December 2018 meeting with Feinstein staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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 

Charade of a Parade

By Marcello Lanfranchi

Are you outraged that Trump’s ludicrous military parade is moving forward? If not, you’re either not paying attention, or you’re the type of person who thinks international diplomacy is best waged 280 characters at a time AND OCCASIONALLY YELLING AT FOREIGN HEADS OF STATE IN ALL CAPS.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, I envy you; I’ve been considering a move recently, myself. But to get you up to speed, several thousand US troops are expected to march this November 2018, right before Veterans’ Day, in Donald Trump’s farcical homage to himself — to the tune of $12,000,000 to $30,000,000 — yes, that’s 12-30 million dollars.

Does the Pentagon really have nothing better to do with their time? This is how the $700 billion military budget is being spent? At last, those of us with a lick of sense have found a perfect reason to dramatically decrease defense spending.

I don’t know about you, but watching 5,000 uniformed soldiers marching down the street, bearing arms, and driving military vehicles, evokes images of authoritarian regimes in places like Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, Hitler’s Germany, or Darth Sidious’ Galactic Empire. This is just one more display to remind us that our democracy is in grave danger.

Since we’ve now found the magic bullet (I swear that pun was not intended) that will convince Congress to slash our defense budget — which in 2017, at a mere $610 billion, was more than the defense budgets of the next seven most militarized nations, combined let’s think of ways we can spend that money more sanely.

defense budget comparison

Given that $30 million could provide shelter and mental health services to the men and women who have sacrificed for this country, a military parade is a hard slap in the face to them.

Let’s deluge our members of Congress with calls demanding they put a stop to this charade of a parade. It’s worth a shot (there’s that pun again). The final vote for the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act will likely be the week of July 30, 2018, and here’s something you can tell your MoCs:

My name is __________, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am outraged that Trump’s ludicrous military parade is moving forward. This is an outrageous use of tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars and of the time of thousands of people.The parade is callously scheduled for the day before Veterans’ Day. Tens of thousands of vets are homeless today, and that number is rising. 20 US veterans take their own lives every single day and are hard hit by the opioid epidemic. I ask you to fight to dramatically decrease military spending. Vote NO on the 2019 NDAA which authorizes this obscene display to rival images of authoritarian regimes in places like North Korea and Nazi Germany.

  • 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

Marcello Lanfranchi is a native of Silicon Valley and a long-time progressive activist who has concentrated on reproductive rights, peace, queer rights, environmental sustainability, and civil rights. He currently makes a living in television and film production.

The top 6 things revealed at our May Sen. Feinstein staff meeting

A smaller-than-usual but dedicated band of Indivisible East Bay members met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director, on May 7, 2018, for the latest in our periodic meetings. Sean, gracious as ever, responded to our questions covering a wide range of topics.

The refugee caravan

Despite media hoopla that warned of a recent caravan of thousands of people heading north across the border, Sean told us that the group turned out to be only 287 people, almost all from Central America and with legitimate claims to refugee status. The good news is that they have now all entered the U.S.

Rather than fuel anti-immigration flames by unnecessarily turning such incidents into a controversy, Feinstein would rather focus on addressing the “credible dangers” that lead these people to seek asylum in the first place — as well as to make sure that they’re treated fairly when they arrive at our border. Sean said that the Senator is especially concerned about ensuring that detainees get proper legal representation.

Climate change

The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act (S. 2352), a greenhouse gas emissions cap and dividend bill, currently has no sponsors in the Senate. We wondered why Feinstein was not actively supporting this. Sean’s answer: because the bill has zero chance of reaching the floor. No one wants to sponsor a bill that is a certain loser.

Homelessness

Senator Feinstein believes the ultimate answer to the problems of homelessness will require multiple approaches. Government funds alone will not be sufficient; it will also require philanthropic private money. Sean cited the Monarch School as one example of how this can work.

FISA Reauthorization bill

Senator Feinstein sponsored an amendment to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Reauthorization bill that would have “required probable cause warrants” for domestic surveillance on American citizens. The amendment did not pass, yet she voted the bill out of committee. Why? Sean told us last November that this was because “she felt that there was a better chance of the amendment passing in a floor vote.”

Yet, when the bill came up for a vote on the floor — still without the amendment — she again voted in favor of passage. In this case, her vote prevented a filibuster that would have defeated the bill. Why didn’t she vote no? Sean replied that the amendment had no chance of passage. In the end, Feinstein decided that it was better to retain at least some protections, as included in the bill, than to have the bill fail and be left with nothing at all.

Puerto Rico disaster recovery

Puerto Rico remains in crisis mode following the disastrous hurricanes last year. It is critical that FEMA continue to provide emergency housing vouchers for the thousands still displaced. Many homes are still without power; the electrical infrastructure requires major rebuilding. Yet we hear almost nothing from Congress about any of this. Why? Sean offered a simple explanation: There is almost no public pressure on this matter, so it gets a lower priority. If we want this to change, he urges us to write or call our Congresspeople and let them know.

Judicial nominations

Everyone at the table agreed that Mitch McConnell views his greatest legacy as the appointments of conservative judges to the federal courts. The Senate continues to work to accomplish this. One way for Democrats to resist is via “blue slips” — a long standing Senate tradition. We want to make sure this procedure remains in force. Currently, it can be used to block Ryan Bounds, nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who lacks blue slips from both his Oregon senators. Sean confirmed that preserving blue slips is a “high priority” for Feinstein.