Join us for our monthly All Member Meeting! We’ll meet in the Community Room of Sports Basement.
Join us for our monthly All Member Meeting! We’ll meet in the Community Room of Sports Basement.
By Larry Baskett
On February 6, 2019, Indivisible East Bay braved the rain to attend our first meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director, Jim Lazarus, who is newly in the role but has worked for Feinstein on and off ever since she was mayor of San Francisco (his most recent job was for the SF Chamber of Commerce). Field Representative Abby Ellis, who has met with us before, joined in.
We led with an ask to stop Trump’s expanded plans for nuclear weapons development (including low-yield nukes) and space-based missile defense (“space wall,” i.e. Reagan’s “Star Wars” redux). The new nuclear arms race is bad news even before one considers who’s in charge. There weren’t ideas on how to stop withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. When we asked for Sen. Feinstein to use her position on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to work on the issue with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, as well as whether Feinstein was committed to a long-term goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, Lazarus said they would check with the DC office. On the no-nukes goal, we recommended contacting former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry.
On Trump’s racist southern border policies, we asked for Feinstein to follow up on her efforts to legislate restrictions on Trump using funds via “emergency declaration.” For instance, she could work with ranking Senate Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Member John Tester to strip out language that would allow it. Lazarus and Ellis said they’d follow up. They said that the federal bureaucracy is pretty independent and that city bureaucracies seem more responsive on the matter. Lazarus also said when Feinstein’s staff visited the San Diego youth immigrant facility (ahem, prison), the conditions were better than one might expect from reporting elsewhere… which was good to hear, but not very reassuring, seeing as how the whole system is a gross injustice. We asked for Feinstein to visit personally, as she has previously committed to doing.
Also, we asked Feinstein to cosponsor the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018, S.2522. Currently foreign adoptees with American parents, children who would have qualified for citizenship but who for whatever reason didn’t go through the regular process, don’t have a formal recourse to become citizens. This issue personally impacts a loved one of one of our members.
Regarding the rapid pace of confirmations of conservative hack judges and Sen. Mitch McConnell’s plan to accelerate them, we asked for more outspoken protest and procedural hardball from Feinstein, citing Sen. Mazie Hirono’s close questioning and consistent “nay” votes and Sen. Harris’ recent commitment to vote NO on all judges in protest.
We also asked for opposition to attorney general appointee William Barr, noting that a president under investigation shouldn’t get his own pick of AG. We didn’t get much of a response on this; Feinstein did subsequently vote against Barr.
We brought up ever-rising health care costs, including the recent SF General Hospital scandal about soaking non-Medicare patients. We asked Feinstein to support a bill to outlaw “surprise medical billing” with a policy that would put the onus on providers to work out billing with insurers rather than with patients.
We also asked for support of single-payer insurance (Medicare for All). Ellis said that Feinstein supports a public option and broadening California Access Care; she also asked how we’d fund single-payer. Lazarus pointed out that other countries with public systems started them a long time ago and that even Medicare today takes private supplemental insurance for better coverage. This was not encouraging.
We discussed the idea of public banking to fund Green New Deal programs and tied it into developing efforts with Public Bank East Bay and the California Public Banking Alliance. Lazarus said he’d look into it and mentioned the possibility of a statewide public bank as well as banking services for the now-legalized marijuana industry.
We asked whether Feinstein was open to following Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s lead on a 70% or higher top marginal tax rate and/or Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s lead on a wealth tax, for economic justice and fairness. Lazarus didn’t know Feinstein’s position. He brought up how the Constitution was amended to authorize an income tax, and while he cast doubt upon a federal wealth tax’s constitutionality, he noted that many states do have an asset tax, in the form of a property tax. He was also concerned about wealth flight overseas. Again, the direction of the conversation wasn’t very encouraging.
Feinstein has found an as-yet-not-public cosponsor for her homelessness relief bill. It would involve grants via the Health and Human Services Administration to fund a variety of nonprofits and local agencies in support of housing for the poor. The emphasis would be on the states most impacted, like California, New York, and Florida.
Finally, we asked for a public town hall meeting with the Senator. Lazarus wasn’t sure and said that it depended upon the Senate’s schedule, with the likeliest time being during an August recess. Next time, hopefully we can get more specificity from Lazarus on Feinstein’s public positions and responses to our requests.
Larry Baskett is a mechanical engineer from Berkeley who spent a year on staff at the California State Senate and who previously volunteered with Wolf PAC, the campaign finance reform organization.
Last year, we wished Sean Elsbernd well in his new position as chief of staff for SF Mayor London Breed. Now, we hope you’ll join us for our first meeting with Jim Lazarus, Senator Feinstein’s new State Director! Lazarus has a long history of working for San Francisco mayors, serving first under Mayor Frank Jordan as deputy city attorney from 1975-1980. and for then Mayor Feinstein in 1983. Please join us for this meeting on Weds. February 6 at noon, in SF. Sign up here.
Join us on January 3, 12:00 PM outside Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s Richmond office as we deliver a “Back-to-Congress” backpack of tools to help Rep. DeSaulnier represent us in Congress and remind him that we expect Congress to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit the power of lobbyists, and expand voting rights — and other fun items.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
By Ted Landau
The conference room in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office was packed — standing room only. In attendance at our December 6 meeting were over 20 members of Indivisible: a combination of members of the East Bay and San Francisco chapters, plus one brave South Bay commuter. At the head of the table was Sean Elsbernd, the Senator’s State Director.
After brief introductions, we dove into a 90 minute conversation where Indivisible members took turns sharing our positions and asking Sean about the Senator’s plans. He was both communicative and frank in his replies.
Top of agenda were the two looming topics of the day: the tax reform bill and the impending showdown over the budget.
When asked what we as Indivisible members could do to help block the passage of the tax bill, Sean stressed that we shouldn’t focus our attention on Representatives outside our own districts because our actions would be unlikely to affect those votes (a point already well-understood by Indivisible).
At the same time, he indicated that the Republican House members from California should be a primary target for any statewide action. Being from California, a state that will be hit especially hard by the tax reform bill, these GOP Representatives could be susceptible to a change in their vote. They did, after all, vote to raise taxes on their own constituents. Sean admitted it’s a long shot — but it’s the best we can do.
As for the budget, Sean informed us that the Senator’s priorities are health care and disaster relief (especially for California fires and Puerto Rico). We stressed that we want Senator Feinstein to vote no on any funding deal that doesn’t include immediate re-authorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and to again vote no if the bill does not include a solution for DREAMers.
Sean responded cautiously, noting that while the Senator supports these priorities, they have to be balanced against the damage to constituents that a government shutdown would cause. Similarly, he added, the Senator believes it is not in our interest to sound as if we are in favor of shutting down the government, as this opens us up to potentially shouldering the blame should a shutdown occur. All agreed that this is a delicate balancing act, although Indivisible’s position tilted more strongly to proclaiming the intent to vote no if these issues were not addressed satisfactorily.
The rest of the meeting covered a diverse array of issues, ranging widely from Temporary Protected Status visas to gun control to net neutrality to health care to sexual assault to the Russia investigation to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization. In general, as you might expect, Sean indicated that the Senator agreed with and was supportive of our requests and concerns, although how this would translate into action was often less clear. A few highlights:
- Regarding Senator Feinstein’s Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency Act, Sean informed us that this would not be taken up until next year.
- On the matter of net neutrality and the FCC’s plans to dismantle it, Sean indicated that he did not think there was much that could be done on this matter legislatively.
- When asked about reports on a major escalation in the privatization of intelligence work, separate from the CIA, Sean said Senator Feinstein will continue to oppose this.
- Sean predicted that removal of the ACA’s individual mandate will remain in the tax bill, and said he thought there’s no stopping it at this point.
- Regarding the Russia investigation, Senator Feinstein is sending out letters to various people requesting information regarding obstruction. However, her letters do not carry the force of a subpoena. On the plus side, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s tacit support for Mueller’s budget is a sign that Mueller will be protected from possible actions by Trump.
- When asked whether the Senator expects passage of an amendment to the FISA bill that would prevent warrantless searches, Sean replied that this is a top priority for her. She still thinks the amendment has a chance to pass when the bill hits the Senate floor.
Overall, everyone agreed it was a productive and worthwhile discussion. IEB looks forward to our next meeting with Sean, which will likely be held separately from the ISF contingent.
Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.