By Candace Goldman
On February 7 nearly 35 of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s constituents met with Sean Elsbernd, Feinstein’s state director, at the South Berkeley Public Library. Present were members of Indivisible East Bay and Indivisible Berkeley, and representatives from other local organizations. Abby Ellis, Feinstein’s East Bay field representative and James Chang, from Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington’s office, were also present. Chang moderated the meeting, which was a fairly free-flowing conversation rather than a formal Q&A session. Among the many things discussed:
TOWN HALL: The ongoing question of when Sen. Feinstein will have a town hall meeting remains unanswered.
TAKING ACTION: From a grandfather in particular, but supported by all, was the question of what we could do to help support the Senator and have the greatest impact. Answer: continue our participation as we have been – calls, letters, faxes and emails are all useful, logged and considered. Replies via e-mail are easiest for them. Personal stories on issues are particularly impactful. Sean assured us that issues raised during the discussion would be reported directly to the Senator and that she is very interested in knowing our concerns.
THE BUDGET: The 2-year spending deal just passed did not include specific provisions concerning immigration or DACA. The bill extended CHIP for 10 years, funding for community health centers was extended, foster care (notably in California) was addressed, the Pentagon has some funding stability, and the community development block grants were increased. Sen. Feinstein had voted “No” on the last two Continuing Resolutions (CRs) as they lacked provision for DREAMers.
TAXES, MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY: Sean emphasized that on these issues personal stories are a very effective advocacy tool and they made a difference in the fight over the ACA. He urged people to send personal stories about what cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, CalFresh (i.e., food stamps) would mean to people personally.
DEMOCRACY AND “DE-REGULATION”: Deep concern was stated for the damage to the tenets of democracy, lack of security clearances, lack of Presidential fitness and his attacks on democracy, and the seeming lack of response in Congress (except Reps. Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee), while Republicans seem to be “aiding and abetting” a slow moving coup. Sean said his understanding is that there is in fact concern in the Senate that is reflected in more private conversations, but he was not familiar with the underlying mood in the House. He thought the situation is felt more acutely in the Bay Area. Concerning the apparent lack of DNC response to the wholesale wreckage that seems to be happening, we asked “how can we help.” Sean suggested contacting and volunteering with various groups working on issues such as the ACLU, Center for Biological diversity, state Attorney General offices, and the new group National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
CABINET VOTES/FISA/MUELLER: One woman who described herself as a “progressive 80 year old” asked why the Senator voted to confirm 11 Cabinet nominees. Sean only commented that the Senator thought they deserved a “yes” vote. On FISA, the woman objected to Feinstein’s position on reauthorization of the FISA warrant list. Sean stated that Sen. Feinstein had offered amendments both in the Intelligence Committee and on the Senate floor, but that finally, given her knowledge of actions thwarted by the FISA program, she voted yes. A new Berkeley resident thanked the Senator for her work on the Russia investigation and her release of the GPS Transcript, which the group cheered. She asked about steps to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sean said there are two bills, one from Booker/Graham and another from Coons/Tillis, both before the Judiciary Committee. The Senator is working to pull the bills together to get a vote. The House is another issue, and Sean indicated the Senator also felt the best protection may be the public’s continued emphasis on the positive work being done.
ELECTIONS: Election integrity and lack of action on social media companies and bots came up. Sean reminded us to keep focus on our state elections (especially gubernatorial) as well as the national positions and to keep the pressure up on ending gerrymandering, which could happen at the state level if we can change the make-up of state legislatures and governorships. On the national level, a flip is essential in part because of Committee chair subpoena power. On social media, he indicated Senators Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff both wrote to Facebook and Twitter about bots, and were swamped with negative feedback; but they are working on legislation and there will be more hearings about social media transparency. He stated net neutrality is still a key issue. Abby also reminded us to be aware of differences between rural and urban concerns and to be sensitive to what impacts rural residents differently. Sean indicated the Census is not high up on the list right now so if we want attention drawn to it we need to be very vocal about it, including doing op-eds, letters to the editor, etc.
STUDENTS: A Cal representative thanked the Senator for her support in the past but was concerned about potential changes to the Higher Education Act, and sought the Senator’s support for re-authorization of the Act. Sean encouraged him to have students contact the Senator and he also said he would be happy to meet with students on campus to discuss their concerns.
ISRAEL: Concerning U.S. military support of Israel a constituent asked for enforcement of Sec. 620M (Human Rights Vetting) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Sean said he would address the question with the Senator, and stated she has been vocal about settlement expansion, and opposed both the ambassador choice and embassy move to Jerusalem.
EMOLUMENTS: About concerns for the apparent total lack of attention to the self-dealing and money accruing to the President and his family, Sean said there are three Judiciary Committee staff working on unthreading “45’s” finances. The Senator has met with outside groups about emoluments litigation, and there is a possibility the Judiciary Committee will investigate.
CLIMATE: In response to a concern about the “wholesale slaughter” of our regulatory system, Abby suggested one thing we could do was a writing campaign to the Department of Transportation to support the CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards). She also reminded people that the Senator had obtained $900 million for the Peninsula when Congress funded Caltrain’s 1.75 billion dollar electrification.
Other issues included a request for attention in assisting millennials with jobs, housing affordability, climate change, offshore drilling, a request for a strong carbon tax proposal, protecting journalists, healthcare finance, nursing jobs, efforts of the Senator to undo what’s been happening, the Senator’s response to the Duty to Warn professionals advocating for application of the 25th Amendment, tensions with North Korea, and the Census.
As we concluded, Sean emphasized Senator Feinstein’s “measured, thoughtful, balanced approach” that helps engender bi-partisan support on issues. He said to keep contacting people we know in red districts to get them to take action in their areas and to keep doing what we are doing as we are already using effective tools.