San Francisco: Chanting, clapping and occasionally squabbling among themselves, thousands of Democrats on Saturday turned San Francisco into a festival of dissent aimed at driving President Donald Trump from office.
The difference from any other day in this famously liberal bastion was organization and a formal agenda: The gathering was hosted by California’s Democratic Party, which attracted 5,000 delegates and guests and a small platoon of presidential hopefuls to its spring convention.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator and a presidential contestant, set the fist-shaking tone early on.
“Democrats, we have a fight on our hands,” she said, “and it’s a fight for who we are as a people. It’s a fight for the highest ideals or our nation. And Democrats, with this president, it’s a fight for truth itself.”
She brought delegates to their feet declaring, “We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander in chief” — a view not shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke a short time earlier to her hometown San Francisco crowd.
Other White House hopefuls eagerly piled on the president.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called Trump a coward, saying, “He’s tearing apart the moral fabric of this country and turning our most cherished principles inside out.”
Bay Area Rep. Eric Swalwell said Trump’s “reality TV” presidency was destined for cancellation.
In all, 11 contestants sounded familiar partisan themes, calling for expanded healthcare, protecting a women’s right to choose abortion, enacting labor-friendly policies and pursuing vigorous efforts to stem climate change.
A fiery New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker decried the “normalizing of mass murder in our country” a day after a gunman killed 12 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He called for redoubled efforts to pass nationwide gun control legislation. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas proposed a national assault weapons ban.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who along with Booker drew enthusiastic responses, laid out a lengthy and detailed policy plank.
“We will break up big ag,” she vowed. “We will break up big banks. We will break up big tech. We will make it easier for workers to join in a union.”
In one of the few seeming swipes at a rival, Warren took issue with former Vice-President Joe Biden’s assertion that GOP lawmakers may come around to compromise under a new Democratic president.
“Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses,” Warren said. “But our country is in a time of crisis.”
The partisan crowd cheered loudly.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg drew a contrast of his own. Comparing himself to his many Washington-based opponents, Buttigieg suggested Trump could be reelected if Democrats offer “too much more of the same” in 2020.
“We better come up with something completely different. And that’s where I come in,” said the 37-year-old openly gay chief executive of South Bend, Indiana, “Why not someone who represents a new generation of leaders?”
But the sharpest distinction was presented by former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was roundly booed when he declared that “socialism” is not the answer to beating Trump. He was booed again when he expressed skepticism about government-run healthcare and the Green New Deal program to fight climate change — proposals that are sacrosanct to many on the political left.
“If we’re not careful,” he chided over the hooting and hollering, “we’re going to end up reelecting the worst president in American history.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee offered a crisp rejoinder when he immediately followed on stage. “I’m a governor who doesn’t think we should be ashamed of our progressive values,” he said.
The gathering was the first since a midterm election in which California Democrats ran the table on statewide offices and gained seven congressional seats, a good chunk of the gains that gave the party control of the House.
Some presidential hopefuls waited for more than an hour during the morning session while statewide officers and legislative leaders took turns at the podium; California Gov. Gavin Newsom jokingly referred to himself as the undercard when he spoke.
He held up California as the nation’s political counterweight to Trump, urging the presidential contestants on hand to pay heed.
“We are nothing less than the progressive answer to a transgressive president,” Newsom said. “California’s what happens when rights are respected, when work is rewarded, when nature’s protected, when diversity is celebrated and free markets are fair markets.”
Pelosi, who drew a rapturous response, portrayed the Democratic-led House as a central player in a watershed moment of history as it investigates the Trump administration.
Recapping the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and Trump was not exonerated of obstruction allegations — she pledged the president “will be held accountable for his actions. In the Congress, in the courts and in the court of public opinion, we will defend our democracy.”
The response was repeated calls from the crowd for impeachment.
Outside the downtown convention hall, the sidewalks swarmed with delegates, identifiable not just by their credentials but the T-shirts and buttons promoting favored causes: the right to abortion, universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage and opposition to involuntary circumcision.
They posed with cardboard cutouts of Pelosi in fashionable sunglasses and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in an all-white pantsuit and clamored for selfies with Harris, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other presidential hopefuls.
Gillibrand talked up her plan for universal family leave, O’Rourke focused on his vision for a compassionate education system, and Booker promoted his “baby bond” proposal that would have government contribute to a savings account for every American from birth through child hood.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called for a federal law that would register every American to vote when they turn 18 and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro previewed a plan he will soon unveil to reform police forces nationwide.
Biden, who was notably absent Saturday as he campaigned in Ohio, sought to steal a meager slice of the limelight by announcing that he had received the endorsement of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who served as Labor secretary in the Obama administration.