Briefing memo for meeting with Sen. Harris, Nov. 2018

On November 30, 2018, a delegation from Indivisible East Bay visited with Senator Kamala Harris’s staffers Julie Chavez Rodrigues and Daniel Chen. As we do before all our visits with our Senators, we prepared a briefing letter on all the issues we wanted to discuss, including extensive background research. This meeting concerned the following topics:

  • Asylum seekers
  • ICE/CBP abuses and DHS appropriations
  • Comprehensive immigration reform
  • Climate change, including carbon pricing
  • Poverty reduction
  • Abuses of the intelligence agencies
  • Cabinet order
  • Digital privacy
  • Criminal justice reform and the First Step Act
  • Judicial nominations
  • Campaign finance reform
  • New blue house
  • Town hall

You can read the entire memo here.

 

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

9/27/18 IEB & ISF Sen Feinstein office visit

Seventeen Indivisibles from IEB and Indivisible San Francisco met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director, on September 27 at her San Francisco office. Our almost two-hour meeting was jam-packed with questions and “asks.”

First on the agenda: a detailed back and forth on how the homeless count in San Francisco is conducted. It was further emphasized that more resources were needed to help the homeless, from outreach to affordable housing. Sean seemed particularly concerned about the estimate that 2,400 kids may be homeless.

For those of you not placing the date, September 27 was the day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course, the hearings came up, and we stressed – as we have consistently done – that we are firmly against Kavanaugh being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. The group urged Senator Feinstein to continue what she’s doing and to look as well for other methods to stop his confirmation.

On a not-necessarily-unrelated note, the topic of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act came up. Sean thinks that Congress will just extend the Act, at least for the short term.

Sean told us that on the important issue of immigrant family separation, their office is not getting phone calls, and that it’s crucial for people to keep this issue alive by contacting the Senator. He did acknowledge that the Kavanaugh hearings have diverted attention – but we should look for any opportunity to revive the issue.

Sean said that the House is expected to head home for campaigning and won’t be back until after the midterms, so don’t expect any legislation to pass that needs both chambers to act on.

We also talked about protecting the Mueller Trump-Russia investigation, election security, digital privacy, environmental/public health, the war in Yemen, the Farm Bill, workers’ rights, the federal judiciary, tax policy, trade, criminal justice reform, and having a town hall. Sean’s comments on each of those topics were informative and indicated the Senator’s position. As an example, the Farm Bill is in conference and the final version will have to be acceptable to 60 Senators regardless of what the House passed. Another insight: White House Counsel Don McGahn’s imminent departure will force the Administration and Senate Republicans to start from scratch on judicial nominations and will give Senate Democrats a bit of breathing room.

As of November 7, Sean will be the chief of staff for San Francisco Mayor London Breed. As of now, Senator Feinstein has not selected his replacement but he’s hoping that will be resolved shortly. The general feeling from the Indivisible folks was that Sean will be missed.

Read our memo to the Senator.

 

IEB’s September meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s staff

By Candace Goldman

On September 5, a group of Indivisible East Bay members met with Sean Elsbernd (Senator Dianne Feinstein’s current State Director) and Abby Ellis (the Senator’s Field Representative). FYI, Sean will be joining the office of Mayor London Breed in San Francisco after the mid-term elections; we wish him well.

The main focus of the meeting was Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. As the ranking Democratic member on the Judiciary Committee, the Senator has been spending most of her time on this, actively working to obtain better background information from the National Archives and engage in more intense questioning of the nominee, as well as corralling the troops in opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Senator McConnell recently dumped over 42,000 documents for review but refused a reasonable extension of time on the hearings to allow for a proper review of the documents. As we have seen this past week, Senator Feinstein has been working hard on the new sexual assault charges that have come to light. The Senator has additionally focused on issues such as the nominee’s view of “settled law” and the immunities and prerogatives granted the President. She continues to make efforts to to push the vote back and to shed more light on the negative aspects of the nominee. However, the Senator is hampered by the limited procedural steps that can be taken and by the fact that the Republican committee majority, under hardliner McConnell, can force the process.

Regarding other GOP-backed judicial nominees, we particularly noted the federal court nominations of Jonathan Kobes, Stephen Clark, and Carl Nichols, all of whom have shown bias in relation to women’s rights — as well as on other civil rights issues (such as warrantless searches). We believe their backgrounds make them weak candidates. We encouraged the Senator to continue opposing these candidates and to work with Senator Harris and others to stop these nominations from going forward. We were advised that the Senator was working to ensure additional oversight hearings, including having Jeff Sessions address the Judiciary Committee.

We suggested bringing a writ of mandate suit to force the Republicans to adhere to the Judiciary Committee’s own rules, a tactic that could be used in other settings as well, such as immigration proceedings.

Some other issues we raised at the meeting:

Immigration

The Senator has staff visiting detention centers, particularly in El Centro and near Victorville, to work on the issues of family separation and claims of sexual abuse. They are seeing some progress and continue to work on these issues. Regarding passport denials for people born near the border, the Senator’s office is doing direct casework on this problem for constituents.

We noted the problem with bank account denials as well. Sean was not aware of this and said he would bring this to the Senator’s attention. We agreed to send information to the office on this issue.

Foreign Affairs

The Senator is not on the Foreign Affairs Committee, but she is working against efforts to stop aid to Palestine. Regarding the efforts of Erik Prince to use private forces in Afghanistan, the Senator’s office didn’t have much information on this; we encouraged her to do what she can against such a contract in the Defense Appropriations Committee.

National Security

We thanked the Senator for her support of S-2047, Preventing War in North Korea Act of 2017. Sean responded that the Senator was definitely in favor of careful diplomacy on this and other critical issues.

Opioids and Marijuana

Attendees shared personal experiences with and information about medicinal marijuana and encouraged Senator Feinstein to reconsider her more conservative position on drugs, especially regarding support for recovery programs rather than jail. 

Election Security

Regarding S-2593, Secure Elections Act, which was pulled from hearing by Rules Committee chair Roy Blunt, we encouraged the Senator to continue her efforts to get it reset for a hearing and to actually strengthen the bill. We suggested inserting the bill’s provisions in the homeland security funding. Sean thought that strategy might be a good approach. We agreed to send the February 2018 report on state election security to him for the Senator’s attention.

Farm Bill

We encouraged the Senator to vote against any reduction in SNAP and imposition of work requirements in the Farm Bill. Sean indicated that Senator Feinstein supports SNAP but the bill is a lower priority right now as the Senate is generally better on these issues than the House.

Puerto Rico

We urged support of the Resilient Energy Infrastructure bill to aid the recovery in Puerto Rico. Regarding this issue, Sean suggested we also reach out to Senator Bill Nelson from Florida.

Lobby visit to Senator Feinstein's office, 9/5/18, photo by Toby St. John
Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director. Photo by Toby St. John

It was a congenial meeting and the staff was quite responsive to our questions and ideas. One exception: the ongoing request for a town hall meeting seems to be falling on deaf ears — not necessarily from the staff, but from the Senator herself.

Click here to read the Indivisible East Bay memo for the meeting.

IEB meeting with Senator Feinstein staff, Candace Goldman. Photo by Toby St. John
IEB meeting with Senator Feinstein staff, Candace Goldman. Photo by Toby St. John

Photos by Toby St. John

 

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 

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!