Incoming Senator Alex Padilla Looks to Lead on Immigration, Targets Cruz, Hawley

The first Latino U.S. senator in the history of California is making his interest in the high-stakes issue of immigration clear to colleagues and constituents, and eyeing COVID relief for a state that has been battered by the pandemic, he told Newsweek, with President-elect Joe Biden set to be sworn in Wednesday.

But Padilla, who will be sworn in after the inauguration by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the senator he is replacing, also addressed the storming of the Capitol that left five people dead, and said two of his soon to be colleagues should be expelled for their roles in fanning the violence.

Asked if he would like to see Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley removed from the Senate for their roles in opposing the results of a democratic election, which presaged the violence, Padilla said, "Of course," while acknowledging the difficulty of asking him and his Democratic colleagues to work side by side with Republicans they feel endangered their lives. "It doesn't take much work to connect the dots on that," he said.

"We take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States, not to uphold and defend conspiracy theories and attacks on our democracy," he added. "That's what we've seen from Trump and his enablers, and we saw the deadly results so Trump and his enablers must be held accountable."

Padilla and his team are making one thing clear as he prepares to take office after serving as the secretary of state of California: Padilla has no qualms about working in an area that is conventionally seen as a "Latino issue," and will seek to take the lead on immigration efforts nationally, and on those which would aid residents of his state.

Padilla took a step in that direction on Twitter last week, saying that "undocumented essential workers braved harsh conditions on farms, in packed meat factories, and took buses to clean homes, offices, and medical facilities. It's time to offer these essential community members a pathway to citizenship in the next COVID bill."

"We have a new appreciation for essential workers now," Padilla told Newsweek, "but it's time we treat them as such," noting that they "deserve stability."

California holds the distinction of being home to both the most immigrants in the country and the state with the most undocumented residents as well.

But Padilla will also enter the Senate at a time when Democrats have only a one-vote edge with Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, and as Biden readies a push on sweeping immigration legislation and executive actions he has talked about since his days on the campaign trail. Padilla said many speak of the division in Congress but argued 2013, when an immigration overhaul was close, is not that long ago, which is why he hopes he can add his "voice to the urgency of the discussion."

Regarding COVID relief, Padilla is concerned about the way the coronavirus has disproportionately "attacked" communities of color, with his state averaging 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day over the past month.The resilience of a virus that has devastated the health and finances of families is why he is focused on a new round of economic help to Americans.

"That is not just urgent, it's not a stimulus check, it's a basic survival check when people are wondering where their next meal is coming from and they're facing evictions," he said. While Padilla told Newsweek he is encouraged that the Biden administration will be more "science-driven," he said his questions will center on getting vaccines from multiple companies and a plan to vaccinate Californians and Americans nationally that shows communities of color are reflected in the vaccination schedules.

The video of California Gov. Gavin Newsom surprising Padilla by asking if he wanted to be the next senator from the state of California went viral in part because Padilla, who was long-rumored to be a top choice for the role, became emotional remembering the journey of his father flipping pancakes and his mother cleaning houses to provide for the family. Padilla would go on to get a mechanical engineering degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology when Proposition 187 was on the ballot in 1994, which sought to bar undocumented immigrants from state services like health care and schools, and energized a generation of Democrats, including him.

"A lot of times we're told,'Don't take your job too personal,' but I disagree, this is as personal as it gets," he said. "To hear from the governor of California at the time that California was going downhill and it's the fault of people like my parents was enraging and insulting and I knew i had no choice but to get engaged."

Padilla's first call to share the news was to his father, where he could hear his pride beaming through the phone. But there were mixed emotions because he lost his mother two years ago, and the conversation quickly turned to what she would have said about the honor.

But even in his celebratory moment, Padilla was confronted by the daunting work in front of him: In normal circumstances, he would have delivered the news to his father in person along with a hug, he said, but in a sign of the times they didn't meet until, wearing masks, they visited his mother at the cemetery on Christmas.

Alex padilla senate
Alex Padilla speaks during a press conference to discuss voting rights and voter registration at Gibson Brand Showroom on July 25, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. The video of Gov. Gavin Newsom asking Padilla to be the next senator from California went viral in part because Padilla became emotional remembering the journey of his father flipping pancakes and his mother cleaning houses to provide for the family. JC Olivera/Getty