California leaders pushed back on Monday against President Donald Trump's claim that the state is "out of control," pointing to its balanced budget and high jobs numbers in the latest dustup between the populist Republican and the progressive state.
The state's top Democrats called Trump cruel and his proposals unconstitutional after the businessman-turned-politician threatened to withhold federal funding from the most populous U.S. state if lawmakers passed a so-called sanctuary bill aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.
"President Trump's threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities," state Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said in a statement on Monday.
State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, an L.A.-area Democrat, said the state has the most manufacturing jobs in the nation, and produces a quarter of the country's food.
“If this is what Donald Trump thinks is ‘out of control,’ I’d suggest other states should be more like us," Rendon said.
The latest war of words between Trump and Democratic leaders in California, where voters chose his opponent, Hillary Clinton, two-to-one in November's election, began Sunday, in an interview between Trump and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
During the interview, O'Reilly asked Trump about a bill in the state legislature, authored by de Leon, to ban law enforcement agencies in the state from cooperating with immigration officials in most circumstances. Cities who have enacted similar bans are known as sanctuary cities, and de Leon's bill, if passed and signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, would effectively extend such rules to the entire state.
Trump disparaged the bill as ridiculous, saying that sanctuary cities "breed crime."
"We'll have to, well, de-fund," Trump said. "We give tremendous amounts of money to California."
Trump went on to say he viewed funding as a weapon.
"California in many ways is out of control," Trump said to O'Reilly. "Obviously the voters agree or otherwise they wouldn't have voted for me."
Last week, Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from the University of California at Berkeley, where violent protests led to the cancellation of a speech by an editor for the right-wing Breitbart News.
But experts said it would be difficult for the President to withhold funds from either the university or the state. Court rulings have limited the power of the president to punish states by withholding funds, and most appropriations come from the Congress and not the executive branch.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Andrew Hay)