Fe­in­stein pressed to re­sist Trump

Se­na­tor’s re­ply scorned by many in S.F. au­di­ence

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By John Wil­der­muth

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,”

she said.

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.”

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