WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday hammered California for its so-called sanctuary immigration policies, in what appeared to be his latest push to embolden his base leading into the midterm elections.
As the debate over immigration heats up on Capitol Hill, Trump surrounded himself with mayors, sheriffs and other local leaders from California who oppose the state's immigration policies and who applauded his administration's hard-line efforts.
"This is your Republican resistance right here against what they're doing in California," said California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, coopting a term used by Democrats opposed to Trump's presidency. She, like others, said the president and his policies were far more popular in the state than people realize.
"It's a crisis," Melendez said of the situation.
They were responding to legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year that bars police from asking people about their immigration status or helping federal agents with immigration enforcement. Jail officials can transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of one of about 800 crimes, mostly felonies, but not for minor offenses.
Brown insists the legislation, which took effect Jan. 1, doesn't prevent federal immigration officials from doing their jobs. But the Trump administration has sued to reverse it, calling the policies unconstitutional and dangerous. Some counties, including San Diego and Orange, have voted to support the lawsuit or passed their own anti-sanctuary resolutions.
Republicans see backlash to the law as a potentially galvanizing issue during the midterm elections, especially with Trump's anti-immigrant base. And Trump has held numerous events in recent months during which he's drawn attention to California's policies.
During Wednesday's session, Trump thanked the officials, saying they had "bravely resisted California's deadly and unconstitutional sanctuary state laws." He claimed those laws are forcing "the release of illegal immigrant criminals, drug dealers, gang members and violent predators into your communities" and providing "safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on earth."
Trump also claimed opposition to the policies was growing, insisting, "There's a revolution going on in California." He referred to some who cross the border illegally as "animals," not people.
Brown responded on Twitter, writing that Trump "is lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of CA."
The Democratic governor added: "Flying in a dozen Republican politicians to flatter him and praise his reckless policies changes nothing. We, the citizens of the fifth largest economy in the world, are not impressed."
The event came as top House Republicans worked to head off an attempt by party moderates to force roll calls on four immigration bills. Republican leaders privately warned GOP lawmakers Wednesday that such a drive could damage the party's prospects in the fall's congressional elections by dispiriting conservative voters, according to people at the closed-door meeting.
The House leaders fear the winning legislation would be a compromise bill backed solidly by Democrats but opposed by most Republicans, an outcome that could anger conservatives, according to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a leader of the effort to force the immigration votes.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., issued the warning, said a second person who was in the room and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private conversation.
Asked about his remarks, McCarthy said his objection to the procedure was that it would in effect "turn the floor over" to Democrats.