July meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s State Director

By Janna Layton and Catya de Neergaard

On July 25, 2018, a group of Indivisible East Bay members held our regular meeting with Senator Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd. As usual, the talk ranged over a wide variety of subjects, and Sean gave detailed answers to a large number of questions.

IMMIGRATION

Family Separation, Reunification, and Detention

Sen. Feinstein’s Staffers’ Visit to the El Centro Detention Center:

  • Sean reports that two of Feinstein’s staff visited the El Centro detention center last week, where they witnessed horrible conditions:
    • One cell was over capacity by about 30 people
    • The only food item available for any meal is a bean and cheese burrito
    • Separated children did not even have mats
  • Both children and adults are held in El Centro
  • Staffers were not allowed to bring mobile phones or speak to detainees
  • Feinstein was deeply troubled by her staffers’ report, and contacted Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
  • Feinstein’s reaction to the visit was covered in this article by the San Diego Union Tribune.

Other Detention Centers:

  • Feinstein has not visited any detention centers and is not likely to. The detention centers are more likely to prepare ahead of time for a visit from Feinstein than they are for her staffers.
  • Staffers will visit all centers in CA to determine if what they saw at the El Centro facility is typical or a one-off. Feinstein wants this information before Judiciary Committee hearing.
  • Staff are going to the Yuba City detention center next week, but will have similar restrictions as in the El Centro center.
  • Several detention centers have cancelled their contracts with ICE.
    • It is important to note that detainees in those centers are not released, but transferred to different centers.

Other Issues:

  • In the 48 hours before our meeting, it was announced that hundreds of parents have been deported without their children.
    • The ACLU suspects many of these parents might not have gotten asylum hearings.
  • Senator Harris’s REUNITE Act – a Feinstein staffer wrote the bulk of this act, so Feinstein will likely eventually support it. 
    • However, Feinstein has been working on another, similar act that has the support of all Democratic senators, which she believes has a better chance of passing.
    • Sean is unsure if Senator Cruz is still talking with Feinstein re: her act, but if he is, it is only because of local resistance groups in Texas putting pressure on him.

Asylum Seekers

  • This has not been focused on as much because there are so many issues to be highlighted, and the public can only take so much.
  • The fact that Attorney General Sessions does not attend oversight hearings as he should has been has been overlooked.
  • Even some GOP moderates like Senator Rubio have disagreed on the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum-seekers from Central America

ICE

Appropriations Bill:

  • Feinstein voted against the bill in the Appropriations Committee
  • This might get brought up again in September
  • There is slim chance of a government shutdown. Senator McConnell and Congressman Ryan know how bad that would look. However, Trump might not care.

Splitting ICE:

  • Feinstein has not discussed this with Sean.
  • If done, it would likely be done by Sessions rather than legislature.
    • If Sessions does this, it might be because part of the group that wants to break off from ICE is a union that supported Trump.

Other:

  • Sean will follow up with Feinstein re: letter to Grassley

 

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

Health Care

  • Senator Feinstein spoke with Peter Lee in the Covered CA administration.  It is expected that Covered CA rates will go up sharply next year. This will give Senator Feinstein a platform for a strong message to wrap the ACA mess around the Republicans. Hurt in the pocketbook is going to wake people up to the message that Republicans broke healthcare. They need to fix it.
  • We have asked Feinstein frequently and continue to ask her to consider supporting the single payer system. Sean usually replies that such a bill, for example, the ‘Medicare for All Bill’ introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, doesn’t currently have any hope of passing, so it is a low priority.

Housing/Homelessness

  • Senator Harris introduced The Rent Relief Act in the Senate on July 19, 2018.  There is already a similar bill in the House. Senator Feinstein joined Senator Harris in the introduction and will continue to touch base with Senator Harris about this bill. This bill is a big CA issue. 
  • IEB strongly supports the Rent Relief Act’s goal of giving low-income residents more federal support to pay for housing. Indivisible can to help this bill along by getting more co-sponsors.
  • Senator Feinstein is working on a new plan for cities and counties to apply for a new federal grant program to address homelessness. There would be strict quality controls, for example, for low income housing. She is calling it her ‘first day’ bill because she plans to introduce it the first day of the new Congress (provided, of course, that she wins the election).
  • Possible housing solutions:
    • Senator Feinstein has visited or had her staff visit various ‘tiny homes’ and other solutions to homelessness.  
    • She has a binder listing the name and description of the shelters and other facilities for the homeless across the state.  She sees the scope and quality of solutions across the state.
    • There is no one size fits all solution for homelessness and the housing crisis.
  • One potential source of funding is the VA. The VA and various veterans’ assistance programs have pots of money.  Housing homeless veterans with the money could be considered a front end solution to prevent the medical catastrophes that come with homelessness.
  • The federal government and each county have surplus property that could be used to build low income housing.  There is a federal law to transfer surplus property. The feds have just transferred a big lot between 7th and 9th streets to the City of San Francisco for $1.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Helsinki/Russia

  • There was a hearing that day in the Senate Formulations Committee with Secretary of State Pompeo testifying.
    • Feinstein is not on that committee, but she is anxious to talk to colleagues about how it went.
  • Feinstein does not think Russia will be an issue that sways Republicans, but trade. Last summer, Feinstein held a forum with farmers in the Central Valley. They said if trade issues continue until Labor Day, that will hurt their businesses. They invest their money into resources at the beginning of the year, so this is a big issue for them.
  • Efforts are being made by Intelligence to get info on what was said at the Summit, but it is unlikely that transcripts will be made public. Such transcripts have not been public for previous administrations.

Iran

  • Sean noted a Washington Post article that reported anonymous White House staffers have said Trump’s tweet was a distraction from North Korea.
  • Feinstein does not give his tweet much credence.
  • The Iran Deal is important to her, as she worked on it.
  • It is unlikely the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act will go to the Senate floor or be amended to something.
  • Sean will talk with Feinstein re: Senator Merkley’s 2001 AUMF replacement

Election Security

  • Feinstein has been focusing on California’s election security with CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, not nationally, because she is pragmatic about what she can accomplish.
  • Sean will check with her re: Wyden’s act.
  • It is important for local groups to reach out to their Board of Supervisors regarding election security.

Security Clearances

  • Feinstein thinks this is a distraction technique and not a big issue.
  • Some former officials have said they don’t need it anyway, and temporary clearances can be gained if needed.

Whistleblowers

  • Sean stated that Feinstein has always protected whistleblowers.

 

ENVIRONMENT

EPA Fuel Economy Waiver for CA

  • Feinstein is very aggressive on this, because she passed the laws that let CA do this.
  • She has lobbied extensively, including reaching out to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
  • Advocacy groups need to elevate this issue.
    • One choice would be for consumers to demand car manufacturers continue to meet high fuel efficiency standards even if standards change.

Puerto Rico

  • We talked about the disaster in Puerto Rico in the context of the growing effects of climate change all over the country and asked if Feinstein would co-sponsor the Rebuilding Resilient Energy System Act to allow Puerto Rico and other disaster-affected areas (like our own state) to be rebuilt with greener and more resilient infrastructure; Sean said he would look up the bill and convey our request to the Senator.
  • Nationwide, Indivisible can help by writing lots more letters on the situation in Puerto Rico to their MOCs. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida would be a good person to lobby because he has 10 to 20K new Puerto Rican voters in his state.
  • Senator Feinstein will continue to advocate for Puerto Rico, but the Kavanaugh  nomination is her priority.
  • We thanked the Senator for co-sponsoring the Washington DC statehood bill and asked if Feinstein would introduce a Senate version of the Puerto Rico Admissions Act; Sean said she would not, because it isn’t going to happen in 2018.

 

JUDICIARY

Judicial Nominations

Supreme Court:

  • According to Sean, Senator Feinstein does not consider the proposal to request and view documents regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh a “sinking ship.”
  • The Senator’s negotiations have been focused on these documents. They are important because they get Kavanaugh on the record and give insight on his positions. Some valuable documents have been found already.
  • Half a million dollars have been given each to Senators Feinstein and Grassley from the Rules Committee to research this. Feinstein is using the money to hire staff to research and comb through documents.
  • The GOP is trying avoid the Democrats pointing out the hypocrisy of their treatment of this SCOTUS nominee versus their treatment of Obama’s nominees
    • Schumer has video of Grassley demanding all papers on Kagan.
    • This tactic won’t change McConnell’s mind, but might affect Republican senators who are on the fence.

Court of Appeals:

  • The Senator’s focus has been on Kavanaugh, and Sean does not have a statement from her on Eric Murphy, nominated to the Sixth Circuit, or Ryan Nelson, nominated to the Ninth Circuit.

 

TALK TO YOUR GOVERNMENT

Town Hall

  • We want Sen. Feinstein to commit to hold a town hall after the election; Sean said that she would think about that after the election.

Join the meetings!

  • Indivisible East Bay meets with Sen. Feinstein’s key staff every month. Be part of our team! It’s a fascinating way to find out more about the things you care about. Meetings are announced in the IEB weekly newsletter; subscribe to the newsletter for this and more!

 

Photograph by Catya de Neergaard 

Sunrise, No Sunset: Stop the 2018 AUMF

For most Americans, when Trump decided to bomb Syria in mid-April, no alarm bells went off. Whether or not you agreed with the decision, the President has the prerogative to take such action — even without prior authorization from Congress. Right?

Not exactly! Time was, Congress retained sole authority to declare war on another country. But the last time Congress exercised that authority was in 1942 — following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that marked our entry into World War II. After that, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War were all wars, but they were never declared as such. Rather, by labeling them “Extended Military Engagements,” the administration bypassed the requirement for a Congressional declaration.

Following September 11, 2001, Congress decided that even Extended Military Engagements were not sufficient. The attacks led to Congress ceding more explicit authority to the President so he could deal with the (again, not formally declared) War on Terror. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 gave the President the power to use military force, without seeking prior Congressional approval — but only in response to attacks by entities (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban) deemed directly or indirectly responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

While it seems the AUMF would greatly limit the President’s powers to wage war, it didn’t work out that way. Rather, we’ve slid down a slippery slope over the ensuing years to the point where the AUMF is now used to justify an attack on almost anyone the President chooses. Notably, the AUMF has been interpreted to extend to terrorist entities, such as ISIS, that had no direct connection to 9/11, and did not even exist until after 2003 and did not come to prominence until 2014. With our recent bombings of Syria (also in no way involved in 9/11), many in Congress have begun to question whether the AUMF’s authority has gone too far.

Enter the “Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018” — aka the 2018 AUMF or the Corker-Kaine bill — which supposedly reasserts Congress’ role in “authorizing and conducting oversight of the use of military force.” While renewed oversight is a worthy goal, and one that Indivisible East Bay solidly supports (especially with someone as erratic and reckless as the Current Occupant of the White House), it is unclear that this new AUMF truly accomplishes this goal. In fact, some claim it does almost the opposite.

For example, the 2018 AUMF allows the President to designate new groups as military enemies, and it has no “sunset clause” – any such designation would remain in force until and unless Congress subsequently rejects it. If Congress fails to take any action (a too common outcome in today’s polarized climate), the President’s unilateral decision would stand. Congress could exert greater and more appropriate oversight if its approval was required before the President could engage in military combat. While the President should retain some ability to act quickly in a crisis, most responses can wait for this Congressional approval. 

The 2018 AUMF broadens the scope of the President’s power by untethering future U.S. military actions from any requirement that they be linked to 9/11 or any other attacks against our country. As Representative Barbara Lee argues, the new AUMF “effectively consents to endless war by omitting any sunset date or geographic constraints for our ongoing operations.”

Please contact Senators Feinstein and Harris and let them know you oppose the 2018 AUMF as currently worded. What to say:

My name is ___________, my zip code is ____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m concerned about the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill. The 2018 AUMF has no territorial or time limits and no meaningful limit on who the president may prosecute wars against. This gives gives far too much of Congress’ decision-making power to the president. I support repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMF but any replacement needs clear limits, not fewer limits, on what the president can do. I urge the Senator to oppose the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill.

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

The 2018 AUMF: Meet the new law, worse than the old law?

For most Americans, when Trump decided to bomb Syria a few weeks ago, no alarm bells went off. After all, whether or not you agree with the decision, it’s the President’s prerogative to take such action — even without any prior authorization from Congress required. Right?

Actually, not exactly. You may be forgiven for believing the President has this power, because it has seemed to be this way since — well, forever. The truth, as so often happens, is more complicated.

Time was, Congress retained the sole authority to declare war on another country. However, the last time Congress exercised its authority was back in 1942 — following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that marked our entry into World War II. “Wait!” you may be wondering, “What about the Korean War and the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War?” Yup, those were indeed all “wars.” But they were never declared as such. Rather, by labeling them “Extended Military Engagements,” the administration bypassed the requirement for a Congressional declaration. The difference in language may seem trivial — but it made a world of difference in Washington.

Following September 11, 2001, Congress decided that even Extended Military Engagements were not sufficient. The attack on our soil led to Congress ceding more explicit authority to the President, so he could deal with the (again, not formally declared) War on Terror. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 gave the President the power to use military force, without seeking prior Congressional approval — but only in response to attacks by entities (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban) deemed directly or indirectly responsible for the Septamber 11 terrorist attacks.

While it seems that the AUMF would greatly limit the President’s powers to wage war, it didn’t work out that way. Rather, we’ve slid down a slippery slope over the ensuing years to the point where the AUMF can now justify an attack on almost anyone the President chooses. Notably, the AUMF has been interpreted to extend to terrorist entities, such as ISIS, that had no direct connection to 9/11. With our recent bombings of Syria (also in no way involved in 9/11), many in Congress have begun to question whether the AUMF’s authority has gone too far.

Enter the “Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018” — often referred to as the Corker-Kaine draft — which supposedly reasserts Congress’ role in “authorizing and conducting oversight of the use of military force.” While renewed oversight is a worthy goal, and one that Indivisible East Bay solidly supports (especially with someone as erratic and reckless as the Current Occupant of the White House), it is unclear that the new AUMF truly accomplishes this goal.

In fact, some claim it does almost the opposite.

For example, the 2018 AUMF allows the President to designate new groups as military enemies, and such a designation would remain in force until and unless Congress subsequently rejects it. If Congress fails to take any action (a too common outcome in today’s polarized climate), the President’s unilateral decision would stand. Congress could exert greater and more appropriate oversight if its approval was required before the President could engage in military combat. While the President should retain some ability to act quickly in a crisis, most responses can wait for this Congressional approval. 

The 2018 AUMF broadens the scope of the President’s power by untethering future U.S. military actions from any requirement that they be linked to 9/11 or any other attacks against our country. As Representative Barbara Lee argues, the new AUMF “effectively consents to endless war by omitting any sunset date or geographic constraints for our ongoing operations.”

Please contact Senators Feinstein and Harris and let them know that you oppose the 2018 AUMF as currently worded. What to say:

My name is ___________, my zip code is ____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m concerned about the current draft of the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill. The draft AUMF has no territorial or time limits and no meaningful limit on who the president may prosecute wars against. This gives gives far too much of Congress’ decision-making power to the president. I support repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMF but any replacement needs clear limits, not fewer limits, on what the president can do. I want the Senator to oppose the draft Corker-Kaine AUMF bill as it’s now written.

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

Make Peace, Not War

Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001 in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Since then, thousands of American troops have been killed and injured and hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost in the Middle East. It took an ambush in Niger (and fumbled condolence phone call) to get Congress to schedule a hearing on the 60-words long authorization that has enabled presidents to launch more than 37 military campaigns in the past sixteen years.

But a Congressional hearing doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods; hawks want to expand the scope of the authorization and if they prevail, it’s round infinity in the dead end war on terror. We must all demand a repeal of this blank check for the President, and Congress has to do its job. Hiding behind 4-star generals was not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote that Congress had the power

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

With a dangerously out-of-touch and unstable Commander in Chief, we can not continue to be complicit when even those charged with oversight can’t keep track of where our military is deployed, let alone explain why!

For 16 YEARS our own Representative Barbara Lee has fearlessly pushed to revisit this dangerously overbroad war authorization. Let’s give her our full support and demand a full repeal.

Please call Senators Feinstein and Harris, and Representatives DeSaulnier and Swalwell, and say:

My name is _____, I’m a constituent from [zip code], and a member of  Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask [ ] to support a full repeal of the Authorization of Military Force passed by Congress after 9/11. The 16 year old AUMF is a blank check to wage war. Giving this President such latitude is a risk to national and global security. His disregard for our military service-members and their families (evidenced by his reaction to the ambush in Niger), civilians caught in the crossfire, and provocative statements to other foreign powers show that he is incapable of the responsibility of leading a nation at war.  Please call for repeal of 2001 AUMF.

Indivisible East Bay Meets With Sen Harris’s Staff

Meeting with Daniel Chen

Walking into the IEB meeting with Daniel Chen, Senator Kamala Harris’s District Director on August 2, 2017, we had varying opinions on most issues we wanted to discuss – but we were INDIVISIBLY united on one question: when would Senator Harris hold a Bay Area Town Hall?

Unfortunately we left the meeting without an answer. Daniel clearly heard our message – it is not acceptable that Senator Harris hasn’t held ANY town halls in Northern California – but the most he would say was that an August Town Hall was a “number one priority” for Harris.

Daniel didn’t give many firm answers to the rest of our questions, but he took notes and said he’d convey our suggestions and concerns to the Senator.

Meeting with Daniel Chen

A rundown of the main issues we covered:

  • Health Care: We asked Senator Harris to join Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in committing to make no cuts to Medicaid before agreeing to any bipartisan health care bill. Daniel acknowledged and thanked Indivisible’s extensive grassroots work fighting for our health care.
  • Budget and Defense Spending: Daniel will ask Harris to issue a statement on why she agreed to co-sponsor Senate Bill 1414. The SHIPS Act mandates expansion of military spending on battle force ships, up from 276 to support a minimum of 355. The bill is primarily a reward to military contractors.
  • Department of Homeland Security Oversight: Daniel said that the Senator is currently mainly focused on retaining Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She is aware that ICE and border control have been turning away asylum seekers without granting legally mandated hearings, and she’s seeking documentation of this in the field. Daniel will convey our suggestion that she consider visiting the border to greet asylum seekers.
  • Defense Appropriations and Constitutional Role of Congress: We expressed our concern that the executive branch’s impulsive, undisciplined, and unreliable approach to foreign policy is leading to escalated U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad without strategy or accountability. Daniel will talk to the Senator about supporting a bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, work that Rep. Barbara Lee has been doing for years and that recently gained significant support from both sides of the aisle before being removed from the House Defense Appropriations Bill at the direction of Paul Ryan.
  • LGBTQ Rights: Daniel will convey our request that Harris co-sponsor S. 1303. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act prohibits discrimination in adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status of any prospective adoptive or foster parent, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child.
  • Reproductive Rights: He will also convey our deep concern about the DCCC’s announcement that they’re willing to fund Democratic candidates who don’t support abortion rights, and about the failure to mention abortion rights in the Democrats’ “Better Deal” agenda. We stated that abortion rights should definitely be a litmus test for Dem candidates.
  • Obstruction of Justice: We were disappointed by Harris’s vote to confirm Christopher Wray as the new FBI Director. Daniel told us she was convinced by his responses at the hearing that Wray would remain independent, and gave us her statement regarding her vote.

It’s nearly a week since we met with Daniel, and still no word on an August recess Town Hall with Senator Harris. Please contact Senator Harris and tell her you want her to meet with her Bay Area constituents!

Update: Senator Harris asked for constituent input on priorities, please use this form to give her feedback.

Barbara Lee Speaks for the Constitution

Update: Today, August 8, we heard from the President the threat to unleash “Fire and Fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea.  This completely unhinged and destabilizing statement reminds us again of the need for Congress to re-assert its constitutionally mandated power to authorize and regulate military force.  All our members of Congress would be well advised to take up and pass immediately the bill banning presidential nuclear first strike authored by another California legislator, Ted Lieu (a senate version of the bill was introduced by Ed Markey of Massachusetts).


For the first time in almost sixteen years, there’s a chance for a real debate in the Congress about our seemingly endless war in the Middle East – thanks to East Bay hero Rep. Barbara Lee.

Regulation of the military as well as authorization and funding of war is a power granted solely to Congress in Article I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution; yet under the hastily drawn 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the President has been able to act unilaterally to commit blood and treasure without Congress’s approval. CA-13’s Rep. Lee has toiled, often alone, to force a debate on this issue on the House floor, and now Congress may finally follow her lead and do its job after too many years of silence. On June 29, a House Appropriations Committee meeting on Defense spending gave Rep. Lee the go-ahead (and a round of applause) for an amendment to the FY 2018 defense spending bill that would repeal the AUMF. All the Committee Democrats and all but one of Rep. Lee’s GOP colleagues joined in supporting this amendment, which would give Congress eight months to debate and formulate a new, more targeted Authorization for use of military force for current activities in the Middle East.

Though the amendment’s passage out of committee is a significant milestone, it by no means signals smooth sailing and final passage. There are already objections to authorization (or de-authorization language) in a spending bill, and its ultimate fate still depends on the rest of the House and Senate. But this is at last the start of a real and serious debate within and without the halls of Congress about not just the legality but the prudence of granting the executive unlimited war powers authorization. Whatever procedural objections members of Congress may have to the Lee Amendment, they will will have to weigh that objection against a Commander in Chief who lacks the attention span and skill needed to oversee an expansive war in the Middle East.

Though often dismissed as a Bay Area radical, Barbara Lee’s consistent and dogged leadership on repeal of the 2001 AUMF these last fifteen-plus years shows her to be the real steward of the Constitution. Congress has both the legal and moral authority to check the executive – if only it would exercise that authority. We owe it to Barbara Lee to advocate for not just the amendment but also for Constitutional constraint of the executive.