In the Age of Trumportunism, Young California Politicians Seize the Spotlight

Congressman Ted Lieu has emerged as an unlikely breakout star of the Trump era.

"Since the election, I've watched Donald Trump go from a candidate that made extreme statements to now a president that’s making extreme statements and taking extreme actions," Lieu says. "And I concluded that he is a danger to our republic. Once I concluded that, I decided the most patriotic thing I could do is resist Donald Trump. And that’s what I’m doing every day."

The two-term congressman hasn't wasted any time making his views known. While some pols were still taking a wait-and-see approach, Lieu, on the Monday after inauguration, launched the "illegitimacy clock" on his website, which ticks off the number of seconds Trump has been in office — and, in Lieu's mind, has been in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause. The next day, Lieu introduced a bill to limit the ability of the president to use nuclear weapons.

This week, he created an official page on his website to help federal employees leak documents to reporters under protection of whistleblower laws. And after Trump's jaw dropping, 77-minute press conference on Thursday, Lieu issued a one-sentence, tongue-in-cheek press release:

The press conference by President Trump today reminded me of a fine-tuned machine.

While Gov. Jerry Brown, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein all have been fairly moderate in their criticisms of the president, California's newer legislators, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Congressman Tony Cardenas and Lieu, have been laying into Trump every chance they get, on Twitter, in press releases and in interviews (Cardenas and Lieu skipped Trump's inauguration; Harris attended).

"It’s kind of ironic," says Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles. "[They] were considered mild in terms of how they campaigned, or how they’ve overseen policy. ... Tony Cardenas was not a firebrand on City Council. With Kamala, the argument was, 'What does she stand for as attorney general?' She was so meek and mild."

While older politicians like Feinstein and Brown feel insulated from public pressure, Regalado says, younger legislators "feel like their constituents want fire. They feel motivated by what they see in the streets. Ted Lieu has kind of morphed into something we didn’t expect."

Lieu says that when he was in the state Legislature, he worked with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a couple of bills. And even when he opposed the Governator, he wasn't nearly as combative as he is now.

"I have been combative on issues, but I never went after the executive branch," Lieu says. "And I would rather not be doing this. I have a history of working across the aisle. But Donald Trump is something different. He is an autocrat."

Some of Lieu's antics have felt almost like Daily Show satirical stunts. He told the Huffington Post that he wants to introduce a bill requiring a psychiatrist to be on call at the White House. And after Kellyanne Conway made famous the term "alternative facts," Lieu tweeted this photo:

"Sometimes satire and humor can make a large impact in a way that other approaches might not be able to," Lieu says. "I will use satire to point out the crazy that’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Kamala Harris skipped Trump's inauguration. She did not. We regret the error.


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