party might take it as a vic­tory if its losses Tues­day are lim­ited to two seats, Thomas said.

One race in par­tic­u­lar is key: the Or­ange County con­test be­tween Repub­li­can Young Kim and Demo­crat Gil Cis­neros to fill an open seat now held by the GOP. If the Korean-born Kim pre­vails, Thomas said, “look for the Repub­li­cans to try to run more Asian Amer­i­can women” as a baby step to­ward re­gain­ing rel­e­vancy statewide.

But as Trump has said, this is a ref­er­en­dum about him. And for a pres­i­dent fa­mously un­will­ing to give an inch or ad­mit de­feat, there may be no such thing as a loss.

“If Don­ald Trump can take away from the night that he won the Se­nate and maybe gained a seat or two, then he will point to his cam­paign ef­forts wher­ever they won,” Tay­lor said.

“That man,” he added, “can turn a two into a 10.”

Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Vol­un­teers work at a San Fran­cisco cam­paign of­fice set up by House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi to sup­port Democrats run­ning in Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions. Pelosi or Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bak­ers­field, is ex­pected to gain the speak­er­ship.

Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Pres­i­dent Trump, seen en­er­giz­ing a rally in Columbia, Mo., is do­ing more elec­tion­eer­ing in the fi­nal days be­fore Tues­day’s bal­lot­ing, telling his sup­port­ers that the midterm elec­tion is a ref­er­en­dum on him and his pres­i­dency.

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