Trump adversary Xavier Becerra to 'go for the fences' in Spanish-language State of the Union

Americans "don't have to be hoodwinked on what the true state of the union is when it's not so good," the California attorney general told NBC News.
Image: Xavier Becerra
Attorney General Xavier Becerra helps student Roman Rodriguez fill out a voter registration form during a visit to C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, California, on Sept. 28, 2018.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

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By Suzanne Gamboa

When California's attorney general counters the president’s State of the Union address with the Democrats' Spanish language rebuttal on Tuesday, it won’t be the first time Xavier Becerra has taken swings at Donald Trump's policies.

In fact, according to Democrats, Becerra has filed more than 100 legal actions — 45 of them lawsuits — against the Trump administration.

Becerra will delivered his response live on Spanish-language media outlets Tuesday night, while Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully for Georgia governor last year, will deliver the Democratic response in English. This will be the first time the Spanish-language Democratic response has been delivered live, a Democratic aide said.

For those who tune in, Becerra said they can expect some tough talk. NBC News' sister network Telemundo, as well as Univision, will air his speech after the president's 9 p.m. EST speech ends.

"I always go for the fences, and this won't be any different," Becerra told NBC News in a telephone interview.

Americans "don't have to be hoodwinked on what the true state of the union is when it's not so good," he said.

Becerra delivered a State of the Union response in January 2007 as President George W. Bush was winding down his second term and after an election in which the Democrats captured the majority in the House and the Senate.

In that recorded speech, Becerra — then a congressman — called for a troop pullout from Iraq, but also pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, reductions in prescription drug costs, cuts in college costs, more access to health care and immigration reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that they had chosen Becerra because of his record fighting for health care and against "the Trump administration’s harmful and divisive attacks."

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As California's attorney general, Becerra is the state’s lawyer. But he has essentially become a lawyer for Americans who oppose many of the president's policies, serving as a leader of the anti-Trump "resistance."

He’s led a coalition of attorneys general in defending the Affordable Care Act, and fought the Trump administration's attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

He’s also tangled with the administration through the courts on education, the environment, attempts to add a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, and over a state law restricting local law enforcement authorities from enforcing federal immigration laws.

"His moral and vigilant leadership on behalf of hardworking families is a critical marker for all who believe that our country's best days are ahead of us," Schumer, D-N.Y., said of Becerra in a statement.

Becerra, who is California’s first Latino attorney general, grew up in a low-income family and went on to graduate from Stanford University and Stanford Law School.

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Becerra to finish the term of Kamala Harris when she was elected to the Senate. Becerra won re-election last year with 61 percent of the vote.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra discusses various issues during an interview with The Associated Press, in Sacramento, California on Oct. 10, 2018.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

It was Brown’s intention that Becerra lead the resistance to Trump, particularly to preserve what the governor had achieved on climate change. Becerra, who is Mexican-American and whose mother came from Guadalajara at 18, also is something of a symbolic foil. His state has the most Latinos in the country.

An October 2018 Pew Research Center survey of 1,501 Latinos found only 22 percent of HIspanics approved of the job Trump was doing. However, of the approximately 25 percent Latinos who identified or leaned Republican, six in 10 approved of his job performance. Other more recent polls have shown Trump with an approval rating of 18 to 35 percent, though most have not released their sample size.

Becerra arrived in the attorney general spot after a long career in Congress, from 1993 to 2017. There, he rose to be part of the Democratic leadership and was Pelosi’s ally. Before Congress, Becerra served in the California State Assembly and was state deputy attorney general from 1987 to 1990.

Hillary Clinton considered him as a potential running mate in the 2016 presidential race before the spot went to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. Becerra was seen as a possible contender for the Senate or governor in 2017, but sat those races out and was pursuing chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax legislation. Then Brown recruited him for the attorney general job.

Becerra can run for re-election in 2022. The attorney general position has led to higher office in the past, in the state and in Washington. With the 2020 race shaping up, Becerra could be considered for vice president again, depending on who wins the nomination.

"Nobody thinks this is Xavier Becerra's last office," said Michael Madrid, a principal at Grassroots Lab, a campaign management and lobbying firm.

Becerra told NBC News he thinks a lot of people are "hungry to hear" about how the nation is doing.

"It's important to give them a candid picture of the state of the union," he said, "the good, the bad and the ugly."

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