Feinstein in the News

By Tim Sheehan

Originally appeared in the Fresno Bee

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior Democrat from San Francisco, told a Fresno audience Thursday that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord was “a huge and reckless choice” that will diminish America’s global leadership.

In a Central California Community Foundation luncheon, Feinstein described Trump’s decision as ill conceived.

“To move away from the major leadership position in the world and let China take it over, to me, makes no sense at all because that’s just what China will do,” Feinstein predicted. “This (withdrawal) isn’t necessary to do. You can watch, you can wait. (Trump) doesn’t have to pull us out.”

The climate accord has broad support, she noted. “You realize 195 nations are in it. You realize if the climate warms five degrees in the next 50 years, we’re done as a planet,” Feinstein added. “If it goes up 5 to 9 percent, (climate change) is not handle-able. It’s catastrophic. And it’s real.”

The senator answered questions in a “fireside chat” with foundation CEO and former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin. Feinstein suggested that the election of Trump and his penchant for Twitter posts has accelerated the decline of the bipartisan spirit she said is needed to make progress on substantial issues.

“I’ve never seen a harder time than it is today,” said Feinstein, who has been in the Senate for 25 years. “I don’t you can be president of the United States and put your views through with tweets. I don’t think you can reinforce yourself just with your base. America has to have a president for all people,” she said, drawing applause from the audience. “It’s about sitting down with the other party. You have to do it. Eventually it becomes impossible to do anything because what you generate is stasis, everybody’s back is up, they’re not talking to each other, and it’s highly problematic.”

“I don’t know whether this president can change or not,” Feinstein added. “I think we’re on a very bad way.”

She pointed to her collaboration with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, on California drought-relief provisions in a water bill that was approved by Congress in December. The bill provided about $600 million for surface and groundwater storage, water recycling and conservation, desalination projects and other components.

“Leader McCarthy and I sat down together  and we worked out parameters of the bill,” Feinstein said. After considerable back and forth on countless what-ifs, she added, the provisions were added to a larger national water resources bill “and it passed overwhelmingly.”

But such bipartisanship is lacking in Congress’ efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, she said.

For California and the Valley, the bill passed by the House of Representatives to cut $24 billion from federal Medicaid spending is “a disaster,” Feinstein said. “In Fresno County, 50 percent of the people receive health care through Medicaid dollars” and three out of five beds in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are funded by Medicaid, she added. “You take that money away  and you’re going to have health-care facilities closing and have half your people unable to get Medicaid and unable to get health care.”

She suggested a more surgical approach to reform, particularly in the individual insurance market for people who don’t receive coverage through their employer. Subsidies to help underwrite the cost of premiums cut off for individuals who make more than $47,000 a year, but for those people, premiums are expected to chew up 20 to 25 percent of their total income.

Feinstein suggested looking for a way of capping premiums at no more than 10 percent of a person’s income “instead of a cliff of a subsidy.”

The Senate will be working on its own version of the American Health Care Act that was passed by the GOP-controlled House. But she said the Senate’s Republican leadership isn’t expected to hold hearings on the legislation. “It’s simple for me because I will not vote for for any bill – I will rail against it, I will speak against it – that cuts Medicaid by $24 billion,” Feinstein declared. “But if we could sit down like McCarthy and I did  that’s what it takes. That’s what good legislative craftsmanship is all about.  It’s how you solve problems.”

The senator also asked for support for an immigration bill she’s introduced along with several other senators for a “blue card” program to shield farmworkers from deportation.

“The undocumented community does farm work, and they are good,” Feinstein said. “The ag worker is always looked at as the least among us, and it’s just not so.”

Feinstein’s bill would provide a new immigration “blue card” to workers who have worked for 100 days in agriculture over two years or less, “and they’ve paid their taxes and been good citizens.  That blue card entitles them to stay in the country and work in agriculture – only agriculture.”

“If they do that for five years, pay their taxes, don’t get arrested, and are good people, they then are eligible for a green card, which is a big, big deal,” she added. “It takes the ag worker and gives them an opportunity to show what they can do with a path toward citizenship.”

Also at the luncheon, Feinstein presented a Congressional Badge of Bravery to Mariposa County sheriff’s Deputy Rudy Mirelez. He was shot in the face and torso in October 2015 by an armed suspect who fired upon four deputies during a traffic stop on Highway 49. Mirelez sustained critical injuries from the .45-caliber, hollow-point rounds that struck him as he exchanged gunfire with the suspect.

Mirelez got a standing ovation when the senator put the medal around his neck: “There is much life in you,” she said to him. “Thank you.”

Feinstein began her day with a tour of Terra Nova Farms near Helm to view a groundwater recharge project. The farm is taking floodwaters from the Kings River and spreading it over 700 acres of almonds, pistachios, and wine-grapes to recharge the overdrafted underground aquifer.