As the author of more than 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is on the front lines of the state’s resistance to the Republican president.
Becerra is also prosecuting tech giants Lyft and Uber for not complying with California’s new labor law, commonly known as AB 5, which requires most independent contractors to be reclassified as employees and afforded employment benefits.
With Sen. Kamala Harris on the presidential ticket, Becerra has been floated as a possible pick to fill her seat if she and Joe Biden take the White House.
The attorney general joined journalists with the Sacramento Press Club for an interview on Facebook Live. Below are excerpts from the conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.
On potentially filling VP nominee Kamala Harris’ Senate seat
Back in 2016, I considered jumping into that senate race. I didn't. I'm thrilled that I'm now the attorney general. I'd be honored to be the U.S. senator. That's totally up to Gov. Gavin Newsom. I hope on Nov. 3 we give Gov. Newsom a reason to have to appoint a new U.S. senator.
On President Donald Trump’s exchange with a California official over global warming
That's the attitude we've had to deal with for the last three and a half years. The president has ignored the science, including the facts, and he has gone cavalierly towards a policy that takes us backward. And that's why we've had to file — I think we're up to 102 lawsuits now — 54 of those 102 deal specifically with the environment. In fact, on Monday we filed another lawsuit against the Trump administration because now they're trying to relax the rules that control how much methane can be released in the air by some of these industries.
Most of those cases we've been winning, and that's the good part. Not only are they not frivolous — a lot of people accuse us of just trying to poke Donald Trump's eye. If that were the case, we'd have a whole bunch of our cases dismissed out of court. We're winning our cases.
On police decertification and other law enforcement reform bills that didn’t pass this year
I do [support] … having a process to make sure that the certification process that peace officers receive is thorough and comprehensive.
I think part of the problem was it was all done towards the end right when time was crunched, but there were other issues as well.
We've made it very clear what we think will work. We've also made it very clear what we think will not work. I've always said to folks, especially if they want the Department of Justice to do the work, you got to make it so that we can actually implement it. You can't ask me to stand up a system without the resources or personnel to do it.
On enforcing and investigating companies not in compliance with AB 5:
Yes, we're looking at many different players, stakeholders and industries [besides Uber and Lyft]. We just don't tell you until it's time.
AB 5 was simply a reflection in legislative language of what the [state] Supreme Court said the rules should be. We are defending that. Several industries have sued so far, we've been able to defend that law. We were able to get an injunction against Uber and Lyft for violating that law. That injunction was put on a temporary stay by the appellate court, so that Uber and Lyft could demonstrate why the injunction shouldn't be made permanent.
We're going to continue to defend that law because the rights of workers are at stake. COVID-19 has made it absolutely clear what's at stake. Unlike some of their family members and neighbors who may have lost their jobs and were able to get unemployment insurance, these drivers were not because Uber or Lyft didn't pay into the unemployment insurance fund. So, they were out of luck. Had not taxpayers through the Congress and the Cares Act, provided, I think, a half a billion dollars in relief to these gig workers to be able to get some type of unemployment benefits, they'd be out of luck completely. Why should workers and now taxpayers carry the burden for companies that should be paying for the benefits that workers rightfully earned as employees?
On misinformation and other issues with Facebook and other social media platforms
What I can tell you is that we're investigating Facebook. I can't go into the details of it, but we're investigating Facebook. We wouldn't be investigating Facebook if everything was pie in the sky. But we are investigating Facebook and we will investigate anyone who we think is engaging in practices that harm the people of the state of California.
These internet companies, these platforms, have become big. They really have become part of our lives in good ways, and in not so good ways. They now have a responsibility to the American people, to consumers, to handle their affairs in a way that is transparent and benefits the people that they serve. So, we're watching what they do and how they do it.
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