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

 

Giving thanks

It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark before you get home – winter has arrived in the Bay Area, and with it, the Thanksgiving holiday. Regardless of the day’s hurtful origins, there’s no reason not to take time during these long nights to nurture gratitude for the good in our lives. We’ve compiled this list of people and things that had America’s back in 2017, to give you and yours an easy way to spread a little of your infinite light this winter. This list isn’t exhaustive – it’s not even close – but it’s a starting point.

Members of Congress

Quick note: Not all of these people are perfect or have perfect legislative records. There are even a few we disagree with the vast majority of the time. We don’t think that disagreeing with someone sometimes means you can’t thank them for the times when you found yourselves aligned.

Representative Mark DeSaulnier

Mark DeSaulnier has represented CA-11 with progressive values this past year. He’s held town halls and been willing to meet with his constituents – including Indivisible members – face-to-face.

Representative Barbara Lee

From her work on racial, economic, and environmental justice to her leadership over the last 16 years on repealing the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF), Barbara Lee has been a powerful voice for Alameda County in Washington, D.C.

  • Phone: (510) 763-0370
  • Email: This form (you can also sign up for her excellent newsletter, Lee Mail, on this site)
  • Snail mail: 1301 Clay Street, Ste. 1000-N, Oakland, CA 94612

Representative Eric Swalwell

Eric Swalwell has been a strong advocate for CA-15 and a tireless voice in the fight to uncover the connections between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Senator Dianne Feinstein

We’re grateful to our senior senator for her work to protect an independent judiciary and the rule of law, and for her passion for very particular causes such as gun control and protecting the Mojave Desert and the undocumented, including an undocumented Oakland nurse and her family. She’d want us to say we’re thankful for her “ability to get things done,” and she has come closer than most Democrats—her sexual abuse bill passed the Senate and there is a (narrow) path forward for her bump stocks ban. We are thankful for her continued belief, backed by a lifetime of public service, in that ability to find a way forward against all odds.

Senator Kamala Harris

From her work on the Senate Intelligence Committee to her bold stances and direct and forceful questioning style in confirmation hearings, our junior senator has made an outsized impact during her first year in Washington. We are thankful for her eagerness to get out ahead of other politicians to endorse Medicare for all, for her promise to force the Republicans to protect DACA youth or shut down the government, and for her attention to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks. And we are thankful for her efforts to look past politics to draw strength from our common humanity and use that strength to fight terrible policies.

  • Phone:  (415) 355-9041
  • Email: This form
  • Snail mail: 50 United Nations Plaza, Suite 5584, San Francisco, CA 94102

Senator Susan Collins

Hark! A Republican from Maine who voted consistently to save our healthcare from the worst excesses of her own party. No matter where she falls on the tax heist, she put her career on the line and took fire from some of the nastiest people in politics not just for the sake of the people she represents in Maine, but for the whole country. Visit her website or her Twitter.

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Like her colleague Senator Collins, Murkowski stood fast against her own party to protect the healthcare of millions of Americans. She has some seriously questionable opinions about a lot of things, but without her and Collins (and some late glory-theft by John McCain), the ACA wouldn’t be with us this holiday. Let’s hope that her vote on the tax plan doesn’t dismantle it. Visit her website or her Twitter.

Senator Chris Murphy

The junior Senator from Connecticut has been a steadfast progressive on the national stage, representing us and our values with clarity and consistency. His particular attention to gun safety law is worthy of note. Visit his website or his Twitter.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

It’s everyone’s most favorite nerd! Warren has spent the past year doing what she does best: persisting at being a detailed-obsessed, unerringly intelligent thorn in the side of the GOP. She’s been on their tail with numbers, facts, and unimpeachable arguments across all issues, but especially her mainstays in economic policy and consumer protection law. Visit her website or her Twitter.

Representative Frederica Wilson

Wilson shot to the national stage this year with her relentless and dignified defense of a Gold Star family living in her Florida district. The Trump administration and all of its apparatus came for her and that family with a racially-motivated fervor, and she resisted all of it flawlessly, setting a wonderful example for the rest of us in not taking shit from people just because they’re in power. Plus: cowboy hats! Visit her website or her Twitter.

Representative Maxine Waters

She reclaimed her time, showing the world how it’s done, and she continues to be a brave and powerful leader for residents of Southern California – and the entire country – in resisting the administration. Visit her website or her Twitter.

Journalists and Journals

Journalism is facing a critical moment in its history. Whether or not it survives this period of time, and in what form, will depend almost entirely on the people running it. Below are a list of newsrooms that have spent this past year working to protect journalism, hold the Trump administration to account, and sincerely tell truth to power.

Reveal News from the Center for Investigative Reporting

Based out of Berkeley, the Center for Investigative Reporting has been providing high quality investigative journalism to the Bay and the nation for years. Its writers have sharpened their focus this past year to shed light on abuse in the justice system, the Trump cabinet and its slumlords, and federal women’s health care spending. Reach out with thanks on their site or via Twitter.

ProPublica

ProPublica is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to in-depth investigative journalism. Like the Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica has this year turned its focus squarely on the Trump administration and its corporate sponsors. It is part of the only projects in the country that are actively tracking hate crimes and, separately, the causes behind America’s astonishingly high maternal death rate. Reach out on their site or on Twitter.

The Washington Post

After the election, the Washington Post adopted a new masthead motto: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” First-rate reporting on issues international, national, and local, together with a first-rate mobile website and app. Yes, WaPo has a paywall, but journalists need to eat – so if your support of the First Amendment allows, please consider paying the entry fee.

The New York Times

The “failing” New York Times has been a constant thorn in the side of the Trump administration. The Dear Leader seems to reserve a special brand of distaste just for it and its journalists, which makes its strong growth and consistently illuminating journalism all the sweeter. Reach out via their site.

NPR / KQED / KALW / KPFA

National Public Radio (NPR) and its subsidiary stations, and Berkeley-based community radio station KPFA, give us free access to high quality local and international reporting and analysis without the need for an internet connection or a paper subscription. Despite repeated threats against its funding by the current administration, NPR has maintained its excellent programming while rising to become the nation’s dominant podcast network. You can thank them by reaching out through their site, or by, yes, giving in and sending them some money the next time a funding drive gets in the way of Fresh Air.

Progressive Voices Radio

Thirsting for more in-depth and radical analysis? The free internet radio programs on Progressive Voices include shows from leading progressive talk hosts like Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, Thom Hartmann, and more.

Free Speech TV

The anti-Fox News, Free Speech TV is a 24-hour TV network and multi-platform news source committed to advancing progressive social change. FSTV is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization funded entirely by individual donations and foundation grants.

Media Matters

Media Matters is a web-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Teen Vogue

Oh yes, you read that right. Alongside articles about Kylie Jenner’s birthday dress and thong jeans, TV has an amazing News and Politics beat where you can read about disability rights, reproductive rights, America’s gun problem, and much more. Their slogan: “Don’t Just Sit There: Now is the Time to RESIST Donald Trump’s America.” You go, girls!

Our Favorite Research & Resistance Resources

Wikipedia, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, Snopes  … where would we be without research at our fingertips, arming us with facts to fight fake news and crazy claims?

A few of our top go-to’s on the why and how to #resist:

Info & actions: Indivisible Guide, Resistance Manual, Jen Hofmann’s Americans of Conscience Action Checklist

Tools & apps: 5calls, Resistbot, and two by local (Oakland) heroes: Rapid Resist, Purple Patriot

Awesome Local Businesses

Though much of IEB’s work is done online, we welcome the opportunity to join together IRL at meetings, actions, and events …  Since we’re not getting Koch $$ or Putin rubles, and our George Soros checks all bounced, we often rely on the kindness of local businesses and institutions. Big thank-yous to:

  • Panorama Framing and owner Patrick Cheatham, for letting the IEB Governance Committee meet gratis at your wonderful picture framing shop and art gallery! Check out the great political (and other) artwork at Panorama!
  • Drake’s Dealership, Oakland, for hosting our Rapid Resist texting meetups and All Member Meetings!
  • Sports Basement, Berkeley, for providing free meeting space at the coolest sports emporium in the Bay Area!
  • The Oakland Public Library, bringing you free books, videos, computers, music, events, and so much more – and gracious host for IEB’s All Member Meetings. (P.S. Any California resident can get full borrowing privileges and one of their beautiful library cards!)

Please patronize these terrific businesses, and tell them THANKS for helping IEB #resist!

Awesome Famous People

Colin Kaepernick

Football player, philanthropist, activist, educator, GQ citizen of the year … He took a stand and a knee and lost his football career for it, with no guarantee that anything would come his way to replace it. This is a person we’ll be talking about for decades. Say thanks on Twitter or on his site.

Rev. Robert Lee IV, General Lee’s grandson

When all around him embraced hate, Rev. Lee rejected them, bringing down insults, threats, and instability on himself and his home. He stood up against centuries of racism – against the legend and legacy of his own ancestors – to move his congregation and his community forward. Say thanks on Twitter.

Amy Siskind

Somehow, Amy Siskind has it within her to track everything the Trump administration does and then record it. Her weekly list of its activities was terrifying in the moment, but has taken on an even greater sense of horror as the months have passed by. Her work is in the Library of Congress now; it’s a true document of our times, and she deserves everything in the world for gritting her teeth and writing every excruciating detail of it down. Say thanks on Twitter or on Facebook.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

I don’t mean to brag, but dang I amaze and astonish … It’s one thing to write the greatest musical of all time, but quite another to use the platform that your success grants you to pick fights with the government and further the causes of your own people. In Miranda’s case, that has meant being a tireless advocate for Puerto Rico, both before and after the (ongoing) horror of Hurricane Maria. Miranda has also been a tireless advocate for Planned Parenthood, the National Resources Defense Council, and United We Dream. Say thanks on Twitter, or buy a fridge magnet with his face on it here.

Jimmy Kimmel and his writers

The next in a long line of brave residents putting their careers on the line to say something, Jimmy Kimmel has taken his enormous platform and used it to give emotional, rousing speeches on health care and gun safety. He didn’t have to do this. It would have been easier, so much easier, for his show to have remained impartial, but they chose to do the difficult thing, and their decision spread the message on health care further than we could have ever hoped. Say thanks on Twitter.

Chef José Andrés

Celebrity chef José Andrés took the initiative to build a food network of his own in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and has so far served over a million and a half meals to families in need. That’s more than any other organization, including the Red Cross. Say thanks on Twitter, or support his World Central Kitchen.

The Woman Who Flipped Off Trump’s Motorcade from Her Bicycle

Not all heroes wear capes. Say thanks to Juli Briskman on Twitter. #her2020

Ivanka Trumps’s Festive Trash Clam

Sensing that the nation was feeling weary, Ivanka Trump took a break from her busy career in nepotism to brighten our collective season with her contribution to festive centerpiece design. It’s as if Franz Kafka directed the opening shots of The Little Mermaid. Stolen ideas, elementary school Nativity play production values, racism so deeply ingrained that it turned the pumpkins white: it’s the Trump way.

You!!

If you’ve made it this far into this post – or even if you skipped down here, we don’t judge – you’re likely someone who is owed gratitude. We are thankful for every phone call, every postcard, every difficult conversation with a loved one, every protest, every sign, every idea, every atom of energy you gave to our resistance this year. Despite how difficult it’s been, despite the psychic and social horror of it all, we have won far more often than we have lost. Our successes and our continued defense of the United States is down to you, your families, and your communities. Sincerely and with the deepest hope for our next year: thank you.

 

Image lovingly borrowed from the NPR media library.

Senate 2018 Race – Discuss!

At the October IEB All Member Meeting, members participated in a respectful and productive opening discussion about the 2018 Senate race. After folks called out issues important to them we all voted for our top three choices. Not surprisingly, people shared overwhelming concerns about healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.IEB AMM Senate DiscussionAmelia Cass, IEB’s Member of Congress lead and Senator Feinstein expert gave a synopsis of Feinstein’s positions on the top issues, and invited the audience to contribute their thoughts about California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Léon and other candidates.

Healthcare:

Senator Feinstein has said she favors universal healthcare, but has demurred on single payer, saying she’s not yet ready to commit. At a recent meeting with Senator Feinstein’s staff, IEB learned that implementation (funding, rollout, and transition to) of a single payer system is one of the problems preventing her endorsement, and that she has not yet seen a reasonable, feasible plan that would get California where it needs to go toward a fair healthcare system. In contrast, Kevin de Léon has stated that he supports CA healthcare for all, and in a tweet said that California should have two senators behind Health Care For All. Another candidate for the Senate seat, David Hildebrand, is a Democratic Socialist and self-described “Berniecrat” who is solidly behind single payer. At present, so early in the race, little is known about the other candidates.

One IEB member stated that “if you want single payer or medical care for all, young people need to be involved to create the economics to drive it forward.” Sharing her experience working on the California healthcare bill, another member described how difficult it was to balance moving forward on a bill and being able to explain everything that is going to happen with it.

Immigration:

The son of a single immigrant mother, Kevin de Léon was an author of SB 54, the California Sanctuary State bill. The bill went through several iterations before Governor Brown signed it, which some advocates believe severely weakened the bill.

Senator Feinstein has spoken out strongly in favor of the DREAM Act and other pro-immigration bills; however, she has hinted that she might accept additional border security measures and some are concerned that she might compromise more than may be necessary.

IEB Governance Committee member Katie added that if the final DREAM Act includes other legislation, it may be worth considering how Senator Feinstein votes, if not for a “clean DREAM Act” for which most immigrants’ rights groups have advocated. Candidates should be explicit in what they will and won’t accept. In contrast, Senator Kamala Harris has stated she won’t support any end-of-year spending package without a clean DREAM Act.

Members suggested that further discussions could separate immigration into two issues: comprehensive reform and a path to citizenship. Senators Harris and Feinstein have offered legislation that would protect undocumented farmworkers in California from deportation and create a path to citizenship.

Voting rights/gerrymandering:

Interestingly, California is one of the few states which has an independent, non-partisan commission draw its district lines, instituted by ballot proposition in 2011. At the national level, after the Supreme Court curtailed the federal Voting Rights Act, a critical tool to prevent discriminatory voting practices, several states have created serious obstacles to voting, including voter ID and registration restrictions, cutbacks on early voting, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods, and more. A member suggested examining the candidates’ opinions on the districting commission.

This was the first of what we’re sure will be several conversations about the 2018 Senate race. Future discussions will examine the remaining issues suggested during the meeting.

Votes for each suggested issue:

  1. Healthcare – 15
  2. Immigration – 15
  3. Voting rights/gerrymandering – 15
  4. Environment/climate change – 13
  5. Reproductive rights/women’s rights – 10
  6. Campaign donors/transparency – 10
  7. Judicial appointments – 8
  8. Public schools & charterization – 7
  9. Lobbying/corporate money – 5
  10. Racial justice – 5
  11. Impeachment – 5
  12. Criminal Justice – 3
  13. Labor – 3
  14. Second amendment – 2
  15. LGBTQIA+ rights – 2
  16. Accessibility to elected officials – 1
  17. Minimum wage – 1
  18. Disability rights – 1

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.

Two State Directors in Two Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IEB Meets With Senator Feinstein’s State Director

Senator Feinstein's State Director Sean Elsbernd

Several IEB members met with Senator Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd on September 5. Our first question at this first meeting since the Senator failed to hold a Town Hall during the August recess was (surprise!): when will the Senator have a real Town Hall!? Sean’s rationales aside, we heard two things loud & clear: they know this is important to us (thank you IEBers for your calls and emails); and the Senator clearly does not want to hold a Town Hall.

The rest of the meeting was more productive. Sean said using personal stories (instrumental in protecting the ACA) would be effective to resist the GOP’s anti-immigration agenda. He also suggested we send questions for an upcoming hearing at which Donald Trump Jr. will testify, and noted that questions could be submitted for the record which the witness would have to answer in writing.

Given that Feinstein is ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, her positions on judicial nominations and the process are critical. Sean said that the Senator wants above all to preserve the blue slip process, but in order to be heeded on that she can’t unnecessarily slow confirmations.

As evidence that the Senator is listening to us, Sean noted that she mentioned in their morning staff meeting the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to prevent transfer of military equipment to civilian law enforcement. IEB had brought this issue to her attention at the August Commonwealth Club (not-a-town-hall) event.

As to whether Feinstein joins Senator Kamala Harris (and at last count 15 other Dems) in supporting the Sanders Medicare for All Bill, she wants to ensure that subsidies and the mandate remain in place; that both are needed for there to be more than one health insurance carrier in all counties to provide competition to keep costs down. She is not in principle against a single payer bill and would like to see the details of one.

Open questions: Sean wasn’t sure what Senator’s position is on repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force. He conveyed to her our opinion that it should be repealed. Other issues discussed: the failure of the California legislature’s CA Desert Protection Act (AB 1000); the politicization of scientific research; NAFTA; and GOP bills to split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still Time To Submit Comments! Something in the Water: Marine Sanctuaries at Risk

In late April 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order that would expand offshore drilling for oil and gas and would also stop the expansion of any new marine sanctuaries and require the Secretary of Commerce to review any marine national monuments created or expanded over the past decade.

This order, if enacted, could have disastrous consequences for California’s marine sanctuaries, sections of the ocean where human activity is legally limited or prohibited. Though the executive order does not apply to sanctuaries established prior to 2007, the order could reverse recent protections put in place by the Bush and Obama administrations: President Bush expanded the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary by 496,000 acres, and President Obama in 2015 doubled the size of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones marine sanctuaries. The order would also reverse the current strategy implemented under President Obama preventing any new oil leases in California through 2022.

Background: the Santa Barbara Offshore Drilling Disaster and the Environmental Movement

Marine sanctuaries, like many of our country’s environmental laws, have been in place since the 1970’s and were originally the creation of a Republican administration. President Nixon started the marine sanctuary program 45 years ago as a result of the horrific 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, in which 3 million gallons of petroleum from an offshore drilling site leaked into the Pacific Ocean. Images of impaired sea otters, oil-drenched birds, and corpses of dolphins and seals, victims of the month-long oil spill at 1,000 gallons per hour, drew national outrage.

The LA Times says this oil spill “changed the consciousness of the nation.” Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt later said that the spill “was the most important event that led to the environmental revolution of the 1970s.” The Santa Barbara Oil spill marked the beginning of an environmental movement, sparking new laws and legislation that regulated pollution and protected endangered species, as well as federal policies that placed severe penalties on offshore drilling platform operators in the event of another oil spill.  

Up to Us to Keep History From Repeating Itself

Until now, no president has ever reduced or eliminated a national marine sanctuary in the 45 years since President Nixon started the marine sanctuary program. But this executive order can potentially do just that.

Trump’s order seeks to prioritize offshore drilling above marine sanctuaries: Section 4 calls for a “review” of current Marine Sanctuaries, which would analyze the cost to maintain these sanctuaries and “the opportunity costs associated with potential energy and mineral exploration and production from the Outer Continental Shelf, in addition to any impacts on production in the adjacent region.” In addition to potentially shrinking current marine sanctuaries for the sake of offshore oil drilling, the executive order seeks to prevent expansion of current marine sanctuaries and designation of new marine sanctuaries, unless “the sanctuary designation or expansion proposal includes a timely, full accounting from the Department of the Interior of any energy or mineral resource potential within the designated area—including offshore energy from wind, oil, natural gas, methane hydrates—and the potential impact the proposed designation or expansion will have on the development of those resources.” In other words, business is to be weighed against the marine environment, with a heavy thumb on business’s side of the scales – potentially bringing us right back to where we were before 1969.

What you can do: A detailed notice of the executive order has been posted to the Federal Register’s site, and the 30-day public comment period is still open and accepting new comments. You can submit a formal comment opposing this order and telling the Secretary of Commerce that our marine sanctuaries should be prioritized ahead of off-shore drilling, and must be preserved or expanded, not diminished. The comments period has been extended to 11:59 PM ET on August 15, 2017. (More information and sample letter here.)

More that you can do: Both California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have urged Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to preserve all four of California’s marine sanctuaries currently under review: Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands. Please thank them for their support!

– By A. Hernandez

Feinstein Beats Warriors!

By Leslie Price

While hundreds of thousands of excited fans gathered in Oakland on June 15 for the Warriors’ victory parade, nine dedicated folks from Indivisible East Bay and other local groups met with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd and Field Representative Abby Ellis. Both were open, gracious, and genuinely impressed that we skipped the festivities and fought the crowds to make it to their office.

We spent a substantial portion of the meeting discussing health care. Though Senator Feinstein wouldn’t commit to withhold consent because she feels other important business would suffer, she is willing to work hard to slow down a vote on Trumpcare. She’s considering filibustering by amendment during vote-a-rama, but she’s (unsurprisingly) not planning to do anything showy like holding her own hearing on the Capitol steps with the other female senators.

We also talked extensively about corruption in the White House and among the Republican members of Congress. The senator will not join the members of Congress suing the President for accepting foreign emoluments out of concern that her opponents might use such action to claim that she is biased, impeding her efforts on other fronts. For example, she is working with the GOP on investigations concerning the FBI and had a hand in getting Senator Grassley on board, and she is working hard to maintain the blue slip process and to push the Russia investigation.

We asked whether the cuts to the USDA budget have encouraged California’s Republican representatives to stand up to some of the Trump Administration’s most harmful actions. Sean said cuts to the EPA are actually most upsetting to the representatives and their constituents, because these will affect air quality, which then affects children and the elderly. (According to Sean, those elected officials didn’t think Trump would really do something so drastic.) Our group had a positive discussion about how much air quality has improved over the years and how anything that affects the young and old tends to get people thinking beyond party affiliation.

Our group also asked some tough questions regarding civilian oversight of the military: specifically, about a strategy for Syria and whether Senator Feinstein will work to avoid funding a war with no limit. Sean was impressed and indicated that we are the only group that has ever presented Senator Feinstein’s staff with in-depth questions about this. Although the staff generally talks to the Senator about issues pushed by the most constituents, Sean and Abby agreed to bring our concerns to the Senator, and encouraged us to continue to bring it up with other groups to help bring more attention to the issue. We also talked about the urgent need for congressional oversight of military intelligence when the White House can’t be trusted to tell or discern the truth.

We had very positive discussion and agreement about prioritizing census funding, enhancing whistleblower protections, and a weekend summertime town hall, or two, or four (likely in August near San Diego and/or Fresno). Overall, our meeting was productive and positive, and Sean and Abby seemed to appreciate our interest and energy. We are getting to be regular guests, and the Senator’s staff reminded us that they’re happy to host us or make the trek out to us. (The fact we always bring treats probably doesn’t hurt either!)

Resisting the Trump Agenda: Our Convo With Senator Feinstein’s State Director

IEB meeting with Sean 5/24/17

On Wednesday May 24th, Indivisible East Bay and Indivisible CA-11 United hosted a spirited question-and-answer in Richmond with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director. Abby Ellis, the Senator’s Field Representative, also attended. Moving quickly through the Trump administration’s checklist of horribles, we touched on the federal budget, Senate healthcare bill, use of military force, whistleblowers, Russia Russia Russia, and more. 

Shenanigans: A hot topic right now (see this article published the day after our meeting) is the Repubs’ attempt to jam through their agenda by dropping the bipartisan tradition of consulting senators about judicial appointments in their states. Sean said that Senator Feinstein is pushing Senator Grassley to keep the “blue slip” tradition – where unless both senators from a state where a nominee would serve return their blue slips to the Judiciary Committee, the nominee doesn’t get a hearing.

Sean elaborated that some Republicans say they’ll keep the “blue slip” for district court but not appellate appointees. She’s doing what she can to maintain the tradition for all federal judicial nominees at ALL levels, including using Senator Orrin Hatch’s previous support and quotes in favor of the tradition. Senator Feinstein considers this a big issue she’d go to the mat on. See her press release from the day of our meeting. What we can do: keep up the pressure on Grassley to maintain the blue slip process for all nominees.

Federal Budget: Candace Goldman, who has worked with nonprofit East Bay skilled nursing residence homes, shared her assessment that the proposed budget would result in closures and require the state to assume responsibility to care for very frail elderly at greater cost and with substantial disruptions that would put many people at risk for early death.

Sean said the Senator is very concerned about the budget. He referred to her op-ed piece in this Monday’s Los Angeles Daily News on the devastating effects of changes to Medicaid. He noted that September 2017 is a big month for the budget because the continuing resolution only keeps the government open until then, and that the risk we’ll fall off the “fiscal cliff” will force discussion on the budget.

He suggested we connect with the Orinda Progressive Action Alliance, and commended their dropbox tool “Stories for Senators” where personal stories like Candace’s can be efficiently collected and used by the Senator and others for op-eds, conversations with fellow Senators, speeches, etc. Sean said we can still send direct emails.

Sean also emphasized that we need to push any contacts we have in the medical/health industry to stay strong against the Senate bill that’s being drafted. California businesses have been strong so far – and if you get the chambers of commerce, you get the Republicans. He noted that the less-publicized Trump tax reform proposal to eliminate state and local tax deductions could have devastating impacts to California and other blue states.

Congressional Authorization of Military Force: Sean said Senator Feinstein supported use of force in Syria for the past two years, and initially supported President Trump’s tomahawk launch, but she is cautious about any military action moving forward. Sean wasn’t aware whether the Senator would support or introduce a similar Senate Resolution to Rep Adam Schiff’s Consolidated Authorization for Use of Military Force Resolution of 2017; he’ll check and let us know.

Drug Policy: Referring to AG Sessions’ memo to prosecutors to enforce mandatory minimum sentences for even nonviolent drug crimes, we asked whether the Senator will support: (1) the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would empower federal judges to impose shorter prison terms; and (2)the bipartisan Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, which protects the civil rights and facilitates the reentry of formerly incarcerated drug offenders.  Sean said he would find out and let us know.

Raising concerns that Sessions is pushing his policies to get more money for private prisons, and that more convictions results in more disenfranchisement, we told Sean that we’d like to see the Senator address these issues.

We wondered why the Senator collaborated with Senator Grassley on S.739, the Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017, given that policy experts say no data supports claims that candy-flavored narcotics are being used by or marketed to children. To our concerns that she is wasting time on legislation perpetuating misinformation and likely to lead to severe criminal charges for people legally selling marijuana-infused products, Sean countered that the Senator’s experts think that there is an impact. She also felt it was important to work on the bipartisan act and to advance Senate comity.

Senate Health Care Bill: Sean said they have no further information we don’t have on the version of the health care bill that Republican senators are working on in secret. He noted McConnell’s recent admission that they’re nowhere near 50 votes, but said that the window to press on the Senate bill is now; he thinks it’ll come up end of June or early July because their recess is in August. The CBO score is crucial, and the House may even need to re-vote. He also noted that under reconciliation they’d need only 51 votes.

Caleb mentioned the importance of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Sean said that the Senator agrees, and acknowledged that they’re under threat of being entirely eliminated. He suggested that we can work with local elected officials to illustrate the significance of how they use CDBG funds.

Russia Investigation: Sean joked that he was surprised it took us so long to get to Russia. He let us know that the Dept of Justice did grant a conflict-of-interest waiver so Robert Mueller could lead the Russia probe. He emphasized that Mueller’s is a criminal prosecution, and the congressional investigations must continue so there is transparency and the public knows what happened. He said we need to keep up pressure to combat Republican efforts to stop the investigations.

Sean explained that an independent commission would require a bill through Congress and signed by the president, and that an Independent Select Committee would have to be created by Ryan and/or McConnell. Sean suspects that Senator Feinstein would disagree that the latter option is better than the current Senate Intelligence Committee, which he said is moving along, including holding multiple hearings and issuing subpoenas.

Emoluments Clause: Senators Feinstein and Grassley are investigating possible violations of the Emoluments Clause through the Judiciary Committee, including whether Trump changed his position on the China one-child policy, resulting in his receiving patents from China, and misuse by Kushner companies of EB-5 immigrant investor visas.  

Office of Government Ethics: Sean alluded to the administration’s refusal to provide waivers granted to lobbyists and other appointees to the OGE, and noted that various government departments are similarly failing to respond to ANY Democratic request for information. It was very troubling to hear Sean say, very bluntly, that “very basic communication is not happening”.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: We all shared a bitter laugh when this issue was raised. Regarding the big “I” (impeachment), Sean said the Senator isn’t ready to commit to pursuing impeachment, and that she didn’t think the evidence needed was there yet. She takes Trump’s careless sharing of classified information very seriously, and is working to formalize and standardize the rules and processes for classification and declassification.

Immigration: An IEB member shared her fears about an impending visit by an Arab-Muslim relative. Sean appreciated her suggestions that the Senator work to promote the values of diversity and to fight discrimination.

Sean didn’t have an update on the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, which the Senator co-sponsored. He mentioned the “Blue Card visa program” (the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017), recently introduced by Senators Feinstein and Harris to create a path to citizenship for farmworkers. He emphasized the large impact on the economy the Act would have, and although acknowledging that it would be tough to get the bill through, said that even some Republicans would support it.

Finally, to a general question about the value of contacting MoCs on committees who aren’t our state reps, Sean said that Senator Feinstein responds to Californians’ concerns, and that likely other MoCs do the same. He suggested we urge people we know in other states to call their own reps. He noted that an exception could be about transportation issues.  He also reminded us that we can contact committees directly via their websites.  

Our detailed questions can be found in the memo to the Senator.