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Essential Politics: A waiting wall, a scathing audit

Essential Politics (LAT)

It might not be too much of a stretch to conclude that the biggest political news at midweek, from Washington and Sacramento, comes down to stories about problems of time and money.

And in between, a whole lot of questions for politicians in Washington and Sacramento.


Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, and from border walls to the budget choices by the president of the University of California, things are not going quite as some leaders had planned.

Let’s dive right in.


With the looming threat of a government shutdown by week’s end, President Trump backed off demands that the immediate spending plan include cash for his proposed wall on along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Instead, the White House said it would put the issue back on the table later this year. And while Democrats predictably applauded, conservatives made it clear they see it as more than just a mere course correction.

“It looks like President Trump is caving on his demand," talk show host Rush Limbaugh told his audience on Tuesday.

Still, the decision avoids a high-stakes gamble in the final hours before government funding authority runs out — a gamble that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle wanted to avoid.


Trump’s proposed wall also made news in Sacramento on Tuesday, with opponents scoring an early win for a novel piece of state legislation: Companies that work on the wall project would be barred from contracts with the state of California.

The proposal by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is one of a series of anti-Trump challenges issued this year by Democrats in the Legislature. Lara told his colleagues in the hearing that they needed to be “on the right side of history."

Contractors said they think it sets a dangerous precedent, but failed to block the bill. Its next stop: the state Senate’s appropriations panel.


The Trump administration’s losing record in the federal courts continued on Tuesday, with a judge in San Francisco blocking — for now — any effort to strip funds from so-called sanctuary cities and counties. It was a big win for the plaintiffs, the counties of San Francisco and Santa Clara.

Government lawyers had attempted to argue in court earlier this month that the sanctuary effort was much more limited than the local officials were making it out to be.

Judge William H. Orrick III was having none of that.

“And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," Orrick wrote. “The president has called it ‘a weapon’ to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement."


For several years, we’ve seen a ratcheting up of tensions between California’s elected officials and the University of California. At one point, the fiscal feud led to closed-door negotiations between the two shrewd politicians at the center of the debate: Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano.

On Tuesday, Napolitano found herself in the unwelcome spotlight of an independent audit that alleged hidden funds and high salaries.

The report by State Auditor Elaine Howle pulled no punches:

“Our report concludes that the Office of the President has amassed substantial reserve funds, used misleading budgeting practices, provided its employees with generous salaries and atypical benefits, and failed to satisfactorily justify its spending on systemwide initiatives."

Napolitano dismissed some of the audit’s more damning findings, and generally found her leadership supported by the university’s regents.

Don’t be surprised if this rekindles the hostility legislators have shown UC leaders over budget issues in recent years — especially given the regents voted this past winter for a tuition increase.


Back in Washington, today’s much talked-about unveiling of the president’s plan on retooling taxes may be more of an outline than an actual plan.

The expected announcement was touted as recently as last week by Trump as big news. But on Sunday, budget director Mick Mulvaney described what is coming as “guidance" on the issue of tax reform.


Well, maybe we should let you fill in the blank. Saturday is the 100th day of the Trump presidency, but the president seems torn on whether to savor or skip it.

The tradition of measuring a president’s first 100 days in office now goes back 13 presidents, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how the current man in the White House reconciles his feelings about the historic marker come this weekend.