Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday sought to tamp down anger and frustration over President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and actions, advocating for a pragmatic approach for the Democratic Party to regain power in Washington.
Feinstein, addressing more than 1,000 people at her first town hall since Trump took office, faced heavy criticism and loud boos when she declined to denounce what some town hall questioners called a rise of fascism. She said she did not support a government-run single payer health care system. And she did not condemn the U.S. airstrikes on Syria following a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians.
Feinstein took a measured approach throughout the hourlong event at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, but nearly every question provoked a strong reaction from the crowd, some carrying signs that read “Retire Feinstein” and “Barbara Lee for Senate 2018,” referring to the far-left congresswoman from Oakland.
Protesters who gathered outside before the town hall started said she should not seek re-election in 2018.
“San Francisco citizens, activists and voters ... are absolutely pissed off at Dianne Feinstein over her seven votes in favor of Trump nominees and her comments saying Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court was ‘quote, impressive,’ (and) her whispering to the Republican Party that ‘do not worry the Democrats will stand aside and allow you to achieve the Trump agenda,” said Ben Becker, a San Francisco resident and delegate for the California Democratic Party. “We will not stand aside and allow the Trump agenda to go forward. That is unacceptable – not in San Francisco, not in America ... do not seek re-election. We will not vote for you.”
Feinstein, 83, a former San Francisco mayor, was elected to the Senate in 1992. She has hinted that she plans to run for fifth full term next year, but has not officially announced her candidacy. Asked several times after the town hall if she plans to run in 2018, she said, “We’re doing things ... you’ll know soon enough.”
She roused the crowd when she declared her opposition to Trump’s travel ban barring entry to the United States by refugees and others from six Muslim-majority countries, when she called for the Citizens United case to be overturned, and when she said climate change and North Korea were among her biggest concerns.
“This is, potentially, a very volatile time,” Feinstein said. “It’s very serious.”
Several times she sought to explain what she characterized as the political reality in Washington, taking a cautious approach when responding to the rise of white nationalism, the airstrike on a Syrian airbase this month and whether she supports single-payer health care.
“I’m not there yet,” she said on single-payer health care. The remarks were followed by loud boos.
She also said Congress must weigh in on further actions against the Syrian regime, saying Trump should seek their input for the authorization for use of military force.
Several people in the crowd said they wanted Feinstein to take a more impassioned, public stance against Trump and actions of his administration. Instead, she highlighted her 25-year record in the Senate.
“You’re pretty good at yelling,” she said. “It takes a plan. You gotta work something out. You gotta have people with you ... so you can sit here and pound your fists and I can show you what I’ve gotten done. And you can take a look at it, and I’d be surprised if you found too many senators – if any – that have gotten more done.
“I don’t get there by making statements I can’t deliver,” she added. “I get there through some caution, some discussion, some smart help, good lawyers, and we generally get where we’re going.”
Feinstein has faced protests in recent months, including for not holding town hall meetings. A Berkeley IGS poll conducted in mid-March shows that Feinstein remains popular in deep-blue California, but a slight majority of voters think someone else should run.
“She’s not listening to the voice of the people,” said Claire Lau, co-chair of the political activist group San Francisco Berniecrats. “We need leaders who are actually listening to the people.”