IEB Governance Committee meeting

Help plan logistics, strategy and events for IEB at our monthly Governance Committee meeting. Read our bylaws to learn what’s involved in joining the Governance Committee. All are welcome!

IEB Governance Committee

Help plan logistics, strategy and events for IEB at our monthly Governance Committee meeting. Read our bylaws to learn what’s involved in joining the Governance Committee. All are welcome!

Mtg with Sen. Feinstein’s Staff

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.

Whose House? Our House! Barbara Lee

Democrats take over the House of Representatives on January 3, 2018. Let’s show them we mean business! Whose House? Our House! Join Indivisible Berkeley, Indivisible East Bay, Indivisible Euclid and others at a rally in Downtown Oakland for the National Day of Action. Our priority is supporting H.R. 1, a bill to protect and empower voters, fight the influence of money in politics, and strengthen federal ethics regulations (to make them apply to the President!) We will tell Rep. Lee to push for even more progressive additions to the bill! Join us also for a sign-making party on Sunday, December 30 (time and location TBA).

Whose House? Our House! Mark DeSaulnier

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.

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 and ISF Meet with Senator Feinstein’s State Director

Photograph © Charlie Moehle
Photograph © Charlie Moehle

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.

November 2017 Visit with Sen. Feinstein’s State Director

As we do every few weeks, IEB members met with Senator Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd on November 15, 2017. After an opening round of brief intros for the members not already well acquainted with Sean, we dove into discussing some of our top priorities:
Tax scam:
We thanked the senator for fighting the tax bill and encouraged her to continue the fight and efforts to bring all possible Republicans along in her wake. We noted the potential terrible effects of the bill on higher education in general, and graduate engineers and scientists specifically. Sean responded that Senator Feinstein is deeply concerned with the tax bill’s specific effect on California, including losing deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest. The bill will have a significant impact on affordable housing, particularly in California. It’s ironic that this bill is coming from “the party of trickle down economics,” he noted, as it would have a very negative trickle-down effect on state and local governments’ ability to serve their communities. (It might have an unintended result though: “People vote with their pocketbooks.”) The senator is doing everything she can to slow the bill process down.
DACA and other immigration issues:
Sean reported that with all focus on the tax bill, there’s no news on this front, and likewise no update on protecting recipients of Temporary Protected Status visas. The next day she and two other Democratic Senators announced that they were introducing legislation to help TPS visa holders, but we haven’t seen the text yet.
They are working with hundreds of people mired in the DACA process, hindered by administrative issues such as whether their paperwork was filed on time. Sean is skeptical that grassroots campaigns can have an effect, and urges the grassroots to put all efforts into tax reform. especially since the GOP House wants something done by Thanksgiving.
UPDATE: as of 11/22/2017, TPS legislation text, as submitted by Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
West County Detention Facility:
Sean asked what our East Bay Representatives are doing about this issue. The Sheriff and Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) are not able to tour the facility until Nov. 27th, an unacceptably long time away from when the abuses were revealed. We asked for the Senator’s help to get a full and prompt inspection of the facility. Sean suggested that we also continue to contact Rep. DeSaulnier (CA-11) to put more pressure on the detention center. We followed up with Sean on Tuesday and he said that Sen. Feinstein’s office is writing an oversight letter, something they did not appear to have been considering doing until we brought the issue up.
Health Care:
Senator Feinstein supports the Murray-Alexander bill to fix the ACA, but thinks it will be difficult to pass in the current Congress. They aren’t sure how the tax scam will affect the bill with respect to elimination of the health care mandate. Bernie’s Medicare For All is not a priority for the Senator; according to Sean, “These guys are not going to stop going after the ACA [while Republicans hold majority and Trump is President]. Defense of the ACA is the first priority.” Also: “The GOP painted themselves into a corner with catchy slogans. We need to be careful of falling victim to catchy slogans.” He elaborated: Even if every Democrat sponsored Medicare For All, there would be no hearings and no legislative movement, and it wouldn’t do anything to stop Republicans from going after the ACA; and there is no way for the minority party to force McConnell to bring Murray-Alexander to a floor vote.
CHIP:
It’s not clear whether Congressional failure to re-authorize the CHIP program has made Senator Feinstein re-evaluate the way she tries to work with Republicans. The re-authorization is getting sucked up in the wake of the end-of-year budget process, and the priority is getting through Thanksgiving without letting the tax plan pass.
S.1989—Honest Ads Act:
Senator Feinstein likes the bill a lot, and will be supportive of it. The current bill is co-sponsored by two Democrats and Republicans. Sean thought leadership might try to keep the numbers even, so she might not officially sign on until another Republican does.
Media Consolidation and Net Neutrality:
Focus in committee hearing has been on social media companies. They are tackling both aspects: news sources and internet companies.
Judicial Appointments:
Feinstein, like IEB, wants senators to have more time to review judicial nominations. She issued a press statement the morning of our meeting with Sean about the rushed schedule of confirmation hearings. In answer to our question of how the grassroots can help, Sean suggested electing more Democrats to the Senate. We told Sean that we applaud Senator Feinstein’s efforts to slow the nomination process, but want her to do more.
Sexual Assault and Harassment:
Feinstein does not control the Judiciary Committee schedule and cannot call for the hearing on this important issue.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
Sean doesn’t know that the senator would ask for his resignation; we asked for her to explicitly do so. She has already asked for him to come back to testify again, but she doesn’t control the agenda, Grassley does. Sean isn’t aware of the senator receiving any written answers from him yet from his October testimony in front of Senate Judiciary Committee. When she does, we want to hear about it.
Russia Investigation:
Feinstein is not ready to call Trump campaign’s actions “collusion with Russia.” She issued a press release the same day as our visit, announcing a “second tranche of request letters related to the Russia investigation.” Sean says that “the intelligence committee continues along. They seem to be trying to wrap up. It’s no longer much of a joint effort in the Judiciary Committee—there’s now a Minority investigation and a Majority investigation.”  Senator Feinstein has been more and more vocal but all the eggs are in the basket of Robert Mueller: No one wants a Democratic report or Republican Report, they want a Judiciary Committee report.
Puerto Rico:
Sean said that there will be a separate emergency funding bill, akin to what Congress passed for the Texas hurricane and California wildfires. He suggested that we build grassroots support for cosponsoring S.2041, a bill to amend the Stafford Act so that recovery and rebuilding efforts will include improvements in resiliency and efficiency of the energy infrastructure. We assume that she would support such a measure, but might need something of a push from constituents so please call about this.
North Bay Wildfires:
Major focus on has been on the casework team. People are calling FEMA, trying to register for victims’ individual assistance grants. FEMA has been a very good partner, very responsive so far, so the senator sees no need to change the process. We mentioned flood risk during storms and the need for legislation to avoid using plastic pipes, to which Sean replied “You don’t want the federal government regulating building codes” and said that the senator is very focused on getting people in the North Bay through the winter. He suggested that IEB focus on funding efforts for North Bay charities and volunteer efforts. Also: Senators Feinstein and Harris wrote a letter to Secretary of State Tillerson about expediting the process of getting replacement passport and to waive fees for people who lost their passports in the fires; Sean suggested that this might be a grassroots letter-writing opportunity.
Gun Control:
In an update, Sean said that the bump stock bill, which was supposed to get a hearing that week, had been pushed to the first week of December, because Sen. Grassley is the chair and he wanted to push it back to us committee time to confirm some more judicial nominations. The assault weapons bill, he said, is the kind of bill that passes in a Democratic-controlled Congress. They are continuing to try to get sponsors in the Senate and support among national and local organizations to sponsor letter-writing campaigns, and he urged us to work with local organizations such as churches, PTAs, etc., and to be in touch with him on this effort. However, he warned that we should not have expectations about a hearing any time soon.
Climate change mitigation:
We asked if the senator would sponsor the senate counterpart to the House’s Climate Solutions Caucus to help unify bipartisan effort to advance meaningful climate change mitigation policies such as S.1639 – American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act. Sean said she doesn’t feel that the Senate with 100 members needs a caucus to organize around  compared to the House with its 435 members. He did say that she did support a previous version of a carbon fee bill and that she would look at this update to the legislation.
FY 2018 Budget:
Though it’s likely that there will be a continuing resolution bill to fund the government until the end of the calendar year and possibly into part of 2018, the 2018 appropriations bills are waiting to be completed and won’t be taken up until after #TaxScam. Of concern to us is the massive 2018 National Defense Authorization Act which comes in at an estimated $700 billion. Programs authorized in it won’t actually be allowed to draw on funds until there’s a matching defense appropriations bill and negotiations for funding defense and non-defense will be hashed out as part of the budget and appropriations process. Dems plan to push for appropriations increases in non-defense categories in exchange for any defense spending above caps mandated by existing budget laws. We expressed dismay that both our senators had voted for such a bloated and costly NDAA but Sean said that the programs authorized affected many constituencies in California.
FISA Amendments Reauthorization Bill:
Senators Feinstein and Harris cosponsored an amendment to require probable cause warrants from the FISA court for intelligence agencies seeking to do domestic surveillance on American citizens as part of any Section 702 search queries. The amendment did not pass in committee. When asked why she voted for the bill out of committee without that important amendment, Sean replied that she felt that there was a better chance of the amendment passing in a floor vote.
Town Halls:
IEB sent a proposal about future town halls to the Senator and her press team, but haven’t gotten a response yet. Sean said it could be feasible and that he “appreciates the creativity” but he didn’t give any feedback to improve the proposal. He did, however, say that he would talk to the Senator about it.
Photograph copyright Toby St. John

 

Sojourn in Southern California for Senator Feinstein

Senator Feinstein spoke to the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce at a luncheon on Wednesday October 11. As you’d expect the 400 or so attendees were mostly business people among whom the senator seemed very comfortable.

We’re not making any accusations—and it was likely just that the hosts were so  in sync with their guest—but the questions seemed to be exactly what the senator would have chosen to be asked at her first public appearance since announcing her reelection campaign. And she was clearly very prepared, down to statistics on how the elimination of the state and local tax deduction would hurt middle income Riverside residents.

Sen. Feinstein and moderator Jack Clarke talked about terrifying weapons: the senator’s gun control legislation, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the potential crisis brewing between the United States and North Korea— “the longer it lasts this way, the easier it is for one of the two leaders to make a slip in rhetoric and something happens that we don’t want.”

Asked about tax “reform” the senator  was very clear that the Republicans do not have bill. They have “a framework—whatever that is.” And she predicted that if they attempted to jam something through without hearings and “regular order” that it would certainly fail. Let’s hope she has Senator McCain’s word on that. (Note: He voted against the 2001 Bush tax cuts; she voted for them.)

She spoke at length about saving the Affordable Care Act and stabilizing and improving the marketplaces, and about the nearby airport and what it means for the local economy and infrastructure.


Clarke also read three audience questions off of cards collected at the event including one about the future of DACA. She was, of course, strongly in favor of the DREAM Act. But she made some statements that were troublingly supportive of a deal on border security, against the wishes of the DREAMers themselves who don’t want their safety traded for policies that harm other immigrants. She said, “we can use more border patrol,” which might be a reasonable argument to make if the immigration enforcement we currently have was doing a decent job protecting the rights and humanity of the people it interacts with.

For young people who want to be involved in politics and the future of this country, she said: “Instead of sitting back and criticising, get out and run for something…people jump up and down, and you ask them what they really want and it’s some vague statement.”

Clearly she’s not talking about Indivisible East Bay. While we do jump up and down quite a bit, our statements are anything but vague. We certainly criticize, but we don’t sit back. We know what we want and we’ve learned how to translate that into requests for specific votes and legislation, and oversight, because that is the most effective way to maximize our power. But as the senator well knows (and, to be fair, has demonstrated many times) part of the job she took on when she asked to represent us, is the task of taking her constituents’ vague statements and finding the way to address those needs through policy.

And as for the admonition to “get out and run for something.” It’s not bad advice. More of us need to do that. But more of us also need to realize that it’s not the only way. Many of us Indivisibles across the country ourselves realized only recently that democracy doesn’t have to just mean voting and running for office. It can mean working as constituents together with our elected representative to govern ourselves.