By Candace Goldman
On September 5, a group of Indivisible East Bay members met with Sean Elsbernd (Senator Dianne Feinstein’s current State Director) and Abby Ellis (the Senator’s Field Representative). FYI, Sean will be joining the office of Mayor London Breed in San Francisco after the mid-term elections; we wish him well.
The main focus of the meeting was Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. As the ranking Democratic member on the Judiciary Committee, the Senator has been spending most of her time on this, actively working to obtain better background information from the National Archives and engage in more intense questioning of the nominee, as well as corralling the troops in opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Senator McConnell recently dumped over 42,000 documents for review but refused a reasonable extension of time on the hearings to allow for a proper review of the documents. As we have seen this past week, Senator Feinstein has been working hard on the new sexual assault charges that have come to light. The Senator has additionally focused on issues such as the nominee’s view of “settled law” and the immunities and prerogatives granted the President. She continues to make efforts to to push the vote back and to shed more light on the negative aspects of the nominee. However, the Senator is hampered by the limited procedural steps that can be taken and by the fact that the Republican committee majority, under hardliner McConnell, can force the process.
Regarding other GOP-backed judicial nominees, we particularly noted the federal court nominations of Jonathan Kobes, Stephen Clark, and Carl Nichols, all of whom have shown bias in relation to women’s rights — as well as on other civil rights issues (such as warrantless searches). We believe their backgrounds make them weak candidates. We encouraged the Senator to continue opposing these candidates and to work with Senator Harris and others to stop these nominations from going forward. We were advised that the Senator was working to ensure additional oversight hearings, including having Jeff Sessions address the Judiciary Committee.
We suggested bringing a writ of mandate suit to force the Republicans to adhere to the Judiciary Committee’s own rules, a tactic that could be used in other settings as well, such as immigration proceedings.
Some other issues we raised at the meeting:
The Senator has staff visiting detention centers, particularly in El Centro and near Victorville, to work on the issues of family separation and claims of sexual abuse. They are seeing some progress and continue to work on these issues. Regarding passport denials for people born near the border, the Senator’s office is doing direct casework on this problem for constituents.
We noted the problem with bank account denials as well. Sean was not aware of this and said he would bring this to the Senator’s attention. We agreed to send information to the office on this issue.
The Senator is not on the Foreign Affairs Committee, but she is working against efforts to stop aid to Palestine. Regarding the efforts of Erik Prince to use private forces in Afghanistan, the Senator’s office didn’t have much information on this; we encouraged her to do what she can against such a contract in the Defense Appropriations Committee.
We thanked the Senator for her support of S-2047, Preventing War in North Korea Act of 2017. Sean responded that the Senator was definitely in favor of careful diplomacy on this and other critical issues.
Opioids and Marijuana
Attendees shared personal experiences with and information about medicinal marijuana and encouraged Senator Feinstein to reconsider her more conservative position on drugs, especially regarding support for recovery programs rather than jail.
Regarding S-2593, Secure Elections Act, which was pulled from hearing by Rules Committee chair Roy Blunt, we encouraged the Senator to continue her efforts to get it reset for a hearing and to actually strengthen the bill. We suggested inserting the bill’s provisions in the homeland security funding. Sean thought that strategy might be a good approach. We agreed to send the February 2018 report on state election security to him for the Senator’s attention.
We encouraged the Senator to vote against any reduction in SNAP and imposition of work requirements in the Farm Bill. Sean indicated that Senator Feinstein supports SNAP but the bill is a lower priority right now as the Senate is generally better on these issues than the House.
We urged support of the Resilient Energy Infrastructure bill to aid the recovery in Puerto Rico. Regarding this issue, Sean suggested we also reach out to Senator Bill Nelson from Florida.
It was a congenial meeting and the staff was quite responsive to our questions and ideas. One exception: the ongoing request for a town hall meeting seems to be falling on deaf ears — not necessarily from the staff, but from the Senator herself.
Photos by Toby St. John