By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - The California Senate on Monday confirmed U.S. Congressman Xavier Becerra as attorney general, positioning the majority-Democrat state to challenge conservative policies of new Republican President Donald Trump.
Becerra, who represented Los Angeles for 24 years in Congress, was approved by a party line votes of 26 to 9, with Democrats heavily in favor and Republicans arguing that the state should give the new administration a chance rather than picking fights. He will replace former California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.
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"It's a role to defend the progress and the values of the people of California," Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said of Becerra's new job in an interview after the vote on Monday. "These are extraordinary times and require extraordinary actions."
Becerra, 58, was nominated for the position by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown shortly after Trump's election.
A Stanford-trained attorney who was first elected to Congress in 1993, Becerra is viewed as a reliable progressive with the savvy to navigate the halls of Congress as well as the nation's courtrooms.
"I couldn't ask for a better job," said Becerra, to be sworn in by Brown on Tuesday. "It is humbling and exciting to assume responsibility for vigorously advancing the forward-leaning values that make California unique among the many states."
Becerra learned through his long Congressional career to work both sides of the aisle, and he made sure to meet with legislative Republicans before his confirmation hearings began this month.
But while the legislature's minority GOP members made a point to say they liked and respected Becerra, most spoke against his nomination.
"Instead of acting like we're going to be defiant, I’d like to see us extending an olive branch" to the new administration, said state Senator John Moorlach, a Republican who represents part of Orange County south of Los Angeles.
In addition to naming Becerra attorney general, the legislature also hired the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, an Obama appointee, to represent them in cases and negotiations involving the new administration and Republican-controlled Congress.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)