Los Angeles Daily News: These LA-area Democrats are at the ‘epicenter’ of the Trump resistance. Here’s why
Up in the hills between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles, the intersection of iconic Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Boulevard evokes thoughts of historic Hollywood glamour and the ’60s rock and drugs scene.
These days it’s also a point of interest to political junkies: It’s the spot where Adam Schiff’s, Brad Sherman’s and Ted Lieu’s congressional districts meet.
A year ago, this wouldn’t have meant much. Schiff and Sherman were unremarkable career congressmen, and Lieu was a House of Representatives freshman in the shadow of the capitol lion he replaced. But since Donald Trump won the White House, the three men have become, in their own distinctive ways, national voices of Democrats’ so-called “resistance.” Unexpectedly, their three contiguous districts have become an an axis of anti-Trump activism.
There is, of course, nothing at Laurel Canyon and Mulholland to mark this as a crossroads of political significance. Not yet.
“There should be sort of a ‘M*A*S*H’ sign there, with arrows saying in this direction is Sherman, in this direction is Schiff, in this direction is Lieu,” said Noah Edelson, a television creative director and Sherman supporter who lives in Sherman Oaks. “And they should all point to the left.”
Why here? For political observers and the three congressmen themselves, the answers range from coincidence to a lofty kind of a rivalry among neighbors and lots of theories in between. But everyone thinks it says something important about politics here and politics in the age of President Trump.
Look south from Laurel Canyon and Mulholland, and you see House District 33, represented by Lieu, D-Torrance. The district curls from Beverly Hills west to Calabasas and Agoura Hills and down through the beach cities. District residents voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Trump by a margin of 41.3 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.
Lieu, who’d been in the state Legislature, was elected in 2014 to succeed Henry Waxman, who retired after 40 years in the House. The Taiwan-born attorney was known for positions, sometimes out of step with his party, informed by his experience as a self-described “recovering computer-science major,” such as his stand for digital privacy in the Apple vs. FBI controversy following the San Bernardino terrorist attacks.
Then Trump was elected, and Lieu began fighting him on Trump’s turf: Twitter. Scathingly, sarcastically, sometimes vulgarly, Lieu hasn’t stopped excoriating the administration: “Dear @realDonaldTrump: What makes America great is that the First Amendment protects the press. Even morons should know that. #MAGA”
"Dear @realDonaldTrump: What makes America great is that the First Amendment protects the press. Even morons should know that. #MAGA https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/918112884630093825 …" @tedlieu
“Ted Lieu is out-tweeting Trump, and it’s making him a political star,” The Washington Post headlined a profile in March.
The serious-minded Lieu said in a phone interview he has surprised even himself with his months-long tweetstorm.
“I didn’t set out to resist the president,” Lieu said. “I put out a statement after the president was elected saying we should give him a chance to govern. It was basically two months later that I concluded I was wrong. it’s not that we disagree on policy. It’s that I see him attacking the institutions of democracy.
“I decided we can’t normalize (this), and I was just going to start responding on Twitter and Facebook. I remember waking up every other day and reading something outrageous coming out of the White House, and I would get angry. I knew it wouldn’t look good to be an angry person on social media. So I decided to use humor satire because those methods can sometimes reveal truth in ways that ordinary statements do not.”
Lieu said he isn’t sure why the Los Angeles area has produced this anti-Trump triumvirate, but he gets why California has.
“[Californians] have seen how diversity is a strength, how fighting against climate change is good for the economy, how people of all faiths and backgrounds can work together. That’s different from what’s coming out of this administration,” Lieu said.
He said the real connection between the three men is that all serve on committees — Lieu and Sherman on the House Foreign Relations Committee, Schiff on the House Select Committee on Intelligence — that deal with foreign policy.
“We see how the president has weakened our moral standing in the world, how he has embarrassed us in the eyes of the world,” Lieu said, calling it “horrifying.”
Look east, in the direction of Universal City, and you’re seeing House District 28, represented by Schiff, D-Burbank. It reaches from West Hollywood, through Glendale, up to the Angeles National Forest. The district went for Clinton over Trump by 49.8 percentage points.
Schiff jumped from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., by unseating Republican Jim Rogan in 2000 what was then the most expensive House race ever. Beyond his growing foreign policy and national security expertise, the most interesting things about Adam Schiff were that he was a triathlete and his wife’s name is Eve.
Then, Trump became president. Schiff’s position as the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and his cool communication skill as a former federal prosecutor have made him a go-to guy for TV networks covering Trump’s pushback against the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “The unlikely liberal hero,” The New Yorker magazine called him in March.
“I’ve never felt our system of checks and balances was so much at risk as it is now. I’ve never seen a president so placing the rule of law in jeopardy,” Schiff said in a phone interview. His determination not to let Trump interfere with the Russia probe, Schiff said, “has brought me into direct conflict with him.”
Schiff said he can’t explain why his, Sherman’s and Lieu’s districts have become “the epicenter of resistance,” as he put it. But, like Lieu, he thinks it’s natural that it’s in California.
“Certainly, Southern Californians as a whole are among the most desperately concerned in the country about the destructive capacity of this administration,” Schiff said.
Look northeast, and there’s House District 30, represented by Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks. It covers the Valley’s southern and western edges. The district chose Clinton over Trump by 43.4 percentage points.
Sherman, an accountant, went from the state tax board to Congress in 1996, succeeding the retired Anthony Beilenson, and held the job in 2012 by winning a post-redistricting showdown with fellow Democrat Howard Berman. Sherman made perhaps his biggest national splash in 2006 by playing along with a Steven Colbert gag about the Valley porn industry.
Then, Trump. In July, Sherman teamed with Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump, alleging the president committed obstruction of justice by trying to block the investigation of national security adviser Michael Flynn and firing FBI Director James Comey. The White House blasted the move as “a political game at its worst,” but Sherman said it reminds Trump of possible personal consequences.
Sherman denied he, Lieu and Schiff are in cahoots — or in competition. “We don’t have a Canyons Caucus,” he said in an interview. Nor, he said, are they unique. “It’s not like Maxine Waters [D-Los Angeles] and Nancy Pelosi [D-San Francisco] are shrinking violets.”
But supporter Noah Edelson, a member of the Valley activist group Indivisible 30, said he thinks neighborly competition is a factor. Sherman “was late to the party,” Edelson said, responding aggressively to Trump only after local progressives pushed him.
“We were looking around and saying, ‘Look at Lieu — he’s doing something. Why can’t our guy do something?’ ” Edelson said.
“I did not act [on impeachment] until the legal case was there,” Sherman said.
Republicans are not impressed.
A state Republican leader said Sherman, Schiff and Lieu are pandering to their base in overwhelmingly Democratic districts and competing with each other to excite campaign donors.
“In California, it seems like the more you criticize Trump, the more popular you are,” said Mario Guerra, treasurer of the California Republican Party. “That’s what these three are doing. They’re doing it more than anybody.”
Eric Bauman, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said it’s intriguing that this concentration of anti-Trump fervor comes from the L.A. area, not the thoroughly liberal San Francisco Bay Area, but no surprise that it comes from the state that gave Hillary Clinton 61.7 percent of its votes, the highest for any presidential candidate here since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.
“It starts off very simply with the fact that we are one of the most solidly blue [Democratic] states in the country,” Bauman said, calling it a “safe place” for anti-Trump voices.
Cal State University political scientist Tom Hogen-Esch was one of several interviewed on the subject who said they hadn’t really considered the significance of prominent anti-Trumpers coming from three adjoining congressional districts until a reporter brought it up. But once he thought about it, Hogen-Esch said the phenomenon is revealing about L.A. politics.
In districts considered “safe” for Democratic incumbents, Hogen-Esch said, the safest place for an officeholder to be is to the political left of possible challengers. Thus, Schiff, Sherman and Lieu are well-positioned as loud opponents of the Republican White House.
The political-science professor said the attention the three congressmen are drawing could signal a shift in California’s political balance of power from north to south.
Culturally, economically and politically, “Los Angeles matters,” Hogen-Esch said. “We’ve long been a state dominated by San Francisco Bay politicians. Maybe we’re seeing the start of a new generation.”