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Gov. Jerry Brown’s Double-Edged Diplomacy

Senior Statesman Firm in Disagreement but Restrained in Rhetoric


With typical X-rated elegance, state Democratic Party chairman John Burton described Gov. Jerry Brown’s mission to Donald Trump’s Washington last week this way:

“He’s got you by the nuts,” Burton said of Trump. “What are you going to say, ‘Go fuck yourself’? You try to do something … you go in and try to, you know, grab what you can.”

Mr. Chairman’s lucid if explicit analysis, elicited by David Siders, ace California reporter for Politico, splendidly summarized the perilous challenge confronting the governor of the provincial capital of resistance to the 46 percent Republican president.

At a time when California’s Democrat-dominated political establishment, a far-flung network of grassroots organizations and leaders of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and other major industries loudly, bitterly, and all-but-unanimously defy Trumpism, Brown portrays the senior statesman. Firm in disagreement but more restrained in rhetoric, he routinely expresses willingness to cooperate with Trump on matters of mutual self-interest.

“I think we’ll find a way here in Washington,” he said during his four-day trip. “Nothing is all that predictable under the current administration. So that could be cause for alarm but also a cause for some optimism.”

Strongman odor. To be sure, Brown repeatedly and unambiguously denounced the president’s hard-line policies, particularly on health care and immigration.

Shortly before GOP House leaders withdrew the Trumpcare bill, the governor at a big rally attacked it, in thundering Old Testament prophet mode: “This is not about health-care reform ​— ​this is about disease, death, and suffering. Mr. Trump, come down from Trump Tower, walk among the people, and see the damage that this latest exercise in raw political power will wreck on the women, the men, and the children of this country.”

On Meet the Press, he railed against plans to build a border wall and to deport millions of undocumented immigrants:

“The wall, to me, is ominous,” he said. “It reminds me too much of the Berlin Wall. When I see that 30-foot wall, I worry somehow, ‘Are they trying to keep me in, or keep them out?’ I really think people ought to be careful because there’s a lot of odor here of kind of a strongman ….”

He added: “We’re not going to sit around and just play patsy and say, ‘Hey, go ahead. Lock us in. Do whatever the hell you want. Deport two million people.’ No, we’re going to fight, and we’re going to fight very hard.”

He also vowed to fight any punitive efforts to withdraw federal funds from California.

“We do have something called the Ninth and the 10th Amendment,” he said. “The federal government just can’t arbitrarily, for political reasons, punish the state of California.

“California is America. We’re 12 percent. … You don’t want to mess with California, because you’re going to mess with the economy, and that could blow up in your face in a gigantic recession and roll the Republicans right out of this town.”

On the other hand. At the same time, Brown lauded the administration for approving hundreds of millions in disaster relief he’d recently requested, saying, “We feel we’re in sync with the federal emergency management team here … . I think President Trump cares about helping people in disasters.”

He expressed optimism, after meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, that the state might receive $650 million for a crucial railway link in Silicon Valley, along with much larger sums sought for other infrastructure, noting he was “here to negotiate, to make friends, and to advance the cause of California.”

And after a key meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, now the most powerful Californian in Washington, Brown illustrated his singular form of political diplomacy with a classic only-Jerry remark:

“I am not coming here like Martin Luther in 1517, putting my 95 theses on the Wittenberg church,” he said.

No, of course not.



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