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The Sacramento Bee

Dianne Feinstein Is Not Who You Think She Is

Feinstein should not have retired because she is a terrible representative. She should have stepped aside because it’s time

"While some will equate the entire episode with a California Democratic Party that is “out of touch” with voters, maybe those who would vote for Feinstein are out of touch as well — or ascribing power to her that she does not possess." (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"While some will equate the entire episode with a California Democratic Party that is “out of touch” with voters, maybe those who would vote for Feinstein are out of touch as well — or ascribing power to her that she does not possess." (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Dianne Feinstein never should have run for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. An 85-year-old career politician, who would be 91 at the end of another full term, is treating the position she has held since 1992 as a lifetime appointment.

In a campaign dripping with entitlement, as if the politician owns the seat that no one else should have, Feinstein is trying to block a new generation of leadership whose time has come. Last week in Oakland, Feinstein and her campaign tried to block the California Democratic Party from endorsing Feinstein’s opponent, former state Senate leader Kevin de León. It was pathetic and unseemly.

The effort failed and, while some will equate the entire episode with a California Democratic Party that is “out of touch” with voters, maybe those who would vote for Feinstein are out of touch as well — or ascribing power to her that she does not possess.

Somehow Feinstein, and Feinstein alone, is poised to block President Donald Trump’s agenda. But the political realities of 2018 and Feinstein’s own voting record show otherwise.

Feinstein supporters always trot out the same argument in her favor: Somehow Feinstein, and Feinstein alone, is poised to block President Donald Trump’s agenda. But the political realities of 2018 and Feinstein’s own voting record show otherwise.

As the ranking member of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, was Feinstein able to block the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s controversial nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court? No, she was not, and Gorsuch remains Trump’s biggest win in his disastrous run as president.

Was Feinstein able to help President Barack Obama gain confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016? No, she was not, and the failure to seat Obama’s choice for the court might be dreaded by progressives for the next generation.

Has Feinstein been able to stop Trump from packing the federal appeals court with his nominees? No, she has not.

“I’m concerned our role is becoming diminished,” Feinstein told the Roll Call last year. “Our committee has never been a rubber stamp for any president’s nominee, and I don’t think we should start now.”

Too late — it already is a rubber stamp. Is that a function of Republicans being the majority in both houses of Congress? Yes, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue Feinstein’s omnipotence when her party is in the minority.

Meanwhile, Feinstein’s own voting record doesn’t really paint a picture of a senator poised to block Trump at every turn. According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com., the statistics blog run by analytics guru Nate Silver, Feinstein has been one of the friendliest Democrats to Trump in the Senate.

She has voted with Trump 25 percent of the time, a high number considering how badly Trump lost the California vote to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, the two senators from Oregon, have voted against Trump far more frequently than Feinstein has. So has Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Last August at an event in San Francisco, the senator truly showed that she is not the Trump slayer her supporters make her out to be. Feinstein became flustered by a question from a citizen who wondered whether Trump should be impeached. She stammered for a bit and then said, “Look, this man is going to be president, most likely for the rest of this term. I just hope he has the ability to learn, and to change. And if he does, he can be a good president.”

By August 2017, Trump had already demonized and disparaged Mexicans, Mexico, African-Americans, Muslims, women, transgender people, disabled people and more. He had already built his political career on the lie that Obama was not born in the United States. One could respect the results of the 2016 election and still have grave doubts that Trump would ever become anything approximating a good president. So when Feinstein spoke those words, they sounded like the feelings of a wealthy woman from San Francisco who is on the side of the people Trump disparaged — sort of.

When I heard those words from Feinstein, I thought, well, she’s on my side until she’s not. She’s part of the Washington establishment, which means we’re not exactly in the same foxhole. We don’t breathe the same air. What Trump said, and has continued to say, about people of color and immigrants was not personal to Feinstein. It was, and is, personal to me.

By August 2017, Trump had forfeited the benefit of the doubt. So when Feinstein said what she said, she lost me.

At one time, more than 40 years ago, Dianne Feinstein was a pioneer for women in politics.

She authored an assault weapons ban that, sadly, was allowed to expire. She voted against the odious Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. She has appropriated vast sums to protect California’s environment and Lake Tahoe.

But she also voted to authorize the Iraq War, a vote drenched in bloodshed based on false pretenses of weapons Iraq didn’t have.

Feinstein should not have retired because she is a terrible representative. She should have stepped aside because it’s time. Her generation of California leaders had their time — more than their time. Jerry Brown, who at 80 is five years younger than Feinstein, is stepping aside in months. Barbara Boxer, who was elected to the Senate in the same year as Feinstein in 1992, chose not to run in 2016. Willie Brown Jr., Pete Wilson — powerful politicians who ascended to power in the 1960s and held it for a long time? They have all left the political arena. Feinstein remains.

She is hanging on, likely for the wrong reasons.

“What happens around here, it’s pretty seductive,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told the Washington Post. “The longer you’re here, the more influence that you have. So it causes you to want to stay and stay and stay.”

What happens when you stay anywhere too long? Nothing good.

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Marcos Brenton

Marcos Brenton

Marcos Breton is a Sacramento Bee columnist. He is  a native of Northern California and the son of Mexican immigrants. 

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