9/27/18 IEB & ISF Sen Feinstein office visit

Seventeen Indivisibles from IEB and Indivisible San Francisco met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director, on September 27 at her San Francisco office. Our almost two-hour meeting was jam-packed with questions and “asks.”

First on the agenda: a detailed back and forth on how the homeless count in San Francisco is conducted. It was further emphasized that more resources were needed to help the homeless, from outreach to affordable housing. Sean seemed particularly concerned about the estimate that 2,400 kids may be homeless.

For those of you not placing the date, September 27 was the day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course, the hearings came up, and we stressed – as we have consistently done – that we are firmly against Kavanaugh being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. The group urged Senator Feinstein to continue what she’s doing and to look as well for other methods to stop his confirmation.

On a not-necessarily-unrelated note, the topic of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act came up. Sean thinks that Congress will just extend the Act, at least for the short term.

Sean told us that on the important issue of immigrant family separation, their office is not getting phone calls, and that it’s crucial for people to keep this issue alive by contacting the Senator. He did acknowledge that the Kavanaugh hearings have diverted attention – but we should look for any opportunity to revive the issue.

Sean said that the House is expected to head home for campaigning and won’t be back until after the midterms, so don’t expect any legislation to pass that needs both chambers to act on.

We also talked about protecting the Mueller Trump-Russia investigation, election security, digital privacy, environmental/public health, the war in Yemen, the Farm Bill, workers’ rights, the federal judiciary, tax policy, trade, criminal justice reform, and having a town hall. Sean’s comments on each of those topics were informative and indicated the Senator’s position. As an example, the Farm Bill is in conference and the final version will have to be acceptable to 60 Senators regardless of what the House passed. Another insight: White House Counsel Don McGahn’s imminent departure will force the Administration and Senate Republicans to start from scratch on judicial nominations and will give Senate Democrats a bit of breathing room.

As of November 7, Sean will be the chief of staff for San Francisco Mayor London Breed. As of now, Senator Feinstein has not selected his replacement but he’s hoping that will be resolved shortly. The general feeling from the Indivisible folks was that Sean will be missed.

Read our memo to the Senator.

 

When abortion was illegal: Looking backward and forward at once

Have you heard the one about the back alley abortion?

Yeah, it isn’t a joke. And it sure as hell isn’t funny. It’s an actual question: Have you heard it? Roe v. Wade made abortion legal throughout the USA in 1973 – so as of the last census in 2010, slightly over 60% of the population never knew a time when abortion was illegal. And as the population ages, many of those people may never even have known anyone who lived through those dark, bloody times.

Federal judges on all levels are increasingly willing to deny women their reproductive rights. Appeals court judge and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would have denied access to abortion for an undocumented teenager, writing that undocumented youth in custody are not entitled to “abortion on demand” – favorite words of the anti-choice movement. His view didn’t prevail in the appeals court – but will it prevail, sooner or later, in the Supreme Court?

All of this means it’s time to tell the stories. Again.

Let’s start with this chart:

The number of deaths from abortion has declined dramatically since Roe v. Wade.

Source: The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Trends in Abortion in the United States, 1973-2000, January 2003.

Remember, there is no way to give an accurate number of deaths from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, because abortion was a crime and a scandal and abortion deaths were usually covered up. The National Abortion Federation estimates up to 1.2 million illegal abortions per year, with thousands of women who died or were grievously injured from back alley or self-induced abortions. And hospital emergency rooms stopped seeing these patients after abortion became legal.

But as with anything, statistics don’t tell the story. Human stories tell the story. As one article said about gathering the stories of Holocaust survivors, “The act of absorbing history often requires peering backward and forward at once,” and stories of illegal abortion matter for the same reason: so that we understand, and so that we never go back.

We ask you to share these stories. Tell people who don’t know what it was like. Tell your elected representatives that you’re not willing to give up any of your reproductive rights, and you’re not willing to accept judges who would be willing to compromise them:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: email(415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: email(415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

And if you have a story, or if you know someone who has a story, we invite you to share it hereAll submissions will come to us anonymously and we will publish everything anonymously. It’s crucial to show how many of these stories there are – so that we keep there from being more of them.

  • It was an honest to God back alley abortion, in an honest to God back alley, on a dirty kitchen table covered with a not very clean sheet. He had alcohol on his breath and his hand wasn’t very steady. He told her to spread her legs and told her not to spread them next time, which he found very funny. She had an infection and was horribly sick but she survived and later had a family. Some of her friends weren’t so lucky.
  • He was successful and well-known and nearly fifty when his elderly Irish Catholic mother told him: when he was a toddler, she and her husband just couldn’t afford another kid, and she had an abortion. She had never told anyone before, but the Supreme Court kept issuing anti-abortion rulings and people were telling their stories – and she asked him to tell hers.
  • It was the 1950s. She and her friends were young working women in New York. They had the name of a doctor in Pennsylvania who was very expensive but was supposed to be clean and reputable. When anyone in their crowd needed an abortion, they all pooled their money and went without lunch for a while. And the women who went to him came back. She said she had no idea what they would have done if they hadn’t had jobs and a support network.
  • It was the 1940s. She and her husband were Italian Catholic and dirt poor, and they had several very young children and couldn’t afford another. The illegal abortion killed her. In those days, when a mother died, the father rarely raised the children; at least one of the little girls was brought up by relatives who treated her badly, and when she had children, she had never really had a mother of her own.

And more:

  • The Academy Award-nominated documentary When Abortion Was Illegal features powerful stories of women who had abortions, their families, and the health care providers who witnessed the devastating effects of illegal abortion. Available here in English and Spanish, for purchase or on Vimeo.
  • Actress Sally Field discusses her illegal abortion in Tijuana in her recent memoir, In Pieces, and talks about it in her September 11, 2018 NPR interview.

Tracking down Senator Feinstein

On the morning of August 11, 2018, IEB members tracked down Senator Dianne Feinstein at a campaign office-warming for San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani. It was a very cozy event of the kind Sen. Feinstein clearly (and understandably) prefers to open town halls — though during her remarks she did say something about envying Supervisor Stefani’s ability to get out and meet her constituents in her small district, compared to a whole state. That was a little galling from someone whom we’ve barely seen try to meet with the general public.

But the event was also kind of sweet in its way. Along with Sen. Feinstein, several SF women politicians came out to support Supervisor Stefani, including Mayor London Breed and State Treasurer Candidate Fiona Ma. Senator Feinstein led the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday Your Honor the Mayor” and all of the younger women appeared genuinely starstruck to be there with one of their role models, whom a couple of them jokingly compared to Taylor Swift. Certainly, it was heartwarming to see this group of women come together to support each other and marvel at how much has changed — and how much has stayed the same — since Sen. Feinstein was the second woman (first elected) on the SF Board of Supervisors.

But the real reason we were there was to talk to Sen. Feinstein about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. We politely cornered her near the exit, shook her hand, and thanked her for everything she was doing, all her letters and tweets. We told her we were also working hard to fight the Kavanaugh nomination. As she edged away up the stairs, we told her we wanted to see action from the Democrats. She stopped, turned back to us and said that they would take action, but that we couldn’t win. As we looked at her, dismayed, she reframed the statement: Democrats in the Senate need Republicans to vote with them, and that to get that, we probably need some new information to come out. We agreed and told her we were working on both of those things too.

It’s clear that she hasn’t given up, and that she will keep up the fight to the best of her ability no matter what, but it’s also clear that she needs our calls and encouragement to build her strength and resolve. Because if we don’t win this fight, it won’t be because it was impossible; it will be because it was very hard and too many of us gave up. We need to make her believe that we can win, and we need to believe it ourselves because that’s the only way we have a chance.

Please contact both senators today and say:

My name is ______, my zip code is _________ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for everything you’ve done to protect the Supreme Court. Please keep fighting the Kavanaugh nomination and rallying your constituents. We are winning the battle for public opinion. Most Americans support reproductive rights, workers’ rights, and the ACA. We need to keep showing more of them that Kavanaugh threatens those things, and keep showing vulnerable Republicans how much they have to lose.

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

Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

 

Experts talk about how to beat the Kavanaugh nomination

By Candace Goldman

On August 2, 2018, Indivisible East Bay took part in a community meeting in Berkeley to discuss Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, and actions we can take to prevent his approval by the Senate. IEB co-sponsored the meeting with the California Civil Rights Coalition, Equal Justice Society, The Center for Independent Living, and People For the American Way.

The evening was emceed by Eva Paterson, a long-time civil rights advocate, and speakers included Leslie Proll with the NAACP, Amy Everitt of NARAL Pro-Choice California, Raymundo Jacquez III from Centro Legal de la Raza, Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates, Dan Roth with the American Constitution Society, and IEB’s own Linh Nguyen, who co-leads our Judiciary Team.  Linh did a masterful job of informing the gathering about what IEB and the Judiciary Team have been doing. She really engaged the audience and was an inspiring example of what we can do when we band together to take action.  Great job, Linh – and thank you!

The speakers addressed the dangers a Kavanaugh confirmation would represent – and they are legion – and also the actions we can take to defeat his nomination.  Everyone’s rights and interests are at risk with this potential swing position on the Supreme Court – from women’s health to labor protections, from shredding Executive accountability to continuing environmental destruction to endangering the lives of immigrants.  Each speaker emphasized that it is NOT a foregone conclusion that Kavanaugh will be approved, but we need to keep a laser beam on the nomination and ramp up the pressure to defeat him.

What you can do:

  • Tell Senators Feinstein and Harris that you want them to vote NO on Kavanaugh in the Judiciary Committee; and that if the nomination gets out of committee and to the full Senate, you want them to vote NO and hold all other Democrats and swing voters to do the same
    • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
    • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Call all the people you know in the states whose senators are on the Judiciary Committee and urge them to tell their senators to vote NO on Kavanaugh in committee and, if necessary, in the full Senate
  • Ask all your friends to contact their senators – especially swing votes like Senator Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Collins of Maine – and tell them to vote NO if the nomination reaches the full Senate.
  • Read our articles here, here, here, here, and here (wow, we’ve been busy!) for more info, suggested call scripts, and actions you need to take.
  • Make your voice heard: Unite for Justice has called for nationwide rallies to oppose Kavanaugh on Sunday, August 26. Find an event near you at this link, or attend NARAL Pro-Choice California’s event from 1-3 PM, San Francisco Civic Center.
  • Educate yourself: the IEB All Members Meeting will also be held on August 26 from 1-3 PM at Sports Basement, Berkeley. Linh will present an updated version of the Kavanaugh presentation she made at the August 2 meeting. Please join us if you can – it’s important to educate ourselves about this unacceptable nominee who would serve for life (and he’s only 53 years old!) if confirmed. We need to keep the pressure intense to stop this dangerous nomination.

 

IEB Delivers Message to Sen. Murkowski from Alaska’s Indivisibles: Vote No on Kavanaugh

When we heard that the difficult to pin down Senator Lisa Murkowski was slated to be the guest speaker at the August 2018 Tahoe Summit, which several Indivisible East Bay members planned to attend, we reached out to Indivisibles in Alaska to see if there was a message we could bring to the senator on their behalf.

Sen. Murkowski is one of the most likely swing votes on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. She regularly breaks with Republicans to vote to fund Planned Parenthood (though she has yet to break with them in support of a judicial nominee) and she has demonstrated willingness to stand up to Republican pressure on ACA repeal.

Twenty-nine of her constituents gave us a letter asking her to vote NO on Kavanaugh, saying,

Here in Alaska, we are terrified that under a Kavanaugh Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of us would lose access to safe, effective health care and autonomy over our bodies. We fear that the brave men and women who take on tough and dangerous work to bring prosperity to their families and our state will lose their protections. And we worry that if the federal government, under this president, or a future president, takes action that harms Alaska and we take it to court, this Supreme Court will automatically decide against working Alaskans.

After almost being denied access to the event by some Nevada State troopers, we successfully delivered the letter to Sen. Murkowski as she was entering the event, and told her that Alaskans are counting on her. She was very polite and friendly and thanked us for giving it to her, though her staff was kind of rushing her past us. She said she was headed to Alaska tonight to have some meetings about Kavanaugh, but she did not say who those meetings were with – we hope they are with her constituents, a majority of whom believe the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court Justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Alaska Grassroots Alliance is collecting additional signatories to the letter we delivered here. Please share their petition with anyone you know in Alaska!

Photograph by Linh Nguyen

Kavanaugh’s papers matter. You need to call.

Deadline: Just pick up the phone and call, would it kill you?

You don’t call. You don’t write. You think they don’t notice, but they do.

Back-channel reports to some Indivisible East Bay members confirm what press reports are starting to say: Senators aren’t hearing from their constituents about Brett Kavanaugh, and there’s no groundswell against him.

We know, it’s hard to get all excited about documents, especially with everything else going on, but let’s look at a little history:

  • 1971: during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee William Rehnquist, who joined the Court in 1972 and served as Chief Justice from 1986-2005, the Senate asked Rehnquist about a memo he wrote as a Supreme Court law clerk. In the memo, Rehnquist said the court’s 1896 ruling upholding racial segregation “was right and should be reaffirmed” – he said nope, that was just the opinion of Justice Robert Jackson, for whom he was clerking. The Senate, because those were gentler times, accepted the excuse; most historians don’t. Things might have been very different if the Democratic-controlled Senate had rejected Rehnquist and another judge had gone on to be approved.

  • 1971: The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, a previously secret official Department of Defense history of the USA’s involvement in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the papers, released them (without permission). The papers showed that the US carried out actions during the Vietnam War that the Johnson Administration kept secret even from Congress; that the administration had consistently lied about the war; that mainstream media reports about the war were untrue; and that the public was deliberately kept completely in the dark.
  • 1974: 34 years ago this week, on July 30, 1974, after President Nixon had resisted a prolonged attempt to require him to release information about the Watergate affair and other material, he finally complied with the Supreme Court’s decree and released subpoenaed recordings of White House meetings to the special prosecutor. The contents of those recordings, transcripts of which were made public, contributed to his resignation on August 9.
  • 1987: During the Reagan administration, the Tower Commission investigated the so-called Iran-Contra affair. They retrieved backup copies of files from a National Security Council computer mainframe, after NSC staff deleted the original files. Using these files and other documents, the Commission proved that the US government had broken numerous laws by secretly selling weapons to Iran (and also to Iraq) during the Iran-Iraq war.
  • 2017: A letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and DHS Acting Inspector General John Kelly signed by six Senators, including Kamala Harris, says “We write today deeply alarmed by reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been improperly – and perhaps unlawfully – destroying records of families that it separated at the border. … According to two officials at DHS, records linking children to their parents are mysteriously disappearing or being intentionally destroyed.”

What’s in the documents that Kavanaugh won’t turn over from his tenure in the Bush White House? Well, we don’t know, since we haven’t seen them, although there are now reports that Kavanaugh might have advised President Bush on how to get around the ban on torture during that time, and that we’d find information about this in the records that Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley won’t supply.

There’s still time to make our voices heard. The SF Chronicle quotes prominent local professor and Constitutional Law expert Rory Little as saying that “a ‘galvanized grassroots movement’ might change the equation.” And even the head of the libertarian/right-wing Federalist Society told the ultra-right wing corporate overlord Koch network that we have a chance to scuttle this nomination. BUT: you need to pick up that phone AND then get all your friends to pick up their phones. Especially your friends who live in Maine and Alaska, home of crucial swing Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – these Senators felt the heat on health care and voted the right way, but they’re not feeling the pressure now, and they need to.

What to say:

My name is ____. My zip code is ____ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for demanding to review all of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s relevant documents. Please keep it up! What we know about his views on reproductive rights, health care, and executive power is frightening enough already. I want to know what else is in his record that Republicans are so desperate to hide from the American people.

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

Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Let’s See Your Papers, Brett Kavanaugh

Call Script

Hi, my name is _____ and my zip code is ____. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to support the Senator’s request for Kavanaugh’s documents from his work with the Bush-Cheney administration and Ken Starr’s investigation. It’s possible that the White House chose Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court nominee for reasons not yet apparent to most of us. We need a far more complete record for this candidate. I’m asking the Senator to stand firm in her request for these documents and to insist on their thorough review before Kavanaugh is examined before the Judiciary Committee. Without a complete record, the nomination hearing could be a travesty or a rubber stamp for Trump’s nominee.

Background:

Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has rightfully been called the “Forrest Gump of Republican Politics”: he worked with Ken Starr, served as the principal drafter of the Starr Report investigating Bill Clinton, worked for candidate George Bush during the Bush-Gore Florida recount, and worked in the George W. Bush White House. During those years he created a vast, but non-public, paper trail of his views on important issues. That’s critical, because he may have been nominated precisely because of those largely non-public views. Even his public views on the Presidency are extreme, as he once wrote that Congress should exempt the President from criminal prosecution and investigation while in office, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense lawyers. Read our earlier article on various reasons why Brett Kavanaugh’s record is so disturbing.

At his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh will likely dodge answering how he would decide specific future cases or how he views or would rule on specific issues. Judicial nominees often do that under cover of avoiding making “pledges, promises or commitments…inconsistent with…impartial” judging under Canon 5(A)(3)(d)(1) of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct; but it also conveniently provides plausible deniability for Senators voting to confirm him. Without a written record, they can claim they are “shocked” at his future rulings. This is particularly critical given the Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate and the Trump administration’s resulting recent withdrawal of another judicial nominee after his racist writings as an undergraduate became public.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has urged Democrats not to meet individually with Kavanaugh until Kavanaugh’s past written work has been produced. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has demanded that the White House and Kavanaugh produce his past written work to be reviewed before any confirmation hearing. Indivisible East Bay has supported Senator Feinstein in her position (and in her hiring counsel specifically to vet Kavanaugh’s record). Republicans continue to oppose the scope of the request.

Please thank Senator Feinstein for her firm stance and call both her and Senator Harris, who is also on the Judiciary Committee, and ask them to insist that the White House and Kavanaugh turn over the documents he authored at the White House and while working for Ken Starr before the Judiciary Committee hearing.

By Dean Gloster. Dean is a former clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court who now writes novels. His debut YA, DESSERT FIRST, is out now.

Demand Justice – Block SCOTUS

Updated July 5, 2018

Deadline: ASAP & ongoing –  Justice Kennedy’s retirement leaves a calamitous Supreme Court vacancy, putting major decisions at risk for generations. The people on Trump’s nomination wish list oppose all we hold dear: reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, health care, the environment, voting rights, and more. This is a fight for our lives. Democratic senators are fired up and so are we! And it’s a fight we can win if they hold together and flip even just one Republican who cares more about his or her constituents’ desire to protect reproductive choice and the ACA than about doing Sen. McConnell’s bidding and being a rubber stamp for the nominations of an unpopular president.

What to say:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling about the Supreme Court vacancy. I want the senator to do everything possible to oppose whoever Trump picks off his short list, or any other nominee who will take away our rights.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

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IEB goes to Washington

Indivisible East Bay usually meets with our Washington representatives when they visit the Bay Area. But from June 4-6, 2018, IEB members traveled to Washington, D.C. for a succession of get-togethers with California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris as well as several of their key staffers. It was an opportunity for face-to-face interactions at a high-level — and IEB made the most of it.

Senator Feinstein visit to DC

One highlight of the trip was a constituent breakfast with Senator Feinstein. For her opening remarks, Feinstein mainly spoke about her recently-introduced legislation to prevent the separation of asylum-seeking families, as well as her plans to address the problems of homelessness and climate change. Since it was the morning after the primary, she thanked those who voted for her and said she hoped to win over the rest.

During the Q&A that followed, we noted that the Senator is a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and asked what we could do to help fix the broken process for the confirmation of judges, and especially to protect the federal judiciary from the too-often extremist nominees put forward by Republicans. Her answer was simple but will be difficult to accomplish: Take back the Senate.

Senator Kamala Harris in DC

We also heard Senators Harris and Cory Booker (D-NJ) speak at a rally jointly organized by the NAACP and Demand Justice (a new organization focusing on judicial nominations). IEB’s Judiciary team recently started working with Demand Justice to attempt to block the nomination of Thomas Farr to a lifetime judgeship on the district court in North Carolina. Farr has a decades-long history of involvement in voter suppression of North Carolina’s African-American population.

Finally, we had several days of meetings with six members of Feinstein’s and Harris’s staffs. At each meeting, we raised our concerns on specific issues, listened to their replies, and offered our responses. Here are the highlights:

Senator Feinstein Chief of Staff Steve Haro and Appropriations Legislative Aide Josh Esquivel

Our highest level meeting was with Senator Feinstein’s chief of staff Steve Haro and Josh Esquivel, her appropriations legislative aide.

The opening topic was nuclear bombs, notably the House’s recently passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision for $65 million to develop a new “low-yield” nuclear weapon to be launched from submarines. Feinstein is on record as strongly opposing this and other efforts to expand the nuclear stockpile and plans to offer an amendment to remove such provisions from the Senate bill. However, Josh would not promise that Feinstein would vote NO on the full NDAA if, despite her efforts, the nuclear authorizations remain in the bill.

We next discussed aspects of the Homeland Security Authorization Bill, which currently has bipartisan support in the Senate. We asked about the increased budget authority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) included in the bill. In our view, both of these agencies have abused their power and defied Congressional oversight; we thus asked that Senator Feinstein vote against additional funding for those agencies. Steve and Josh both expressed some surprise that funding for these agencies was included in the bill; they were under the impression that the bill was mostly about other aspects of the Department, such as disaster preparedness and election security.

We also requested a status update regarding funding for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief. Josh told us that there is still “plenty of money” left from the last relief funding bill Congress passed. Why then, we asked, does the situation in Puerto Rico remain so dire? He replied that the administration is not doing a good job using the available money to get resources to the people who need it.

We told him that we would like to see Congressional staff get raises. Legislative branch funding is very skimpy and one of the reasons for this is that Congressional Republicans have, since the 1990’s, cut funds for the legislative branch in an apparent bid to increase lobbyists’ relative power and influence. We would like to see that trend reversed in upcoming federal budgets.

Lastly, we discussed sexual harassment and staff well-being policies in Congressional offices. On the subject of harassment, Steve said that the Senator has a very strict, zero-tolerance policy. Staffers are asked to report any incidents directly to him or the Senator. In either case, a report immediately triggers an investigation, headed by Steve. If any harassment is determined to have occurred, the consequences are very serious and even a first offense can result in termination.

Feinstein judicial nominations counsel Gabe Kader

In our meeting with Gabe Kader, one of Feinstein’s Judiciary Committee counsels, we returned to the subject of nominations to the federal bench. Gabe was very interested to hear about our work in this area, especially about which issues in the nominees’ backgrounds resonated most with our members and friends: reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, conflicts of interest, etc.

While we affirmed our support for Feinstein’s goal of Democrats taking back the Senate — as the ultimate solution here — we told him that, in the interim, Feinstein should use her leadership to convince all Congressional Democrats to stand together in opposing unqualified and ultra-conservative nominees put forward by the GOP.

Gabe replied that the Senator is concerned that pushing back too hard could give Senator Grassley and the rest of the Republicans an excuse to abandon the vetting and bipartisan process entirely. We questioned how much that would differ from what the GOP is already doing.

Feinstein immigration counsel Olga Medina

Our last meeting with a Feinstein staffer was with Olga Medina, an immigration counsel. We went over the details of Senator Feinstein’s new legislation to prevent the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border. Her Keep Families Together Act would prohibit agencies from separating children from their parents unless a state court, an “official from the State or county child welfare agency with expertise in child trauma and  development,” or the Chief Patrol Agent or the Area Port Director “in their official and undelegated capacity” determines that a separation is in the best interests of the child.  It also explicitly states that families can’t be separated as a deterrent. A variety of other provisions (such as keeping siblings together) are designed to protect families in those rare cases when a separation does occur.

Senator Harris legislative science fellow Ike Irby

We had two meetings with representatives of Senator Harris. The first was with legislative science fellow Ike Irby. The focus was on the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico and how we can learn from our failures there. Ike told us that the Senator is working on legislation to put standards in place for how states and territories calculate death rates from natural disasters. We also discussed climate change, both specifically in terms of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure and, more generally, about federal carbon pricing. It sounded as if Senator Harris, similar to many of our local representatives, isn’t quite ready to put her weight behind any particular carbon pricing plan, but is generally supportive and waiting to see which way the wind blows.

Harris Legislative Aide Elizabeth Hira

Our meeting with Elizabeth Hira, one of Senator Harris’ staffers, focused on the judiciary and criminal justice. As in our meeting with Gabe Kader, Elizabeth was very interested to hear which issues in the judicial nominees’ backgrounds most resonated with the resistance.

We also discussed criminal justice bills that Senator Harris supports, most notably the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. We expressed concerns that these bills don’t sufficiently guard against the possibility that the software used for determining recidivism risk and thus sentencing could unintentionally perpetuate racial biases. As such, we want to see provisions to properly review such software and to allow people to appeal decisions made by software. We suggested a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “algorithmic bias”, with expert testimony from researchers in the field, and Elizabeth asked us to write up a short proposal for such a hearing, indicating she would follow up on this matter.

Top photo: IEB members with Emma Mehrabi, Legislative Director for Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13).

Memos:

The top 6 things revealed at our May Sen. Feinstein staff meeting

A smaller-than-usual but dedicated band of Indivisible East Bay members met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director, on May 7, 2018, for the latest in our periodic meetings. Sean, gracious as ever, responded to our questions covering a wide range of topics.

The refugee caravan

Despite media hoopla that warned of a recent caravan of thousands of people heading north across the border, Sean told us that the group turned out to be only 287 people, almost all from Central America and with legitimate claims to refugee status. The good news is that they have now all entered the U.S.

Rather than fuel anti-immigration flames by unnecessarily turning such incidents into a controversy, Feinstein would rather focus on addressing the “credible dangers” that lead these people to seek asylum in the first place — as well as to make sure that they’re treated fairly when they arrive at our border. Sean said that the Senator is especially concerned about ensuring that detainees get proper legal representation.

Climate change

The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act (S. 2352), a greenhouse gas emissions cap and dividend bill, currently has no sponsors in the Senate. We wondered why Feinstein was not actively supporting this. Sean’s answer: because the bill has zero chance of reaching the floor. No one wants to sponsor a bill that is a certain loser.

Homelessness

Senator Feinstein believes the ultimate answer to the problems of homelessness will require multiple approaches. Government funds alone will not be sufficient; it will also require philanthropic private money. Sean cited the Monarch School as one example of how this can work.

FISA Reauthorization bill

Senator Feinstein sponsored an amendment to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Reauthorization bill that would have “required probable cause warrants” for domestic surveillance on American citizens. The amendment did not pass, yet she voted the bill out of committee. Why? Sean told us last November that this was because “she felt that there was a better chance of the amendment passing in a floor vote.”

Yet, when the bill came up for a vote on the floor — still without the amendment — she again voted in favor of passage. In this case, her vote prevented a filibuster that would have defeated the bill. Why didn’t she vote no? Sean replied that the amendment had no chance of passage. In the end, Feinstein decided that it was better to retain at least some protections, as included in the bill, than to have the bill fail and be left with nothing at all.

Puerto Rico disaster recovery

Puerto Rico remains in crisis mode following the disastrous hurricanes last year. It is critical that FEMA continue to provide emergency housing vouchers for the thousands still displaced. Many homes are still without power; the electrical infrastructure requires major rebuilding. Yet we hear almost nothing from Congress about any of this. Why? Sean offered a simple explanation: There is almost no public pressure on this matter, so it gets a lower priority. If we want this to change, he urges us to write or call our Congresspeople and let them know.

Judicial nominations

Everyone at the table agreed that Mitch McConnell views his greatest legacy as the appointments of conservative judges to the federal courts. The Senate continues to work to accomplish this. One way for Democrats to resist is via “blue slips” — a long standing Senate tradition. We want to make sure this procedure remains in force. Currently, it can be used to block Ryan Bounds, nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who lacks blue slips from both his Oregon senators. Sean confirmed that preserving blue slips is a “high priority” for Feinstein.