Democratic politicians around the country are tripping over themselves to denounce our new president and his executive order halting travel and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries. The day after that order was given, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unleashed a series of tweets calling the order “shameful” and “un-American,” and then added: “President Trump's executive order erodes our constitutional rights. If this is where he's starting, imagine where he's going.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, also on Twitter, announced that he was rushing off to the airport to help those who had been detained, and said: “We’ll fight today, and we’ll fight tomorrow.” A bit later, in an opinion piece for CNN, Walsh pledged: “I will do everything lawful within my power to protect our immigrant neighbors, documented or not. If necessary, I will use City Hall itself to shelter and protect them from persecution.”
Here in California, the state Senate passed a sharply worded resolution condemning the order, saying it “desecrates our American values and panders to fears and nativist instincts that have resulted in some of our nation’s most shameful acts.” The sharpest response, perhaps, came from Congressman Ted Lieu, who just hours after Trump's executive order released a statement saying, “Trump's action is not based on national security, it is based on bigotry. Lady Liberty is crying.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's comments were more temperate. His immediate statement said the order “unfairly targets refugees” and pointed out that “there is no evidence that this approach will improve national security.” On Tuesday, when asked about Trump's executive orders, Garcetti said, “I think on the face of them, [they] are unconstitutional and illegal.”
I look forward to working with the White House in areas like infrastructure, where President Trump says he wants to spend a trillion dollars. Great, we'd love to start right here in Los Angeles. He's been very supportive of our Olympic bid. But we're also going to stand up for our families not to be divided. We're going to stand up for our economy, where 61 percent of our Main Street businesses are started by immigrants, and [for] making sure that we can continue to tell the … human story of … that history, to engage with it and, yes, to work with this administration on fixing what's broken, an immigration system right now that works, really, for nobody.
When asked about Trump's threat to withdraw federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities,” Garcetti replied: “We've never declared ourself a sanctuary city; I'm still not sure what one is.”
So was Garcetti being soft on Trump?
“I think many of us would like to see him be a little more aggressive and a little more resistant to the Trump administration, especially given how Democratic the city is,” says Fernando Guerra, a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. “In terms of being the mayor of L.A., there is no cost to being the leader of resistance.”
“Having said that,” Guerra adds, “it’s not in his nature. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You just can’t have someone do something that’s not in their nature.”
Indeed, Garcetti is famously diplomatic, capable of charming different rooms of people on different days. His slogan when he was running for mayor, if you'll recall, was “back to basics,” a pleasant-sounding phrase that could be interpreted any number of ways.
There's another, more rational reason for Garcetti's moderate tone. The L.A. mayor is all but assured of re-election, so he doesn't have to worry about whipping the electorate into a Trump-hating frenzy, or about raising money — at least in the short term. His immediate priorities are getting things done. Garcetti hopes to expand L.A.'s rail network, turn the Los Angeles River into a giant urban park and bring the Olympics back to the city. All three require cooperation from Washington, D.C.
“I don’t know that Garcetti has said anything dramatically different from [state Senate president pro tem] Kevin de Leon or [State Assembly Speaker] Anthony Rendon,” says USC professor Dan Schnur. “But it's clear from his tone that he wants to find a way to stand up for the people of his city on the one hand but not forfeit the potential to move forward on large-scale infrastructure on the other.”
Trump has pledged to pass a major infrastructure bill. While it's unclear what exactly that will look like, both Garcetti and Gov. Jerry Brown have made it clear that they'd like their pet projects to be considered.
“Both Garcetti and Jerry Brown have been much more measured than other California politicians,” Schnur says.
Should Garcetti decide to run for governor in 2018, the calculus may change dramatically. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, whom some consider the gubernatorial frontrunner, was quick to join protesters in San Francisco after Trump issued his executive order. Should Trump continue on his current trajectory, the governor's race may hinge upon who is the biggest Trump basher.