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.