Sen. Dianne Feinstein: ‘Confrontation is not going to solve the problem’

Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2014. Photo: By Senate Democrats via Flickr/CC


“My job isn’t only to mouth off. My job is to be able to write good legislation,” California’s Dianne Feinstein told Press Play in a live interview today.

She’s been in the Senate for 25 years. She leads challenger Kevin de Leon by double digits in the polls. Both are Democrats. Feinstein seems headed for re-election.

Following Wednesday’s conversation with De Leon, Feinstein spoke to Press Play about about her re-election bid, political fighting in Washington DC, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the future of health care, and more.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

With a reputation as a dealmaker, will she stand up to Republicans?

Feinstein: Here’s the problem. We do not control the House. We do not control the White House. And we do not control the Senate. So you can take a stance and prevent bills from being passed, maybe. Maybe once or twice. But …the Republicans have the majority of votes.

The best way to work is to work with the representatives of the administration, as I did, for example with Caltrain. Caltrain has a billion dollar modernization program that was going to be cancelled out by the administration. And I went to the Secretary of Transportation. I wrote her five letters. I talked with her twice on the phone. And we got it straightened out.

…I try and get to know the cabinet secretaries, so I can go to them if there’s  a problem. Over five years, I’m an appropriator. My subcommittee, in which I’m ranking, is energy and water. We have gotten what was $400 million up to $800 million for 34 big projects in the state — having to do with storm water protection, preventing flooding. All those things that are necessary. … And I’m very proud of that. And that came because I work across the aisle when I can.

On saying she hopes Trump will be a good president at the start of his administration

What I said in answer to a question is that I hoped he could be a good president. That was my answer. And some people went crazy because I guess they want to hear four letter words, or something like it. I don’t work that way.

Look, I’m elected by the people of the largest state in the union, the fifth largest economic power on earth — to get things done for the people of this state. To be able to have a federal complement to what’s happening locally. To build an infrastructure of housing. Meet homeless problems. Work out all kinds of difficult situations to see that trade is free. We’re the largest agricultural state in the union — 20 billion ag products get exported a year. To see that there is fairness for agriculture. To see that agriculture workers, who are all undocumented, can get some documentation. That’s what we’re working on now called the Blue Card. And these are tens of thousands of people who come to plant, harvest, and prune our crops. We wouldn’t have anybody because Americans won’t do these jobs. So I have a whole host of things that I try and get done.

And my job isn’t only to mouth off. My job is to be able to write good legislation. I’ve got staff and lawyers that help me do it, stand up and advocate it, get some Republicans to go on the legislation, so I can get it passed.

On both parties refusing to work together

There is a full-throated resistance. You mean calling people names? We don’t do that. I don’t do that. We’ve got a president that calls people names. That’s enough.

On Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh

In the 10 years I was mayor of San Francisco, I had many women who confided in me about problems that they had had in terms of sexual abuse. And they told me in confidence. And I have kept it confidential. The letter from Christine Blasey Ford — essentially in three places — said “please keep confidential.”

I called her. I talked to her. “Are you sure?” “Yes,” she said, “I’m sure I can’t do this.” Then a couple of weeks came by. And she went by, and she changed her mind, which changed the dynamic of it. And she came forward, and she testified.

Then the letter — apparently somebody leaked it. I did not leak it. I don’t leak. That’s one thing for sure. And we had the hearing, and she testified.  And look, she was 15 at the time she was assaulted by a 17-year-old. This shouldn’t happen.

And you know, this is the first time that somebody is now on the Supreme Court with this in his background. But let’s hope he can be a good Supreme Court Justice. I didn’t vote for him. I’m the lead Democrat. I spoke against him.

But obviously, that’s why we have elections. If you vote Democratic… we’ll have control of one House sufficiently, hopefully. And that can make a big difference.

On a Washington Post report where Feinstein said she supports opening the Kavanaugh investigation

I don’t believe I said I could reopen the Kavanaugh investigation. It is gone. What we’re taking a look at is examining exactly what the FBI looked at, and perhaps being able to correct investigations for the future. But I don’t recall saying this.

…I probably said if there were something that was found that was substantial, I would (be open to looking into it again).

Is Washington broken?

Well this is the system. We have a hardy system. Two political parties. And one party dominates all branches of government.

So you can protest. You can be good. You can speak all night on the floor of the Senate. You can introduce legislation. But if you’re in the minority, you can’t get it passed without a Republican vote or votes. That’s just a fact of life. People believe that confrontation is going to solve the problem. Confrontation is not going to solve the problem.

What’s going to solve the problem is working together, and working out problems, and being able to change the party affiliation of at least one House. That breaks the lock on power in Washington. And you have a chance with one House. You need both Houses to pass a bill.

On Senate challenger Kevin de Leon arguing that seniority doesn’t equate to results, and it’s necessary to have a new voice that reflects California today

I worked three years and 26 drafts to do a big water bill, which in the last session, we got through. And I negotiated it with Leader McCarthy in the House, and we got it put into a must-pass bill, and it got done. And this past winter, in one month, it produced 125,000 acre feet of additional water.

Water and fire are two of the biggest problems for California… Whiskey’s for drinking, and water’s for fighting. And it’s very difficult. We got this bill done. I’ve gotten a number of other bills done too. So that isn’t true — that I haven’t accomplished anything.

Single payer health care  

Here’s the problem with single payer: nobody has come up with a way to pay for it yet. I think Bernie (Sanders), when he proposed it in his state, I think he had 12 new taxes, but it didn’t happen yet.

…I would support — and do support — a public option in the form of a health care plan. So that the public sector would put together a health care plan, and people could compare that with private insurance. And if it was better for them, buy it.

Secondly, give Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices. Today, quite shockingly, drug prices are not negotiated. And I believe very strongly that for every federal plan, the prices for the drugs that come with it should be negotiated — so that people get the best possible price.

…I’m for a public option. I’m for increasing a Medicare buy-in at age 55 — would drop the age from 65 to 55. I’m for allowing the secretary of HHS to block unreasonable rate increases.

And there’s one other big problem here: if you buy insurance as a single person, there is a subsidy up to 400 percent of poverty, which is about $47,000. And that subsidy ends. And then the prices on these individual premiums go up rather dramatically year after year. We call it the cliff. And what we’re trying to do is find a way to eliminate it. So that those people in the $50-60,000 wage level aren’t aren’t hurt by it. And that’s expensive. That’s a $9 billion cost. And we haven’t quite figured out a way to do that. But I think it’s really important.

Her #1 priority if she wins another six years in the Senate

My number one priority is really health care. … Take our state. We’ve got 18 million people covered through their employer. We’ve got 13 million covered by Medicaid, including 5 million children. We’ve got 6 million covered by Medicare. If you add that up, that’s 38.5 million people that have coverage.

And by last census, we’re 39.1 million. And the undocumented are 2.47 million. Undocumented cannot receive federal benefits. So that would leave about 1.5 million people uncovered.

And I think it would be fairly easy — by a public option — to cover them. And so this is something we’re looking very carefully.

The shocking thing is we voted on a tax bill this year. It was a Trump tax bill. I voted against it because it cut taxes to people that didn’t need the tax cut, rather than people who did need the tax cut. It also took out something called the individual mandate, which says that everybody has to have health care. And the people that it takes out are the healthiest and the youngest.