Defending California: Newsom’s Strategy Against Potential Trump Resurgence

Gov. Gavin Newsom is preparing a legion of civil servants to safeguard the state's leading-edge climate policies against a potential second administration.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump (Image source: Twitter)

Officials in the Newsom administration are acutely conscious that deeply blue stands as a prime target for former President Donald Trump's political tirades and policy reversals—and they fully anticipate a resurgence of his assaults on the Golden State should he triumph in November.

Trump campaign officials openly admit that they intend to assail California's policies, affirming to POLITICO this week that the state's electric vehicle initiatives would be a primary focus.

“We comprehend the playbook,” remarked Newsom at the recent ratification of a climate accord with . “We're unequivocally striving to fortify California in every conceivable manner.” What Newsom characterizes as fortifying for the future is essentially insulating against Trump.

The most recent indication of these preparations surfaced last week with an agreement between California and Stellantis, the fourth-largest automaker globally, which consented to adhere to the state's emissions regulations.

With this voluntary commitment, the maker of Chrysler and Dodge vehicles assisted in shielding California's climate agenda against legal challenges and potential federal attempts to roll back its more ambitious policies.

While other states and the federal government under President Joe Biden are also taking measures to safeguard their progressive principles, California would experience a notably unique clash of policies—and personalities—if the leader returns to the White House. Trump would assume office in 2025, the final year of Newsom's term in the governor's mansion as he looks toward his next phase. Newsom, a rising luminary in the Democratic Party with presidential aspirations, would relish playing the leading role as Trump 2.0's principal adversary.

Newsom has not explicitly articulated his strategy this time around, but the state possesses a familiar playbook from Trump's initial term that it is already revisiting: a blend of legal maneuvers, voluntary agreements with industry, and exhibitions of diplomatic influence.

Trump clashed with California on a multitude of issues during his first term, but the most frequent battleground was the state's pioneering environmental policies.

His EPA and Interior Department rescinded the state's authority to establish its own vehicle emissions standards under the Clean Air Act, endeavored to augment water deliveries by revising protections under the Endangered Species Act, and opened vast stretches of the California coastline to exploration.

And Trump has frequently targeted California in his bid for a second term. A spokesperson for the campaign pledged to challenge the state's regulations on electric vehicles.

“The complete and total prohibition on gasoline-powered automobiles and trucks in California and any other state that adopts California's standards will devastate countless U.S. automotive jobs,” declared Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt in a statement. She further asserted that the ban, which terminates sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles in 2035, would “flood the United States with Chinese-made Electric Vehicles to pilfer our jobs, and burden working families with the crippling expenses and constraints of costly Electric Vehicles.”

Newsom is well cognizant of the imminent peril.

“Donald Trump poses a threat to the health of our children,” remarked Lindsey Cobia, a political consultant to the governor, in a statement. “He aims to nullify our clean air regulations and auction off public lands to the oil sector. He aspires to once again serve as Big Oil's president.”

The role of the judiciary Foremost among California's arsenal is its legal strategy. The state litigated against Trump 136 times during the tenures of Attorneys General Xavier Becerra and Rob Bonta, according to Paul Nolette, a political scientist at Marquette University specializing in states' legal tactics. California attained at least partial victories in more than half of these challenges, Nolette noted, but Trump's defenses sharpened even during his first term—particularly following the appointment of veteran energy lobbyist and congressional aide Andrew Wheeler to replace former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“We have already observed the Trump administration become more sophisticated over time,” he remarked.

And Republican-led states, emboldened by his attacks on California, continue to advance their legal cases. A lawsuit initiated by 17 Republican attorneys general, led by Ohio, contests California's unique authority under the Clean Air Act to impose stricter pollution standards for passenger vehicles, a case anticipated to reach the Supreme Court. Seventeen other states have also aligned with California's standards, transforming the lawsuit into a nationwide ideological clash over how the automotive industry will be compelled to address climate change.

This time around, California is endeavoring to fortify its legal defenses in advance. Much of this effort is being coordinated by the state's primary air and climate regulatory agency, the California Air Resources Board.

CARB attorneys devote considerable effort to devising regulations designed to withstand the most adverse circumstances,” remarked Patty Monahan, a commissioner on the California Energy Commission. “They've honed this skill over time. Even during favorable periods, they remain vigilant.”

A legislative push California's Democratic congressional delegation is also urging Biden's EPA to grant all the Clean Air Act waivers that the state has petitioned for since the inception of his administration, encompassing regulations to restrict emissions from tugboats, lawn mowers, trucks, and locomotives.

Trump has made it explicit that he would once again target these approvals to enforce California's emission standards.

“Upon assuming office, the Trump administration will not only nullify Crooked Joe's Electric Vehicle mandate but will also immediately revoke any Biden waiver allowing gasoline-powered vehicles to be prohibited,” added Leavitt in her statement.

California officials aspire to render this more challenging by securing approval for the waivers prior to the May 22 deadline for the Congressional Review Act, which empowers Congress to annul federal agency regulations during a change in administration.

“Given the Trump administration's prior and unlawful efforts to rescind a California waiver, we cannot afford to delay,” remarked Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

In the absence of federal authorization to enforce state pollution regulations, California possesses a secondary line of defense: voluntary agreements with industry, leveraging the state's considerable size and market influence.

Industry seeks stability CARB experimented with various strategies to enforce its regulations when its waiver was last under threat, ranging from restricting state agencies to procuring vehicles solely from automakers compliant with state regulations to enhancing incentives to promote electric vehicles.

Arguably its most effective tactic, however, was securing commitments from five major automakers—Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, BMW, and Volvo—to adhere to its emission standards and zero-emission sales targets irrespective of legal challenges.

The Trump administration responded to these agreements by initiating an antitrust investigation, threatening to withhold highway funding from the state, and endeavoring to obstruct the agency's cap-and-trade program from linking with Quebec.

Nevertheless, the automakers stood firm—and eventually, GM, Toyota, Nissan, and other industry giants consented to acknowledge California's authority following Trump's departure from office.

This strategy succeeded partly because automakers sought to maintain favor with the nation's largest auto market, but also because they found it exceedingly challenging to anticipate Trump's actions concerning existing regulations, remarked a former senior CARB official who served during the Trump administration.

“The auto industry initially sought what they deemed minor adjustments,” observed Craig Segall, a former deputy executive officer at CARB now serving as vice president of the environmental organization Evergreen Action.

Leave a Reply