With tickets at $150, we could only afford to send one member to Senator Feinstein’s fireside chat at an elegant luncheon hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). The Juniper Networks “Aspiration Dome” was full of the sort of well-dressed people you’d expect. Many transit agencies, healthcare/health tech organizations, and local tech companies sponsored tables, including Palantir Technologies, co-founded by Trump advisor Peter Thiel, which builds tools for intelligence agencies which have been likened to the president’s proposed “muslim registry.”
Senator Feinstein spoke with SVLG CEO Carl Guardino for about 45 minutes, mainly about Caltrain electrification, infrastructure needs for the growth of the region, keeping the region competitive with other tech hubs around the country and around the world, and did not take questions either directly or indirectly from the audience—our member asked. The senator urged those present to make their displeasure over the defunding of the Caltrain project known to the 14 Republican members of Congress who wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting the withdrawal of those funds.
In a moment of vulnerability, she admitted that she hadn’t foreseen the Bay Area’s explosive growth and that she regretted opposing the second BART tube to the East Bay back in the 1970s. Then, in reply to a softball question, said that she supports immigration reform, and, unprompted she also expressed concern over what that might mean for American workers. She told a story about a constituent who had to train his replacement who came here on an H1-B visa, and did not mention the agreement among experts that immigration has overall positive effects for American workers.
At one point, she joked, “I had a town hall, I am not sure I recommend it.” One can easily understand that being heckled was not a pleasant experience, but surely she thinks it was worthwhile to hear directly from and speak directly to her constituents. Our member, for one, says she preferred the town hall to this fireside chat. And Senator Feinstein seemed to signal agreement when she concluded, “People inspire me, I don’t want us to lose the pride we have as Americans” and it is “easy to want to serve them.”