Keep the Pressure on for a Green New Deal

As Democrats are considering incorporating the Green New Deal (GND) into 2019’s congressional agenda (see our previous blog post for more on this proposal), a new poll shows strong bipartisan support for the idea of transforming the economy through fighting climate change. Despite the Green New Deal’s popularity, however, the House of Representative’s plan for action on climate change does not appear to be as strong as we had hoped – and may not include the Green New Deal at all. Read on for more details on these recent developments, and see the sample scripts at the bottom of this post to tell your Representatives that we need a Green New Deal now!

Tackling Climate Change in the Blue House

With Democrats taking control of the House in the new year, climate change is back on the legislative agenda. Representative Nancy Pelosi (incoming House Speaker-designate) and other Democratic leaders have pushed for reinstating the Select Committee on Climate Change, which Republicans killed eight years ago. However, climate activists, along with Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who worry that action from this committee will not be aggressive or swift enough, have proposed establishing a Select Committee for a Green New Deal, which would be tasked with developing a national plan to eliminate carbon emissions while guaranteeing jobs and environmental justice by 2020.  What form the climate change committee will take will be determined on January 3, 2019, when the House convenes and votes on its rules for the upcoming session.

Who Likes the Green New Deal? Everyone!

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication recently conducted a poll of registered voters’ opinions of the GND. Based on the poll, the authors estimate that 81% of registered voters support the GND’s policy goals, including 64% of all Republicans and 57% of conservative Republicans. That’s more than half of conservative Republicans! Another important finding: 82% of respondents had not heard of the GND before the survey, meaning that most people are likely to support the Green New Deal if it’s described to them, but that word hasn’t gotten out about it.

Bipartisan support for action on climate change isn’t just found in the polls; a bipartisan carbon tax bill was introduced last week in the Senate. The bill was not expected to pass, but some see it as a starting point for bipartisan negotiation. Some Republicans have shown indications that they may be ready to compromise as the devastating effects of a changing climate become ever clearer.

Climate Action is Coming – But is it Enough?

The Green New Deal is a crucial opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. With a blue House, an energized progressive base, and bipartisan support, the House leadership has an opportunity to direct the policy agenda on this issue. Unfortunately, a few recent news items have put into question whether they will take this opportunity or let it pass.

First, Maryland Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer, the incoming majority leader, stated on December 19, 2018, that the committee that will tackle climate change – whatever that committee may be – will not have subpoena power, the legal authority to demand documents and testimony from relevant players. While the committee would likely have no problem collecting documents and testimony from climate scientists, a lack of subpoena power would prevent the committee from compelling testimony from the fossil fuel industry. Such testimony would allow the committee to establish key findings about issues such as fossil fuel funding for climate change denying think tanks and lobby groups and other bad faith efforts (some quite extraordinary – the Heartland Institute took out a billboard comparing the Unabomber and Osama Bin Laden to people concerned about global warming!), which could motivate strong action and justify the scope of the legislation.

Second, on December 20, 2018, Florida Democrat Kathy Castor (who has a 93% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters) announced that she was chosen to lead a new committee on climate change in the next Congress. The details of the committee have not yet been made public, but Representative Castor stated that although a Green New Deal would be a consideration in the committee, “that’s not going to be our sole focus.” She also indicated that they were not planning to disqualify members from serving on the committee if they take money from fossil fuel companies. While the new committee shows that the leadership is planning to focus on climate change, it is also seen as an indication that they are not moving forward with a Green New Deal as proposed.

What you can do – call your Members of Congress NOW

Green New Deal supporters in Congress have said that they have not heard opposition from Democratic leadership to the GND’s proposed policies, but “they’re not willing to go out on a limb” because they aren’t sure of support from their caucus and they’re concerned about overstepping other committees’ jurisdiction. So far, only 43 of the 235 Democratic representatives have spoken out in favor of the Green New Deal. This means that Democratic leadership needs to hear from caucus members (our representatives) that there is solid support for a robust committee to work on the Green New Deal plan by 2020; and that in order to support the plan, the committee needs subpoena power to be able to compel testimony from relevant players.

You know what that means … time to call your Members of Congress and let them know we need immediate action on Climate Change through a national Green New Deal. Despite the government shutdown and the recess between Congressional sessions, Capitol offices are open and the staff is there to record your comments (though you may have to leave a message as some offices are short-staffed). Asking our MoCs to publicly support the Green New Deal is the best way to show leadership that the House needs to take it up as soon as possible.

Representative Barbara Lee has already shown public support for the plan. Representatives Eric Swalwell and Mark DeSaulnier have previously been strong advocates for action on climate change and the environment, but have not yet publicly supported the Green New Deal.

You can also contact your local and state representatives to sign on to the platform – read our previous article about the movement to get local and state leaders on-board. The more pressure to act on a Green New Deal, the better!

WHAT TO SAY:

If you are represented by Rep. Lee (CA-13):

My name is ____, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for supporting the Green New Deal. The United States needs to take immediate action on climate change while supporting our economy and workers. Please continue your commitment to sustainability and use your influence to ensure that a committee with subpoena power is established and takes up the Green New Deal in its agenda.

Rep. Barbara Lee (email): (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661; 1301 Clay Street #1000N, Oakland CA 94612

If you are represented by Rep. DeSaulnier (CA-11) or Swalwell (CA-15):

My name is ____, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. The United States needs to take immediate action on climate change, and I know it can be done in a way that supports our economy and our workers. I ask you to publicly support the Green New Deal, which is the only concrete proposal to ensure action on climate change. Please continue your commitment to sustainability and use your influence to ensure that a committee with subpoena power is established and takes up the Green New Deal in its agenda.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095; 440 Civic Center Plaza, 2nd Floor, Richmond, CA 94804

Rep. Eric Swalwell (email): (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065; 3615 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley CA 94546

To check on who your representative is, please enter your zip code at this link to verify.

Help Mike Espy win 11/27 special election

Deadline: today and through November 27 –

Surprise! Election season 2018 isn’t over! On November 27, 2018, Democrats have a chance to win a special election for the US Senate seat vacated by Thad Cochran in Mississippi. Representative Mike Espy, former Agriculture Secretary under Bill Clinton, is running against Trump-endorsed Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who replaced Cochran on an interim basis.

Espy, who would be Mississippi’s first African-American Senator since Reconstruction, is running as a moderate Democrat. He has stated his support for an increased minimum wage, paid family leave, expanding funding for Medicaid and CHIP, and women’s health initiatives and the right to choose.

We’re organizing events and publicizing other groups’ efforts to support Espy’s run because this is a chance to narrow the Senate’s partisan divide and hopefully force the GOP to the table on more issues. Below is information about our events and other ways you can get involved on your own. Please keep an eye on this post, our website, and the newsletter as we continue to organize to win this seat!

What you can do:

Scary times at IEB’s October All Members Meeting

Halloween arrived early at the Indivisible East Bay All Members Meeting on October 28, with many of us showing up in costume. Even the infamous Trump Chicken joined the festivities.

Unfortunately, the real scares are coming from recent news. From the deadly violence at the Synagogue in Pittsburgh to Trump’s avalanche of incendiary rhetoric — the stakes for the November 6 midterms are higher now, if that’s possible, than they’ve ever been.

Before we got down to national politics, Jodi Reid, Executive Director of CARA, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, led an informative discussion about some of the statewide propositions on the ballot. CARA has posted recommendations on all eleven props, including fact sheets for Props 1, 2, 8, and 10. Jodi walked us through the list and took our questions. In brief:

  • Yes on Prop 1. Passing Prop 1 would authorize $4 billion in bonds for housing related programs for low income residents, veterans, and other specialized populations. California has not had funds for housing in some time and local communities don’t have the resources to build housing themselves.
  • Yes on Prop 2. This would allow funding from Prop 63 to be utilized for mental health services in concert with homeless assistance. The two are needed in order for housing to succeed for the homeless. A “yes” on Prop 2 would  authorize funding already allocated to be used in this context and would not require new funding.
  • Yes on Prop 8. Authorizes state regulation of kidney dialysis clinics and limits charges for patient care. As of now, CARA stated that two major corporations provide all the kidney dialysis services, overcharging $150K more per patient than needed without the funds going to patient care. The proposition would set profits to a 115% cap above revenue.
  • Yes on Prop 10. This would allow local cities to adopt rent control and repeal the Costa-Hawkins rental housing act (1995). CARA points out that tens of thousands of housing units have been created since ’95 that have not fallen under rent control. In response to a question, Jodi noted that passage of Prop 10 would not establish vacancy control.
  • Several of the ballot proposals are controversial even among progressive groups that are usually allies. For example, CARA supports Prop 3, which authorizes almost $9 billion in bonds to fund various water and environmental projects, citing the need for safe drinking water to all areas of the state. However, the Sierra Club opposes the measure on the ground that it will mean building more dams, harming the environment; they also have concerns about the (lack of) oversight for how the funds are spent. At the Propositions breakout session (see more below), Governance Committee (GC) member Ted noted that Prop 3 affects only state-regulated water systems, and said that it won’t directly affect the East Bay’s water supply because we get our water from EBMUD.
  • Finally, check out calmatters.org to see their one-minute videos summarizing the pros and cons of each Proposition. There’s no faster way to get up to speed.

Next up, GC member and senator teams co-lead Linh highlighted the critical importance of a “boring” (her word) topic: rules changes for federal agencies. In particular, “any executive agency seeking to change any existing regulation has to invite and review public comments.” Public means YOU! Making comments may be our only chance to prevent or slow down the administration’s attempts to roll back decades of environmental, workplace and safety protections. Linh urged members to take advantage of this opportunity. Some proposed changes are anything but boring: for example, one such proposal would allow for indefinite detention of immigrant families with children! You have until November 6 to voice your opposition to this change, so speak up!

GC member and outreach team co-lead Nick reminded us that the 2018 Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort will likely not end on November 6, since that’s a primary day for one of the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi. If no candidate receives a majority, which seems likely, a runoff will be held on November 27. Nick is lining up postcard events for the possible run-off.

Lastly, GC member Charlotte urged everyone to participate in one or more of the remaining GOTV events between now and next week’s midterms. The biggest is our  two-day all-day (9 AM to 9 PM) “The Last Weekend” Phone/Text Bank Extravaganza in Oakland. Whether you’ve already done tons of phone banking or have been quietly sitting on the sidelines, this is a must-do! Sign up here.

With the formal part of the meeting over, we enjoyed pizza courtesy of a generous donation from IEB member Nancy Olson. Three breakout sessions followed: Charlotte led people in writing postcards and also letters to voters through Vote Forward, GC members Ted and Toni engaged people in a more in-depth discussion about some of the state propositions, and GC member and volunteer team lead Andrea welcomed new members who wanted to know more about IEB and learn how to get involved.

Andrea with new members
Andrea at the new members breakout

Several of us came in costume! The clear Adorable & Clever winners:

NASA Space Force astronaut and assistant. Photo by Toby St John
NASA Kid & Dr. Horrible team up to save America! Photo by Toby St. John

Governance Committee members Ted and Ann (aka “Blue Wave”):

Ted and Ann aka Blue Wave

Henry the Indivisi-bulldog brought his family, IEB team co-leads Kristen and Tom!

Henry, Kristen and Tom

Scariest Costume winner was IEB and CA-11 team member George, who said: “Nnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnn”, which we translated as meaning: “Just because I’m a person of the undead persuasion doesn’t mean the electoral outcome isn’t important to me. A Blue vote is a smart vote. And smart brains taste better! Be a ZombiVoter! Vote Blue!”

Be a ZombiVoter! Vote Blue!

And finally: Blue Wave beats up Trump Chicken!

 

Andrea Lum contributed to this article.

 

Phone Banking for our Future (North Berkeley)

Brett Kavanaugh is now a supreme court justice. How would you like to see Trump appoint a THIRD supreme court justice? (LIberal justices Ginsberg and Breyer are both over 80 years old.) Not to mention our nearly *Trillion* dollar deficit as a direct result of tax cuts to the wealthiest, and the almost too-big-to-think-about *imperative* of turning around U.S. climate policy. The next 2 years are of PROFOUND importance to our future.

So, let’s DO something about it. We are partnering with Indivisible to identify Democratic voters in the critical and too-close-to-call Nevada senate race, in coordination with on-the-ground canvassers to Get Out the Vote in Democratic-leaning districts. This is a chance to have a HUGE impact on the chances to take back the Senate.

RSVP here for details.

BRING YOUR PHONE AND A LAPTOP OR TABLET

We will be phone-banking from 4:00 – 8:00. A phone-bank trainer will be on hand to show you the ropes. If you’re hungry, I will have big pot of soup for you, so all you have to do is show up with your phone and laptop (or tablet) and get to know some of your fellow citizens from the state next door. (Feel free to bring a food contribution, but please don’t feel obliged.)

https://www.theguardian.com/law/ng-interactive/2018/jul/09/supreme-court-justice-trump-third-pick-possible

10/14 GOTV Training: The Last Step to Take Back Congress!

The only way out of this mess is to flip Congress. That means we really really really need Democrats and progressives to vote in close House and Senate races this November.  And that means those of us here in the deep blue Bay, need to reach out to them with support and encouragement—also known as Get Out the Vote, or GOTV.

RSVP here

Sunday October 14 at the El Cerrito Community Center, Bay Area Indivisibles are bringing in trainers from Indivisible National for a GOTV canvass and phone-bank training for all levels. If you’ve been doing this for years, we need you to come lend your insights and learn techniques for passing your skills along; and if you’ve never done this before, we need you to come learn the tricks of the trade and find out that it’s not as scary as you might have thought.

We are planning a packed afternoon starting with an optional lunch and team building, followed by two and a half hours of training, including role-playing and live phone-bank demonstrations, and ending with one hour of phone banking to swing districts in California to put your skills to use right away.

Tentative Schedule Overview:

11:30am-12:30pm optional lunch
12:30-3pm training and live demonstration
3-4pm sign up for future events, mingle, and transition into phone-banking
4-5pm phone bank to CA Swing Districts

Space is limited, so make sure to RSVP now.

Please contact info@indivisibleEB.org with any questions

Kicking off August ’18 with local political events

With midterm election day barreling toward us, local political groups (including Indivisible East Bay, of course) and elected officials are stepping up their efforts to make sure we cross the November 6 finish line as victors. The first weekend in August – we’ve hit the less-than 100 days out, folks – saw many IEBers participating in a wide variety of events. Didn’t make any of them? Here’s a quick roundup. Oh, and don’t miss any more, check out the upcoming events listings in our weekly newsletter and our Midterm Election Work webpage!

Paint Congress Blue, Art + Action Festival

On Sunday August 5, crowds of people from the Bay Area and beyond met in Oakland to Paint Congress Blue. The free block party featured art, activism and a visit from an infamous barnyard fowl. 

IEB, together with Indivisible Berkeley, Sister District, Swing Left, Working America, and more, helped organize the event. Each group had a table to provide opportunities for the public to get educated and get involved. IEB’s table had supplies for writing GOTV (Get Out The Vote) postcards to voters in swing districts. By the end of the evening, IEB volunteers and members of the public had written over 170 postcards to voters in California Congressional Districts 1 and 21!

Don’t miss these upcoming IEB postcarding and social events:

  • August 12, 10 AM-noon: Indivisible We Write! IEB August postcard party, Sports Basement, Berkeley. Info & RSVP.
  • August 25, 2-4 PM: IEB Ale & Mail! No-host mingle & postcarding at Hop Yard Alehouse in Pleasanton. Info & RSVP.
Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang
IEB table at Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang

At the main stage, speakers from each organization described their methodology and goals. Kristen Law (co-lead of the IEB CA-11 Team) spoke about the work of Indivisible East Bay, highlighting the successes of our Judiciary Team and efforts to hold our members of Congress accountable.

Kristen Law speaking at Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang
IEB member Kristen Law speaking at Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang

Between speeches local musical groups entertained the crowd, and Project Bandaloop, an aerial dance team, also performed. A number of art galleries in the district were open for tours.

The Trump Chicken overseeing the festivities.
Trump Chicken oversaw Paint Congress Blue festivities

Lest we forget, the guest of honor was the Trump Chicken, a 13-foot tall inflatable chicken that bears a striking resemblance to, well, you-know-who! Attendees could have their photos taken while giving the Chicken a piece of their mind. By any measure, Paint Congress Blue was a huge success, and a good time was had by all; well, except for maybe the Chicken.

Phone Banking for Northern Nevada

Want to help GOTV (Get Out the Vote) beyond our deep blue Bay Area? Here’s one way: Northern Nevada. That was the message delivered by two members of Issue Voters of Northern Nevada at IEB’s July All Members Meeting. The group is focused on contacting unaffiliated voters in Washoe County to ask what issues matter most to them. The number of these voters has grown dramatically in recent years — to the point that they will likely be the deciding factor in the November election.

Five IEB members who were fired up by this appeal packed their mobile phones and laptops — and headed off to Oakland for an afternoon of phone banking. They spent three hours calling voters, using national Indivisible’s virtual phone bank system. As is common with phone banking, most calls wound up with no one picking up, but the good news is that those who did answer were usually willing to talk and share their thoughts.

According to Toni Henle, one of the “IEB five,” the group made about 200 calls and “each of us had four or five good conversations (and a couple of not-so-good ones); we found it helps that others are around to share the good and bad!”

Can you help turn out the Nevada vote? We’ve scheduled two phone banks on Sundays August 19 & 26 from 3-6 PM at our hostess’ house in north Oakland. To join us, email vivian@mendezleal.com. And there are several other phone- and text-banking opportunities listed in our newsletter and this webpage.

Phone banking to Nevada
Phone banking to Nevada

Starting in September, there’ll also be opportunities to drive to Reno to canvass voters identified as “persuadable” for Democratic Senate candidate Jacky Rosen,  running against Dean Heller, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republicans.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: Immigration town hall

Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) has been to our southern border, witnessing first-hand what Trump’s Zero Tolerance immigration policy means. DeSaulnier’s message to constituents attending his immigration town hall in Concord on August 4, was that the policy is something we, as Americans, should have zero tolerance for.

In a slide-show presentation that focused on immigration, DeSaulnier walked through the damage being done — including the fact that at least 500 children may now be permanently orphaned because they were separated from parents who were subsequently deported. 

DeSaulnier described his trip to the border crossing at Brownsville Texas. Upon arrival, he met with a federal judge who confided that the immigrants here were not “bad people.” In most cases, they were legally seeking asylum. DeSaulnier attended the adjudication of 70 individuals, the majority of whom came from Central America, immigrants who had traveled thousands of miles and paid as much as $20,000 to “coyotes” to gain transport to the border.

DeSaulnier also met with several families who had recently been re-united. A young boy told him how, after being separated from his family, an immigration official had told him: “Your parents don’t ever want to see you again.”

Finally, DeSaulnier was able to tour a facility for new arrivals, the place where immigrants are housed in fence-enclosed “cages” (as you may have seen in television reports). Several immigration officials related how uncomfortable this all made them. One lamented that he had sought the job after 9-11, to be one of the “good guys” helping his country; he now felt he had become one of the “bad guys.”

An obviously emotional DeSaulnier stressed to the town hall audience that “this has to stop. It is not acceptable.” What the Trump administration is doing at the border is not only ethically wrong, it is illegal!  He described efforts to get legislation passed that addresses the issue. The frustrating problem is that GOP Speaker of the House has absolute control over which bills can be brought to the floor for a vote. Even though DeSaulnier is supporting at least two bills that would pass if voted on, Speaker Ryan has refused to let them reach the floor.

The meeting concluded with a Q&A where members largely voiced support for the work DeSaulnier is doing. At one point, he gave a shout-out to Indivisible — complimenting us for pressuring him to “tell us what you are doing about it.” Watch the recorded Town Hall here.

Rep. Eric Swalwell: baseball and town hall

For Eric Swalwell, Representative for the CA-15 Congressional district, last weekend was a combination of fun and business.

Fun was an Oakland A’s pre-game tailgate party at the Coliseum, which he hosted. After wrapping that up, it was on to the game itself, where Rep. Swalwell threw out the ceremonial first pitch!

The business part was a town hall meeting at Hayward High School on Saturday August 4. Swalwell answered questions on a wide range of issues, including health care, immigration, climate change, the rights of veterans and, of course, the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. His final words touched on FDR’s four freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — with a new freedom added by Swalwell to provide hope in today’s troubled times: the freedom to dream.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, photo by Josh Richmond
Rep. Eric Swalwell, photo by Josh Richmond

Many constituents were interested in getting involved in the efforts to counter the Trump administration’s actions. That’s when IEB’s CA-15 team co-leads Ward and LeAnn Kanowsky stepped up to the plate. They and other members passed out flyers recommending IEB as a great resource for those wanting to be more involved.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, photo by Josh Richmond
Rep. Eric Swalwell and IEB CA-15 team co-lead Ward Kanowsky, photo by Josh Richmond

And IEB activism elsewhere too!

Several other intrepid IEB members took their activism on the road over the weekend as well! IEB superstars Amelia Cass and Linh Nguyen attended the Tahoe Summit, delivering a letter to keynote speaker Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski from 29 of her constituents asking her to vote NO on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And Nancy Latham traveled to New Orleans to join with thousands of other activists at the Netroots Nation conference. Read her inspiring first-hand account.

Paint Congress Blue photographs by Wesley Chang, see more of Wesley’s PCB photos here.

Ted Landau, Alice Towey, Toni Henle and Ward Kanowsky contributed to this report.

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:

IEB’s Seat at the Power Table

Editor’s note: When you know you’re making a difference: IEB’s Governance Committee member and co-lead of Indivisible CA-11 United, Kristen Law was invited by Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) to join him at the Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon and Issues Conference on October 19, 2017 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The event was hosted by Nancy Pelosi and paid for by the DCCC (not authorized by any candidate or committee). The following is Kristen’s report from the conference.

The Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon and Issues Conference began with welcoming remarks from Representative Nancy Pelosi, acknowledging the heartbreak and devastation of the recent fires. Along with gratitude for all those who have stepped up to help, Rep. Pelosi provided weblinks for Napa relief and Sonoma relief. Rep. Pelosi also touched on questions that she often receives about communications with constituents, redistricting and voter suppression and the need to leverage the grassroots movement, and acknowledged women congressional candidates in attendance: Angie Craig (MN-2), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6), Abby Finkenauer (IA-1), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-2), and Susie Lee (NV-3). Also on the subject of elections, she acknowledged the event’s “power couple,” Ann and Jerry Brown, whom she described as committed to flipping seats in California.

Panel 1: Political Updates

This panel consisted of DCCC Chair Ben Ray Lujan, DCCC Recruitment Vice Chair Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-5), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19).

Lujan began by providing an update on the national environment. He struck an optimistic note, saying “history is on our side and we need to make history repeat itself”: after Clinton came Bush, after Bush came Obama, and after Obama came 45 – who is below 40% approval. Lujan honored the importance of grassroots work for taking down Trumpcare, and noted that the Democrats need to work directly with people and must inspire America. Republicans are under water in many red districts, so people in blue areas should adopt a precinct to flip. Lujan spoke of the need to defend against fake news and trolls.

Rep. Clark expressed deep gratitude for the Left Coast. She recognized the success of local engagement, especially citing the success of Town Halls. Like several others at the event, she focused on the Women’s March (the “You know there’s trouble when librarians are here” poster was one of her favorites because her mom was a librarian). The Women’s March, she said, has translated into an increase in women wanting to run for elected seats. As of late September, 84 women were running for office in 80 Congressional districts. When women run for office, she said, they focus on issues such as the wage gap, the struggle to care for parents and children at the same time, and the cost of education. Women’s issues are economic issues, and women candidates “stand for you and giving your family a shot at the American dream,” so supporting women candidates is supporting our values as a country.

Rep. Lofgren advised that we focus on flippable seats here in California. There were seven Republican seats where Trump lost in 2016:

      • CA-10: There are currently 8 Democrats running against Rep. Jeff Denham
      • CA-21: (Kern area) Trump lost by 16 points – there is one Democrat running against Rep. David Valadao
      • CA-25: This is the last Republican seat in LA County
      • CA-39: This is a majority minority district in Orange County and is experiencing a dramatic demographic shift
      • CA-45: (Irvine) A number of strong Democrats may run against Republican Rep. Mimi Walters
      • CA-48: (Laguna) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is considered “Russia’s Congressman” and has a number of competitive Democratic challengers
      • CA-49: (San Diego/Oceanside) Rep. Darrell Issa won by under 200 votes in the last election, and recent polls show him losing to a fictitious Democrat!

To this list, Rep. Lofgren added CA-50 (San Diego), where Rep. Duncan D. Hunter is under investigation for using campaign funds for such things as groceries, kid’s college tuition and shipping a rabbit by plane (you read that correctly); and CA-22 (Tulare County). Lofgren warned that we need to make sure that we are protecting incumbents. There has never been a time like now where we NEED to win: The president is doing everything in his power to depress us, but  the power is in our hands.

Question topics for this panel included voter suppression. The panel replied that there are several avenues being explored, including the Democratic Redistricting Committee chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder, and plans to launch on the ground campaigns earlier than ever before. Rep. Pelosi closed the panel, again emphasizing the power of mobilizing the grassroots and stating that the community wants to select their leaders.

Ultimate Women's Luncheon panel: Reps Anna Eshoo and Mark DeSaulnier, and Tom Steyer
Ultimate Women’s Luncheon panel: Reps Anna Eshoo and Mark DeSaulnier, and Tom Steyer. Photo by Kristen Law

Panel 2: Infrastructure and Jobs of the Future

 

Rep. Pelosi introduced this panel by stating that our primary goal should be “Build. Build. Build!” – We need to build infrastructure, we need to build education/human resources, and we need to build our democracy.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18) talked about the new Innovation Agenda 2.0. Ten years ago the Democrats created the first Innovation Agenda: of 22 proposals, 21 became law (all except comprehensive immigration reform). There are three pillars to the new Innovation Agenda:

    1. Create and Support Workforce.
    2. Recommit to Basic Research: government funded research leads to innovations, protects people’s health and safety and creates jobs.
    3. Modernize Government: Government should keep up with technology and scientific advancement, should be tech savvy, should enhance policies to protect security, and should draw on the private sector. Government must be accessible to the average person: the public should be able to access data because “knowledge is power” and we need knowledgeable citizens.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) started off, as he generally does, by encouraging everyone to read Dark Money and then Democracy in Chains. He said that under Trump there have been far fewer oversight committee meetings than under Obama. Regarding infrastructure, Rep. DeSaulnier said there are trillions of dollars in backlog. Tech centers are driving young people to urban centers, creating huge challenges around providing infrastructure for so many people to get around. We need mobility and government needs to provide it, but Republicans don’t want to invest. Regarding workforce/labor, DeSaulnier (who recently held his 50th Town Hall) said he has repeatedly heard how people are suffering and heard a sense of urgency. As we in California have leapt forward in advancement, we have left too many people behind; we need to focus on bringing everyone along with us. For example: in the transportation field, as we transition to self-driving trucks we need to prepare for what to do with the current workforce of truck drivers, with employers contributing to training and retooling and helping to mitigate the cost (like CEQA in the environmental field). Rep. DeSaulnier authored the Smart City Program, a competition that Columbus OH won in 2016, gaining them $40 million from the USDOT (plus more from corporate grants); DeSaulnier hopes that the San Francisco Bay Area wins next time.

Environmentalist, mega-donor and sometime political candidate Tom Steyer spoke (not surprisingly) about the need to put investments into leveraging the grassroots. Infrastructure is investment, he said, but it isn’t enough to just build – we need to build smart infrastructure and a smart, clean United States with renewable energy, denser living spaces, open spaces, and public transportation. Infrastructure requires connectivity: the ability to connect to a rapidly changing world, including physical connection, training, and emotional connectivity. People’s feelings of disconnectedness, Steyer said, led to the Trump election. On the other hand, Steyer pointed out, we have had some big wins: GM is going electric, the tar sands pipeline was shut down, the new refinery proposal on the California coast was closed. We have the technology and the ability to build a fantastic future but we need to think about it on a human basis. Job creation has to include every community, from inner city to rural. New technology means health and justice: no one wants to be a coal miner and no one wants to live near coal mines (and the Republicans’ insistence on coal hurts the poor). Investing in schools, training and health is about social justice and the rights of Americans.

In the Q&A period, the panelists discussed the need for government to invest in community colleges, which 2.2 million students attend in California; Rep. DeSaulnier says that free, high quality community colleges are essential to our future.

Panel 3: National Security

According to Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-14), “President Trump is a National Security risk,”  primarily because he won’t listen to the generals. How are we doing? Let me count the ways: He has undermined allies, insulted other leaders, and picked fights with our closest allies; he sided with Saudi Arabia against Qatar and his first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, the country where 15 of the 9-11 terrorists came from; he has provoked North Korea, a belligerent nuclear power, with “Fire and Fury” text messages; degraded the intelligence community, applauded the president of the Philippines; he has isolated the US from the Paris Climate Treaty, terminated the Iran deal for no apparent reason (other than its having been signed by Obama); he has allowed China to move toward being the World’s primary superpower while our allies are drifting away … Rep. Speier recommends, as the first solution, invoking the 25th Amendment; and she also recommends reading The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.

Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) said flatly that Donald Trump is dangerous and is is ruining our standing in the world – but that the world is with us (though not with the administration). She focused on peace and diplomacy: we need to include more women in peace negotiations and international relations and look at international ways of achieving peace such as the United Nations. Rep. Lee urged support for HR 669, which would prevent a president from a nuclear first strike without Congressional approval, and also for repealing the AUMF, which allows commitment of money and personnel to wars without Congressional approval. (Repeal of the AUMF received bipartisan support until Speaker Ryan torpedoed it.) Rep. Lee urged support for “the three D’s”: Reinvesting in Development, Diplomacy and smart Defense.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) chairs the Future Forum, a group of the youngest members of Congress. The Forum travels the country listening to millennials; one young Marine told Rep. Swalwell “this is not what we fought for,” and said that he fought for freedom. Swalwell stated that freedom is under attack: freedom to have clean air; freedom to work; freedom for a woman to make a choice about her health with her doctor; freedom to stay healthy without going broke. Even freedom to make a choice in voting because our own democracy is under attack – Russia chose our president. We are 22 votes short of an independent review of how Russian interference affected the election, but to get this we need to flip seats.

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Lieutenant General (ret.) Karl Eikenberry talked about four big trends posing challenges: the diffusion of global policy; the diffusion of technology – we are in a time when the “weak” can coerce the “strong”; the increasing difficulty of global governance of states; and the fact that we live in a world where nations need to cooperate and the other three trends are eroding this. Ambassador Eikenberry gave a shout-out to Rep. Lee for her long efforts to try to repeal the AUMF, saying he believes that the power to declare war belongs with the Congress and that Congress needs to step up to enforce this.

The event ended with a celebratory luncheon honoring power couple Ann and Jerry Brown and featuring a performance from local musicians. The five Congressional candidates spoke about themselves and their campaigns, including these highlights:

  • Chrissy Houlahan from Pennsylvania is former US Air Force Captain, a third generation military officer, former teacher, businesswoman and president of a non-profit, who never saw herself running until 45 was elected and she wanted to be able to answer with pride when her children and grandchildren asked what she did during these bad times.
  • Abby Finkenauer from Iowa is in her 20’s, a first generation college student who has raised more than $300k since announcing in April – a lot of money for that district!
  • Angie Craig from Minnesota is a firecracker! She lost the last election by two points and is running again. She lives with her wife and four teenage sons, worked two jobs to pay for college after watching her mom work for nearly 10 years to get her college degree. Her opponent, Jason Lewis, is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country.
Ultimate Women's Luncheon and Issues Conference. IEB member Kristen Law and Joan Carpenter, Contra Costa Board of Supervisors
Ultimate Women’s Luncheon and Issues Conference. IEB member Kristen Law and Joan Carpenter, Contra Costa Board of Supervisors

I was grateful and delighted to be Rep. DeSaulnier’s guest at the event and table partner at the luncheon. DeSaulnier has made an effort to work with Indivisible chapters on grassroots issues, and makes himself available to his constituents; if you live in his district and would like to be involved, you can contact me on IEB’s CA-11 Slack channel @klaw. Not on Slack? Email info@indivisibleeb.org. I look forward to working with you!

– Kristen Law