Meeting with Feinstein staff March 2019

Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Feinstein’s state director Jim Lazarus and returning field representative Caitlin Meyer on March 14 in the senator’s San Francisco office. You can see our detailed pre-meeting memo here.

Our smaller-than-average delegation covered a lot of topics:

Climate Change: We told Jim that beyond the in-person interaction the senator had with young students in her office, we are disappointed that Sen. Feinstein — who we used to see leading on protecting our environment and addressing climate change — was dismissing this exciting new movement of energized youth activists by calling their ideas unrealistic. We asked her to support the Green New Deal resolution. We suggested that she doesn’t need to agree with every detail of their approach in order to celebrate their contributions and build up momentum to see how far this movement can take us toward our shared goal of a sustainable future. Jim said that he thought this perceived conflict was really mostly a communication issue and would be resolved as we move toward actual climate legislation. For example, the senator is currently working on carbon pricing legislation, which is not part of the current Green New Deal proposal but could complement it as part of the final legislation.

Immigration: We followed up on our repeated request that Sen. Feinstein visit the southern border and immigration detention facilities throughout the state — she says she wants to, but still has not — and we asked her to prioritize getting more funding in place for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan allies. There is a current backlog of 16,700 SIV-eligible individuals, including family members, and 4,400 applications are currently pending. In FY 2018, only 1,649 visas were issued, down from 4,120 in FY 2017.

Public banking: We asked the Senator to support public banking in California. Jim said it was an area that he hadn’t had many discussions with her about, but that he knew she supported local, accessible banking options like credit unions. He also expressed skepticism that public banking was the solution to the cannabis industry’s banking problems.

Census: We were glad to hear that Sen. Feinstein and her office have been very much on top of getting ready to make sure her constituents are all counted in the census. Caitlin told us that the office has been in touch with the Alameda County Complete Count Committee. We have a lot of hard to count populations here in the East Bay, such as immigrants and unhoused people.

And more: We also asked the Senator to:

  • work to fund desperately needed food stamps in Puerto Rico — she finally did the right thing on this after pressure from Sen. Schumer
  • cosponsor the EACH Woman Act (reproductive rights)
  • cosponsor The American Family Act (child allowance)—she hasn’t yet
  • hold a Town Hall—she seems as unlikely as ever to do so.

 

IEB Meets with Senator Harris’ Staff, January 2019

By Leslie A. Burton

On January 15, 2019, Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Kamala Harris’ State Director, Julie Rodriguez, and other office staff at the Senator’s downtown San Francisco office.  

Shutdown. We opened with the government shutdown, at that point on its 24th day – the longest in U.S. history (and still ongoing as of this writing). We asked that the Senator not back down on her opposition to the border wall. We pointed out the need to  disseminate more positive stories about immigrants and noted environmental hazards to wildlife caused by the wall. Julie acknowledged the problems with privatizing immigration detention centers. We asked that Senator Harris consider forcing a vote on the budget by making a motion to proceed, but Julie didn’t think that the senator was inclined to do that.

Barr for Attorney General. Although we disapprove of the appointment of William Barr as AG, Julie explained that though Harris will likely oppose (and she officially announced opposition soon after our meeting) his appointment is likely a “done deal.”

Judicial appointments. We expressed our dismay that judges who have been found “not qualified” by the American Bar Association are being approved.  ABA approval should be a non-negotiable qualification. We asked that each judicial candidate be put through the entire vetting and approval process, with no concessions to speed up the process. Julie noted that the Blue Slip process, which had been the protocol for every other administration, is not being followed now, and said she hopes in the future we can move to restore the previous protocol to confirm judges.

Julie was pleased, though, with the decision of the federal court in Manhattan that will prevent citizenship questions from being asked on the 2020 census. She is also heartened that Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts seems to be moving a little to the left.

Nuclear arms. We voiced concern over Senator Jon Kyl’s proposals to stockpile more nuclear warheads. Rep. Engel is willing to open debate on repeal of AUMF in the House. Sen. Merkley’s AUMF repeal framework includes tying humanitarian goals into any repeal legislation. We support Engel and Merkley and would like to know how Senator Harris stands on these issues. We would like her to support a No First Use (of nuclear weapons) policy. Julie was not aware of Sen. Harris’ stance on these issues but she promised that she would discuss them with her. Senator Harris, like us, is concerned that we have the right checks and balances in place when an unstable person is in charge of nuclear arms.

Defense Budget/Budget Control Act Caps. Senator Harris supports parity between military and non-military spending. Julie doesn’t know about the proposal to discontinue humanitarian aid to Yemen, but she will look into it, as well as into the proposal to bring the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act below $700 billion.

DHS/HHS appropriations for immigration centers. Two children have died in ICE custody at the border without explanation; there is no oversight or responsibility to prevent abuses by ICE; there are no background checks on ICE employees; anti-immigration actions are taking funds from cancer and HIV research. Julie explained that most of the monetary aspect of Homeland Security goes through the Office of Management and Budget, and not through the Senate. But the Senator is concerned with the locking up of children and families and the lack of humanity exhibited in these facilities. Harris also sponsored the non-expansion act that would prohibit the expansion of immigration detention and improve oversight of these facilities. The Senator will be flagging Rep. Norma Torres’s H. Amdt. 314 to H.R. 3354, which would prevent the re-allocation of non-immigration detention funds in DHS towards immigration detention, for her immigration team to study.

Climate Change. We inquired about Harris’ approach to controlling greenhouse gases. We pointed out that lower standards are being proposed for Superfund cleanups, which will hurt communities. Julie stated that California is at the forefront of environmental issues, including environmental justice. Among other clean energy proposals, Harris is seeking federal funding for electric buses in rural areas. Climate change will be on the agenda for her next town hall.

Green New Deal. We told Julie that proposals are afloat for a system of public banks or agencies to finance energy infrastructure, which will transform the economy while addressing environmental issues. These banks would be accountable to the people and could be used to give micro-loans for communities and for conservation projects and other projects and endeavors, including the cannabis industry. Julie was very interested and asked us to provide her with good examples of successful programs.

Income Inequality and Taxes. We asked whether Harris supports Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to increase the highest tax rate to 70 percent. Julie acknowledged that taxes need to be reformed, with the goal of getting money into the hands of the people. She noted that the majority of Americans are $500 away from life-changing status (such as homelessness) and that the Senator supports the “Lift the Middle-Class Tax Act,” which will give $500 annually to those who spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

Criminal Justice Reform and First Step. We aired our concerns over some of the terms of the criminal justice reform bill First Step Act, including its reliance on algorithms for predicting recidivism. Harris believes that AG Barr’s oversight of the First Step criminal reform bill will not be a serious concern because she has faith in the career employees at the Department of Justice who will handle most of the hands-on day-to-day administration of First Step. But the senator shares concerns over the recidivism calculations.

Drug Policy. Senator Harris supported the Marijuana Justice Act.  The next step is to help the cannabis industry transition to a fully legal business. Harris supports removing it from Schedule 1 of Controlled Substances. In response to her question to Barr about federal prosecution of users who are not violating state laws, he said he would not prosecute those cases.

Next Town Hall. Senator Harris will announce a Town Hall soon. We will let you know the date as soon as we find out.

 

Leslie A. Burton is a former lawyer and law professor. She is now a traveling professor, teaching Introduction to US Law classes and Legal Writing seminars in law firms and universities around the world.

Speak Out Against the Census Immigration Question

Deadline: August 6, 2018 – Attacking immigrants by bureaucracy: the 2020 Census will include a new question on citizenship. Why? The Constitution requires that the Census count “all persons” – NOT all citizens. Members of Congress, whose districts are determined by the Census counts, represent all people, NOT just citizens. The Commerce Department, however, bizarrely claims citizenship data “is critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting.” Census experts and civil rights advocates strongly disagree. Read our earlier article here.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra immediately filed a lawsuit to prohibit the citizenship question from being used. Other lawsuits followed; one lawsuit, brought by a coalition of states and cities, led by New York, recently survived a challenge and is proceeding in New York federal court. Fifty-six House members signed a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on June 28, asking him to explain “contradictory and misleading statements” made by him and other members of the administration regarding the process behind the decision to add the citizenship question to the census.

Now you also have a chance to speak out on this racist, anti-immigrant ploy! The Census, including the citizenship question, is open for public comment until Monday, August 6. The main page is here; the comment page is here. Some possible points you may wish to include in your comment:

  • There’s no evidence a citizenship question is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act or to protect against racial discrimination in voting.
  • Nonpartisan experts, including six former Census Bureau directors, believe the question is not properly tested and risks the accuracy of the Census.
  • The question is likely to depress response rates, leading to a serious under-count
  • The Constitution requires that the census count citizens and non-citizens alike.
  • Any actions that appear hostile to non-citizens should be scrupulously avoided, especially in this very hostile political climate.
  • Adding this question is likely to skew the census count by discouraging immigrants from participating, thus blocking states from receiving sufficient federal funding.

Count Every Person

Call us nerdy, but we’ve been worried for some time about the impact of the administration’s apparent plan to under-fund the 2020 United States Census, since that count will be critical in drawing political districts, allotting congressional representatives, and distributing billions in federal funds. Turns out our concerns were justified, and then some.

The Department of Justice has asked the Department of Commerce to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Many experts, including former census directors, believe that including a question about whether residents are citizens will discourage non-citizens from completing the census, resulting in reduced response rates and inaccurate answers. The likely result: states with large immigrant populations like ours would be under-counted and thus underrepresented in Congress and short-changed in getting state and federal funding for health care, education, infrastructure, and more.

California, which would be greatly impacted if non-citizens were leery of filling out the census forms, is leading the fight. CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra is on the case – literally. Calling the move “an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes,” Becerra filed a lawsuit in the name of the State of California, which 14 other AGs quickly joined on behalf of their states. Experts believe that a citizenship question could intimidate people into not participating in the census. But the U.S. Constitution requires the census to count the entire population every ten years, including citizens and non-citizens alike; non-citizens’ non-participation as a result of a citizenship question could “translate into several million people not being counted.” Such an undercounting of the state’s population could reduce everything from Congressional representation to funding for necessary services, all of which depend on the 10-year Census count. Is it just coincidence that the Administration wants to add a question that could diminish Congressional representation from states with high immigrant populations? Hmmm …

And the Senate is taking up its own attack with S. 2580: “A bill to amend title 13, United States Code, to make clear that each decennial census, as required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, shall tabulate the total number of persons in each State, and to provide that no information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status may be elicited in any such census.” (emphasis supplied). Senator Kamala Harris is one of the bill’s original sponsors.

What you can do: 

Thank Attorney General Becerra for filing the lawsuit, and for his strong public opposition to a citizenship question. Email: attorneygeneral@doj.ca.gov

Thank Sen. Harris for her sponsorship of S. 2580; thank our other Members of Congress for speaking out in opposition to the citizenship question and urge them to support legislation to prohibit a citizenship question.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Call the Department of Commerce, Office of Public Affairs (202-482-4883) and say:

I’m calling to urge you not to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding it will skew the census count by discouraging immigrants from participating, and that will block many states from being fully represented and receiving sufficient federal funding. Please tell Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that it is unconstitutional not to count everyone, everywhere.

A Conversation with Steve Haro, Senator Feinstein’s Chief of Staff in DC

By Catherine de Neergaard

Things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you have to improvise. Such was the case when Steve Haro, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Chief of Staff, met with Indivisible representatives on February 21, 2018.

As Chief of Staff, Mr Haro occupies the most prestigious position on Feinstein’s staff. Previously, he has had been Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department Commerce under President Obama.

Because Mr. Haro remained in Washington, the Indivisible group arranged for a video conference at WeWork in the Oakland Civic Center. Unfortunately, there was an Internet outage at the Center that day. So, we instead opted for an audio-only call. Not an optimal solution, but it sufficed to get the job done.

Once we were connected, and introductions were given, we proceeded to work our way through a list of agreed-upon topics.

DACA:

We thanked Senator Feinstein for holding out for a clean DREAM ACT for the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA).

Haro said that Senator Feinstein was disappointed not to get a “Clean Dream” rider on the Continuing Resolution for funding. Mr. Haro related at considerable length the inside drama and difficulties of getting the twelve Republican votes needed to pass a compromise bipartisan Immigration (DACA) Bill. The Democrats conceded much just to get the bill to the floor. Unfortunately, after the GOP leadership lobbied against it, even the most bipartisan immigration deal the Senate considered only got eight Republican votes and the bill failed.

Regarding the brief shutdown of the government that resulted from the immigration policies dispute, Mr. Haro gave us some new insight into how the senator thought it went down. In spite of strong reservations about the negative effects of a government shutdown, the senator voted against both the continuing resolution (CR) that would have kept it open and the CR that opened it back up. And she thought that Democrats didn’t allow enough time for it to work.

GUN SAFETY:

We thanked the Senator for her outspoken support of stricter gun control, including her bills banning bump stocks and all assault weapons.

Haro noted that Feinstein introduced a bill, together with Senator Flake, to increase the legal age to buy weapons to 21. But Democrats cannot get a single Senate Republican to co-sponsor a bill banning bumpstocks.

The key question for all such bills remains: How do we get to 60 votes in the Senate to support the bill? The answer, for now, is “We can’t.”

CLIMATE CHANGE:

Haro said that Senator Feinstein is working with colleagues to preserve current CAFE standards and prohibit waivers. The Senator also believes we must protect the jobs of scientists in government positions from politically-motivated firings—although it was not clear how she intends to accomplish this.

As to the Senator’s support for the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act and a timeline for a federal climate bill similar to California’s carbon auction model, Haro said he would have to “get back to us.”

We also asked Feinstein to support HJ 48, a constitutional amendment introduced in the House, to state that corporations are not people with the argument that corporate money drives harmful environmental policy.

FUNDING FOR THE 2020 CENSUS:

IEB remains concerned that continued underfunding of the 2020 census will prevent an orderly and fair redistricting of the House. Similarly, use of untried methodologies threaten to endanger an accurate count and leave out harder-to-reach people.

We asked: “What is Senator Feinstein’s plan to get more money for the census?” The answer was not encouraging. Haro said House Republicans hate census appropriations bills and fund them at the last minute. The Senate isn’t directly impacted by the census, so it is hard to get the Senators excited about this. Feinstein is pushing to prevent the census from asking about citizenship which, in her opinion, is as important as funding.

ELECTION SECURITY:

We asked: “What can Congress/Senate do in the absence of executive support to ensure fair elections?” and “What has the Senator done to advance the Secure Elections Act or similar legislation?”

Haro observed that when voter turnout is high, Democrats generally win. That’s why Democrats want people to vote and Republicans do not. He is concerned that a low voter turnout, encouraged by Republican voting restrictions, will negatively impact Democrats. Obviously, the GOP has no interest in taking on this issue.

Other than noting Feinstein’s support for paper ballots, his answers did not directly address our questions. He did say that he was unfamiliar with some of the specifics we raised and would look into them further.

NATIONAL SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WAR:

We thanked Senator Feinstein for her deep concerns about U.S. relations with North Korea. She is already a co-sponsor of S. 200 which restricts the first use of nuclear weapons. However, we asked that her concerns about U.S. involvement in the Middle East be stronger than they appear.

Feinstein supports repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). However, Haro expects no action on this matter any time soon. The issue has gone quiet, apparently because the GOP views any change as an attack against Trump. He told us that he personally feels some regret that Democrats didn’t work with President Obama on some of these issues regarding curtainling executive power; he might have been open to it, and it wouldn’t have had the appearance of a partisan attack.

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS:

The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee continues to nominate untried, inexperienced, and young conservative Republicans for lifetime judgeships. The “blue slip” process, whereby the senators of a state are consulted and partisan input is preserved, continues to be bypassed or ignored. In other words, the GOP is rapidly stacking the courts. We asked: “What can we and the Senator do to stop this travesty?”

Haro replied that, other than delaying tactics, there is little the Democrats can do. The key is to “Take back the Senate.” He specifically suggested we (Indivisible nationally) focus on helping vulnerable blue senators in states where Trump won in 2016 and trying to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona.

WE WANT A TOWN HALL

For the past several meetings with Feinstein’s staff, we have asked about the Senator’s reluctance to hold town hall meetings where the public can ask questions. We did so again at this meeting.

Haro responded that town halls take a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources to produce.

 

Catherine de Neergaard is a gardener, artist, and environmental Activist working within a variety of organizations including Quaker Earthcare Witness, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Kensington Green, and, of course, Indivisible.

Photograph by Catherine de Neergaard

Trump’s Dangerous Census Pick

By Rob Schoenbeck

Not content with GOP efforts to suppress the votes of low-income Americans and people of color at the state level, the Trump Administration has been trying to position the 2020 US Census as yet another arena where Republicans can make some Americans count and others not — this time literally.

The administration is planning to add a question about immigration status to the upcoming Census, a move that census experts and civil rights advocates agree would likely intimidate immigrants into not responding. At the same time, they have failed to ramp up Census funding for 2020, which will disproportionately impact the counting of lower-income and minority populations, who tend to be harder to reach.

Now they want to appoint Thomas Brunell, a political scientist inexperienced in civil service or government statistics, to the position of Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. The Deputy Director position does not require confirmation by the Senate; the position of Director does, but they are leaving the Director position unfilled. Oh, and just coincidentally we’re sure, Brunell has testified in support of gerrymandered Republican districts, drawing on his contrarian body of work supporting “non-competitive” elections. He’s even authored a book called “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

Leadership positions in the Census have typically been nonpartisan and given to people with relevant expertise: for example, George W. Bush’s head of the Census had extensive government and statistical experience. Beyond the apparent politicization of career civil service roles, having an inexperienced Deputy Director handling budget and operations for the 2020 Census will likely lead to more problems with the data and undercounting of targeted populations.

An accurate Census population count is important, because what’s at stake are electoral college votes, congressional representation in the House, and the distribution of hundreds of billions in federal funding for things like education and health care.

Take Action:

Call Senator Feinstein’s office to express your opposition to Brunell’s appointment. 415-393-0707; DC: 202-224-3841. (Senator Kamala Harris has already expressed concern regarding Brunell’s appointment). If you have to leave a message, please leave your full street address to ensure your call is tallied.

What to say:

My name is ________________ and my ZIP Code is _________.  I’m calling to express my opposition to Thomas Brunell as Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. He has proven he is hostile to objective and fair redistricting efforts. He also doesn’t have the necessary experience for the job. We need an objective, experienced statistician and career civil servant to keep the 2020 Census on track. This appointment of a deputy instead of a director for the Census (bypassing Senate confirmation) is an attempt by the administration to skirt the “Advice and Consent” requirement of the appointments clause of the Constitution so I ask that my senator speak out against this on the floor of the Senate.