Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks during a town hall meeting in San Francisco on April 17, 2017.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks during a town hall meeting in San Francisco on April 17, 2017. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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At her first large town hall meeting with constituents in recent memory, Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday endured hecklers and protesters who pushed her to take stronger positions against President Trump.

Several hundred people filed into the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in San Francisco, where the senator answered questions from people chosen at random. The topics included Syria, the environment, health care and alleged corruption in the Trump administration.

At times Feinstein grew impatient with one activist shouting over her remarks about Syria.

“OK, if you believe you know more than I do about it, then you go right ahead, that’s fine with me,” Feinstein said. “But if you want me to speak, you’re going to have to let me speak.”

Feinstein, who is known for old-school civility, at times sounded like a school teacher lecturing her students.

“If anything needs to get voted on, you need the votes,” Feinstein said, as she was pushed to advocate favorite progressive policies like single-payer health care. “So you can sit here and pound your fists, and I can show you what I’ve gotten done. And I would be surprised if you could find too many more senators who have gotten more done.”


Afterward, several in the crowd said they want Feinstein to speak out more boldly.

“We have no voice, so we need them to be bold,” said Christine Huff from Martinez. “Even if it doesn’t amount to legislation that goes our way, we’re yelling and screaming and we’re furious. They need to show that fury, too.”

Francesca Wander agreed, saying, “She (Feinstein) needs to do what Maxine Waters does and what Kamala Harris is doing and what Barbara Lee does, God bless her. She needs to show the force of her position and speak her voice and speak it loudly and clearly.”

Given that Feinstein has been a fixture in San Francisco politics since the 1970s, you wouldn’t think a town hall meeting with California’s senior senator before a hometown crowd would matter much. But the election of Donald Trump as president has turned conventional politics upside down.

Since January, town hall gatherings by members of Congress, even in Republican districts, have been dominated by Democrats energized by Trump’s stunning victory and threats they perceive from his agenda on health care, immigration, the environment and more.

Feinstein doesn’t hold many question-and-answer events that are as freewheeling and potentially messy as this one. She tends to stick to sessions in controlled public policy-type settings, like recent gatherings sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Public Policy Institute of California.

Feinstein appears to be running for re-election to the seat she’s held since 1992, and while polls show her popularity remains intact, voters also express concerns that she’ll be 85 years old on Election Day 2018. Asked after the event if she still intended to run for another term, Feinstein was coy.

One sign in the audience urged East Bay congresswoman Barbara Lee to run for the U.S. Senate. When asked afterward about it, Feinstein said, “One sign doesn’t quite do it, does it?”

“But who knows? An open race, if she wants to run, she’s free to run just as I’m free to run.” Does she have a timeline for a formal announcement? Feinstein said only, “You’ll find out.”

The senator has a second town hall meeting Thursday in Los Angeles. It is sold out, too. First-term California Sen. Kamala Harris will also hold a town hall on Friday in Los Angeles.

It’s Feinstein vs. Hecklers at Town Hall in S.F. 18 April,2017Scott Shafer
  • con

    Sellout ! Allways was…

  • Jill Bohn

    She didn’t walk away like her Republican colleagues.

    • CheerTheGallows

      DiFi is a self-serving politician who enriches herself through her power in office and who routinely ignores the just demands of her constituents.

      • Rational Male

        Her “constituents” also include business owners, corporations, police & firemen, and others groups that may not share your particular views.

  • Lynn Davidson

    I was at this town hall and I don’t think this report gives an accurate picture of what it was like. There was a single, loud-mouthed heckler. Most of the noise around that was the audience getting him to be quiet, which pretty much worked. Everyone else was extremely polite and respectful. Most of the people who asked question thanked Senator Feinstein for coming. You describe as “protestors” people who disagreed with Senator Feinstein, but that was the point of the town hall: to communicate our differences. Most Bay Area voters who are activated are way more progressive than Senator Feinstein. She does not represent our views, especially on Syria and health care, and this was an opportunity to let her know that.

    • Rational Male

      What exactly are your views on Syria and Healtcare?

      • Lynn Davidson

        Personally I support single payer health care. It seemed that a lot of other people in the room did too. On Syria, Feinstein suggested that the intelligence she was given was that the recent bombing (possibly) prevented another gas attack in Syria. Possibly this is the case. But I may be a bit more circumspect about the reliability of what the executive branch is telling the Congress and the rest of us. For example, I did not believe the reports of Sadam Huseein’s WMDs back when W was using this to justify his war. I would not have voted for that war., and contrary to what the mainstream press reported at that time, lots of people did not believe this and opposed the war. Feinstein voted for it. This kind of deception goes all the way back to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution (my earliest memory) and before. There are no easy answers to this, it depends a lot on who and what you believe, and I think the difficulty of trying to make those decisions came across during the town hall.

  • CheerTheGallows

    Thankful for everyone who attended the town hall and made DiFi listen to just a tiny bit of the widespread anger and frustrations of her constituents.

    She is the epitome of the stale, corrupt, corporate and utterly failing democratic establishment. Barbara Lee would be a MUCH better senator. Long overdue for DiFi to step down. She has enriched herself and her husband long enough via her power as senator.

    • Rational Male

      Democrats have a long history of delivering less than stellar results.
      Maybe try voting for a Republican next time? Or you could go full on crazy and elect a communist

      • ???? The 538 index of Senators and Congresscritters shows DiFi as the Democrat with the highest affinity with Trump Republicans. (In fact, she was #1 on the list, more than most Republicans.). The notion that replacing DiFi with a Republican would make a difference is not rational in the slightest, it just sounds like mindless partisanism.

    • Lynn Davidson

      I am not aware that Barbara Lee has expressed an interest in being senator Where is this coming from?

      • Lee is concerned about the massive amount of campaign expenditures in a Senate run.

  • Cara

    To second Lynn, there was one loud heckler, and many citizens and activists respectfully pressing Feinstein to stand up more strongly. As a member of indivisibleSF, which was largely responsible for getting this town hall to happen, I wish you hadn’t posted our photo underneath your incorrect headline about hecklers.

    • Rational Male

      What exactly does your group stand for? I looked up the website and it just has a vague message, “stand up to Trump’s disasturous agenda”, lol.

      How has Trump’s agenda been “disasturous” when he hasn’t even been in office for more than 4 months, or passed most of the legislation he desires to pass?

      Be honest, does Trump remind you and the other women in your group of your ex-husbands?

      • Cara

        Your rude, presumptuous, and ignorant reply does not deserve a response, but to answer your question: We stand for human rights and healthy democracy.

  • Rational Male

    San Franciscans are an illogical bunch of people.
    They supposedly love diversity, yet San Francisco is almost exclusively for rich Whites & Asians.

    Keeping SF a sanctuary city makes no sense either, since it’s too expensive for illegals to live & work there anyways.

    You gotta love these rich, privileged SF idiots complaining about the most petty things, always good for a laugh.

  • Holdin27

    Right, be even more divisive, isolate yourself further from the right, don’t compromise on anything, that will show them and completely change how Washington works. Whoo boy.

Author

Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED's Politics and Government Desk. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer