California Attorney General Xavier Becerra — the son of immigrants who has sued the Trump administration 45 times over a wide range of issues — will deliver the Spanish-language response to President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday.
Becerra was tapped by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., along with former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who will give her response to Trump’s speech in English.
Becerra, 61, is well known to Pelosi, who served with Becerra from the time he was elected to Congress in 1992 until he left to become attorney general in 2017. During his 24 years in the House, Becerra rose through the ranks to become chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, making him the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
“Attorney General Becerra is a towering champion of equal justice and a tireless fighter for every American’s right to quality, affordable health care, and we all look forward to his strong message of progress for all American families and communities,” said Pelosi.
In a statement Becerra said, “I’m looking forward to addressing my fellow Americans on a day when truth, candor and unity should be the order of the day. There is enough good going on in this country that we don’t need to hide behind misrepresentations to describe the State of our Union.”
Becerra became California’s first Latino attorney general when he was nominated by Gov. Jerry Brown to fill out the term of Attorney General Kamala Harris, after she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Becerra was born in Sacramento, Calif., to immigrant parents from Mexico. The first in his family to attend college, Becerra earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University, where he also later received a law degree.
In an interview with KQED’s Political Breakdown program in July 2018, Becerra said Trump’s descriptions of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers” reminded him of the kinds of treatment his parents had to endure.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that while my parents had to put up with some of these indignities, these injustices — my dad couldn’t walk into a restaurant because of the signs that said ‘No dogs or Mexicans allowed’ even though he was a U.S. citizen — so when you hear someone like Donald Trump say those vile things you absorb, you remember, but then you try to move forward as best you can,” Becerra said, adding that part of moving forward is learning to “punch back.”
Since taking office in January 2017, Becerra has punched back in court dozens of times. On his own or in concert with other state attorneys general, Becerra has sued the Trump administration over the administration’s travel ban on citizens of predominantly-Muslim countries, threats to sanctuary jurisdictions protecting undocumented immigrants, clean air standards, women’s access to reproductive health services and offshore oil drilling.
In doing so, he has helped cement California’s image as leader of “the resistance” to the Trump administration. In November of last year, California voters overwhelmingly elected him to a full four-year term.
Becerra is not the first to deliver a Spanish-language response to the State of the Union. That distinction goes to then-Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who responded in Spanish to President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2011.
Two other Florida lawmakers were subsequently chosen by Republicans to deliver a response in Spanish, Sen. Marco Rubio in 2013 followed by Ros-Lehtinen again in 2014, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in 2016.
Ros-Lehtinen decided not to seek another term last year and her seat was flipped to the Democrats by former Clinton administration Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
Democrats continued the tradition in 2018 when Elizabeth Guzman, a Peruvian-American member of the Virginia House of Delegates, gave the official Democratic response in Spanish. In 2017, it was Astrid Silva, an immigration rights activist and so-called DREAMer from Nevada. President Trump will deliver his State of the Union address Feb. 5, after a one-week delay initiated by Speaker Pelosi withdrawing her invitation to have the president speak during the recent partial government shutdown.