The atrocity at the border; what we can demand our Members of Congress do

A lot of us are rightly horrified and appalled by what’s happening at the border and are asking what can be done about it in addition to voting out Republicans in November. It turns out this is a good time for a few possible actions in both chambers — although because of membership, seniority, and timing of legislative activities, the Senate might be better for short-term action. These are not the only things to do. Direct action in the streets to bring attention to the issue is also critical (as well as campaigning against horrible Republicans) but these steps are in line with what Indivisible was founded to do: influence our current members of Congress.

Some relevant info about Congress and its relationship with these agencies:

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) both need to be authorized by Congress for certain activities and need to have their annual funding appropriated via the annual budget process.
  • Both agencies fall under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and are in discretionary funding categories (their funding needs to be appropriated every year and is thus subject to Congressional review).
  • Because Congress can authorize activities and conduct oversight, you can ask both for oversight over current activities, and for changes to what these agencies are authorized to do in the future.
  • The DHS (including its sub-agencies such as ICE) has not been reauthorized since it was created in 2003; there is an authorization bill ready for Senate Floor debate (it already passed the House), so please call both of your senators to ask them to offer amendments curtailing ICE authority and cutting back its budget authority in future years.
  • There is a DHS appropriations bill “mark up” hearing scheduled for the third week in June, which means senators and staffers are busily working on the funding bill NOW. Please call your senators and tell them to cut ICE’s funding for the Fiscal Year 2019.  To cut ICE’s funding, ask both Senators Feinstein and Harris, but put special emphasis on Feinstein since she is on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • To get oversight on current horrible things that ICE and CBP do, contact Harris and Feinstein’s offices. Both of them are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight authority over border and immigration laws. Sen. Harris is on the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), which has authority over ICE & CBP personnel and policy issues. Ask her for more oversight hearings like this one last month.
  • The House can also conduct more oversight. The House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over DOJ and Immigration laws. If you live in CA-15, please contact Rep. Eric Swalwell about Jeff Session’s zero-tolerance policy on border crossing criminalization.

TL;DR! To sum up: These cruel policies are in place because of guidance from the White House, and are implemented through a memo by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and are being carried out by ICE and CBP. Congress has a lot of power over what these agencies can do and how much resources they have to do it.

Calling your MoCs frequently on this issue is the best way to let them know how important this is to you. You can send post cards too!

What to say:

To Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein:

My name is _________ and my zip code is ______. I am a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am horrified by what our immigration officials are doing to children and families at our border. I ask Senator _________ to cut ICE’s funding and authority in FY 2019 and future years, and to use her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to exercise maximum oversight over ICE and CBP. 

You can add, for Senator Harris:

I want Senator Harris to use her position on the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee to exercise more oversight of ICE & CBP personnel and policy, and to demand more oversight hearings.

You can add, for Senator Feinstein:

I want Senator Feinstein to use her position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to do everything possible to cut ICE’s funding for the Fiscal Year 2019.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841; 1 Post Street, Suite 2450, San Francisco CA 94104
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553; 333 Bush Street, Suite 3225, San Francisco CA 94104

To Rep. Swalwell (if you are a constituent):

My name is _________ and my zip code is ______. I am a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am horrified by what our immigration officials are doing to children and families at our border. I ask Rep. Swalwell to use his position on the House Judiciary Committee to take action against Jeff Session’s policies on border crossing criminalization that are brutalizing children and treating human beings like animals.

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

 

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.

IEB meets with Feinstein State Director April 17, 2018

On April 17, 2018, a dedicated group of about 25 Indivisible East Bay, Indivisible Central Contra Costa County, and Together We Will Contra Costa members sat down with Senator Diane Feinstein’s State Director, Sean Elsbernd, at the Concord Public Library. After a week filled with news of scandals and investigations in the White House, as well as some major foreign policy developments, the participants were eager to talk to someone with inside knowledge of what’s going on in D.C.

As is typical of our meetings with Sean, IEB came prepared with a checklist of items to discuss. Our goals are to inform Sean of our position on various issues and request actions for the Senator to take — as well as to allow Sean to provide us with his reaction to our requests. This is never dull. Sean is not shy about asserting his views on the agenda topics, whether or not those views align with ours.

In this latest meeting, our checklist was ambitious — it included more than 20 items. Here are some highlights:

The Mueller probe

With Trump frequently commenting about the possibility that he may fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or otherwise attempt to shut down the Russia investigation, there’s pressure on Congress to pass legislation to protect Mueller. Senators Tillis, Graham, Booker and Coons of the Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Feinstein is a Ranking Member, have sponsored the bipartisan Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to do just that. Senator Grassley scheduled a Committee vote, though it may be for naught, as Mitch McConnell will not bring the vote to the floor and the House apparently has no plans to do anything on this matter.

Sean offered little hope. He encouraged us to keep public pressure on the Senators and to keep these bills and the importance of protecting Mueller in the public eye. Consistent with news reports and the perception of groups who are mobilizing to protect the investigation (including Indivisibles), Sean believes the real immediate danger is that Trump will fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, as an indirect route to stopping Mueller.

Meanwhile, two committees in the Senate have been investigating Russian interference into our elections: the Intelligence Committee is focused directly on what happened in the 2016 election, while the Judiciary Committee is looking into obstruction of justice concerning the Russian interference. The report from the Intelligence Committee is close to completion. Their findings, when published, need to get to Secretaries of State across the country ASAP, so they can address possible voting obstruction/interference issues. Sean reports that Senator Chuck Grassley (chairman of the Judiciary Committee) has not been helpful in his committee’s investigation. We should be prepared to exert pressure for action here.

Judicial appointments

For judicial appointments, there is a longstanding tradition in the Senate whereby the nominee’s home state Senator is sent a form called a “blue slip” and can signal their support for a nomination by returning a positive blue slip to the Judiciary Committee. Declining to return a blue slip indicates the Senator does not support the nominee; this has traditionally doomed a nomination.

During the Obama administration, GOP Senators often withheld blue slips to prevent confirmation of judges that the Republican party opposed. Breaking with this tradition, Grassley has recently allowed two nominees to go forward without a blue slip. Feinstein has thrown down a marker on respecting the blue slip tradition. We at IEB see this as critical, especially because there are currently seven vacancies in the influential Ninth Circuit, which includes California. Blue slips may be the only way Democratic Senators can influence nominations to this Circuit.

Bombing of Syria

Feinstein believes that, while the President can unilaterally authorize limited strikes, sustained military action should require authorization from Congress. Last year, she voted to debate repealing the 2001 AUMF Authorization for Use of Military Force), but that vote failed. Senators Corker and Kaine on the Foreign Relations Committee have introduced a bipartisan bill to repeal and replace the current AUMF. Feinstein plans to review that bill and continues to support having that debate. IEB also wants Congress to have this debate, but considers the terms of the proposed replacement AUMF very problematic and has asked Feinstein not to support it.

Pompeo nomination

Feinstein opposes the nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. We concur — see our article for action you can take to oppose Pompeo’s nomination.

Offshore drilling in California

Donald Trump continues to push to open the California coast to offshore drilling. Not surprisingly, Feinstein is strongly opposed to this. State Senator Hanna-Beth Jackson has introduced SB 834, which would designate as state land the entire California coast, from beaches to three miles out to sea. The bill would also prohibit “the State Lands Commission from approving any leases of submerged lands that would result in an increase of oil or natural gas production from federal waters.” This would effectively prevent federal authorization of offshore drilling in California. Feinstein supports this bill and additionally wants all California counties to pass resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

We at IEB need to call our state representatives in support of this bill!

Immigration reform

A California woman spoke about her husband who was born in Brazil and had been adopted by Americans as a child. The couple recently learned that, despite the adoption, the husband is not a U.S. citizen. Shockingly, at this point, there is no clear pathway to citizenship for him, nor for others in a similar position. As a result, such individuals could be sent back to their country of origin — where they know no one and do not know the culture. Faced with this prospect, some have committed suicide.

To address this injustice, the woman advocates for passage of the Adoptee Citizen Act of 2018 (S. 2522H.R. 5233), introduced on March 8, 2018 by Senators Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). A similar bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House. The acts “would provide U.S. citizenship to individuals born outside of the United States who were adopted as children by American parents.” She asked Senator Feinstein to support this legislation.

The bill would fix a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000. This existing legislation does guarantee citizenship to adoptees born outside of the U.S. under the age of 18. However, the CCA did not apply to adoptees who were over 18 when the law went into effect on February 27, 2001 — leaving out an estimated 35,000 adoptees. These adoptees remain “susceptible to deportation, unable to travel outside of the U.S. and unable to work legally.”

Everyone in the room was very moved by the woman’s story. We were shocked to hear that so many adoptees are being denied citizenship, and baffled that Congress would find this a difficult problem to solve. Sean rushed over to carefully take down the woman’s contact information, so hopefully Senator Feinstein will take action both on this case and the larger issue. IEB plans to advocate for this bill. So please contact your members of Congress today, and look out for more details and calls to action to come. 

Make those phone calls!

While your calls to our representatives continue to come in, Sean says call volume is down from last year. This is concerning, since if anything our call volume needs to increase — especially on these issues we are most concerned about. Make those phone calls! Today! 

  • 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

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

By Catherine de Neergaard

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

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

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

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

DACA:

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

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

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

GUN SAFETY:

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

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

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

CLIMATE CHANGE:

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

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

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

FUNDING FOR THE 2020 CENSUS:

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

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

ELECTION SECURITY:

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

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

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

NATIONAL SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WAR:

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

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

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS:

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

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

WE WANT A TOWN HALL

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

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

 

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

Photograph by Catherine de Neergaard

IEB’s Judiciary Team Rocks the Nation!

When the current occupant of the White House started what has turned into a terrifying court-packing effort (together with his cronies in the Senate), a few of IEB’s fearless research-loving members went into high gear. Since late summer 2017, what is now our Judiciary Team has created and shared an extensive database of information about judicial nominees as well as creating and sharing digital toolkits, and has become a resource for Indivisible National, Indivisible chapters nationwide, and other organizations. We’re proud to tell you some of their many achievements:

  • Indivisible National cites IEB’s Judiciary Team for our work and recommends us as a resource (about 3/4 of the way down this page).
  • Judiciary Team members Linh, Donna and Heidi have begun organizing with Lawyers For Good Government, a national group interested in working on Trump’s judicial nominations.
  • IEB Judiciary Team member Donna helped organize Rapid Resist text/phone bank campaigns into Texas and North Carolina against the nomination of Gregory Katsas for the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Indivisible SF also helped with the North Carolina campaign. Shout outs to Alysia, Cassie and Yoni of Rapid Resist!
  • Two groups in North Carolina have also mobilized against the nomination of Thomas Farr for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, after receiving information from us.
  • We have provided our friends at Indivisible SF with information and scripts to help their work contacting a network of groups in Colorado to mobilize against the nominations of Katsas and of Allison Eid to fill Neil Gorsuch’s seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Shout outs to Jonah and Kristen at ISF!
  • We have been in contact with two groups in Idaho that will call their Senators against Trump’s judicial nominations.
  • Donna has also been in contact with Indivisible chapters and other progressive groups in Minnesota and Oregon that have mobilized against Trump’s court nominations.
  • We have worked extensively with Indivisibles in Texas. At the request of Indivisible Houston, we created and provided a toolkit with talking points for MoC meetings, blog posts, graphics for social media posts, and call scripts. Indivisible Austin ended up using our materials to create a blog post/call to action. Indivisible Houston used the toolkit for a visit to Senator Cornyn’s office to discuss the nomination of Jeff Mateer (the one who said that trans children are “part of Satan’s plan”). Indivisible Denton did a call script and call to action. Indivisible Austin used our materials in their blog. Judiciary Team member Amelia also reached out to Equality Texas, which was also doing a call to action on Mateer, and shared their link with the Texas Indivisibles.
  • The latest addition to the state list: Arizona, where Rapid Resist has just begun campaigning against the Katsas nomination with IEB’s help. Thanks to Alysia, Cassie, and Yoni at Rapid Resist!

Have a questions for the Judiciary Team, or want to lend a hand? Contact us!

Two State Directors in Two Days

It was quite a week at the beginning of October 2017 – we met back to back with the state directors for Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

We didn’t plan on having our first meeting with Sen. Harris’ state director, Julie Rodriguez, the evening before our umpteenth meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd. (Julie is based in LA, so we normally meet with with Daniel Chen, the head of the senator’s SF Office. But Julie has agreed to another meeting the next time she’s in  town.)

But two in a row worked out well, since there are a lot of things we wanted to impress on both senators: from reminding them of the urgency of passing the DREAM Act, to expressing disappointment that they both voted in favor of a huge national defense authorization bill last week, to some specific asks on long-term help for Puerto Rico as part of a hurricane relief package.

We heard a few more details about Sen. Feinstein’s hesitations around endorsing Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All — mainly about implementation and some remaining fuzzy details on the funding side. But Sean tells us that it’s the feedback from us that has moved her from off the cuff comments about “complete government takeover of health care” to asking her staff to take a close look at Sen. Sanders’ bill.

We also heard a few more details about Sen. Harris’ next steps in her push for Medicare for All. Julie says she will take the lead from Sen. Sanders, but that with a minority in Congress, the important thing to focus on is building grassroots support for single payer health care.

We shared our concerns about oversight of the Homeland Security Department, specifically ICE, and learned about some of the individual cases involving detention centers that each of our senators’ constituent services departments have worked on. In fact, Sean told us, a couple of years ago when ICE detention facilities were overcrowded due to the Central American refugee crisis (including many unaccompanied children), Sen. Feinstein had her staff visit every facility in California to compile a report and recommend changes to President Obama.

We spoke with Sean at length about Trump’s judicial nominations being fast-tracked through the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Sen. Feinstein is the lead Democrat. He told us she’s fighting hard to preserve the “blue slip” process, which gives every senator a say about judges appointed to the federal courts within their state. We asked Sen. Harris to make a statement in support of the senators who have withheld blue slips on dangerous federal court nominees in Oregon and Minnesota.