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California hires former US Attorney General Holder to fight against Trump challenges

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
Paul Morigi | WireImage | Getty Images
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

California's Democratic state leadership Wednesday tapped former Attorney General Eric Holder as a legal advisor to the legislature as the state prepares for conflicts with a new Republican-controlled Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.

California is likely to see challenges to its policies for immigration, health care, climate change, education and civil rights given the new political landscape in Washington.

"It's going to be California versus Donald Trump quite frankly, from the state level on up," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and political science professor at the University of Southern California. She called it a "wise decision politically and strategically" for California legislators to retain Holder to be on the ground in Washington "to be onsite opposition to Trump and his policies."

Holder currently serves as a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling. He served from 2009 to 2015 in President Barack Obama's Cabinet and was the first African-American to hold the office of attorney general. Prior to that, Holder held positions requiring Senate confirmation in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

"I am honored that the legislature chose Covington to serve as its legal advisor as it considers how to respond to potential changes in federal law that could impact California's residents and policy priorities," Holder said in a statement. "I am confident that our expertise across a wide array of federal legal and regulatory issues will be a great resource to the legislature."

As U.S. attorney general, Holder defended constitutional challenges to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Covered California, the health insurance marketplace formed to implement Obamacare in the state, currently has 1.3 million enrollees — making it the largest of the state-run health exchanges.

Holder was formally retained by the California legislature and is likely to work closely with Rep. Xavier Becerra, who is set to become the next state attorney general after confirmation. The state is led by a Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and both houses in the state legislature are controlled by Democrats.

On the immigration front, California is likely to oppose any deportation efforts by Congress and Trump. Obama's 2012 immigration directive, formally known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was designed to protect so-called Dreamers. Trump opposed the DACA, which allows Dreamers — those undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — to legally work in the U.S. and avoid deportation.

An estimated 750,000 individuals qualify nationwide for Obama's DACA program. California has nearly 200,000 eligible participants in the program, giving the state the largest share.

In addition, political scientist Jeffe said that California Democratic leaders have fought for judicial and prison reforms as well as pay equity and women's rights — issues she said are "the antithesis of the team and the issues agenda that Donald Trump is developing."

"With the upcoming change in administrations, we expect that there will be extraordinary challenges for California in the uncertain times ahead," said California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in a joint statement.

Added the Democratic state lawmakers, "We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes a nation great." They said Holder and his Covington law firm team will be on the ground "advising us in our efforts to resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made."

Climate change also is a hot-button issue for California lawmakers.

Brown last month lashed out at Trump's views on climate change issues and said the dangers of doing nothing about it are real and proven by scientists. Trump has previously stated "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make the U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive."

"Climate is changing and the temperatures are rising," Brown said in a speech Dec. 14 before the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The governor said there's proof in the data from satellites that shows what's happening despite climate change deniers.

"If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite," the governor said. "We're going to collect that data."

Brown also vowed he will defend any Washington efforts to alter climate change work done at national laboratories in California. "We've got a lot of firepower. We got the scientists and the lawyers and we're ready to defend."