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Ami Bera’s call to reach across aisle gets cold response at Sacramento town hall

Liberal protesters, Trump supporters meet at Bera town hall

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, held a rowdy, but largely supportive, town hall meeting in Sacramento.
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Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, held a rowdy, but largely supportive, town hall meeting in Sacramento.

It’s not just California’s Republican congressmen who are facing a push from liberal constituents fired up over the Trump administration.

An estimated 350 people showed up for a meeting Saturday at Unity of Sacramento church with Rep. Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, many from the local chapters of organizing groups like Indivisible and Moms on the Left who wanted Bera to take a more decisive stand against the policies of President Donald Trump and the national Republican Party.

“We’re doing our part. Now we need him to do his part,” said Dennessa Atiles, a waitress and student from Elk Grove who said she became politically involved for the first time during the 2016 election and spends much of her free time planning events for a Sacramento-area affiliate of Indivisible called “The Resistance.”

Atiles said Bera should not simply compromise with Republicans who spent eight years refusing to work with President Barack Obama: “What is he doing to change minds?”

The town hall crowd, which filled the church sanctuary, was largely supportive of Bera, cheering wildly as he promised to oppose a new travel ban against citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and pursue an investigation into whether Russia interfered in the election. But his overarching message of bipartisan collaboration was mostly met with dismissive jeers and silence.

Organizers passed out a list of bills where Bera had aligned with Republicans and audience members pushed him to explain his votes for policies that they said betrayed the Democratic Party’s progressive base on fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, labeling genetically modified foods and regulating Wall Street banks.

“I’m not here to bash my Republican colleagues. I think they care about this country as much as we do,” Bera said at one point, drawing cries of “No, they don’t!”

“It’s going to take Democrats and Republicans coming together to solve these challenges,” he said, a message met with only scattered applause. “You shouldn’t want the Republicans to do it on their own. You should want to open the conversation.”

Liberal activists in the Sacramento area were frustrated with Bera, one of the most centrist Democrats in California’s House delegation, well before Trump was elected. But as they mount their anti-Trump campaign, they said they are looking for more leadership from the congressman.

Rick Barreto, the legislative director for the American Postal Workers Local 66 union in Sacramento, criticized Bera for hedging on issues like sanctuary cities to appeal to Republicans in his moderate district, rather than supporting the progressive stances of the Democrats who elected him. Bera won by about 2 percentage points in November.

“Society has moved to the left,” Barreto said, adding that unless Bera “comes home” to his base, “there’s a good chance there will be” a more liberal primary challenger in 2018.

Following the event, Bera said he wants Democrats to support ideas like affordable college education, not just opposing Trump.

“People are still trying to feel their way,” he said, but he believes “the party is pretty unified.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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