By Ben Christopher, CALmatters
For a man who has alternatively been called the face, the leader, and the speartip of the progressive “resistance” to the Trump administration, Xavier Becerra seems comfortable working outside the spotlight.
When Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Becerra to replace U.S. Senate-bound Kamala Harris as California’s attorney general, the 59-year-old congressman came with more than two decades of experience cutting deals and building coalitions as a high-ranking, but (outside certain political circles) little-known representative.
Now, almost a year into his Sacramento gig as the state’s top lawyer, Becerra’s office has put its name on 21 lawsuits against the Trump administration. By volume, that represents a rate of litigiousness unmatched by any of his counterparts in other states. But whereas the attorneys general of Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, and New York have been the first to file some of the year’s most headline grabbing cases—the travel ban, the DACA case, and the Emoluments Clause suit, to name a few—Becerra has been more likely to spearhead lower-profile challenges or sit back and provide support while others take the lead.
“Public service is a team sport,” he told CALmatters of his efforts working with attorneys general in other states. “You can’t get things done—whether it’s as a member of Congress or as an attorney general—without relying on a team.”
The approach is consistent with the public persona that Becerra—who was raised in Sacramento, represented part of Los Angeles in the House of Representatives, and was tasked with keeping his colleagues unified as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus—has cultivated for himself as a careful, dispassionate and capable public servant.
“We’re not looking to pick a fight, but we’re ready for one,” he said during his state confirmation hearing, and many times since—including during an interview this week. Before hitting the “nuclear option” of a lawsuit, he said, “we’d like to resolve things if possible. That’s what I had to do when I was in Congress.”
But by his definition, Becerra isn’t afraid to go nuclear. Beyond the 21 lawsuits, he has filed nearly 20 friend-of-the-court briefs, an avalanche of sternly worded letters, and a handful of cases in which the state has intervened on the same side as federal agencies sued by conservative groups or businesses, anticipating a half-hearted defense from the Trump…