President Donald Trump’s agenda hasn’t been kind to blue states.
And it’s been particularly rough on California, where voters will go to the polls Tuesday, June 5, to pick candidates to run in November’s midterm elections.
California has a jungle primary, where candidates from all parties run together and the first- and second-place candidates move on to the general. It means Tuesday will be not only a measure of voter enthusiasm but also an early referendum on the Trump agenda.
There’s no question that Democrats are looking to make big gains in the state; however you look at it, Democrats need to flip California Republican seats to blue if they have any hope of retaking control of the House in November.
The potential for a blue wave has put California’s 14 Republicans on the defensive. And after months spent trying to repeal Obamacare, ceding the immigration debate to hardliners, and passing a tax bill that disadvantages more high-tax states, they have a lot to defend.
A health care bill that would have left 4.2 million more Californians uninsured
Just over a year ago, House Republican gathered in the White House Rose Garden in celebration: They had passed their version of an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill. It would have resulted in millions more people being uninsured, more than $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid, and an uncertain future for the protections that vulnerable Americans enjoy under the Affordable Care Act.
The bill never became law, although Congress did succeed in repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate. But if it had, there would have been big consequences for California, where, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, Obamacare has been largely successful.
“At least 20 percent of Americans covered through the marketplaces and Medicaid expansion live in California, even though the state is only home to 12 percent of the country’s population,” Kliff writes. The state’s uninsured rate has fallen from 17.2 percent before the law to 6.8 percent in 2017.
So it’s somewhat unsurprising that California would have been among the states hardest hit under the House Republican health care proposal — the American Health Care Act. It would have led to a 37.8 percent cut in federal health care funding to the state and increased the number of uninsured people by 4.2 million compared to Obamacare, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.
Yet every single California House Republican voted in favor of the proposal. And consequently, it’s become one of Democratic candidates’ biggest talking points in the 2018 primary cycle.
An immigration agenda that left 223,000 young people’s legal status in limbo
The impact of the Trump’s administration decision to sunset the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which protects young unauthorized immigrants from deportation — is particularly evident in California.
California has 223,000 DACA recipients, more than any other state in the country. They are currently living in limbo, as the fate of the program sits in the courts. The possible impacts on the state are serious: One survey from the progressive group Center for American Progress estimated that without the program, California would experience $11.6 billion in annual GDP losses.
Gary Toebben, the president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, writes:
If we analyze DACA recipients, we’ll find that 90 percent are employed, and they pay more than $1.4 billion in federal taxes and another $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. In 2015, DACA-eligible entrepreneurs had a total business income of $658.7 million, a significant boost to local economies across the country.
Yet on Capitol Hill, the story of immigration policy has been one of inaction and deep intraparty divides. Many of the moderate California Republicans in increasingly diverse and immigrant-heavy districts are feeling the pressure to act on DACA — so much so that one Central Valley Republican, Rep. Jeff Denham, is even trying to force the House into a debate on the issue. But Denham and his colleagues have also stood behind a president who has repeatedly espoused anti-immigration views.
The actual action on immigration, carried out by Trump’s administration, has been nothing short of a hardline approach — most recently exemplified by a growing outrage on the left over a Trump administration policy that separates asylum-seeking families at the border.
So for many Republicans in California, the Trump immigration agenda is a major obstacle.
A tax bill that hits Californians hard
Nationally, House Republicans have championed the GOP tax bill as their great legislative success under Trump.
But in California, the bill is likely to be a bigger vulnerability than a policy win. It comes down to several key reforms to the tax code that disadvantage high-tax blue states.
The bill changes the mortgage interest deduction, lowering the cap for newly issued loans to $750,000 from the current $1 million threshold. Those in the real estate industry say this would reduce the incentive to buy and build homes, which could affect lenders, construction companies, and real estate firms. And it disproportionately impacts states with higher home prices, like California.
It also caps the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, which hits hard in high-tax states where people rely on deducting their state income and property tax.
House Republicans behind the tax bill have pushed back on this narrative. In an op-ed in the Orange County Register, Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Ed Royce, Mimi Walters, Tom McClintock, and Steve Knight wrote:
Folks are worried that by limiting the state and local tax and home-mortgage deductions, Californians will pay more. Our legislation keeps the SALT deduction for up to $10,000 and the home-mortgage interest deduction up to $750,000 in loan value for new mortgages, and every time we limited or eliminated deductions or loopholes, we directed those savings to taxpayers. That’s why even with changes to these deductions, the average tax cut in California is over $2,000.
Other Republicans in support of the bill said these changes wouldn’t impact Americans because of the increased standard deduction, as people are less likely to itemize their deductions.
In California, 4 million households deduct interest on mortgages in their taxes at an average of $12,000. And housing prices in parts of Orange County and San Diego County are higher than $750,000. Californians also deducted an average of $16,000 in state and local income taxes and $6,000 in property taxes. This was a reason McClintock was originally against the tax bill, before changing his vote. For context, 46 percent of Walters’s district, for example, takes the state and local tax deduction, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Republicans’ votes in favor of the party’s agenda have become a big part of the Democrats’ attack strategy in 2018.
“At this point, it looks like California Republicans are eager to lose their seats,” a Democratic operative told Vox last year.
On Tuesday, those fighting words will be put to the test.