Meeting with Feinstein State Director 2/6

By Larry Baskett

On February 6, 2019, Indivisible East Bay braved the rain to attend our first meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director, Jim Lazarus, who is newly in the role but has worked for Feinstein on and off ever since she was mayor of San Francisco (his most recent job was for the SF Chamber of Commerce). Field Representative Abby Ellis, who has met with us before, joined in.

We led with an ask to stop Trump’s expanded plans for nuclear weapons development (including low-yield nukes) and space-based missile defense (“space wall,” i.e. Reagan’s “Star Wars” redux). The new nuclear arms race is bad news even before one considers who’s in charge. There weren’t ideas on how to stop withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. When we asked for Sen. Feinstein to use her position on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to work on the issue with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, as well as whether Feinstein was committed to a long-term goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, Lazarus said they would check with the DC office. On the no-nukes goal, we recommended contacting former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry.

On Trump’s racist southern border policies, we asked for Feinstein to follow up on her efforts to legislate restrictions on Trump using funds via “emergency declaration.” For instance, she could work with ranking Senate Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Member John Tester to strip out language that would allow it. Lazarus and Ellis said they’d follow up. They said that the federal bureaucracy is pretty independent and that city bureaucracies seem more responsive on the matter. Lazarus also said when Feinstein’s staff visited the San Diego youth immigrant facility (ahem, prison), the conditions were better than one might expect from reporting elsewhere… which was good to hear, but not very reassuring, seeing as how the whole system is a gross injustice. We asked for Feinstein to visit personally, as she has previously committed to doing.

Also, we asked Feinstein to cosponsor the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018, S.2522. Currently foreign adoptees with American parents, children who would have qualified for citizenship but who for whatever reason didn’t go through the regular process, don’t have a formal recourse to become citizens. This issue personally impacts a loved one of one of our members.

Regarding the rapid pace of confirmations of conservative hack judges and Sen. Mitch McConnell’s plan to accelerate them, we asked for more outspoken protest and procedural hardball from Feinstein, citing Sen. Mazie Hirono’s close questioning and consistent “nay” votes and Sen. Harris’ recent commitment to vote NO on all judges in protest.

We also asked for opposition to attorney general appointee William Barr, noting that a president under investigation shouldn’t get his own pick of AG. We didn’t get much of a response on this; Feinstein did subsequently vote against Barr.

We brought up ever-rising health care costs, including the recent SF General Hospital scandal about soaking non-Medicare patients. We asked Feinstein to support a bill to outlaw “surprise medical billing” with a policy that would put the onus on providers to work out billing with insurers rather than with patients.

We also asked for support of single-payer insurance (Medicare for All). Ellis said that Feinstein supports a public option and broadening California Access Care; she also asked how we’d fund single-payer. Lazarus pointed out that other countries with public systems started them a long time ago and that even Medicare today takes private supplemental insurance for better coverage. This was not encouraging.

We discussed the idea of public banking to fund Green New Deal programs and tied it into developing efforts with Public Bank East Bay and the California Public Banking Alliance. Lazarus said he’d look into it and mentioned the possibility of a statewide public bank as well as banking services for the now-legalized marijuana industry.

We asked whether Feinstein was open to following Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s lead on a 70% or higher top marginal tax rate and/or Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s lead on a wealth tax, for economic justice and fairness. Lazarus didn’t know Feinstein’s position. He brought up how the Constitution was amended to authorize an income tax, and while he cast doubt upon a federal wealth tax’s constitutionality, he noted that many states do have an asset tax, in the form of a property tax. He was also concerned about wealth flight overseas. Again, the direction of the conversation wasn’t very encouraging.

Feinstein has found an as-yet-not-public cosponsor for her homelessness relief bill. It would involve grants via the Health and Human Services Administration to fund a variety of nonprofits and local agencies in support of housing for the poor. The emphasis would be on the states most impacted, like California, New York, and Florida.

Finally, we asked for a public town hall meeting with the Senator. Lazarus wasn’t sure and said that it depended upon the Senate’s schedule, with the likeliest time being during an August recess. Next time, hopefully we can get more specificity from Lazarus on Feinstein’s public positions and responses to our requests.

Larry Baskett is a mechanical engineer from Berkeley who spent a year on staff at the California State Senate and who previously volunteered with Wolf PAC, the campaign finance reform organization.

 

December 2018 meeting with Feinstein staff

On December 10, 2018, Indivisible East Bay had our first meeting with Senator Feinstein’s new interim state director Peter Muller. We met field representative Abby Ellis in the senator’s San Francisco office and Peter, who is based in Los Angeles, joined us by phone.

While climate change is always a high priority for IEB and usually makes our meeting agendas in some form, it’s rarely at the very top of our memo — mainly because that space is generally filled by a reaction to the latest crisis coming out of the White House. So it was a promising sign of the power shift in DC that we started with a discussion of the Green New Deal (GND). Peter said that while Sen. Feinstein isn’t yet familiar with the details of the Green New Deal proposal, as far as he could tell she’s generally supportive of the program and would invest more time in learning about it once it’s a bit further advanced in the House.

We brought up the plan Feinstein supports to extend certain controversial provisions in the WIIN Act, a water bill which, among other things, diverts water south of the Delta. We shared our concerns that the extension of those provisions could result in harm the Delta ecosystem, but Peter said that Sen. Feinstein’s office has examined the matter carefully and doesn’t believe the provisions have been harmful so far or will become so if extended.

We also talked about asylum seekers at the California-Mexico border and those being detained (along with other immigrants) throughout the state. Sen. Feinstein still wants to visit the detention facilities herself, but doesn’t yet have plans to do so. Meanwhile, her staff has visited every facility in California in which immigrants are detained, as well as some in Texas. But it’s been hard to perform oversight, because the facilities know they are coming and are able to prepare. Sen. Feinstein continues to work on getting legislation ready to pass at the earliest opportunity. (First we need to elect more Democrats.) We asked her to prioritize addressing the seemingly unnecessary “metering” at ports of entry that is causing a humanitarian crisis in which asylum seekers are forced to choose between waiting in overflowing shelters in Mexico — with complete uncertainty about having their claims heard — or attempting dangerous, illegal crossings and turning themselves in at understaffed remote outposts. And meanwhile we asked her to look at ways she could collaborate with the House concerning funding for immigration enforcement, particularly with respect to making sure the executive branch spends the money in the way Congress intended.

We discussed delays in funding transit projects — Sen. Feinstein does her best to advocate for projects in California but doesn’t have much influence otherwise; Attorney General nominee William Barr — she shares our concerns about his civil rights record and biases; judiciary appointments — Republicans are happy with how this is going. so we are likely to see more of the same; and homelessness — she has a bill ready and is looking for a Republican co-sponsor.

Finally, we asked what the senator’s hopes and dreams are for working with our new blue House. Peter listed:

  • Immigration
  • Gun Control – Peter said that Sen. Feinstein saw a strong opportunity for a bump stock ban (which the White House announced only days later)
  • Environment
  • Homelessness
  • Immigration enforcement oversight
  • Appropriations – put more constraints on the administration
  • Health care
  • 2016 election investigation – help her better leverage her position on the Judiciary Committee

 

IEB’s September meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s staff

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:

Immigration

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.

Foreign Affairs

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.

National Security

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. 

Election Security

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.

Farm Bill

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.

Puerto Rico

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.

Lobby visit to Senator Feinstein's office, 9/5/18, photo by Toby St. John
Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director. Photo by Toby St. John

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.

Click here to read the Indivisible East Bay memo for the meeting.

IEB meeting with Senator Feinstein staff, Candace Goldman. Photo by Toby St. John
IEB meeting with Senator Feinstein staff, Candace Goldman. Photo by Toby St. John

Photos by Toby St. John

 

Meeting with Senator Feinstein’s staff in Oakland

By George McRae

A group of mainly Indivisible East Bay members met for a great Q&A on Tuesday, August 14, 2018 at the Oakland Public Library with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd and Field Representative Abby Ellis.

Top of list: the upcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Feinstein has been adamant and doing what she can to open up all the hidden files on Kavanaugh, while Senator Grassley is pushing to start hearings the Tuesday after Labor Day, so when the Supreme Court meets the first Monday in October (the Court’s traditional giddy-up) they’ll have a full house of nine. Discussion revolved around the National Archives not being able to even produce the requested documentation by at least the middle of October. The issue of Kavanaugh perjuring himself when he was being vetted for the D.C. District Court was discussed and it was clarified that those documents are in the pile at the Archives.

What to do about it?? Call Senator Feinstein’s and also Senator Harris’s offices REPEATEDLY! Yes, emailing over and over – daily, if not hourly – is vital. Seriously. The Senators’ staffs keep track of numbers of contacts per zip code per issue and calls, faxes, emails are weighted EQUALLY. Senator Feinstein asks for and is given daily reports on numbers for and against issues, and the zip codes where the comments are from. So if she gets ten thousand calls supporting Kavanaugh, that’s what she gets. If, on the other hand, she gets ten thousand calls against Kavanaugh, then that’s what she gets! She is shown the high volume reports daily. The staff stressed that they are NOT hearing from US about Kavanaugh, and the lack of calls is a mystery. [Ed. note: see our current actions, posted here, and call every day. The Kavanaugh actions listed are all still timely]

We discussed that many people think they don’t have to call because they know that the Senators are opposed to Kavanaugh already, or know their public position on another issue, but again, THEY NEED to hear from us even so! In addition, they really need to hear our thanks when they are doing a good job! It encourages them to keep going in getting the work done on the issues we strongly support.

IEB meeting with Sen. Feinstein staff Aug. 13, 2018

We discussed the tariff war, and the destruction it is bringing to our state as well as to the rest of the country. Sean specifically mentioned harm from the tariffs on Chinese goods that have provoked Chinese retaliation in the form of tariffs on agricultural exports and said that small, medium and even large farms are looking at this coming Labor Day as the day to decide whether they can live or die as businesses. Sean also said that such harm is galvanizing even GOP Senators from states with a large agricultural base.

We touched on some international issues, including a discussion about Israel, Turkey, and Iranian nuclear proliferation. Sean said that Sen. Feinstein is very concerned about problems that Netanyahu is causing, and about the threat of global economic collapse due to the ongoing economic crisis in Turkey.

Finally, we asked the Senator’s position on universal health care, and as we’ve heard from Sean before, the question is how to pay for it, and the Senator’s main concern is to make sure that everyone is covered first.

 

George McRae works as a theater professional, an audio-describer for blind and visually impaired people, and standardized patient for healthcare educators. Oh, he also keeps bees. 

Photographs by George McRae

Meeting With Senator Feinstein’s Staff in Oakland

In recent months, with a helping hand from Indivisible East Bay, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff has reached out to local communities, providing an opportunity for citizens to participate in freewheeling Q&A discussions. The most recent meeting was March 9, when IEB, in partnership with the Unity Council, met Feinstein’s Field Representative Abby Ellis at the Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center in Oakland. Taking a break between lunch and bingo, many of the Center’s seniors stopped by for the meeting. The remainder of the 50 or so participants included a combination of neighbors, loyal Indivisible members and Unity Council staff.

As many of the attendees asked their questions in Spanish, we were most appreciative that the staff was willing and able to act as informal interpreters, translating between English and Spanish as needed.

A major focus of the discussion were immigration issues, with DACA at the top of the list. Many spoke of their fear and uncertainty surrounding the future of DACA and what it what may mean for their friends and relatives. For example, one woman was concerned that her daughter might not be permitted to stay to graduate from college this May, nor pursue her long-term dream of becoming an FBI agent. One man summed up the overall feeling in the room by stating, in Spanish, “The children are our future” — at which point everyone cheered.

In reply, Abby assured everyone that the Senator remains strongly committed to a clean DREAM Act. She promised to pass along their personal stories and indicated that some of them might be used in floor speeches that Feinstein gives on this matter.

Many of the remaining questions concerned federal funding for health care and other programs critical to the Senior Center and surrounding community. Abby assured the audience that the Senator is doing everything she can to protect existing support programs as the Congress continues to fight over the budget. She added that, if the Democrats had the majority, Feinstein would be pushing to expand funding.

Several in the audience expressed skepticism about current Democratic efforts. They spoke of frustration that immigration issues were not effectively resolved when Obama was President and Democrats controlled Congress. They noted ironically that the Trump administration’s current attacks might be serving to spur Democratic action and give these issues a higher priority than they had previously. Others in the room were more supportive of past Democratic efforts, countering that they had at least attempted to pass legislation under Obama.

Abby replied that Sen. Feinstein had been in favor of the comprehensive immigration reform bills at the time. Further, the Senator has continued to push for pieces of that bill as independent legislation, such as the DREAM Act and the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 (which would provide legal status to more farmworkers).

At this point, as the meeting was nearing its conclusion, the same gentleman who had been cheered previously spoke up again — to more cheers — stating that the most important lesson from all this was that every citizen in the room must vote.

Our next East Bay event with Feinstein staff will be at the Concord Public Library on Tuesday April 17 at 1:45 pm. RSVP here.