IEB’s Last Meeting With Sean

On October 24, 2018 Indivisible East Bay had our last-ever meeting with Senator Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd. It was also our last office visit with the Senator’s staff before the 2018 midterm elections, so it could possibly also be our last-ever Feinstein meeting – but as of this writing, that’s unlikely given her lead in the polls. Feinstein has given no indication yet on who will replace Sean as state director.

Our first topic was immigration. We followed up on Sen. Feinstein’s recent commitment to visit the detention facilities in California where separated kids are being held; Sean said she plans to make that visit soon after the election. Feinstein has also said that a comprehensive immigration reform bill is one of her priorities for the next Congress, especially if the Democrats win. We gave a list of priorities for such a bill, including legal status for immigrants, protection for asylum seekers, and less leeway for the executive branch to make the system harsher and more restrictive. We also had in our group an advocate for help for a very specific population: adults who were adopted from foreign countries as children, but who never became citizens because something went wrong with their paperwork, meaning they are now technically unauthorized immigrants and could be subject to deportation. Our advocate was the wife of such a person, following up on a request she had made at a previous meeting for Sen. Feinstein to look into this issue. Sean assured us that she had, but that they had not been able to find a way to move legislation forward under this Congress. He confirmed that she will continue to try, and may include it in comprehensive reform.

We asked what we could do to help the senator fight the terrible judges that the president nominated for California seats on the 9th Circuit. Senator Chuck Grassley scheduled a so-called hearing for these nominees while the Senate is away on recess – a farce of an event attended by up to two Republican senators who asked approximately zero questions. Sean said that Sen. Feinstein is certain that the way this happened was intended as revenge for what Republicans perceive as her role in “ruining” the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. As for what we can do to help, Sean said that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are still strategizing, and that, of course, a lot depends on who wins the Senate in next week’s elections. He suggested raising awareness of the red flags in the judges’ records, writing letters to the editors of newspapers, and generally making it clear that California does not support these nominees.

We also discussed the United States’ shameful role in the war in Yemen and on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; we found, not surprisingly, that we are on the same page as Sen. Feinstein, who has called abandoning the treaty a “strategic mistake.” Even if the administration tries to withdraw from the formal treaty, Sen. Feinstein is committed to enforcing its terms by way of her role on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

And we talked about creating a fair economy and protecting our social services. A theme of that conversation was the GOP’s false promises about its economic policy, its lies about looking out for working people who are struggling to get ahead, and its double-talk about everything from Social Security to pre-existing conditions. We told Sean that sometimes Sen. Feinstein’s moderate tone and abiding belief that Republicans will be reasonable “when push comes to shove” make some of us worry that she is falling for their lies and will be fooled into making compromises in exchange for empty words.

We also asked that the senator take the administration’s recent attack on trans people as an opportunity for a renewed push to pass the Equality Act. This bill amends existing civil rights law and defines sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities.

And we asked that Sen. Feinstein look at the evidence that has come out on SESTA-FOSTA, an anti-sex trafficking bill she and Sen. Harris voted for. Although the bill was intended to prevent human trafficking and forced sex work, there are serious concerns that it has actually further endangered the populations that are vulnerable to those threats.

IEB Feinstein office visit. Photo credit: Catya de Neergaard

If Sean was sorry to be seeing the last of what he has called the “most demanding Indivisible group in California,” he didn’t show it. As for us, while we may not have shed tears at parting either, we do think he has set a high for bar his replacement as a responsive and informative representative for Senator Feinstein.

Photographs by Catya de Neergaard

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 

Kavanaugh’s papers matter. You need to call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to say:

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

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

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

Feinstein Beats Warriors!

By Leslie Price

While hundreds of thousands of excited fans gathered in Oakland on June 15 for the Warriors’ victory parade, nine dedicated folks from Indivisible East Bay and other local groups met with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd and Field Representative Abby Ellis. Both were open, gracious, and genuinely impressed that we skipped the festivities and fought the crowds to make it to their office.

We spent a substantial portion of the meeting discussing health care. Though Senator Feinstein wouldn’t commit to withhold consent because she feels other important business would suffer, she is willing to work hard to slow down a vote on Trumpcare. She’s considering filibustering by amendment during vote-a-rama, but she’s (unsurprisingly) not planning to do anything showy like holding her own hearing on the Capitol steps with the other female senators.

We also talked extensively about corruption in the White House and among the Republican members of Congress. The senator will not join the members of Congress suing the President for accepting foreign emoluments out of concern that her opponents might use such action to claim that she is biased, impeding her efforts on other fronts. For example, she is working with the GOP on investigations concerning the FBI and had a hand in getting Senator Grassley on board, and she is working hard to maintain the blue slip process and to push the Russia investigation.

We asked whether the cuts to the USDA budget have encouraged California’s Republican representatives to stand up to some of the Trump Administration’s most harmful actions. Sean said cuts to the EPA are actually most upsetting to the representatives and their constituents, because these will affect air quality, which then affects children and the elderly. (According to Sean, those elected officials didn’t think Trump would really do something so drastic.) Our group had a positive discussion about how much air quality has improved over the years and how anything that affects the young and old tends to get people thinking beyond party affiliation.

Our group also asked some tough questions regarding civilian oversight of the military: specifically, about a strategy for Syria and whether Senator Feinstein will work to avoid funding a war with no limit. Sean was impressed and indicated that we are the only group that has ever presented Senator Feinstein’s staff with in-depth questions about this. Although the staff generally talks to the Senator about issues pushed by the most constituents, Sean and Abby agreed to bring our concerns to the Senator, and encouraged us to continue to bring it up with other groups to help bring more attention to the issue. We also talked about the urgent need for congressional oversight of military intelligence when the White House can’t be trusted to tell or discern the truth.

We had very positive discussion and agreement about prioritizing census funding, enhancing whistleblower protections, and a weekend summertime town hall, or two, or four (likely in August near San Diego and/or Fresno). Overall, our meeting was productive and positive, and Sean and Abby seemed to appreciate our interest and energy. We are getting to be regular guests, and the Senator’s staff reminded us that they’re happy to host us or make the trek out to us. (The fact we always bring treats probably doesn’t hurt either!)