Capitol Alert

Dianne Feinstein banters with protesters asking for town hall: ‘I kind of enjoy it’

Republican members of Congress aren’t the only politicians getting protested in California.

The San Francisco chapter of Indivisible, a liberal organizing group that has shown up in force at constituent meetings across the country in recent weeks to “resist” the Trump administration’s agenda, crashed a talk with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Friday asking the veteran Democrat to host a town hall.

Feinstein never quite committed to that pledge. But she seemed delighted by the raucous attendees, who had snapped up many of the tickets to a discussion hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California – normally a rather staid and wonky affair.

When PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare, who was moderating, at one point asked the audience to settle down so that he could continue asking questions, Feinstein admitted, “I kind of enjoy it.”

The protesters came with signs urging Feinstein to “Hold a real town hall.” Colored pieces of paper held in the air – a green “agree” and a red “disagree” – made their opinions known, when they weren’t loudly cheering or groaning.

“I’m getting little signals,” Feinstein interrupted herself in the middle of an early answer about possible Russian intervention in the U.S. election. “If I get a green one, is that good?”

The mood stayed green for most of the event, as Feinstein discussed her ideas for improving the Affordable Care Act, her concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons and her opposition to Scott Pruitt, the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She also dodged a question about whether, at 84, she would run for re-election again in 2018.

But the red papers did come out a few times, like when Feinstein, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the crowd that she’d had a good meeting with Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

“Does that mean you disagree with my meeting or you disagree with Gorsuch?” she wondered.

Late in the event, one member of the audience asked Feinstein if she would work to remove Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist, from the National Security Council, a role usually reserved for senior intelligence officials. When Feinstein said there was not much she could do, the “disagree” signs shot up again, along with a smattering of shouts.

“Wait a minute, all the red-card geniuses,” Feinstein objected, before noticing a sign that said “Ban Bannon to Russia.”

“Well, it’s a nice thought,” she admitted.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff