By Leslie Price
While hundreds of thousands of excited fans gathered in Oakland on June 15 for the Warriors’ victory parade, nine dedicated folks from Indivisible East Bay and other local groups met with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd and Field Representative Abby Ellis. Both were open, gracious, and genuinely impressed that we skipped the festivities and fought the crowds to make it to their office.
We spent a substantial portion of the meeting discussing health care. Though Senator Feinstein wouldn’t commit to withhold consent because she feels other important business would suffer, she is willing to work hard to slow down a vote on Trumpcare. She’s considering filibustering by amendment during vote-a-rama, but she’s (unsurprisingly) not planning to do anything showy like holding her own hearing on the Capitol steps with the other female senators.
We also talked extensively about corruption in the White House and among the Republican members of Congress. The senator will not join the members of Congress suing the President for accepting foreign emoluments out of concern that her opponents might use such action to claim that she is biased, impeding her efforts on other fronts. For example, she is working with the GOP on investigations concerning the FBI and had a hand in getting Senator Grassley on board, and she is working hard to maintain the blue slip process and to push the Russia investigation.
We asked whether the cuts to the USDA budget have encouraged California’s Republican representatives to stand up to some of the Trump Administration’s most harmful actions. Sean said cuts to the EPA are actually most upsetting to the representatives and their constituents, because these will affect air quality, which then affects children and the elderly. (According to Sean, those elected officials didn’t think Trump would really do something so drastic.) Our group had a positive discussion about how much air quality has improved over the years and how anything that affects the young and old tends to get people thinking beyond party affiliation.
Our group also asked some tough questions regarding civilian oversight of the military: specifically, about a strategy for Syria and whether Senator Feinstein will work to avoid funding a war with no limit. Sean was impressed and indicated that we are the only group that has ever presented Senator Feinstein’s staff with in-depth questions about this. Although the staff generally talks to the Senator about issues pushed by the most constituents, Sean and Abby agreed to bring our concerns to the Senator, and encouraged us to continue to bring it up with other groups to help bring more attention to the issue. We also talked about the urgent need for congressional oversight of military intelligence when the White House can’t be trusted to tell or discern the truth.
We had very positive discussion and agreement about prioritizing census funding, enhancing whistleblower protections, and a weekend summertime town hall, or two, or four (likely in August near San Diego and/or Fresno). Overall, our meeting was productive and positive, and Sean and Abby seemed to appreciate our interest and energy. We are getting to be regular guests, and the Senator’s staff reminded us that they’re happy to host us or make the trek out to us. (The fact we always bring treats probably doesn’t hurt either!)