Feinstein has rowdy SF town hall
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Longtime California Senator Dianne Feinstein addressed the dangers presented by leaders of North Korea and Syria, as well as President Donald Trump Monday at a rowdy town hall in the city during which she was frequently criticized herself.
The event was the first of its kind for Feinstein, 83, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor who was first elected to the Senate in 1992. It's widely believed that she'll run for re-election in 2018, amid concerns by some voters that she's getting too old for the job.
At the April 17 town hall, which was held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, Feinstein referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as "more ruthless than, I think, any existing leader on earth." Among other recent moves, North Korea tried and failed to launch a missile Sunday.
North Korea is "the number one problem," Feinstein said, followed by Syria and Russia.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of poison gas this month to kill dozens of his own people also came up.
When Feinstein, who said she'd seen maps of where the gas was prepared, said that unlike ex-President Barack Obama, Trump "has taken a step" by firing missiles at the airport used in the attack, many in the crowd booed her.
"If you believe you know more than I do about it, go right ahead, but if you're going to let me speak, let me speak," Feinstein said. Her comment was greeted by applause.
She went on to say that Trump "needs to put together a strategy and come to the Congress before he does anything else."
Moments later, after a man started shouting at Feinstein, others in the crowd yelled at him. It was one of several times there was conflict among people in the almost-packed auditorium, which holds about 760 people. At one point, Feinstein asked, "How many want me to continue?" Most people raised their hands.
After being asked about steps she'd take to address "the most unethical administration" since former Republican President Richard Nixon, Feinstein said that she and other senators are "looking very closely at the emoluments clause" in the Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving gifts from foreign leaders, and refusing to pay expenses related to Trump's sons' business trips.
She also said that Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) has asked colleagues to contribute money "for a court case. ... The hope is there will be 41 of us that will be on that court case."
Spokespeople for Feinstein and Blumenthal didn't respond to requests for more information.
There are several federal investigations examining possible collusion between people associated with Trump and the Russian government, which meddled in the U.S. presidential election held in November in favor of Trump.
Feinstein sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which held its first hearing related to the controversy in March.
"I believe within the month there will be a second public hearing," Feinstein said Monday.
Reported round-ups, torture, and killings of gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya also came up when a woman asked Feinstein what she would do to "pressure our government" to denounce the actions.
Feinstein responded that she wanted to take the woman's question with her so she could "get specific answers on each part."
Gay former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who now sits on the BART transit system's board of directors and moderated Monday's event, said there would be a protest Tuesday night at the Russian consulate in San Francisco.
"Come along, Senator Feinstein," a man called out.
"You never know, I may go," she responded.
A woman from the group Indivisible SF asked Feinstein about where Democrats would draw the line on working with "fascists" such as Trump administration officials Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, both of whom have been criticized as being anti-Semitic.
Feinstein said, "You've given me an idea. Let me explore that idea." She asked for the woman's name and phone number, but a man in the crowd yelled for her to "Answer the question."
"You're pretty good at yelling," Feinstein told him. "All of this takes a plan. ... You can stand here and pound your fists," but there aren't "too many senators, if any, who've gotten more done than [I have."]
Keith Baraka, a gay San Francisco firefighter and vice chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, asked Feinstein about combatting efforts by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to re-launch a war on drugs that disproportionately affects poor people and minorities.
"I'll do everything I possibly can to speak out about it," said Feinstein, noting that most Democrats had voted against Sessions' confirmation, and "We will be a voice. ... There is some power in numbers."
After the town hall, Suzanne Cowan, 76, of San Francisco, said she respects Feinstein "much more" than she did before.
"She gets down to the nitty-gritty of the way things work in this government," Cowan said, adding that Feinstein had offered "a fairly strong dose of reality."
However, Cowan, who was wearing a button calling for single-payer health care coverage, said Feinstein had "waffled" on a question about supporting single-payer legislation.
Outside, Claire Lau, 28, who was holding a "Retire Feinstein" sign, said, "I was very disappointed. She evaded a lot of the questions."
Lau referred to a suggestion that Feinstein had made that as one senator, there was only so much she could do.
Voters need another representative like Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who cast the lone vote against allowing the U.S. to use force in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she said.