By Ted Landau and Ted Lam
Three Indivisible chapters met with CA-11 Representative Mark DeSaulnier on April 23 before his Town Hall at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. He was accompanied by Aaron Silver, a member of his staff. Indivisible East Bay was represented by Ted, Ted, and Edwin; Indivisible Resisters was represented by Gwynne; and Cora represented Indivisible Central Contra Costa County (I4C). We kicked off the meeting by congratulating Rep. DeSaulnier for being one of the few Democrats not running for president, which made him and Aaron laugh.
We covered five major topics: infrastructure, whistleblower protection, Department of Defense oversight, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the Mueller Report. You can read IEB’s pre-meeting memorandum here.
The big hope for infrastructure is to reach an agreement with the White House, but DeSaulnier remains skeptical about prospects for this. A seemingly insurmountable stumbling block is the GOP’s refusal to talk about funding sources for any proposal, because of their party’s pledge not to raise taxes.
DeSaulnier mentioned that we need to provide incentives for “smart mobility and smart growth,” but noted that Senator McConnell will likely block in the Senate any bill that the House produces. He also said that the vehicle mileage tax is a good alternative to a gas tax, and that he could support it either individually or a combination of the two. Along the lines of smart and green infrastructure, DeSaulnier said he was rooting for Tesla to be successful. He believes that U.S. car companies, and the Chinese, have the incentive to beat Tesla to mass produce a viable electric car.
We discussed PG&E as an example of a utility company with the problem of being a “hybrid company” with too much emphasis on generating profits. He would like us to move away from this model, if possible.
DeSaulnier agreed that whistleblower protection is important. We reminded him that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that the Department of Justice asked him to put the “citizenship” question on the Census form; DeSaulnier said that whistleblowers from the Department of Justice said it was actually the opposite, that Ross asked them to do it and whistleblowers provided the emails that contradicted Ross. This is just one example of the importance of whistleblowers and why they need protection. DeSaulnier encourages them to contact him directly or contact House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings. DeSaulnier thinks that Cummings is doing a great job protecting whistleblowers that come to his committee, and he reminded us that when Betsy DeVos recently testified to the Oversight Committee, he confronted her on ignoring statutes and laws in her duties as Education Secretary. DeSaulnier, however, had nothing flattering to say about Rep. Jim Jordan on the committee.
Acting Inspector General John Kelly for the Department of Homeland Security will come before the Oversight Committee to testify regarding Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death and related matters. DeSaulnier said that Inspector Generals do great work, and that they’re relatively insulated from partisanship.
Department of Defense Oversight
Regarding the FY 2020 budget for Defense, DeSaulnier will vote against the Department of Defense bills that increase the Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund. And yes, he supports rescinding DOD’s reprogramming authority, which has been used to divert funds to Trump’s Wall.
DeSaulnier supports Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill to rescind the War Powers Act, which would force the President to come to Congress before initiating military action in most cases.
He also said that the DOD has never done a financial audit, and although they’re in the midst of one now they are doing it kicking and screaming. In his opinion, it’s the military contractors that are the root of the problem.
Affordable Care Act (ACA)
DeSaulnier strongly supports promotion of all aspects of the ACA. We briefly discussed the racial and economic implications of the ACA: how it is more critical for people with less resources. It was pointed out that ACA, and even more so universal health care, has “indirect” health benefits because it reduces stress of worrying about how to take care of one’s health. DeSaulnier agreed, and spoke of the personal issue regarding his leukemia that requires taking pills that cost $400 a day.
He similarly noted that the ACA requires “parity for behavioral and physical health.” He is especially sensitive to and familiar with behavioral health issues, partly because of what he has experienced in his own family. He supports a suicide prevention bill, and is currently working with Rep. Joe Kennedy regarding all of this. In general, he sees reason for optimism regarding the politics on these issues. Initially Democrats were on the defensive with health care and defending the ACA against attacks. Now Democrats are on offense, as the public has come to understand and support the benefits of the ACA.
As a matter of principle, DeSaulnier supports impeachment proceedings, and he has voted to take up the matter on several occasions. However, he pointed out that support for investigations that could lead to impeachment is not the same thing as supporting a vote for impeachment. He cautioned that we need to move carefully here. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated, this is a long process with an uncertain outcome — and it is likely that there will be no result from Congress (even under the best of circumstances) before the 2020 elections.
He cited the investigatory work that the Financial Services, Natural Resources, Intelligence, Judiciary, and Oversight Committees are doing. As these committees hold hearings, the public will be given a spotlight on the administration’s many corrupt acts. At the same time, he noted that the Mueller Report clearly shows ample evidence of crimes. As one example, he cited former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s turning over private polling data to the Russians as “treasonous.”
The meeting went very well overall. Rep. DeSaulnier was responsive to all of our questions. We thanked him for representing his constituents so well in Congress. If you want more info about the CA-11 Team, contact co-leads Ted and Kristen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’re on Slack, contact @Ted Lam or @KristenL and join the moc_team_ca11 team. Want an invite to join Slack? Please drop us a line at email@example.com
Photo by Aaron Silver
Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.
Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.