- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra on Tuesday cleared the first hurdle to becoming California’s next attorney general, a process that is expected to be smooth for the well-known congressman in a heavily Democratic state.

An Assembly committee controlled by Democrats voted 6-3 along party lines to support Becerra, who has represented parts of Los Angeles for more than two decades and is the highest-ranking Latino in Congress. He will now be considered by the full chamber.

The Democrat told the Assembly Special Committee on the Office of the Attorney General that he would support law enforcement to cut down on crime, though some Republicans were not placated. Becerra also said he would defend the state’s liberal policies on immigration and climate change against President-elect Donald Trump.

“Our state has the law, the grit and the guts to fight for hardworking families,” Becerra said, later adding, “I think the best defense is a good offense.”

Gov. Jerry Brown nominated Becerra to replace Kamala Harris as the state’s top law enforcement official after she was elected to the U.S. Senate in November. The Democratic governor backed his nominee at the hearing, calling Becerra “battle-tested.”

“The experience of being in a polarized Congress in a polarized time in our nation’s history will serve him well,” Brown said.

Becerra frequently referenced his upbringing as a child of immigrants, calling it a fundamental experience that shaped his policy views. He told the committee he would challenge any attempt by the Trump administration to cut federal funding to the state over its policies on LGBT rights and sanctuary cities.

Some cities in California, including San Francisco, are known as sanctuary cities because they do not cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Becerra also pointed to stop-and-frisk, a tactic in which police stop and search people they deem suspicious, as an area to challenge the president-elect. During his campaign, Trump said he supports the policy.

“The stakes for California couldn’t be higher,” said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a fellow Los Angeles Democrat. “Now, more than ever, we need an attorney general who will defend our values and stand up to the next administration’s backwards vision for America.”

Republicans said after the hearing that they opposed Becerra’s nomination because he did not adequately address their concerns on issues such as public safety and religious freedom.

“What I heard is that he’s got a lot of priorities that involve litigation against the federal government, which is fine,” said GOP Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham of Templeton. “That’s part of his job, too, but I didn’t quite get the answers I was hoping on the public safety piece.”

Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale said he wished Becerra was more specific about how he would defend religious liberty.

“Some of the very pointed questions that we asked, we got general responses that were really non-responses,” Lackey said.

Both chambers of the Legislature must confirm Becerra, who is scheduled to appear before the Senate Rules Committee next week. Brown nominated him on Jan. 3, giving lawmakers 90 days to confirm him.

Before he was elected to the California Assembly in 1990, Becerra worked as a deputy attorney general for three years.

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