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California Senate President on How His State Prepares to Challenge Trump from Climate to Immigration

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Many lawmakers are joining Senator Bernie Sanders in calling on Donald Trump to immediately remove Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, from his new position as chief strategist. “This is a really negative message throughout the world that you have someone who has a history and a practice of dividing and pitting one people against another,” says Kevin de León, president pro-tem of the California State Senate. “That is not what America is about.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin de León, you’re Senate president of California. Your thoughts on this first call of Bernie Sanders to immediately remove—that Donald Trump should immediately remove Steve Bannon, who he’s just appointed to be a senior adviser on all issues that you’re concerned about?

SEN. KEVIN DE LEÓN: I think it’s of grave concern if you have anyone in the White House who has direct access to the most powerful man in the world, an individual who is perceived to be anti-Semitic, an individual who has used, in a very manipulative way, social media, digital media, to pit one group against another, to be divisive. This is the most diverse country in the entire world, and we respect the different ethnicities and different hues, immigrants who come from all over, who want to make something of themselves. And to have someone who would be the chief strategist, the mastermind, if you will, of the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump is of deep concern, and it sends a really negative message throughout the world that you have someone who has a history and a practice of dividing and pitting one group against another. That’s not what America is about. That’s not what the United States—the American people are all about. And, to me, I can tell you, as the youngest child of a single immigrant mother with a third-grade education, I’m—it upsets me greatly, because this is not what California is about.

AMY GOODMAN: I asked you about Bannon. What about the election of Donald Trump?

SEN. KEVIN DE LEÓN: You know, I think, like a lot of folks, you know, here in Marrakech, a lot of folks are astonished and stunned. I know back home in California a lot of folks are just bewildered as to how this can come to fruition, how can this happen. But I can tell you this, that I’ve never been prouder to be a Californian, because, in a margin of over two to one, Californians rejected the politics that were fueled—that are fueled by misogyny, by racism, by xenophobia and by hatred. And that’s—California sent a message to the rest of the country, as well as to the world, that we won’t tolerate those types of values in the state of California.

So, I’m gravely concerned. Obviously, he is the president-elect. He will be the president of the United States of America for the next four years. I’m hoping that we can find common ground to help working families throughout the country, not just in California. But, obviously, when he appoints someone like Bannon to be his chief strategist in the White House, when he has Kobach, you know, to be the chief strategist for immigration policy, and the first things that come out of his mouth are the deportation of 2 to 3 million so-called, quote-unquote, “criminal immigrants”—I can tell you this: That number doesn’t exist, because we don’t have 2 to 3 million criminal immigrants in the United States of America. And quite frankly, it sends the wrong message, because we don’t know if it’s a pretext to detain, identify, racially profile and deport anyone who has a broken taillight. A mother who is a nanny or a housekeeper whose only crime is crossing the border looking for a better life, is she considered a, quote-unquote, “criminal immigrant”? And is that a pretext to detain her and to eventually split families up and deport? So, so far, since the election, the signs that he has sent out have not been positive.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the Los Angeles police chief, Beck, saying he’s not going to participate in this roundup of immigrants? Your thoughts on whether you call—you’re the Senate president of California—call for all police chiefs to do the same in California and around the country?

SEN. KEVIN DE LEÓN: We’ll definitely be doing that. You know, I want to give a lot of kudos to Chief Beck, the chief of LAPD, Special Order number 40 in Los Angeles, LAPD. I met with the governor on Monday morning, and we discussed this issue about the human and civil rights of immigrants, their due process rights, as well, as immigrants, and having the ability to have their word and their say in a court of law, in a federal court of law. We are concerned. And we are going to engage police chiefs throughout the state of California, as well as sheriffs, as well as the California Highway Patrol, too, that we don’t want them to be engaging in federal jurisdiction of ICE. We want them to protect and we want them to serve the constituents of California, irrespective of their legal status, because the last thing you want to do is you want to send a message of fear in communities, especially in immigrant communities, that they will no longer trust local police department to report a crime, if they witness a crime or if they themselves are a victim of a crime. We don’t want to increase crime in our communities throughout California.

AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly is Chief Beck calling for now, saying he won’t do?

SEN. KEVIN DE LEÓN: He won’t allow the LAPD to collaborate or cooperate with any detention of any immigrants in the city of Los Angeles.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Donald Trump saying he will end federal funding for any sanctuary city, like San Francisco?

SEN. KEVIN DE LEÓN: Well, this—the definition of a sanctuary city is quite nebulous, to begin with. Let’s be very clear about that. It’s more symbolically powerful in terms of the words “sanctuary city.” But if you have the most powerful man in the White House using the White House for a political vendetta to punish children, punish working families, punish senior citizens and say, “If you don’t do X, I’m going to withdraw billions of dollars of federal funding from you,” then that’s saying—like, it’s blackmail. And one thing that I’m—my role and responsibility as the president of California, working with the governor and my counterpart, the speaker, Anthony Rendon, is to do everything within my power, our power, to help improve the human condition and to protect all civil rights of all individuals, irrespective of who they are and where they come from. And we tend to do that in California.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think California should become a sanctuary state?

SEN. KEVIN DE LEÓN: Well, as I say, that’s a very nebulous definition. But I can say this: In California, we recognize and we respect immigrants for who they are, the contributions that they have made to California. We have the fifth-largest economy—not in the nation, we have the fifth-largest economy in the entire world. And I thank the immigrant community that has helped build the economy in the state of California. We provide tuition for DREAMers in the University of California, as well as CSU system. We provide healthcare, preventive healthcare for undocumented children, 170,000. We have provided driver’s license, so they can be licensed as well as insured. So we’ve really opened up, you know, the state of California. But, ultimately, it is the Congress, the Senate, as well as the House, and the president of the United States to deal with this issue and to deal with a comprehensive immigration reform package that will allow these individuals to finally be legalized and finally allow them to really be part of the social fabric of who we are as a nation.

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