Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

California’s legislative leaders have hired former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. to advise them on how to do legal battle with President-elect Donald Trump, the highest-profile move to come out of an emerging resistance among cities and states to the expected policies of the incoming administration.

The backlash is still inchoate, with a smattering of Democratic mayors, governors and others vowing to buck the Trump administration on issues including immigration and climate change.

But California, which has long been in the vanguard of liberal politics and where Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump by more than 4 million votes, is taking the most aggressive stance. Senate Leader Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, both Democrats, said Wednesday that Holder will serve as outside counsel to the legislature and advise them in efforts to “resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made.”

Holder’s “involvement sends a loud and clear message to all Californians that we have their backs and to Washington that we’re not backing down,” de León said Wednesday in an interview.

“We’re talking about workers’ rights, civil rights, voting rights, environmental protections, climate action, protecting children from being separated from their mothers, massive deportation,” he said, as well as the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

In a statement Wednesday, Holder, who is a partner at the firm of Covington and Burling and supported Clinton, said he is “honored that the legislature chose Covington to serve as its legal advisor as it considers how to respond to potential changes in federal law that could impact California’s residents and policy priorities.” Holder declined to comment further when reached Wednesday.

Holder was beloved by many liberals for his focus on civil rights protections and support for same-sex marriage, while he became a lightning rod for criticism from Republicans during his time in the Obama administration. In 2012, he was held in contempt by the GOP-led House of Representatives over a probe into the actions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) during an undercover sting operation known as “Fast and Furious.”

Holder is also chairing a new Democratic group aimed at redistricting efforts, one that will also enlist help from President Obama after he leaves the White House.

De León and Rendon have been among the most defiant voices cropping up across the country since Trump’s election — and are part of a growing chorus that includes California Gov. Jerry Brown, who told a gathering of climate scientists last month that the state is “ready to fight” efforts to roll back the its environmental policies.

Democratic officials nationwide are also taking aim at Trump’s promises of widespread deportations as well as looking at how his professed skepticism about climate change could translate into policies.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said his city would “do everything we know how to do to resist” mass deportations. When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) met with Trump in New York, he brought the president-elect a letter signed by 15 mayors as well as other current and former municipal leaders asking him to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which offers temporary protection to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before turning 16.

Numerous mayors, including those in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, have also said that their municipalities will remain “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants or will not assist in federal deportation efforts.

In Los Angeles, where there are an estimated 500,000 undocumented people, Police Chief Charlie Beck said that he reassured community leaders in the country’s second-biggest city that the police department’s posture of not detaining suspected undocumented people would not change after the election.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions and Applied Research, said the muscle that mayors are now employing underscores how the clout of local officials has risen over the past decade as many cities have experienced economic gains. But the extent to which some are now vowing to fight the federal government is unusual.

“From a historical perspective I would say is. . . what we’re currently seeing is somewhat atypical,” he said.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) said his city wants to be left alone and continue to work on issues such as mass transit and the environment.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to be left alone, and I’ve told my team really to have no expectations of this administration,” he said.

Atlanta isn’t spoiling for a fight, he said.

The city “will continue to push a forward-leaning, progressive agenda and if someone wants to interrupt that, we’re going to completely engage and use all of the tools available to us to engage,” he said.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R), who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an organization representing cities with at least 30,000 residents, did not endorse anyone last year, but voted for Trump. Cornett said that he thought there wasis “a tinge of partisanship” in the way some of his Democratic peers in other cities are reacting to the president-elect.

“It’s based on things that were expressed during the campaign,” Cornett said in a telephone interview. “I’m willing to take a wait-and-see approach.”

But he said that the “whole Trump movement just creates uncertainty,” especially for elected officials.
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the tactics that many liberal politicians are gearing up to use are not new.

“This is the playbook from the Republicans against Obama,” he said, specifically with how Republicans brought lawsuits against the health care law and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“You had all these conservative attorneys general that banded together and brought a challenge against federal policies. . . . What was good for the goose is now good for the gander,” Romero said.

Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.

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