President Trump is set to travel Tuesday to the belly of the Democratic beast — California, the prime target of his clashes on sanctuaries for illegal immigrants, a powerful foe of his auto-mileage proposal, a flashpoint in his battle over federal funding for abortion and the home of what he calls House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “disgusting slum” district in San Francisco.
The president is making his fifth trip to the state that has become his Ground Zero of everything that’s wrong with the Democratic Party. In addition to his high-profile policy disputes with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, California is home to some of his least favorite Democratic lawmakers: Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the House impeachment manager; Mrs. Pelosi; Rep. Eric Swalwell, and Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles.
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California stalked out of Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address, which Mrs. Pelosi shredded on camera.
State Republicans say it’s not him, it’s them.
“I think if you’re a Republican in general, you have a poor relationship with the Democrats in the state. They don’t care,” Riverside County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Ingram said in an interview. “If you’re a Republican in California, you get a target painted on your back, that’s just the way it is.”
Mr. Trump’s approval rating in the state was a chilly 33% in a January Morning Consult survey. Only Vermont, home of Democratic socialist presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders, gave the president lower marks, at 32%.
Still, Mr. Ingram said the president is generating excitement in conservative areas of the state such as Bakersfield, in the district of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy; and in Riverside County, which stretches along Interstate 10 east of Los Angeles.
“You have many, many people who are supporting the president, and that includes people with no party preference and Democrats alike,” he said. “You’re not going to make everyone happy, but the divisive climate in California is the problem. Once you’re elected, you represent everyone, and I believe the president has done that.”
Over two days in Southern California, the president will receive an update on the 2028 Summer Olympics from officials in Los Angeles, meet with farmers in the Central Valley about water access, and hold campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills and at the Rancho Mirage home of billionaire Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.
It’s part of a four-day Western swing that also will take Mr. Trump to Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, where he will continue his pattern of grabbing some of the media spotlight away from Democrats’ upcoming presidential primaries in those states.
In his State of the Union address, Mr. Trump made an example of California’s status as a sanctuary state. One of the guests of the president and first lady Melania Trump in the spectators’ gallery was Californian Jody Jones, whose brother was shot and killed in 2018 by an illegal immigrant who had been arrested and released after two prior deportations. The president said California’s sanctuary law was to blame.
“The state of California passed an outrageous law declaring their whole state to be a sanctuary for illegal, criminal immigrants,” Mr. Trump said. “A very terrible sanctuary with catastrophic results.”
He urged Congress to pass legislation that would allow Americans to sue sanctuary cities and states when a loved one is injured or killed as a result of the policy.
During the speech, Mr. Trump also criticized Democratic presidential candidates for following the state’s example by supporting health insurance for illegal immigrants.
The state is also fighting with the administration over its asylum policy. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is leading a coalition of 21 state attorneys general in federal court on behalf of asylum-seekers waiting at the border who haven’t met the administration’s requirement that they apply for asylum in a third country.
“It is cruel and unacceptable to change the rules on people fleeing violence and persecution, especially after they have already jumped through every hoop the Trump administration has thrown their way,” Mr. Becerra said in a statement. “In California, we’ll continue to fight for everyone who aspires to the American Dream.”
In another ongoing clash with the administration, Sacramento has one more week to end its mandate requiring insurers to cover abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a notice of violation against California last month, saying the state’s requirement violates federal law banning government agencies that receive HHS funding from discriminating against health-care groups because they don’t provide abortion or abortion coverage.
If California doesn’t comply with the federal notice, HHS could move to cut funds to the state.
Mr. McCarthy said Sunday that the state must “stop discriminating against pro-life Californians or it risks losing critical federal funds.”
“They still have time to change course, and I hope they make the right decision,” he said.
Religious groups say the state forces them to violate their beliefs by paying for health insurance that covers abortions or by using their premiums to help fund others’ abortions.
Mr. Newsom said California “will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”
The president and Mr. Newsom have clashed over the border wall and over what Mr. Trump has called the governor’s “terrible job” in managing state forests to prevent wildfires.
But the feud with the biggest potential economic impact involves Mr. Trump’s efforts on fuel-economy standards. The Trump administration plans to increase the standards 1.5% a year from 2021 to 2026, a reversal from his previous plan to freeze them at this year’s levels but far below the Obama administration’s goal of about 54 mpg by 2025.
The state has said it will refuse to buy vehicles from manufacturers that adhere to Mr. Trump’s plan.
The president further has criticized the state for an increase in homelessness, tweeting out videos of trash-strewn streets and drug addicts in Mrs. Pelosi’s district. But on this front, there seems to be a new tenor of cooperation between Washington and Sacramento.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thanked Mr. Trump last week for his efforts to combat the state’s homelessness crisis.
“Everyone knows @realDonaldTrump & I have our disagreements,” Mr. Schwarzenegger tweeted. “But I want to thank you for sending @SecretaryCarson to our homelessness summit. We’ll only solve this if everyone works together. This issue is bigger than all of us. Now it’s time for action.”
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced a $20 million grant to nine public housing agencies as he attended a homelessness summit in Los Angeles last week.
The state’s homeless population increased by 16.4% from 2018 to 2019, according to HUD.
California is a lucrative source of campaign money for both parties, and Mr. Trump will attend two fundraisers during his visit, following a month in which pro-Trump committees raised more than $60 million for his reelection.
Mr. Ellison will host an event at his golf course and estate in the California desert less than two weeks before the state’s Super Tuesday primary. Supporters who contribute $100,000 or more can join a golf outing and have their photo taken with the president.
A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won California since George H.W. Bush in 1988. In 2016, Mr. Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton by the lopsided margin of 61.7% to 31.6%.
But Mr. Ingram, the Riverside County GOP chairman, said he believes Mr. Trump has a chance this year. Asked if the state is beyond the president’s reach, he replied, “I don’t believe that for a second.”
He pointed to several counties in southern California that have more than 1 million registered Republicans whom he called “high-propensity voters.”
“I think it’s possible, yes,” he said.