Feinstein pressed to resist Trump
Senator’s reply scorned by many in S.F. audience
As a noisy crowd of protesters outside chanted “resist or retire,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein was left to explain Friday how a Democrat can make a difference in a world where President Trump and a Republican Congress hold all the political cards.
“We can vote no” on Trump’s programs and nominees, Feinstein told a crowd of about 250 people at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco’s Financial District. “The problem is, we don’t win those battles.”
With the numbers stacked against congressional Democrats, the senator talked about the need for compromise, to work with Republicans whenever possible. “Compromise” has become a dirty word, Feinstein admitted, but argued that in a two-party system, it’s the only way to get anything done.
“I know where I want to go and how to get as close to that as possible ... without compromising on anything major,”
That’s not what the antiTrump forces, both inside and outside the hall, wanted to hear.
“It’s all major,” someone in the audience yelled.
For Feinstein, who in her 24 years in the Senate has earned a reputation as a Democrat who’s willing to cross the aisle to get things done, it’s a new era of politics — one that doesn’t favor her moderate leanings.
“I used to support Dianne, but now we need someone more progressive to represent California properly,” said Warren Messineo of San Francisco, a software analyst for Oracle.
About 200 people filled the sidewalk on Washington Street outside, waving signs with slogans like “Obstruct Trump” and “Impeach Traitor Trump.”
The hour-long, ticketed event, billed as a conversation with Feinstein with mostly preselected questions, wasn’t good enough for the protesters, who called on the senator to hold an open town hall meeting and answer questions from all comers.
Feinstein backed away from a request for an Oakland town hall Sunday, where protesters plan to represent her with an empty chair, but said she’d try and work something out the next time she was in the area. But there were loud chants of “Hold town halls” as she left after the talk.
The senator has been the target of complaints from progressives in recent months, angry that she voted to approve seven Trump appointees, including retired generals John Kelly and Jim Mattis to head homeland security and defense, and former Rep. Mike Pompeo to run the CIA.
But with Trump as president, Democratic senators often have to make the best of bad choices.
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “I need to work with whoever is director of intelligence” and others in the national security community, Feinstein said, so blanket opposition to all Trump’s nominees isn’t an option.
That’s not the way Kitty Chiu, a member of the antiTrump group Indivisible SF, sees it. An immigrant from Hong Kong, she admitted to being terrified of the administration’s attitude toward Muslims and others seeking to enter the United States.
“Sen. Feinstein has some seniority and could be doing a lot more as the voice of California,” she said. “Even if they are losing battles, they are fights worth fighting.”
But Feinstein said she will be doing plenty of fighting against Trump, regardless of the ultimate outcome. She talked about the growing danger of global warming and her doubts that Scott Pruitt, the new director of the Environmental Protection Agency and a nonbeliever in climate change, will do much to fight it.
“I can’t conceive of someone being in charge of the EPA who’s opposed to the EPA,” she said.
Democrats are set to go after Trump for what they see as numerous violations of conflict-of-interest rules by his administration, the senator said. The Senate Intelligence Committee, Republicans and Democrats alike, also is ready to do a serious investigation of allegations of Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election.
“We have a road map on how this review will take place,” she said. “We will let the facts come out and fall wherever they may.”
Feinstein also pushed up against the protesters when she refused to say how she would vote on Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court.
As the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I don’t announce what I’m going to do before the hearing,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s right.”
But the crowd erupted in boos when she said that she had a good conversation with Gorsuch, with protesters suggesting Feinstein shouldn’t even have met with him.
The senator said her two biggest concerns with Gorsuch, or any other Supreme Court nominee, are his views on gun control and women’s reproductive rights. But politics also will play a role, she admitted.
The Republican refusal to hold a hearing on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the same seat Gorsuch is seeking, “sticks in our craw,” she said. “It’s hard to forget.”
But as a member of the congressional minority, Feinstein admitted she faces limits. While she said, for example, that she sees Trump aide Steve Bannon and his friends in the white nationalist movement as a danger to the country, “there’s not a lot I can do about it.”
What’s needed, she said, is a push from people outside Congress, writing their legislators, marching in protest and making their concerns known.
The 83-year-old Feinstein was hobbled by a knee injury and asked the crowd “to forgive my feeble entry.” She refused to say whether she planned to run for a new term in 2018, saying only that, “When the time comes, I’ll have an answer.”