LOS ANGELES — Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom tore into President Donald Trump‘s policies Monday during a press conference where he spoke about his decision to pull the majority of the state’s National Guard troops from the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This crisis on the border is a manufactured crisis,” Newsom told reporters. “We are not interested in participating in this political theater.”
The decision to pull 260 of the state’s 360 troops from the border follows Trump’s State of the Union address last week in which he repeated concerns about a border crisis. Newsom’s action is another sign the new governor, after just over a month in office, is taking a more activist approach when it comes to Trump’s policies than California’s previous governor, Jerry Brown.
Last April, Brown agreed to send about 400 of the state’s troops to the border at the request of Trump, who cited “a crisis” at the border due to a “combination of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, and extensive illegal immigration.”
Newsom signed an order Monday to withdraw 260 troops in a challenge to Trump’s original request. The remaining 100 troops will conduct operations primarily around ports of entry, supporting federal efforts to combat drug and gun trafficking.
California’s current agreement with the Pentagon for National Guard troops at the border is set to expire at the end of March. Newsom said the state intends to secure a new agreement with the federal government for just 100 troops.
The 100 soldiers who will stay at the border have special training in narcotics search and seizures as well as expertise in transnational criminal organization intelligence. Newsom said the drug and gun trafficking concerns are real, but he dismissed the president’s claims of a crisis due to undocumented immigration.
There have been reports the state’s troops helped arrest undocumented immigrants as part of work with U.S. Border Patrol agents. The governor conceded some of the state’s troops may have indirectly been in operations that involved some undocumented immigrants.
“When you have National Guardsmen and women doing, for example, surveillance with cameras,” he said, “it’s hard to distinguish between those that are participating in gun and drug activity versus those that may be just crossing the border illegally.” He called it “a gray area that we will no longer participate in.”
The governor also said the border duty for the state’s troops has been “getting in the way of the National Guard being prepared for being redeployed overseas.” He said the troops “are doing work that precludes them from getting the training and the skills and the time off that is necessary to make sure that they’re prepared for more appropriate deployments. So this is actually hurting our readiness.”
Newsom said a number of the National Guard soldiers getting pulled from the border will help Cal Fire to focus on fire prevention efforts. He also said there’s a need for the troops to assist in fighting illegal cannabis grows in Northern California that are not part of the state’s regulated market.
In challenging Trump’s claims of a border crisis, Newsom said border crossings are at the lowest levels since 1971. He said undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a significantly lower level than native-born citizens. And he said California has about 550,000 fewer undocumented immigrants in the state than it did a decade ago.
“This is pure politics,” the governor said.
Newsom also commented on Trump asking the Pentagon to deploy an additional 3,750 troops to the southern border.
“If you’re going to add 3,750 troops to the border, why do you need the National Guard?” Newsom said.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Newsom also has been critical of Trump on the president’s threat to cut off federal funds to the state for wildfire relief. The threat from Trump followed the Camp Fire last year that killed 86 people in Northern California and destroyed most of the town of Paradise.
The governor also blamed Trump for the recent government shutdown and was quick to offer unemployment insurance benefits to Californians affected by the shutdown.
“Gavin Newsom has nothing to worry about as governor of this state by confronting Donald Trump,” said Garry South, the veteran Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist who advised former Gov. Gray Davis. “That’s what most Californians want him to do. Many Democrats didn’t think Jerry Brown did it enough — and that included acceding to the president’s request that the border-state governors send National Guard troops to the border.”
South added, “People are going to see a lot more proactivity from Gavin Newsom than they ever saw from Jerry Brown during the whole last eight years he was governor.”