Sen. Dianne Feinstein visited The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board last week to talk about her drought relief bill and other topics. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: What makes it different this year that this water bill might happen?
A: I think it’s an accumulation of things. First is the population of the state. Today we have 40 million people. And we’ve got huge industries. Everybody concentrates on ag, but we’ve got Silicon Valley, which uses a lot of water. And we simply do not have an adequate water infrastructure.
We have to hold water from the wet years for the dry years. I think we have to build our reservoir system; we have to have an alternative infrastructure. But for the length of this drought, we’ve got to be able to, within environmental laws and biological opinions, maximize water supply. Particularly this year, because of the El Niño.
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Let me go into what we’ve tried to do. We have done 26 drafts; we’ve worked on this for two years; we have tried to find the sweet spot. We were in an atmosphere where one political party, namely the Republican Party in the House, has passed a bill which, in my view, is not a good bill. It’s got a whopping margin; it is sitting there. We can prevent it from passing in the Senate.
In my bill, the short-term provisions for drought relief are the controversial part. The House wants stronger language and the environmental community doesn’t want any bill. We have the same water infrastructure from when we were 16 million people; we had better get cracking, because it’s only going to get worse. And the point is to have a bill that’s balanced.
Q: What makes you think the House is going to go along with your bill with some sort of compromise?
A: The latest talk is, well, let’s see if she can get her bill through the Senate, then we’ll deal with it. The fear is of a conference committee. I’ve been there for 23 years. There is no subject that’s tougher. Passing assault weapons legislation was easier to do than this is. We’ve got 69 communities that don’t have water; we have 2,500 wells that have run dry; we have 21,000 unemployed in the Central Valley. It’s a terrible situation. It’s my job to find something that does have balance.
Q: If your bill gets into conference, what are your major concerns about the House bill?
We had a donnybrook over the omnibus, because a bill was offered with my name on it that had several provisions that we had never seen before, despite the fact that negotiations were going on. And that blew things up. My hope is that reality has settled in that we have to find a way to do this together. And that I am not going to violate the biological opinions or the Endangered Species Act.
Q: Is Merrick Garland, the Supreme Court nominee, going to get a vote?
A: I’m not so sure. I think the nature of Merrick Garland himself may change the dynamic. This is probably the best appointment any president could have made in this situation, whether that president was Republican or Democrat, because this man has such quality and such stature in the legal community.
He’s a superb judge; he’s not a politician. The court should be filled with real people of legal distinction. And this is that man. I think there is real reason for hope that sanity will prevail and people will realize that the law is better off, that the nation is better off, by not having to go this whole year plus before you get somebody in place.
Q: Have you ever seen anything like Donald Trump before?
A: No. Nothing like it … ever … in my lifetime.
Q: What would the fallout be if he became president?
A: The one thing I don’t know is is this the real Donald Trump? And if it is it has a lot of danger for our country. Because the ways in which people are diminished, the ways in which he attacks back is way in excess of the damage done to him, if you think about the things he’s said. And to say the things he’s said kind of reaches into the darkness of some people’s mentality, and that’s unleashed now. And that’s also of concern.
Q: Is Sen. Ted Cruz a viable alternative?
A: No. He’ll never get anything through (Congress). To be able to do this you have to be able to work with people. He’s the one that’s sort of been a serial obstructer.