By Christopher White
What timing! In the run-up to our May 10th meeting with Daniel Chen, Senator Kamala Harris’s Regional Director and statewide Director of Constituent Services, we assumed that the most urgent topic would be the recent House vote to repeal the ACA and Harris’s strategy to protect health care in the Senate. But then, the night before, the president fired FBI chief James Comey. Suddenly the meeting had another acute focus.
Which isn’t to say that health care fell by the wayside. We recognize that overwhelming the public with an endlessly shocking news cycle is a favorite tactic of this administration, so we must keep our eyes steadily on the priorities that affect all our lives.
We began our conversation with Mr. Chen by following up on Harris’s April town hall in L.A. Indivisible East Bay hosted a viewing party of the live-stream, at which we filmed East Bay constituents asking their own questions of Senator Harris. We sent the video to Harris’s team and requested a response to those questions. Daniel confirmed that Senator Harris has the video, and we can expect a response (probably in written form).
As intended, we moved on to the ACA fight, thanking Senator Harris for her continued vocal opposition to the GOP’s assault on Americans’ access to care (for an example, listen to Harris drop an F-bomb on the AHCA on the recent episode of Pod Save America). In particular, we had a request for the Senator: that she hold healthcare town halls in red districts in California, where GOP representatives who voted for repeal conspicuously have not been holding town halls in the most recent recess. New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney used this tactic to shame Republican John Faso. Senator Harris wouldn’t even need to cross district lines: the entire state is her district. While the senator hasn’t committed to using this tactic, Mr. Chen told us, he would pass along our encouragement to her.
Regarding the Comey fiasco, Mr. Chen didn’t yet have much additional news for us. Senator Harris had already publicly called (again) for a special prosecutor to take over the investigation. (Since then, she has also renewed calls that Attorney General Jeff Sessions resign for interfering in an investigation from which he had recused himself.) According to Mr. Chen, Senator Harris is resisting the urge to immediately call for impeachment, suspecting that doing so would turn perception of Comey’s firing from an issue of obstruction of justice to a Democratic ploy to take down the president.
He clarified that the senator’s calls for an independent prosecutor should not be heard as impugning the integrity of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation—both are necessary, and independent of each other. If the Intelligence Committee’s investigation were compromised, Mr. Chen insisted, Senator Harris would say so.
The rest of the meeting addressed many other important policy issues that we will continue to press Senator Harris on: ICE arrests, at least 50% of whose targets, despite the administration’s rhetoric, have no record or only minor traffic violations; EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s dismissal of half the members of the department’s key scientific advisory board; the revolving door between federal law enforcement and the private prison system, as evidenced by ICE’s second-in-command leaving his post for a job at GEO Group, a private prison company.
On all these issues, Mr. Chen repeatedly asserted the senator’s stance in defense of immigrants, in protection of the environment as supported by scientific evidence, and in opposition to the invasion of corporate profit motives into the criminal justice system. While we sometimes disagreed with the proper messaging around these issues, we mostly aligned on the goals.
We should note that Mr. Chen has been a very attentive, responsive representative for the senator. When we arrived at the federal office building for our meeting, security would not let in one of our group; her German driver’s license apparently didn’t pass muster. Mr. Chen intervened, and our member was able to attend.
He has also agreed to a larger meeting in the East Bay, on a Saturday morning, so that constituents who cannot attend a meeting in San Francisco during work hours can present their concerns and questions directly. Stay tuned for the details on that meeting, tentatively scheduled for June 10!