November 2017 Visit with Sen. Feinstein’s State Director

As we do every few weeks, IEB members met with Senator Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd on November 15, 2017. After an opening round of brief intros for the members not already well acquainted with Sean, we dove into discussing some of our top priorities:
Tax scam:
We thanked the senator for fighting the tax bill and encouraged her to continue the fight and efforts to bring all possible Republicans along in her wake. We noted the potential terrible effects of the bill on higher education in general, and graduate engineers and scientists specifically. Sean responded that Senator Feinstein is deeply concerned with the tax bill’s specific effect on California, including losing deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest. The bill will have a significant impact on affordable housing, particularly in California. It’s ironic that this bill is coming from “the party of trickle down economics,” he noted, as it would have a very negative trickle-down effect on state and local governments’ ability to serve their communities. (It might have an unintended result though: “People vote with their pocketbooks.”) The senator is doing everything she can to slow the bill process down.
DACA and other immigration issues:
Sean reported that with all focus on the tax bill, there’s no news on this front, and likewise no update on protecting recipients of Temporary Protected Status visas. The next day she and two other Democratic Senators announced that they were introducing legislation to help TPS visa holders, but we haven’t seen the text yet.
They are working with hundreds of people mired in the DACA process, hindered by administrative issues such as whether their paperwork was filed on time. Sean is skeptical that grassroots campaigns can have an effect, and urges the grassroots to put all efforts into tax reform. especially since the GOP House wants something done by Thanksgiving.
UPDATE: as of 11/22/2017, TPS legislation text, as submitted by Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
West County Detention Facility:
Sean asked what our East Bay Representatives are doing about this issue. The Sheriff and Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) are not able to tour the facility until Nov. 27th, an unacceptably long time away from when the abuses were revealed. We asked for the Senator’s help to get a full and prompt inspection of the facility. Sean suggested that we also continue to contact Rep. DeSaulnier (CA-11) to put more pressure on the detention center. We followed up with Sean on Tuesday and he said that Sen. Feinstein’s office is writing an oversight letter, something they did not appear to have been considering doing until we brought the issue up.
Health Care:
Senator Feinstein supports the Murray-Alexander bill to fix the ACA, but thinks it will be difficult to pass in the current Congress. They aren’t sure how the tax scam will affect the bill with respect to elimination of the health care mandate. Bernie’s Medicare For All is not a priority for the Senator; according to Sean, “These guys are not going to stop going after the ACA [while Republicans hold majority and Trump is President]. Defense of the ACA is the first priority.” Also: “The GOP painted themselves into a corner with catchy slogans. We need to be careful of falling victim to catchy slogans.” He elaborated: Even if every Democrat sponsored Medicare For All, there would be no hearings and no legislative movement, and it wouldn’t do anything to stop Republicans from going after the ACA; and there is no way for the minority party to force McConnell to bring Murray-Alexander to a floor vote.
CHIP:
It’s not clear whether Congressional failure to re-authorize the CHIP program has made Senator Feinstein re-evaluate the way she tries to work with Republicans. The re-authorization is getting sucked up in the wake of the end-of-year budget process, and the priority is getting through Thanksgiving without letting the tax plan pass.
S.1989—Honest Ads Act:
Senator Feinstein likes the bill a lot, and will be supportive of it. The current bill is co-sponsored by two Democrats and Republicans. Sean thought leadership might try to keep the numbers even, so she might not officially sign on until another Republican does.
Media Consolidation and Net Neutrality:
Focus in committee hearing has been on social media companies. They are tackling both aspects: news sources and internet companies.
Judicial Appointments:
Feinstein, like IEB, wants senators to have more time to review judicial nominations. She issued a press statement the morning of our meeting with Sean about the rushed schedule of confirmation hearings. In answer to our question of how the grassroots can help, Sean suggested electing more Democrats to the Senate. We told Sean that we applaud Senator Feinstein’s efforts to slow the nomination process, but want her to do more.
Sexual Assault and Harassment:
Feinstein does not control the Judiciary Committee schedule and cannot call for the hearing on this important issue.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
Sean doesn’t know that the senator would ask for his resignation; we asked for her to explicitly do so. She has already asked for him to come back to testify again, but she doesn’t control the agenda, Grassley does. Sean isn’t aware of the senator receiving any written answers from him yet from his October testimony in front of Senate Judiciary Committee. When she does, we want to hear about it.
Russia Investigation:
Feinstein is not ready to call Trump campaign’s actions “collusion with Russia.” She issued a press release the same day as our visit, announcing a “second tranche of request letters related to the Russia investigation.” Sean says that “the intelligence committee continues along. They seem to be trying to wrap up. It’s no longer much of a joint effort in the Judiciary Committee—there’s now a Minority investigation and a Majority investigation.”  Senator Feinstein has been more and more vocal but all the eggs are in the basket of Robert Mueller: No one wants a Democratic report or Republican Report, they want a Judiciary Committee report.
Puerto Rico:
Sean said that there will be a separate emergency funding bill, akin to what Congress passed for the Texas hurricane and California wildfires. He suggested that we build grassroots support for cosponsoring S.2041, a bill to amend the Stafford Act so that recovery and rebuilding efforts will include improvements in resiliency and efficiency of the energy infrastructure. We assume that she would support such a measure, but might need something of a push from constituents so please call about this.
North Bay Wildfires:
Major focus on has been on the casework team. People are calling FEMA, trying to register for victims’ individual assistance grants. FEMA has been a very good partner, very responsive so far, so the senator sees no need to change the process. We mentioned flood risk during storms and the need for legislation to avoid using plastic pipes, to which Sean replied “You don’t want the federal government regulating building codes” and said that the senator is very focused on getting people in the North Bay through the winter. He suggested that IEB focus on funding efforts for North Bay charities and volunteer efforts. Also: Senators Feinstein and Harris wrote a letter to Secretary of State Tillerson about expediting the process of getting replacement passport and to waive fees for people who lost their passports in the fires; Sean suggested that this might be a grassroots letter-writing opportunity.
Gun Control:
In an update, Sean said that the bump stock bill, which was supposed to get a hearing that week, had been pushed to the first week of December, because Sen. Grassley is the chair and he wanted to push it back to us committee time to confirm some more judicial nominations. The assault weapons bill, he said, is the kind of bill that passes in a Democratic-controlled Congress. They are continuing to try to get sponsors in the Senate and support among national and local organizations to sponsor letter-writing campaigns, and he urged us to work with local organizations such as churches, PTAs, etc., and to be in touch with him on this effort. However, he warned that we should not have expectations about a hearing any time soon.
Climate change mitigation:
We asked if the senator would sponsor the senate counterpart to the House’s Climate Solutions Caucus to help unify bipartisan effort to advance meaningful climate change mitigation policies such as S.1639 – American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act. Sean said she doesn’t feel that the Senate with 100 members needs a caucus to organize around  compared to the House with its 435 members. He did say that she did support a previous version of a carbon fee bill and that she would look at this update to the legislation.
FY 2018 Budget:
Though it’s likely that there will be a continuing resolution bill to fund the government until the end of the calendar year and possibly into part of 2018, the 2018 appropriations bills are waiting to be completed and won’t be taken up until after #TaxScam. Of concern to us is the massive 2018 National Defense Authorization Act which comes in at an estimated $700 billion. Programs authorized in it won’t actually be allowed to draw on funds until there’s a matching defense appropriations bill and negotiations for funding defense and non-defense will be hashed out as part of the budget and appropriations process. Dems plan to push for appropriations increases in non-defense categories in exchange for any defense spending above caps mandated by existing budget laws. We expressed dismay that both our senators had voted for such a bloated and costly NDAA but Sean said that the programs authorized affected many constituencies in California.
FISA Amendments Reauthorization Bill:
Senators Feinstein and Harris cosponsored an amendment to require probable cause warrants from the FISA court for intelligence agencies seeking to do domestic surveillance on American citizens as part of any Section 702 search queries. The amendment did not pass in committee. When asked why she voted for the bill out of committee without that important amendment, Sean replied that she felt that there was a better chance of the amendment passing in a floor vote.
Town Halls:
IEB sent a proposal about future town halls to the Senator and her press team, but haven’t gotten a response yet. Sean said it could be feasible and that he “appreciates the creativity” but he didn’t give any feedback to improve the proposal. He did, however, say that he would talk to the Senator about it.
Photograph copyright Toby St. John

 

Sojourn in Southern California for Senator Feinstein

Senator Feinstein spoke to the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce at a luncheon on Wednesday October 11. As you’d expect the 400 or so attendees were mostly business people among whom the senator seemed very comfortable.

We’re not making any accusations—and it was likely just that the hosts were so  in sync with their guest—but the questions seemed to be exactly what the senator would have chosen to be asked at her first public appearance since announcing her reelection campaign. And she was clearly very prepared, down to statistics on how the elimination of the state and local tax deduction would hurt middle income Riverside residents.

Sen. Feinstein and moderator Jack Clarke talked about terrifying weapons: the senator’s gun control legislation, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the potential crisis brewing between the United States and North Korea— “the longer it lasts this way, the easier it is for one of the two leaders to make a slip in rhetoric and something happens that we don’t want.”

Asked about tax “reform” the senator  was very clear that the Republicans do not have bill. They have “a framework—whatever that is.” And she predicted that if they attempted to jam something through without hearings and “regular order” that it would certainly fail. Let’s hope she has Senator McCain’s word on that. (Note: He voted against the 2001 Bush tax cuts; she voted for them.)

She spoke at length about saving the Affordable Care Act and stabilizing and improving the marketplaces, and about the nearby airport and what it means for the local economy and infrastructure.


Clarke also read three audience questions off of cards collected at the event including one about the future of DACA. She was, of course, strongly in favor of the DREAM Act. But she made some statements that were troublingly supportive of a deal on border security, against the wishes of the DREAMers themselves who don’t want their safety traded for policies that harm other immigrants. She said, “we can use more border patrol,” which might be a reasonable argument to make if the immigration enforcement we currently have was doing a decent job protecting the rights and humanity of the people it interacts with.

For young people who want to be involved in politics and the future of this country, she said: “Instead of sitting back and criticising, get out and run for something…people jump up and down, and you ask them what they really want and it’s some vague statement.”

Clearly she’s not talking about Indivisible East Bay. While we do jump up and down quite a bit, our statements are anything but vague. We certainly criticize, but we don’t sit back. We know what we want and we’ve learned how to translate that into requests for specific votes and legislation, and oversight, because that is the most effective way to maximize our power. But as the senator well knows (and, to be fair, has demonstrated many times) part of the job she took on when she asked to represent us, is the task of taking her constituents’ vague statements and finding the way to address those needs through policy.

And as for the admonition to “get out and run for something.” It’s not bad advice. More of us need to do that. But more of us also need to realize that it’s not the only way. Many of us Indivisibles across the country ourselves realized only recently that democracy doesn’t have to just mean voting and running for office. It can mean working as constituents together with our elected representative to govern ourselves.

Don’t take them from their homes

This cold-hearted administration has been unfailingly cruel to the immigrant families who bestow their work, their hard-earned money, their very lives upon this country they’ve chosen to be their home. But nothing, not the refugee and Muslim ban; not the ICE raids detaining and deporting thousands, leaving millions behind to live in fear—skip school, doctor’s appointments, court dates; not the discretionary deportation of a cancer nurse with four children. Nothing comes close to the absolute viciousness of ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We all know the story: brought here as children, grow up in our communities, stand poised to achieve and contribute so much more. Our country promised to protect them and instead the GOP is threatening to toss them out like garbage.

Our representatives in Washington are doing what they can to pass the DREAM Act and take away the president’s terrifying power over these young people’s lives. But that’s not enough. We also have to act locally to keep these Californians—some of the best and brightest—here at home. The state legislature must pass a robust version of the California Values Act (SB 54). ICE may not coordinate with any state or local agency. Please find your assembly person and ask that they not buckle under pressure from the California State Sheriffs’ association, but instead support a strong SB 54.

It’s Not a Town Hall Like You Promised

Whatever Senator Feinstein says, her speaking engagement on August 29 was not a town hall. In fact, public participation was actively discouraged at every turn, and as a result, constituents like us who would have prefered to participate in the evening’s policy discussion are instead forced to focus on the ways we have been shut out.

The event was not, as far as we could tell, promoted outside of the Commonwealth Club network—certainly the senator did not inform her constituents of this chance to meet with her in person (for a fee). As a result, the vast majority of the audience was Club members. “Hardly,” as one reporter put it on Twitter, “a cross section of San Francisco” let alone California.

After several requests, a form was provided to suggest questions online. It was shared only by the Commonwealth Club on the event’s Facebook page and with a few Indivisibles who had been asking for it (to the best of our knowledge). Her staff told us the senator would share this link with as many constituents as possible. She did not.

The day of the event, we arrived early, along with some friends who were not able to get tickets, to protest the fact that our senator was holding a sham town hall. Security (politely) asked us to take  several steps away from the building in order to hold our signs and distribute our fliers on “the public sidewalk.” And if we drifted across that line we were (politely) scolded. There was no obvious reason for these restraints other than to suppress our participation.

Those of us privileged enough to have obtained tickets attempted to bring in our red and green agree/disagree cards in order to politely and non-disruptively express our opinions during our representative’s remarks. Event staff (quite rudely this time) confiscated them, apparently fearing that allowing the audience to participate in this way would be pandemonium.

Instead we were invited to “express ourselves” in writing on little question cards. The moderator chose a few of these to read (or paraphrase), but for all we know, the rest may have gone directly into the trash. Such an action would certainly have been in line with the tone of the evening which was that we should sit down, shut up, and be grateful to be allowed to listen in on a conversation between elites.

In April, at her real town hall, one of Sen. Feinstein’s constituents expressed appreciation for an event at which many different voices were heard and then asked his senator to “continue to meet with us like this.” Last night barely counted as a meeting and it certainly wasn’t “like this” or “with us.” She failed to meet her commitment, and If she doesn’t rectify that at her next recess, she will have let down not only her most engaged constituents, but the entire state. And if she doesn’t answer to the people who elected her, she will have let down democracy itself.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email): (415) 393-0707
DC: (202) 224-3841

Call your senator today and say:

If Senator Feinstein intends to fulfill the duty she was elected to do, she must engage directly with the people of California—hear their concerns and answer their questions—at an open town hall, as she promised in April she would do. Her August event was not a town hall. I demand that she hold one in September.

On Keeping Promises

On April 17, 2017 at  the first town hall of her career, Senator Dianne Feinstein made a promise:

Audience Member: I would like to know whether you will commit to continuing to meet with us like this, and specifically on your next recess can we do a meeting on a Saturday when people can come? [cheers]

Senator Feinstein: I don’t know whether it will be my next recess…but I will commit to doing one on the weekend during the summer. [louder cheers]

Now she is claiming that an exclusive ($40-$65 per ticket*), tightly restricted (no direct interaction with the audience or follow-ups from anyone but the moderator) event organized by the Commonwealth Club of California is a better way to reach more constituents than a free and open town hall where she faces her constituents directly.

We are sure it will be a lovely event. But it is NOT the promised town hall.

If you disagree with the senator’s decision, please come protest outside the event. If you can’t make it in person, call the office and tell Sen. Feinstein that her constituents expect her to fulfill her commitments.

Date: Tuesday August 29, 2017
Time: 5pm
Location: Outside the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email): SF Office: (415) 393-0707

*The money goes to the nonprofit organizing the event, not to Sen. Feinstein or her campaign, but it is still a huge barrier to entry for many people.

Note: Also please submit questions for the senator at this link. Perhaps the moderator will chose to read one.

 

One More Day

Maria and Eusebio Mendoza-Sanchez rally
Rally in support of Maria and Eusebio Mendoza-Sanchez

The rally Tuesday afternoon at Highland Hospital in Oakland felt from the start more like a simple show of love and support than a tool that would actually protect Maria and Eusebio Mendoza-Sanchez from deportation. The day was chilly and overcast, the crowd on the edge of tears. Two days after nazis murdered a woman in Charlottesville, the chanted words “No hate. No fear.” rang hollow. “No ban. No wall.”? The Supreme Court has allowed the refugee ban to take effect. The House has approved funding for the wall. “Immigrants are welcome here.” If chanting could make it so, they would be.Rally to Stop the Deportation of Maria and Eusebio SanchezWe talked to Josh Quigley, Rep. Barbara Lee’s district director attending on the congresswoman’s behalf. He said she’d have been there herself if she was in town. He said there wasn’t much hope left that this family could remain whole. The parents will be exiled for at least 10 years unless Congressional leadership finds the humanity to pass Senator Feinstein’s private bill on the matter, or the Democrats take back Congress and pass real immigration reform. 

Of everything this administration stands for, the attack on immigrants who are the foundation, the future, the very identity of this country, is the hardest to take. What kind of person sees an oncology and cardiology nurse as a threat? Thinks it makes our country greater to tear a 16-year-old away from her loving parents, a 12-year-old from his home? They hide behind the argument that if you make an exception for one, you have to make an exception for all. All nurses? All teenagers? Maria Mendoza-Sanchez broke the rules, it’s true—the system is broken too, but that’s beside the point. She broke the rules, but she broke them in order to help people, to save lives.

There’s nothing left to try. Eusebio, Maria, and Jesus leave today; Vianney, Melin, and Elizabeth will stay. There is no good reason why these people should be forced to make these heartbreaking decisions about what’s best for their family. Eusebio and Maria are leaving behind their three older daughters so they can pursue their educations. A fund has been set up, all money raised will go directly to support the children’s educational expenses.

In a statement, Senator Feinstein said: “My heart is broken for Maria and Eusebio, their family and our community. … This is a senseless, callous policy, and it’s heartbreaking to see in action. … I’ll continue to do everything I can to fight for the Sanchez family and all families across the country who have been so callously targeted. This is a disgraceful day for America.”

In the end all we got the Mendoza-Sanchez family was one more day together while Senator Feinstein tried one last time to get ICE to stay their deportation. The co-workers and fellow union members and community supporters who rallied outside the mother’s workplace, the family’s tireless lawyers, the members of Congress who tried everything, the family members themselves who fought to stay together for as long as they could. Our failure to do more is incredibly discouraging. It all seems like a whole lot of trouble for just one day. But think of your own loved ones. Wouldn’t you give all that and more for one more day with them?

 

Stay Woke and Wake Some People up!

Rep. Barbara Lee always brings together a great panel for her town halls. She took the stage at her town hall: “What Do You Have To Lose? The Impacts of Trump on African Americans” Wednesday evening with Urban League President Marc Morial, BART director Lateefah Simon, and Assemblymember Tony Thurmond. Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink moderated the conversation which touched on voting rights, health care, the war on drugs, housing and displacement, income gaps, education, and more.

To her CA-13 constituents Rep. Lee said, “this district is leading the resistance.” And to Republicans in Washington she said, “No way you’re going to take us back. We’re gonna fight, we’re gonna resist, and we’re gonna move forward.”

IMG_1314The group focused on resisting the Trump agenda on a state and local level–which fits in nicely with some of the expansions into that arena Indivisible EB has begun. For example, the panel agreed that in spite of the constant depressing news coming out of Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, most criminal justice takes place at a state and county level. And we well know that a there is plenty of room for criminal justice reform in California. In fact, Tony Thurmond brought up his own bill to tax private prisons in the state and give that money to pre-K and after school programs that have been shown to reduce incarceration rates for participants. He also mentioned a bill by another local, Rob Bonta, reforming California’s bail system; if this bill passes, as well as doing a lot of good locally, it has the potential to be a success story Senator Harris can point to as she fights for her bail reform bill in the Senate.

A loud and persistent heckler who said she’d voted for Trump interrupted the conversation a couple of times, but was drowned out when Tony Thurmond led the crowd in a chant of “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”

The event also contained a strong message about unity and intersectionality–broadening the movement, finding common ground among the many people threatened by the actions of our federal government. Barbara Lee urged everyone in the audience to reach out to less politically active members of their families and communities.

And each member of the panel used Barbara Lee’s campaign slogan, “stay woke” at least once. But Marc Morial took it a step further saying, “While we must stay woke, we also have to wake some people up.”

It’s August and we’re all still here

We marked our 6-month anniversary of visits to Senator Feinstein’s office with another wide ranging policy discussion. Her state director, Sean Elsbernd, doesn’t expect bipartisan progress on health care until after the upcoming budget fight, which itself isn’t likely to be resolved before the government runs out of money at the end of September. We talked about the need to keep a close watch on the beleaguered Jeff Sessions (Sean joked that we finally had something in common with the president) and asked the Senator to throw her weight behind Barbara Lee’s AUMF repeal, which has rankled Republican leadership despite – or perhaps because of – its support from the Republican rank and file. We learned that one of Senator Feinstein’s top climate change policy priorities is a carbon fee and that while the Senator likes our idea of whistleblower protections for those exposing torture, her intelligence staff is already overtaxed by the day-to-day crises of this administration. We also checked in about the Senator’s concerns regarding the falling standards in the Judiciary Committee’s evaluation of nominees for the Federal Bench: Chairman Grassley is rushing nominees through without waiting for the traditional review from either Senators from the courts’ home states or the non-partisan American Bar Association. And we reminded Sean that we are anxiously awaiting our next chance to discuss all these issues and more with the Senator in person at her August town hall (even if we have to travel to San Diego or Fresno).

CA-13, IEB answering Barbara Lee’s call to action

Congresswoman Barbara Lee invited about 40 local grassroots leaders to a workshop Saturday morning to learn skills to take back to our groups so that we can all contribute to the push to turn more California districts blue in 2018. The Democrats are aiming to flip at least 7 of 14!

Nicole Derse and Addisu Dimisse of the 2012 Obama campaign talked about the importance of using our own stories to make connections with others whether knocking on doors in Turlock or recruiting volunteers in Oakland.

And we heard some specifics about how we can help  from The California Democratic Party’s organizer, Lucia Nuñez of district 10, where they have already identified a lot of voters looking to replace Jeff Denham, particularly after he voted for huge health care cuts in exchange for tax cuts for the wealthy.

District swinging isn’t something we’ve focused on much at Indivisible East Bay so far, although it’s something we all care about and many of us are working on at other organizations. But we at IEB, as well as other blue chapters across the country (and those at the Indivisible Guide national) have been looking at how we might put an Indivisible spin on this work—otherwise we might as well leave it to other organizations.

One clear way to do that is by doing that work along with our own members of Congress as part of building those relationship. Whenever we ask our reps. what we can do to help them, or to show our support, they talk about taking back the House. Rep. Swalwell, as it happens, hosted a phone bank for Jon Ossoff of Georgia also on Saturday.

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 6.37.24 PM

So at Rep. Lee’s prodding, we’re planning our first official red district field trip. The California Dems. are canvassing and registering voters in District 10 every Sunday throughout Resistance Summer. We’ve looking at coordinating with them to send a group to participate (tentative date: July 16). Please fill out this form if you’re interested! https://goo.gl/Dk5ud3

If the GOP is afraid to debate ACA repeal in the Senate, let’s take it outside!

Call script for both our senators:

Hi. My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m with Indivisible East Bay. The GOP is determined to deprive millions of Americans of healthcare in order to pay for a huge tax cut for the wealthy, without any Senate debate or public hearings. The proceedings are being conducted in secret by 13 male members of the Senate, with no concern for women’s health needs. I ask the senator to conduct her own public hearings, preferably on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with 12 of her female colleagues. I also ask that she delay the bill on the Senate floor by withholding consent.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email): (415) 393-0707
DC: (202) 224-3841
LA: (310) 914-7300
Fresno: (559) 485-7430
San Diego: (619) 231-9712

Sen. Kamala Harris (email): (415) 355-9041
DC: (202) 224-3553
Sacramento: (916) 448-2787
LA: (213) 894-5000
Fresno: (559) 497-5109
San Diego: (619) 239-3884

Background: http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/337353-former-cms-head-op-ed-mcconnell-is-using-sabotage-speed-and-secrecy-as-tools